Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien

The Quest for the Perfect Approach Shoe

Mine are red instead of blue, but you get the idea…

Just when I was beginning to lose hope that the perfect approach shoe actually existed, along came the Hedgehog GRX XCR (by The North Face) – a perfect balance between comfort and performance! Let me back up.  Until recently, I’m pretty sure that not a climbing trip went by where I didn’t have some sort of complaint about my shoes.  Not my climbing shoes, mind you – I have no qualms about packing in 4 pairs of shoes for 4 different routes but for beginners running shoes are apropos, & because each of my shoes have a specific purpose – I’ve got my technical edgers, my aggressive down-turned shoes for the steeps, my flexible and comfy trad shoes, etc etc etc.  But approach shoes are different – you shouldn’t have to waste pack space on a shoe whose soul (sole?) purpose is to get you to the cliff base comfortably in one piece. Needless to say, my standards were pretty high.  Here’s what I was looking for out of an approach shoe…

  • “East Coast Soles” – my problem with “official” approach shoes, such as the ones made by Five-Ten and La Sportiva, are that they are best-suited for rocky scrambles on desert sandstone and scree-surfing sessions along cliff bases.  East coast approaches aren’t really like that – out here you’re usually hiking through dense, deciduous forest, usually situated on a steep slope.  There is usually some scrambling involved, especially around the base of the cliff, so vibram rubber is key, but a deeper tread is also needed for navigating the narrow rhodo tunnels and steep (and often muddy and slippery) sloping forest trails.
  • Waterproof – Scattered afternoon showers happen…a LOT.  Many times the run-off from the top heads right down the descent gully, making for some wet and wild approaches, especially if there have been several rain days in a row. One of the best aspects of all the four shoes I carry in my bag is that all of them are waterproof and you too can know about them in this excellent Buyers Guide by There is something very liberating about sloshing straight through mud puddles 3 inches deep without even a thought of tiptoeing around, because I know at the end of the day my socks will still be dry (although probably not the best-smelling…)
  • Lightweight – This was the kicker…there are about a million different hiking boot options that have the above specs – but they are hiking BOOTS – big bulky shoes that weigh a ton.  Sure boots are fine in the winter when its really cold and I want the high top for warmth purposes…but in the middle of the heat and humidity hell of July and August, the last thing my feet want are a thick, bulky shoe that will make them sweat even more than they are already.

Comfortable, breathable, AND great traction on the rock

Just three things.  It doesn’t sound like too much to ask.  All I want is a low-profile, sticky rubbered shoe that allows my foot to breathe and stay dry.  But the sticky-soled, waterproof shoes were too bulky.  And all of the lightweight Vibram shoes were breathable but took on water like a sinking ship.  Until finally…along came the Hedgehog!  Its not an approach shoe.  Its not a hiking boot. It’s a (drumroll please….) trail running shoe!  It’s the perfect balance between comfort and performance.

If they made them in Cragbaby’s size, he’d be on his third pair by now!

I’ve put probably close to a hundred miles on them already over the course of the past year, and aside from being slightly dingier in color, they are no worse for the wear, and my feet remain cozy and dry!  The wider forefoot but narrow heels on the Hedgehogs are perfect for my duck feet, and the ergonomically designed footbed keeps me comfy on the hike out after a day of cramming my tootsies into climbing shoes all day.  They aren’t cheap (retail $110), but they are the only approach shoe I need to pack, year round (aside from the few times a year I climb out west, where my Five Tennies still reign supreme!).  As a side note, my husband has a much narrower foot than me, and he’s been really happy with the Merrell Chameleon Ventilator GTX. So if you’re looking for a reliable, multi-purpose shoe for climbing approaches as well as hiking, check out the North Face Hedgehog GTX – on a scale from 1-5, (1 being Chossy, 5 being Classic), I give this shoe 4 Cragmama stars!


14 Responses to “The Quest for the Perfect Approach Shoe”

  1. Nice review here, Erica. But I gotta tell ya, after a couple years of dealing with approach shoes and socks, I ditched the idea for sandals last fall and haven’t looked back. I have a pair of GoreTex Vasque trail runners, similar to your shoes. But they are sooo hot and sweaty in the summer heat. I was tired of wrestling socks on and off after climbing and sometimes resorted to stuffing my feet in the shoes without socks…which is never a good idea…. eww

    I now go to the cliff in Keens or Chacos. If I know the approach is dry and short, I’ll just wear my Sanuks. I bring a small towel and wipe my feet off if they get muddy. If I have to walk through a creek (typical this spring), I just dive right in! It’s much easier to deal with sandals between climbing than it is shoes for me.


  2. John W

    Erica, I have a picture of you getting some serious use out of your approach shoes on the trail from Bubba City. I’ll put it on facebook.


    • Gif – I definitely am a HUGE Chaco as well as KEEN fan for shorter approaches and/or easier terrain. I used to hike in Chaco’s/KEENs all the time until Cragbaby came along. Now since there’s actually a little person in my pack instead of just gear, real shoes win out on steep terrain b/c of the stability factor! When I’m bouldering though (and shoes are constantly on and off…) I will often bring my Chaco’s along for the ride also…

      John – That’s awesome – they were certainly needed for that hike, for sure!

  3. Shoes! RT @Cragmama My Quest for the Perfect Approach ends with @thenorthface : #climb


  4. This could be “the shoe” I’ve been looking for. Definitely going to check it out.


  5. The Quest for the Perfect Approach Shoe via @cragmama


  6. Sue Watson

    I don’t like mine. I’m sending them back to REI. Unless I ordered them too big, but they are so wide!


    • Sue – You are right, it is worth noting that they have a wider forefoot than other shoes (which is why the hubster likes his Merrells).

  7. Sue Watson

    I was disappointed too b/c they also look nice and are waterproof. Your feet swell too after hiking etc. I’m wonderibg if I should go ahead and try them out on the trail here locally? I got ’em at REI and they have 100 back guarantee


  8. Wow! @Cragmama has ended searching for an approach shoe after falling in love with this pair from @thenorthface:


  9. Wesley Turner

    ya. Funny comment regarding sandals… When i was uber climbing / hiking fit i could wear flip flops up most technical terrain no problem. Nowadays…. as i am a desk jockey during the week, and no longer on the west coast where outdoor life was a daily event…. my feet need some lovin and approach shoes are a must for me these days. My old Montrail D7s are still hanging in there. I was very bummed when i saw they had been discontinued… best shoe ever. I do however appreciate where the OP is coming from regarding east coast hikes… deeper tread is nice where as out west with all the rock it is not really desirable. GL to all in their adventures. 😀

    Ill give these shoes a look when my D7s die.


    • @Wesley – Thanks for reading and commenting. Hopefully your D7’s will give you several more adventures before you have to retire them!

  10. Thanks for your outline. I love to see clearly Marcy Lu


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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN