17.9 oz/ 508 g
Suede upper, full rubber rand, Vibram sole
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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