I’ve been wearing low-top, sticky-rubber approach shoes almost exclusively for 20 years, from crags and big walls to family funerals. Like they say, climbing is a lifestyle.
If I had to pick just one shoe to wear everywhere, there’s never been a question about what type of shoe it would be, much to the chagrin of my wife, who once gave me a pair of nice leather loafers that were ultimately ruined after climbing on a sculpture outside the Denver Art Museum. As far as that goes, I like to think the artist would be happy to know that the artificial offwidth cracks looming into the sky provoked an inspiration too powerful to restrain. But, I must admit, this happens rather often. Hence my preference in footwear. (Happiness resides within the simple joys, right?) I will probably wear approach shoes to my own funeral. But the question I’ve struggled to answer in recent years is, which ones?!
Selection has been a moving target. I’ve seen brands come and go, and there are versions of shoes that I once loved that were redesigned, never to be the same even though they still exist in name. Until recently there hadn’t been a pair that satisfied me the way others did in years past, in terms of foot support, durability and an all-purpose design: the kind of shoe I like to wear everywhere.
I now have what I was looking for–the Lowa Approach Pro GTX Lo has become my go-to shoe over the past several months since I wore them on my first solo big wall in Zion last October.
The Approach Pros are bomber shoes with a stiff sole that makes them ideal for aid climbing as well as for hiking and carrying heavy loads. They are low-tops, but I noticed immediately that they provide way more foot support than a pair of new high-tops that lace all the way up above my ankle. The support comes from a stiff, board-lasted sole, and a hard stabilizer around the heel.
The sturdy, stiff design makes the Approach Pros less ideal for free climbing situations, as there is less sensitivity for discerning foot placement on small edges or balancing on delicate friction slabs. But the sticky rubber does its job and they were adequate for climbing up to about 5.8 on sandstone and gneiss.
The Approach Pros are made with a synthetic, tightly-woven mesh material that is highly resistant to abrasion. The shoes are also lined with Gore-Tex: I’ve been hiking with them quite a bit in wet, snowy conditions and my feet have stayed warm and dry.
The design features a dual speed-lace system that I like. The dual laces allow you to adjust the upper and lower parts of the shoe independently, and the laces are so convenient that I intentionally wear these shoes when I know I’ll be taking them on and off frequently, such as when I’m climbing single-pitch routes.
The Approach Pros are a bit pricier than other shoes in the genre, but they are resolable and are built to last. The only regret I have with mine is that I have a problem with my right toe–it’s numb, probably because I climb too much, and as a result of my dead nerve endings, I wore a hole through the toe rubber of my right shoe while I was aiding Prodigal Sun in Zion. The left shoe is holding up fine. Aid climbers are aware that any pair of shoes will eventually wear through at the toes, because of the way your feet contact the rock while standing in ladders or etriers. The numbness in my right toe apparently caused me to press it into the rock even harder for purchase, thus wearing through the rubber at a much faster rate. I blame myself for that one flaw, and I think under normal conditions both of my shoes would be in good shape, as I continue to wear them pretty much everywhere.
Derek Franz is digital editor for Alpinist.com. He wrote a story titled “Glimmers in the Dark” for Alpinist 61 in remembrance of his friend Hayden Kennedy.
Durable and water resistant
Excellent foot support
Ideal for aid climbing
Convenient speed-lace system
Stiff soles translate to less sensitivity for free climbing