Approach Shoes: Access Granted

Setting off down the trail is in the spirit of adventure, but leaving the trail is when it becomes real adventure. Climbers have to venture beyond the singletrack all the time, bushwacking and hiking cross-country to access distant crags or boulders. They traverse talus, scree and broken ground to reach the base of the climb, putting severe wear and tear on their footwear. Over the last couple of decades, a distinct category of hiking shoe—approach shoes—has evolved to meet their demands for stability and sure-footedness in the backcountry.

Built to handle technical terrain, approach shoes are at home both on the trail and off, bridging the gap between hiking comfort and scrambling security—giving both climbers and adventurous hikers that edge, literally, to leave the trail in search of a little adventure. Here's the quick and dirty on what sets them apart from traditional hiking boots and trail shoes, plus five tried and true approach shoes: [slideshow:557]

Structure: Because it's expected that approach shoes will encounter rugged, mixed terrain—the kind that naturally abrades shoes—they're constructed to withstand the severities of this kind of environment. Suede uppers, randing (rubber reinforcement over the toebox) and abrasion-resistant stitching and lacing work in concert to lengthen the lifespan of the shoe.

Soles: Two words: Sticky rubber. From slabby terrain to technical scrambling, sticky rubber holds on to rock much better than traditional hiking shoe rubber. The proximal inside running edges are stiff and flat, designed for more precise placement on the steeps. Dual-density midsoles provide a softer, more comfortable ride under your heel while protecting your feet from rocky trails.

Support: Because climbers often carry heavy loads, approach shoes are designed to offer support and stability while still maintaining a precision feel for moving over all kinds of terrain and surfaces. Heel retention helps keep your foot centered, protects your ankle and reduces blistering.