For big days out it is hard to imagine a more important piece of gear than your shoes. You often leave and return to the trailhead in the dark, without ever taking your shoes off. How your shoes treat your body in between is pretty darn important. I have been climbing for fifteen years and taking people climbing for about ten. I have gone through piles of approach shoes, and the La Sportiva Xplorer tops the list.
Many factors exist in finding the right approach shoe for your needs and objectives. The biggest trade-off for me to consider is performance versus comfort. Do you feel like you can lead 5.8 in them but your feet are mashed potatoes by the end of the day? Or do they feel like a cadillac on your heels, but climb so poorly that you have to switch into your rock shoes for a bit of 4th class? The Xplorers have found a happy balance here. In the past two weeks I have given the Xplorers the best test I can think of: two car-to-car trips up The Diamond in Rocky Mountain National Park. These were very long days, moving consistently for eighteen to twenty hours. The Xplorers crushed it.
The hike involves about six miles of hiking each way with several thousand feet of elevation change. The terrain varies from hardpacked trail, to scrambling over huge boulders, to scree fields and loose moraine. After the three to four hour hike in and then the subsequent hike out, most people are absolutely sick of walking! My partner on one of these missions actually said he would pay $50 to magically be back in his bed. Sure there's the mental game of it all, but it helps if your body has had only the required amount of thrashing that day and has not received an excessive dose of ass-whooping. I have found with some shoes that I have sore toes and and feet after a day out like this. With the Xplorers I find that my dogs do NOT bark, even if every other part of my body may be. With regards to the design of the shoe, I believe that this comfort comes from several design features: a healthy amount of rocker in the sole, a sufficient amount of padding in the mid-sole and a significant amount of rigidity. They are also lighter than most approach shoes and breath great. (Please note that I put a pair of Superfeet in these as I do with all of my approach shoes.)
Performance: When I speak of performance I have steep terrain in mind. Plenty of shoes on the market can get you from A to B as you hike along in the mountains, but I greatly desire quality capability in 4th class and low to mid 5th class terrain. The test of this for me was the North Chimney, the gaping 600' gully at the end of the six mile hike into the Diamond. It is the formidable obstacle that stands between a climbing party and their awe inspiring splitter route of the day on the Diamond proper. People HATE the North Chimney and look like they want to spit when they speak of it. Seasoned climbers have fallen down it and have had large rock fall down onto them while inside it. I don't want to be either of those guys, so when I head into the North Chimney it's paramount that I move quickly AND securely. To get into it, this time of year, one has to ascent several hundred feet of relatively steep snow to get on the rock. On my most recent trip up there I put crampons on my Xplores and was very happy with the setup, partly due to the rigidity of the shoe with a crampon on and also due to the level of water resistance they provided. After the snow climbing there is hundreds of feet of rock climbing, ranging from 4th class to 5.6. The shoes were excellent in this terrain. While my capable partner feel the need to change out of his approach shoes, I felt comfortable continuing up the slabs, cracks and face, climbing in my Xplores, unroped. These shoes edge great due to the style of rubber and the rigidity of the sole. However, I do find that others shoes with softer rubber and less shoe underfoot slab and crack climb better, but often at the cost of durability and cushioning.
Bottom Line: These shoes are great! I'm pretty sure this pair of shoes will take on quite a few pitches and miles, due to their solid construction, particularly in their large rand and durable sole. I have other shoes in my gear closet that don't see the light of day or are on the "to sell" list, as I'm always reaching for these shoes, whether it's for long routes in Eldo, Lumpy or the Park. Their balance of weight, durability, performance, comfort and most importantly style (duh) make me think we'll be seeing this shoe around for a while in La Sportiva's line up.
Rainbow WeinstockColorado Mountain School Guide
AMGA Certified Rock Guide