Approach shoes (so called as they are worn to approach some massive rock you need different shoes to climb) are the most boring shoes I own, they’re not fashionable at the moment (the fashion trainer du jour seems to be plain white and flat like Adidas Stan Smiths), and I don’t really like writing about them. However, they are also the most useful shoes I own and, as I needed a new pair, I thought I would write a review.
I have a dog, and in the spring to autumn months I wear approach shoes to walk him, and I can cover a few miles without problems. I also wear them if I am having any trouble with my leg as they are easy to wear, and deal best when my ankle is irritated. That said, I wouldn’t wear them to work unless I were on crutches, because I like to look either professional or interesting and these shoes do neither of those. I wouldn’t wear them to go out either, because I like to look my best, maybe this is vanity, but there is nothing wrong with that. They were for a long time the only shoes I could wear because when my arthritis was at its worst, I had a leg brace, and that would only fit in these sorts of shoes. Additionally, if you’re wearing a leg brace, you’re desperate, and I needed all the help walking I could get.
I think, now, there is a greater range of shoes that can handle a brace, and when I find ones I will flag them up for any brace wearers. Unfortunately, I threw my leg brace away when I didn’t need it as a symbolic freedom gesture, so I can’t physically take it to the shops and try it.
So why are these shoes so good?
First of all they help to stop overpronation, an excessive inward roll of the foot, which I had developed in order to compensate for the lack of mobility in my ankle joint. Overpronation is not good for the rest of the joints, and actually made the pain worse so I needed that support around the ankle and under the arch.
Second, they have a rocker sole (also called rolling sole), whereby the curve of the sole helps the body move over the toes when you walk. This means your ankles don’t have to do that work.
Third, the heel height is about 1 inch, which, according to my podiatrist, is the right height to keep my ankle aligned properly. Counterintuitively perhaps, shoes with completely flat heels, such as ballet pumps, seem to put a lot of pressure on the joint, and I cannot walk in them.
Last, the soles are really strong and grippy. This isn’t only important for when I am walking in the countryside where there are slopes; my potato ankle is not stable, and if my good foot slips (on wet metal grids for example) I am hitting the concrete.
The problem with this type of shoe, however, is the weight of all that sturdiness, it can tire your legs out and, if you don’t need the support, a running shoe would probably suit you better. They are also incredibly expensive, and it is unfair but a fact of life that if you have any kind of special requirements, cheap shoes just don’t cut the mustard. I think these shoes are worth spending money on, as they are my go-to when I am sore and my feet need love, but I am aware that is not everyone’s priority. If you look after them, however, they do last for years of daily wear.
So which ones are the best? Annoyingly, it depends on your feet, and the best thing to do is go to an outdoors shop, like Coltswolds Outdoors or Blacks, and try them all on. They have two basic styles, those modelled on walking boots and those more like trainers. I prefer the latter, and I also like waterproof Gore-tex shoes as I have to walk the dog on wet grass sometimes (I can’t do wellies… or wet feet). Gore-tex shoes are a lot more expensive, so you will be able to find cheaper, non-waterproof versions. The main thing is how the brands compare, and these are the ones I tried.
Salomon Escambia GTX
This has had some good reviews online, but they were my least favourite of the ones I tried on. They were a little ‘boxy’ compared to the others, feeling more like a walking boot, and had less roll.
The North Face Hedgehog Fastpack GTX
These were much better looking than the Salomon and also had a really nice roll to the sole. North Face shoes were the narrowest I tried on, so you may struggle if your feet are wide, or swollen or you wear orthotics. If you have narrow feet, however, they are probably the best bet, though you may need to go up a size, and if you don’t need such a roll in the sole, the North Face Hedgehog Fastpack Lite GTX might be even better.
Meindl Respond Lady XCR
The Meindl Respond was the widest shoe I tried on, too wide for me, but great if you have a brace or insoles. It rolled nicely onto the toes, but the width made them look quite boxy.
Merrell Siren Sport GTX
As you can tell from the picture above I already have a pair of these, and they’re the pair that fit me best. They’re not too narrow and not too wide and I like that they adjust down to the toe. I also like that the look is a little more ‘trainer’ than some of the other approach shoes that have more of a rugged look. I always feel a bit of a fraud in anything too mountainy as it’s not like I’ll be trotting up one any time soon.
Scarpa Oxygen GTX
This was the most expensive shoe, and probably the most ‘street’ looking of the shoes I tried. It was quite narrow and the roll wasn’t as pronounced as some of the other though, but it apparently it has a special ventilation system that pumps air around the shoe (I didn’t get particularly heated in the shop, but it may be worth trying if you find you get hot, bothered feet).
In the end, I got another pair of the Merrell Sirens (if it isn’t broke and all that), albeit in a slightly different colour and my dog seems to approve (or rather, doesn’t actually care at all).
Next time: shoes you actually want to go out in!