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.SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.
The narrowing point at the front doesn’t pinch your toes over the course of a long day?
It did at 43.5 (just the tip of my big toe though) which is why I sized up slightly to 44. Climbers would probably object to sizing up because they prefer a very tight fit and the toe area will provide less rigid support for smearing and jamming their toes in cracks. But this is hiker’s review so I took the liberty.
Flexible crampons have also come out in the past few years that you can wear with softer shoes which is another strike against approach shoes since you don’t need a rigid sole anymore to wear them.
This review makes me happy. I’ve been looking for replacements for my Ex Axum which La Sportiva discontinued, and I’ve been somewhat disappointed with the Ultra Raptor so far. It looks like this has slightly less mesh than the Ex Axum but similar sole. Did you like the soles on this better than the Ultra Raptor or Wildcat? Personally the biggest downgrade going from an approach hiking shoe to a rugged trail runner like the Wildcat/Ultra Raptor is the sole grip and durability. The slightly less mesh coverage has not been that noticeable.
I like the soles on the UltraRaptor/Wildcat 3,0 better but only because they both have better arch support and cushioning. The soles on the Xplorers are much more durable although I can’t really say if they are grippier because I don’t climb anything higher angle. I really couldn’t notice any difference on the scrambles I’ve taken them on, other than the fact that they feel more sensitive than trail runners.
I’m not a climber either just to point out. What I mainly noticed this past year is when I would step on a wet rock or had prolonged trail over roots and rocks my Ultra Raptors slipped far more than my worn down Ex Axums did. The difference was quite noticeable. The first time I wore them 45 min into a hike I casually stepped on a rock in a creek for a better picture of a waterfall and slipped. It’s one of those things I got used to, my old shoes gripped really well on wet stuff and ice. The other thing that happens is those pointy rubber grips on the Ultra Raptors keep breaking. I’ve glued some vital pieces back on, but otherwise I just let it happen. There’s a lot more fraying, cracks, splits around the sole than I thought there would be, maybe I got a crappy pair. I was thinking about getting Wildcats next but I might go for these Xplorers.
There’s no noticeable difference between the Wildcats and UltraRaptors in terms of the soles. I wouldn’t bother. If you can fit into a La Sportiva now, you know what the fit is like and they’ll probably work for you.
I have a pair and really enjoy them. The lacing out to the end of the toe allows to open up the toebox more than I thought. This is my first hiking shoe after wearing boots in the past. It feels like a very good compromise.
I have Salewa Wildfire approach shoes that are my light hikers now. And yes, they do take somewhat longer to dry than mesh trainers. The grip, sturdiness on gravelly rocky surfaces, and ability to fit via lacing are very nice, and it is lovely to retire the old standard leather Goretexed Asolos for the warm weather – my feet got cooked in the high boots.
Interesting review. I wear this shoes for about 1.5 year now winter and summer but while living in Ireland its not that much a difference;) what I like about this shoe is light and can dry out completely during the night on a raining camping. Its easy on and off and I love the back loops that can be attached to the harness. Just one thing about this review – you will not make a crack, slab or any vertical climbing in this shoes you would use climbing shoes for that(ex. la sportiva miura). The shoe is sturdy coz you need take about 15/20 kilograms of your gear(rope, climbing shoes, helmet, harness, nuts, friends, cams, quickdraws…..) to the climbing site and most of the time it is done in difficult terrain. The shoe size is half number bigger then I normally wear. I have tight the laces with the loops and dont remember if I ever untight them even once. As I wrote before easy on and off its much more important. At the same time we dont walk as much as you guys while trekking – so respect to that.