Gear Review: La Sportiva Boulder X Mid GTX approach shoe

Mar 17 • Gear • 28470 Views • 7 Comments on Gear Review: La Sportiva Boulder X Mid GTX approach shoe

17.9 oz/ 508 g

Suede upper, full rubber rand, Vibram sole

Retail: $160.00

Back in the day there were running shoes that sucked to hike in, hiking boots that sucked to climb in and mountaineering boots that sucked to hike in (and still somehow sucked to climb in) but they were warm. In recent decades mountaineering boots have improved dramatically, as have running shoes, but their uses were far apart. Then, in the Darwinian world of athletic footwear, where only the strong and useful survive, a new class of creature was born: the approach shoes.

In a genius stroke the industry created a shoe that covered the middle ground that most people wouldn’t have a use for, but represents a lot of terrain covered by climbers. Light like a running shoe, stiff like a hiking boot, with a sticky rubber toe that grips rock, and small enough to be practically clipped to the back of your harness. Voila! The approach shoes multiplied across the footwear industry, and shoe begat shoe, and their offspring flourished in retail stores and wholesale warehouses, and the number of their counting rivaled that of the barley in the fields and the stars in the heavens…

So in a world blossoming with so many shapes and styles of approach shoe, why do we need another one?

La Sportiva made the Boulder X Mid GTX as a beefier, mid-height, waterproof version of the popular Boulder X approach shoe. While many approach shoes are simply subtle variations on the styles of others, the Boulder X Mid GTX stands alone as it fills a particular niche that remains empty: like the famous “lungfish” found off the coast of Madagascar that represents the evolution from fish to reptiles, this shoe fills the gap between approach shoe and mountaineering boot.

I bought the Boulder X Mid GTX before a trip to the Bugaboos and convinced my partner to do the same; we were psyched, not only because our shoes matched, but they worked really well. I also took them to Argentine Patagonia and was very pleased in certain conditions. Every product is a compromise; you can’t optimize everything at once.

drewonsnow.shoes

Analysis: this is a very good shoe for alpine rock climbing excursions which involve long approaches, snow, and potential crampon use. As an approach shoe, you are gaining stiffness, waterproofness and warmth at the expense of weight, bulk size, and climbing performance. The gains allow this shoe to perform like a minimalist mountaineering boot in conditions where you can get away with it. The details:

These replace hiking boots.

  • Stiff underfoot: hiking a 70 lb pack up to Applebee camp and over the Bug-Snowpatch col, no problem. I walked several miles over ice strewn with sharp rock shards on the Torre glacier and my feet hurt a little bit, but they would have hurt in anything.
  • Mid-height with the Mythos lacing system: the laces secure snugly above the ankle. When I sprained my ankle 7 miles deep in the Palisades and had to hike out with 60 lbs on my back, I was able to wrap up an ace bandage and cinch this shoe so tight that my ankle was basically braced, and I made it to town.
  • Waterproof: I stood in a creek up to the tongue gusset (a good few inches) for 3 minutes and they didn’t leak. In the Bugaboos, every day seems to end with a few kilometers of glissading through slush back to camp, and it’s sure nice to have dry feet.

Rock performance:

drew.approach.thirdclassshoes

  • Moderate edging ability because the round toe sticks forward of the sole. Shoes like the Scarpa Zen edge much better.
  • Good smearing, the soles have Vibram’s stickiest rubber.
  • Rand is thin, so not durable. Same problem as the Boulder X: you will trash these if you jumar, and the rand will not last long.

Alpine performance:

  • Mid-height adds stiffness for walking in crampons. We walked miles in these with strap-on crampons, ascending neve up to 60° without ankle discomfort.
  • Minimal warmth: there is a bit of insulation, it will keep you warmer than a rock shoe or standard approach shoe. Wearing these on Guillamet in Patagonia I was very aware that if we stopped moving for a while, I was going to get really cold feet. Good for on-the-go ascents.
  • Minimalist: These perform like a slimmed-down version of the La Sportiva Trango S Evo, but they take up way less room in a small climbing pack.

Bottom line: these are a very well-built shoe that excel in a specific environment, and are probably not appropriate for other uses:

  • Alpine rock climbing (Bugaboos, mostly-rock ascents in Patagonia*): perfect shoe. If you want one shoe to approach through wet/snowy terrain with a heavy pack, and you’re going to cover considerable distance wearing strap-on crampons and climbing 3rd-low 5th class rock, this shoe kicks ass.

