Part 1: Initial Observations and Trail Running Test
I’ve never seen the need for approach shoes. My trail runners (Montrail Mountain Masochists) have always served me well as regards weight, comfort and durability, especially on my 24-day CT thru-hike. I tend to shoe up for anything over 5.6 anyway, so I figured the extra climbability of dedicated approach shoes would be superfluous.
The TX2’s crossed my radar when my buddy wore a pair to approach Atlantis in the Black Canyon. I was especially intrigued by how thin they packed with the heel strap — easily half the bulk of my trail runners. The grippy sole seemed to serve him well on the exposed low-fifth scramble to the base of the route. My main hesitation was how well the shoe would handle running. My trailrunners were due for replacement, and I wondered if the TX2s could cover for them. I had plans for a four-day fastpack of the Grenadiers that included some fifth-class slabbing where sticky rubber would be a plus (now postponed due to early-onset monsoon, grr). So when a good deal arose, I pulled the trigger. With my toe, just like Papa Hemingway.
This is part one of three, the trail running test. I’ll follow up regarding climbability after a day of wearing them on 5.10-11, and then again regarding durability after I put some backpacking mileage on them.
- The shoes are light. Advertised at 9.8 oz compared to MMM’s 10.8, they feel comparable.
- The fit is spot-on. I wear 43.0 in TC Pro’s and 10.0 in MMM’s. The toebox is comfortable but doesn’t allow extraneous movement.
- Using the attached heel bungee cord, they stow away satisfactorily. The sidewalls of the shoe are a bit stiff still, but should soften up and compress better as they break in.
- The “climb zone” edging platform is surprisingly stiff, as is the forefoot of the shoe. I expect the latter to soften up over time, but the edging capabilities of the toe look promising.
I took the TX2’s for a spin on our local chosspile 12,900, Engineer Mountain. The terrain is varied as it gains 2500′ over hardpack, snow, steep mud, fluid talus, 3rd/4th class and a wee bit of 5.2. I carried two liters of water and ran whenever possible. I took my Montrails on the exact same route the week before, so I had a good basis for comparison.
The shoes were stellar for running the flats and uphills, almost as good as the MMM’s. The downhills were less comfortable (aren’t they always?) … the impact was more noticeable, and my back started to hurt. Contrary to other reviewers, the shoes were not much more sensitive underfoot — I was able to pick the same downhill lines as usual. Also, the sidewall chafed at my ankle bone slightly on the downs.
They weren’t as good as the MMM’s in the mud. It seems like the circular lugs didn’t gain as much traction. On fluid talus, the shoes performed as expected for their weight. I wouldn’t want to do any sustained scree surfing for fear of thrashing them. For 3rd/4th/low 5th, I was suitably impressed by the stickiness of the rubber and the stability of the toe edge. Even with some mud on the soles, they stuck like champs.
So far, I’m impressed. We’ll see what subsequent tests yield. My biggest complaint is that the stock insoles may be too flimsy for sustained downhill trail running (but then again, these aren’t marketed as trail runners). I’ll try it again with some thicker ones. The biggest advantage I can see for these will be their low weight/bulk for walk-offs, and not needing to bring separate climbing shoes for easy alpine.
Part 2: Climbing Test
In Part 1, I was impressed with how well the TX2’s handled trail running and easy slabs. Also promising was their light and packable design — a great omen of their utility on routes with walk-offs. What remained to be seen was how good they were on steeper rock.
It was obvious that the shoes would perform like champs on slab due their XSGrip rubber, so I concentrated on edging for their vertical test drive.
The first day we went to Cascade Canyon limestone between Durango and Silverton. The routes there are a mix of techy crimping and edging, and good ol’ fashioned overhanging jug hauls. In the spirit of proper gear testing, I led all the test routes.
I started on our usual 5.10b warmup that featured a couple moves of halfpad crimping over similarly thin feet, followed by a roof pull on good holds. The thin crux was a bit worrisome, but I was able to send it. The route felt more like .10d in approach shoes, but I was impressed at the performance to comfort ratio.
Then we hopped on a mega classic .11c arete, mostly a steep pumpfest with a hard lieback right off the deck. I found myself gripping harder to make up for not wearing downturned shoes, and fell off once above the crux. This route was obviously an overkill test, but it was fun to push something closer to my limit in the TX2’s. Still impressed.
Next, we dialed it back a notch on a steep, juggy 5.9. The shoes performed quite well. The TX2’s are nowhere near as stiff as proper climbing shoes, but their edging performance is miles ahead of my previous “approach” shoes (Montrail Mountain Masochists).
The next day, we visited an undisclosed location outside Montrose, CO that features vertical techy, ninety-foot basalt cliffs. This is where the shoes really shone. After a 5.7 warmup, I led two 5.9+ routes with thin cruxes. I hardly noticed a difference between the TX2’s and my cheap Cypher Prefix warmup shoes.
Next was a sustained, crimpy .10d. This route is not a gimme for me in rock shoes, and I was fairly pumped by the chains, but it was a good, clean send nevertheless.
Finally, I led a thin. 11a, which of course was easier than the previous .10d. Again, I was very pleased with the TX2’s edging performance, which allowed for a relatively casual redpoint.
Overall, the TX2’s have proven their worth on 5.10+ face climbing, stuff that I would probably shoe up for anyway. The rubber is quite sticky and edges well for being a comfortable trail runner.
In the next part of this review, I’ll take them on a real-world test to the Black and the Weminuche Wilderness.
Part 3: Alpine Test
I took the TX2’s on our trip to Storm King Peak in the Grenadiers. We hiked thirteen miles in, then climbed the North Face (5.10 headwall finish), scrambled off the Southwest Ridge, then hiked thirteen miles out the next day.
This is what these shoes were born for. I didn’t bring climbing shoes, and the TX2’s absolutely rocked the terrain. Over the course of the trip, they handled slimy creek crossings on wet logs and rocks, lots of rocky trail, scree skiing, fluid talus, boulder-hopping, standup glissading, 5.7 slab and 5.10 steep face. Outstanding performance on all fronts. Oh, and on the approach I was carrying a ninety-meter rope and all the pro.
My only complaint is that I’m pretty sure I got a half-size too small. I normally wear 43’s in TC Pro, but those are leather and stretch. By the end of each day, the shoe was digging into my outside ankle bones, especially on the downhills. I eventually loosened the laces, which helped, and then for the last two miles hiked with them completely unlaced. Ankle pain subsided but toe pain increased, so your mileage may vary. Next time I’ll get a 44 to allow for cushy insoles and thick socks.
Durability remains to be seen … they’re scuffing a bit from all the scree skiing we did on the descent. The toe bumper is quite solid, but just above the sole on the pinky toes is showing some inchoate wear and tear.
Overall, I’m highly impressed with the Sportiva TX2 approach shoes and would gladly buy another pair at retail price.