First, a confession—I’m not a climber. I’d much rather ride my road bike 100 miles or ski through knee-deep powder than scale vertical rock walls. I do, however, love approach shoes because I think they’re the most comfortable, durable, and confidence-inspiring low-cut shoes or hikers on the market. Plus, I’ve always loved the approach-shoe aesthetic—a clean leather build matched with rubber rands on the toe and heel. They go with hiking shorts or a pair of jeans at work. What follows are seven of my favorites.
La Sportiva Boulder X ($120)
The Boulder X’s were my first pair of approach shoes. I loved them so much I wore one pair for four years straight through my first couple of photojournalism jobs because the thick all-leather build and highly cushioned soles put up with everything I faced daily—from muddy rodeo fields to long, boring press conferences where I stood still for hours on end. Sportiva has made the Boulder X’s for ten years now, and I hope we have at least another ten to go.
Naglev Unico Kevlar Hiker ($230)
If the Boulder X’s hold down the old-school category, the Unicos represent the future. These kicks still come with grippy approach soles, but instead of leather they use one-piece synthetic uppers with built-in Kevlar to create a lighter but still bombproof build. They have rands around high-wear areas, but those rands are thinner, cutting even more weight. Integrated wool sock liners help move moisture off your feet, and the black matched with a chunky tan sole wins them plenty of style points.
Forsake Range Low ($120)
I’d call this version a mashup between a low hiker and an approach shoe. The randless leather uppers are more hiker, the but the sticky Megagrip soles fall right in line with everything else on this page. Whatever you call them, the Forsakes get included here because they too are wicked comfortable, they can take a beating, and the two-tone build will turn heads in San Francisco or Glacier National Park.
Salewa Mountain Trainer Leather ($200)
Say you were traveling the world and could bring only one pair of shoes. My choice would be the Mountain Trainers. Thanks to a bomber full-grain leather upper, thick rands around the entire lower foot, and aggressive lugs, these shoes are confident in any terrain and made to last for hundreds of, if not several thousand, miles. All that durability comes with a slight weight penalty, but as with skis, I’m happy to accept a little weight for a lot of confidence.
Five Ten Guide Tennie ($120)
With Spidey-like Stealth C4 rubber soles, these Guide Tennies excel as approach shoes. But they also work for every day because of their clean, not-overdone aesthetics, cushy compression-molded EVA soles, and simple but fun colors. They’re not my first choice for longer hikes, but they’re perfect for overland camping trips where you’re driving for hours and then jumping out and scrambling over rocks to scout the road ahead.
Fronteer Geotrekker Sandstorm ($160)
Fronteer is known for making modern versions of old-school shoes. For its take on the classic approach shoe, it looked at what geologists and park rangers used to wear in the 1980s and came up with the Geotrekker, which has clean lines like the Guide Tennie but a chunkier sole like the Salewa Mountain Trainer. It looks aggressive and confident but feels like a slipper, so it does just fine in front of a computer or during your after-work hike.
Tecnica Plasma S ($150, available spring 2019)
Last year Tecnica launched the Forge, a high-top hiking boot that softens with heat and then molds around your foot with airbags, much like a ski boot. (The process is done in licensed stores.) The Plasma is the low-cut hiker/approach shoe version. This too gets heated up and will mold around your heel and arch. Matched with an included heat-molded footbed, the Plasma literally fits like a glove from day one. The all-black uppers with bright orange highlights aren’t for everyone, but I dig the go-big-or-go-home style.