In my ongoing desire to be a new product tester, I came across a term I hadn't heard before....Approach Shoes. Hmmm! Sounds very techie and hey! perhaps I needed a pair. This calls for some research, perhaps some buying and of course field-testing should I be so lucky as to find a pair I could afford.
What in the hell did we do before the Web gave us instantaneous access to millions of bits of trivia? I know that I used to lurk about in any gear store I could find. I used to spend a good 1/2 day in EMS in New York during the annual family vacation. I would tell the staff right off that I was there to fondle every piece of gear and needed about 3 hours. I also used to chase down those nice magazines for hiking, biking and camping. Gear and price comparisons took up oodles of my time.
Of course, now I just type what I want in Google and spend the rest of the time filtering actual information from the chaff and advertising crap that surrounds the little nuggets of useful info.
Your average "approach shoe" is like a cross-trainer sneaker on steroids. They look extremely techie. Sort of like an SUV for the feet. There is a lot of talk about permeability, abrasion quotients and lug patterns. What it really gets down to is whether you want a souped up sneaker or a toned down hiking boot.
Since I intend to use these things on day hikes with low weight, I opted for the pseudo-hiking boot side.
I find it almost impossible to buy stuff that I can't touch with my hands, so the next phase in my research project required me to visit all the local gear stores to see what these beasts actually looked like.
Well, the first place to hit is the Trail Shop. Have to see what the top end (for $$$ anyway) looks like so that I can feel smug when I actually buy whatever it is that I do buy. Footwear is such a personal choice that you need to stick you toesies into whatever looks good, but there's nothing here that catches my eye anyway.
I also hit MEC and TAO, but with no luck. I like buying gear that I don't need in any hurry. Gives me an excuse to shop and I can wait for a deal on something I like.
As luck would have it, the TAO grand opening was happening just before the Chignecto hike and some planned R&R in New Hampshire. The prices would be good and the gear good quality. It was time to actually try on some of these so-called "approach" shoes.
TAO had a nice pair from Garmont that were well-constructed and had a nice, stiff Vibram sole. They were uncomfortable to put on but fit very well. My online reading said that they take 15-20 kms to break in and I had a week before the hike...so I bought them.
It was tough finding socks to go into these things. I didn't have the space I have in my hiking boots for poly-pro and heavy-duty wool socks, so I tried out a combo of socks until I realized (to my deepening chagrin) that I would have to buy some new, mid-weight wool socks. Oh well..
I walked to work and back a few times and I must say, the first 5 km was torture. The heels were slipping and any tightening stopped all blood flow and the tingles started. I used a variety of lacing techniques and socks, but these things were damn uncomfortable. Back to the Web to see what other people were saying about the boots and re-assure myself that all would be fine after the break-in period.
After 10 km or so, the boots allowed some snugging up, but the heel lift was still a problem. As luck would have it, Rum Runners was coming up and I could wear them all day. Actually, it rained all day and I really "put the boots" to them. Had to place them in front of the dehumidifier Saturday night so they would be ready for New Hampshire on Sunday, where I would use them not only to "approach" high peaks, but actually climb up to the top of Mt Washington (or thereabouts).
The boots were crispy and crinkly from the Rum Runner rain but softened up as the day went on. After the Tuckerman hike, they actually started feeling comfy. The soles are too hard for my liking and were slipping on some rocks that I expected grab on. Oddly enough, the initial versions of this boot were ripped because the soles wore out too fast (isn't that the idea of Vibram soles, you can replace the soles, duh!) Hard to replace a body part that slides into (or off of) a nice, wet rock at elevation.
By the time we got up onto Mt. Lafayette the next day, I was getting a little giddy with just how comfy my feet felt and how they allowed me to rock-hop with a lot of assurance. The grip was getting a little better as I roughed them up and adjusted to just how much grab I had to work with.
I must say that day-packing the Whites with just 8-10 lbs on your back is a perfect use of this type of footwear. The feet are lighter and react well to all the rocks, yet the sole was stiff enough that landing on pointed rocks was not a concern. With sneakers, you can feel the shape of the rock. With hiking boots, the rock is just a dull sensation. With "approach" shoes (I love that term) you have a good sense of the rock, but the impression is well spread out. Very nice.
Day 3 of the hike put us in the Mahoosuc Notch with just day packs. Again, the boot (I think of them as boots) loved the terrain. Lots of funny angles and rock spaces that I wouldn't want to use a sneaker for, but the HikeBoot_Lites just loved the stuff and the extra foot flexibility was a treat.
I was hooked. There actually is room in my techie-closet for footwear that is not a sandal, sneaker or boot.
Of course, just like Michael Spinks or Roy Jones moving up the boxing weight divisions, I had to try these puppies with a full pack. As luck would have it, I was off to Cape Chignecto for 2 days (I have been avoiding work for a few weeks, some sort of mid-career burnout) with a 35 lb pack on my back and would try out my newest buddies to see where the edges were.
With my Lifa and PolyPro clothes I wear them in various situations until I find them too hot/cold, so I have a better sense of how to layer up in various situations. It's also nice to extend your own personal temperature range, otherwise you are perpetually a little hot or cold. That being said, I changed gear setups more in the past 2 weeks than I usually do all year (hence Brucie calling me "Zipper" instead of Dipper). I like to wear tights for hiking, but they really only work if you put them on and leave them on. Not really a layering type of clothing. My thermostat was a bit clogged up. Something to do with the hiking hurting more than usual, likely do to the drop-off in running mileage the past few months.
The Cape Chignecto backpacking was a lot of up and down, but not really difficult terrain footwise. The boots performed well, even in all the rain, but didn't supply any perceived advantage over full hiking boots. I will likely try them again with a full pack, if only for a weekender.
Most of my gear I consider necessary. This matches my personal philosophy and budget. I don't like doubles of anything I use. I have extra tops and tights, but they usually ranges from light to heavy-weight.
These approach shoes are not necessary, but they do fit a nice niche. Since I now car-commute all the time, I may wear them as winter boots this year to get more use out of them. I used to use my hiking boots as winter boots, but the Salomon's I now have are really stiff and not a very comfortable option (can't feel the gas pedal in the car)
All in all, I am mucho pleased with my new "approach" shoes.