We all have our own preferences when it comes to technical approach footwear. Some of us like the support of hiking boots, the versatility of road runners, or the climbing ability of approach shoes. However, in my humble opinion, there is one shoe type with a great balance of all the above - trail runners.
In Australia, rock climbing is most commonly accessed using established trails: gravel, soil, mud and some scrambling. So, unless you plan on climbing several metres in your approach shoes, trail runners could be a great option. Here’s why.
I’m a bit of a humpty-dumpty when it comes to hiking. I started wearing regular road runners and found they were slippery on the trail. Having upgraded to hiking boots, I found that the bulkiness and weight wasn’t exactly convenient when you’re going for a day hike to the crag.
I swapped my shoes out for some approach shoes, which worked a charm for scrambling and multi-pitching, but still I was still finding myself slipping on the trails and feeling a bit unstable.
In an ideal world, approaches would all be nicely groomed flat gravel trails. The reality can be quite the opposite. Steep angles, loose soil, wet, muddy and slippery trails. Trail runners feature lugged soles (deep indentations or grooves) that improve traction when moving over dirt, gravel, mud, leaves, roots and scrambling over low-angled rocks. The outsole on some trail runners wrap around the front of the shoe providing grip on angled terrain (uphills and downhills). Approach shoes feature similar lugs, but with trail runners these lugs grip deeper into the ground and are multidirectional for better traction in mud and softer soils.
Trail runners provide protection from impact with rocks and roots. You’ll find this on most outdoor hiking shoes and approach shoes, but not road runners. Trail runners feature durable upper materials to withstand abrasion and tears, as well as toe guards (rubber) at the front to protect your toes from hitting into rocks. But that’s not all! There’s more...
Hiking boots are the best when it comes to stability, however they are extremely bulky, heavy, or have an excessive lacing system. Trail runners are designed to be lightweight while offering a stiff construction using an “underfoot plate” or internal “shanks” for stability on difficult terrain. Also, most trail runners will have a lacing system that helps lock the heel into the shoe to improve stability and prevent excessive foot rotation.
You can come across three broad types of trail runners:
Light trail shoes are designed for less technical terrain, like roads, gravel, packed soil paths, fire trails, and grass. With a similar build to road runners, these shoes focus on being lightweight and breathable. The soles have shallow lugs for good traction on gravel and packed soil.
Salewa Lite Train K
A moderate stiffness, lightweight trail runner with medium lugs, midsole cushioning, and mesh upper.
Rugged trail shoes perform well on difficult terrain and long approaches. The outsoles have deep, multidirectional lugs for traction in mud, loose leaves and soft soil. The internal structure of the shoe includes performance or dual density midsoles to protect the feet from rocks and roots. The toe guard will also feature lugs for grip at the front of the shoe. You can also find these shoes with a Gore-Tex lining for mud.
Salewa Speed Beat GTX
A stiff trail runner with deep lugs, medium cushioning, and waterproof upper.
Salewa Dropline GTX
A moderate stiffness, medium weight trail runner with medium lugs, high-impact cushioning, and waterproof but breathable.
There's no reason to not consider approach shoes, especially if you can find ones with deep lugs like our staff favourite below. Essentially, they’re a bit heavier with the extra rubber for the 'climbing zone' at front sole of the shoe, but they’re worth checking out.
Salewa Wildfire Edge
The Wildfire Edge is a technical approach shoe that can be adapted from hiking mode to climbing mode using the SwitchFit System
The amount of cushion is down to preference. Some trail runners have a high level of cushion for comfort while others have low to zero cushion so you can feel the terrain under your foot.
Trail runners have a feature known as “offset”, or how much lower your toes are than your heel called “heel-to-toe drop”. Drop isn’t as important when looking at shoes for approaching, but it’s good to understand because it relates to how your foot strikes the ground with each step. The change in the drop activates different muscles in your legs.
Changing over to trail runners for all my outdoor adventures has been a total game changer for me. But, obviously everyones body is different so take your time to try things out. I have friends that will never give up their old school hiking boots and that's great. It's all about finding out what works best for each of us so we can enjoy our adventures. If you're anything like me though, trail runners will be the 'go to' for all recreation, in the city and mountains.
I have been rock climbing for about four years and it’s taken me to beautiful places all over Australia. I love adventuring into the outdoors, seeking big multi-pitches, splitter cracks and night climbing. My local is the Blue Mountains (NSW), while in the winter I’ll migrate to Frog Buttress (QLD). When the weather’s right, you can catch me at places like Point Perpendicular, Arapiles, Tassie, Buffalo and maybe the Warrumbungles.