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Flexible Footwear: 5 Best Approach Shoes

Somewhere between short day hikes in Yellowstone and forays above the tree line to bag a couple of Colorado 14ers last year, you probably realized your trail runners or light hiking shoes just don’t cut it on off-trail, gnarly terrain. Technical approach shoes blend everything you like about your trail-running shoes — ankle support, beefy soles, light weight — with the sticky rubber and technical details of a climbing shoe or heavier boot.

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Somewhere between short day hikes in Yellowstone and forays above the tree line to bag a couple of Colorado 14ers last year, you probably realized your trail runners or light hiking shoes just don’t cut it on off-trail, gnarly terrain. You don’t need a full-blown alpine climbing boot or rock climbing shoe (note: don’t hike in climbing shoes unless you want your feet looking like ground beef), so what is the best shoe for your next miserable bushwhacking epic multi-day adventure? Technical approach shoes blend everything you like about your trail-running shoes — ankle support, beefy soles, light weight — with the sticky rubber and technical details of a climbing shoe or heavier boot. If you’re going to spend a few hours tackling slot canyons in red rock country or slogging long miles to your favorite local peak — or even if you just want a little extra support to stick on the mountain, these approach shoes will keep you on the trail.

MORE GEAR FOR THE TRAIL: Best Hiking Packs | Summer Outdoor Retailer Roundup | Best Trail Running Shoes

Five Ten Guide Tennie

The Classic Approach Shoe: Spend a weekend in any Western mountain town and chances are you’ll see more than a few pairs of Guide Tennies making the rounds between gear shops, guide services and the bar scene. These iconic hiking shoes are one of the most popular in the world for a reason. A Stealth C4 rubber outsole and rand stick to just about any surface. Laces run nearly to the toe, giving you a climbing fit when you need it. Finally, an internal rockered footbed promotes a healthy stride. With features like this, you’ll be finding excuses to spend more time bagging peaks instead of sitting behind a desk.

Buy Now: $120

La Sportiva Ganda

Best Approach Shoe for Technical Terrain: If you’re looking for a shoe that’s aimed at tackling tougher terrain (more like free-solo climbing and boulder scrambling than hiking) the Ganda is begging to be taken into the high country. Slip-lasted construction — sewing the uppers directly to the midsole instead of using an intermediary material — on the front end gives the Ganda an aggressive toes-first feel for climbing vertical rock without worry. Comfort features like a moldable polyurethane midsole, beefy rubberized toe and heel cups, and soft leather uppers separate the Ganda from its climbing purist roots and make the shoe just as comfortable logging long miles under a pack as it is scrambling up hard-to-reach summits.

Buy Now: $250

Evolv Cruzer

Best Casual Approach Shoe: The Cruzers fit perfectly with any outdoor activity and clean up nicely with a pair of jeans at the bar when you return to civilization. A construction that’s less technical than other shoes on this list is made up for by an outsole sheathed in Evolv’s award-winning TRAX rubber. Memory foam insoles and a breathable microfiber and canvas upper keep your feet happy on long, hot hikes, and the heels fold down for a “slipper mode” that’s very convenient for wearing around camp. Almost minimal soles aid in good ground feel — especially important when sending a few tricky bouldering problems at 10,000 feet.

Buy Now: $75

Scarpa Crux

Best All-Around Approach Shoe: We’ve all had that pair of hiking boots or shoes that became an extension of ourselves. They fit perfectly, never caused blisters, and handled tough terrain better than a mountain goat. The Crux shoes are the second coming of your favorite hiking shoe — but better. A breathable mesh and suede upper molds to your foot for zero break-in time; the sticky Vibram rubber sole and rand handle everything from slabby granite approaches in the White Mountains to the slick sandstone in the Red River Gorge and everything in between. An internal, kevlar-reinforced webbing keeps your foot locked in place on even the most demanding summit pushes. If you’re looking for the best shoe for long, demanding days under a pack, you just found it.

Buy Now: $99

Salewa Firetail GTX

Best Approach Shoe For Extreme Weather: Pulling experience from a long Austrian and Italian mountaineering heritage, Salewa approach shoes and mountaineering boots are among the most comfortable out there. Their Firetail is built more like a trail runner than most other approach shoes, but don’t mistake that less capability. Salewa’s patented 3F Evo fit system locks your heel into place without compromising flexibility and forefoot movement. Combined with their solid sole system and toe-length lacing system, this ensures the Firetails are among the most stable approach and hiking shoes currently available. A full Gore-Tex membrane will keep your feet dry long after the rain or snow starts falling, while an Aramid (the same fabric used in many bullet-proof materials) protection layer around the base rounds out a flawless shoe.

Buy Now: $148+

Icebug Spruce

Winter Bonus Approach Shoe: It should come as no surprise that a brand specializing in shoes built to grip ice and snow would hail from Scandinavia. Sweden’s Icebug is known for its carbide-studded winter running shoes, but they’ve recently started offering light hiking shoes to expand outside of their chilly niche. While the Spruce doesn’t feature the brand’s lethal cleated sole, Icebug equips them with proprietary RB9X rubber, which retains grippiness in slick conditions but works equally well on dirt, rock and wet leaves. The oiled nubuck uppers are almost too luxurious to get muddy — but the shoe is lined with a waterproof membrane to keep your feet dry if you do. Keeping them warm is your problem.

Buy Now: $120

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