Approach shoes, like La Sportiva’s Xplorer, provide an interesting compromise between trail runners, climbing shoes, and more rigid hiking boots that may appeal to hikers looking to down size from heavy boots to a lighter weight hiking shoe without giving up the stability and support of a boot.
What are Approach Shoes?
Approach shoes are basically a cross between a soft climbing shoe and a hiking boot. Originally designed for rock climbers, they have sticky soles to provide traction for scrambling, smearing, and edging up rock faces, but provide more protection around the sides and underneath the foot for approach hikes than climbing shoes and trail runners.
For example, the La Sportiva Xplorer is shaped like a climbing shoe with a pointed toe box and extended lacing over the toes. But it also has a lugged Vibram sole like a hiking boot, with a TPU mid-sole and a rock guard in the forefoot, that provide protection when hiking over rocky terrain. If you’re used to hiking boots, you’ll also appreciate the slightly flared edges of the Xplorer heel which prevents side rolls, providing excellent stability without the added weight of a heavy boot.
Made with synthetic leather and breathable air-mesh, the Xplorers breathe are much cooler to wear for hiking than hiking boots or mids. However, they don’t drain or dry as quickly as full mesh trail runners when fully immersed in streams or mud because the mesh is only in the tongue and the upper half of the shoe. The bottom half of the shoe feels kind of “armored”, with abrasion-resistent synthetic leather for greater lateral protection in rocky terrain.
The factory food beds that come with the Xplorer’s are flimsy foam inserts that wear out quickly with use. Your best bet is to replace them if you require arch support or more protection in the forefoot and heel. Without them, the shoe feels very flat-footed, like a soft climbing shoe, bur with a rigid sole.
Fit, like most Sportiva shoes is narrow and runs slightly small, although I only had to size up to a 44 from a 43.5 to get enough room for my big toes. Weight is middle of the road at 14.7 ounces per shoe in a size 44.
While the Xplorers are wearable out of the box if you hike frequently and have hardened feet, I’d recommend that you break them in for about 10 miles before taking them off trail. They do soften up a bit with use.
Will the Xplorers be right for you? It’s hard to say, since footwear is so individualized. Approach shoes try to strike a balance between climbing shoes and light hikers, but are never better than wearing a purpose-built sport-specific shoe.
While I could wear La Sportiva’s Xplorers for hiking in mountainous terrain, I still prefer a softer soled, “bouncier” trail runner that drains and dries quickly when it gets soaked with water. That’s why I’d recommend trying the Xplorer if you wear hiking boots today, but don’t feel like you’re ready to switch to a softer, full-mesh trail runner.
Disclosure: Philip Werner bought the shoes reviewed here with his own funds.
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