*Note: these can perform like a minimalist mountaineering boot for light-and fast climbs, but they will not keep you warm like a proper mountain boot and they will not climb ice well, especially with aluminum strap-on crampons. Then again, Fitz Roy has been climbed in shoes like this…

  • Desert, Black Canyon, warm-weather cragging: wrong shoe. They take up space in a backpack or on a harness and being leather with Gore Tex, you will sweat a lot. Not for warm places, and not a light shoe.
  • Semi Alpine/ “slackcountry” (The Diamond, The Incredible Hulk, rock routes on the Grand Teton, etc): maybe. You’re going to carry a potentially heavy load, cross some puddles/rivers, and hike up a bit of snow, maybe with crampons. These will work but you’ll have hotter feet than necessary and they’ll take up more room in the pack. I’d go with something slimmer and lighter with better edging, like the Scarpa Zen.

La Sportiva Boulder X Mid GTX (men’s) on backcountry.com

Drew Thayer blogs at Carrots and Peanut Butter. He is a Senior Correspondent to The Climbing Zine.

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7 Responses to Gear Review: La Sportiva Boulder X Mid GTX approach shoe

  1. Eric says:

    These were my go to shoes for a summer spent in the Tetons, did me solid on everything from Exum, to the CMC, to Symmetry Spire, the Middle, Teewinot, anything 5.6 and under and anything with less than 60 degree snow and that is the only shoe I took for the day. The only problem I faced was the flare of the tread in the heel, as it took some effort to get to stay in step in crampons; had a tendency to pop out which was a pain in the ass while hiking moderate snow. All and all I was super happy with these shoes/boots/hybrids and the heel problem could just be me having size 13 feet, fill a niche that needed filling, and no more wet, freezing ankles!

  2. Matt C says:

    Can you compare/contrast these with a boot such as the Salewa Rapace GTX or the Scarpa Tech Ascent? The Tech Ascent’s seem like direct competitors with these. The Rapace’s are basically an ultra light mountaineering boot. They are only 1/2 lb heavier than these for the pair. They look much stiffer though. Mostly wondering what shoes like the Boulder mid’s or Tech Ascent’s would do that those wouldn’t, where they would offer a significant advantage. The application would be shoulder season mountaineering in the Sierra. Couloir climbing where it could be snow, could be rock, could be icy rock, likely a rocky summit push, taking crampons on and off throughout the climb. Mostly class 3 but potential for class 5 belayed climbing. Something that would be good for up to 10 miles of approach in the high sierra when there could be snow and rock.

    • Drew says:

      Hi Matt,

      While I haven’t worn the Salwea Rapace shoes, I would think of them as moving toward the same goal from the other direction: the Boulder-X mid is a beefed-up trail running/hiking shoe, and the Rapace is a slimmed-down mountaineering boot. It appears very similar to the Trango Cube GTX (new version of the Trango “red” shoes) — round toe, heel welt, similar weight. I use the Boulder X as well as the Trango Cube so I can say this: the approach shoe version is lighter, more flexible, generaly feels more like a shoe. They are better for smearing, jamming, and general climbing; they cram into a small pack better. The light mountain boot is stiffer, more awkward to walk in, edges better, and is much more comfortable front-pointing in crampons. Both work well for shoulder-season alpinism, both accept universal crampons. The mountain-boot style accept semi-auto crampons as well, although that’s quite a niche thing to own.

      I choose between these styles based on how much actual snow climbing I will be doing and how much time I will be wearing crampons, i.e. if there’s a lot of front-pointing (or kicking steps) up snow, and I don’t need to fit them into a small backpack, the mountain boots are a better choice. If the excursion is mostly walking and scrambling, and/or I’m rock climbing most of the time with the shoes in my pack or on my harness, I go with the lighter pair. The Bugaboos, for example, are a great venue for the lighter style.

      According to posted weights, you’ll save about 10 oz per pair (21%) by using the lighter shoes, although the bigger factor for rock climbing might be that the Boulder X Mid takes up much less space in a pack, since the sides and tongue don’t take up much volume and can be squished more easily. If you’re mostly on snow, and in crampons, go with the beefy boots.

      The scarpa shoes are really similar to the LaSport shoes. I’d go with whatever feels better; Scarpa tends to fit a bit wider.

      weights (per shoe)
      Boulder X Mid 17.9 oz
      Scarpa 18 oz
      Salewa 23 oz
      Trango Cube is 25 oz

      Love the Sierras in spring! The range of light…Hope this info helps. Happy tromping.

  3. Erik says:

    Are these crampon accessible – I have grivel g-12 crampons that have heel lock. Will these work together?

  4. Chris says:

    Hello guys..So for warm weather these are not any good? By warm i dont mean desert hikes but summer days up to 25 degrees celcious. I am asking cause la sportiva supports that it is good for summer conditions breathable upper.

  5. Drew says:

    These shoes feel pretty warm 25 C (77 F). At that temperature I wear a lighter shoe that breathes more, and I reserve these shoes for cold weather hiking, approaches that cross glacier or snow, and or really wet hikes in rain/bogs etc. On dry hikes in warm weather my feet get pretty sweaty, the gore Tex helps but they are totally wrapped in leather, so they don’t breathe much.

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