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Salewa Mountain Trainer Approach Shoe

Salewa MTN Trainer, Blister Gear ReviewProduct: Salewa Mountain Trainer approach shoe

Technology:

  • 3F System Evo
  • Climbing Lacing
  • Multi Fit Footbed

Weight: 510g

Available Sizes: U.S. Men’s 6–13

Foot: Size U.S. Men’s 13 size street shoe, medium to high-volume, lower arch, neutral gait

Time Tested: 14 days outside on day trips or longer

Time Worn: About 6 weeks

Approach shoes, a relatively recent addition to the footwear universe, are designed to span the gap that exists between hiking boots and climbing shoes. Like most multi-tooled pieces of gear, holding the middle ground means that approach shoes are confined by the “jack of all trades, master of none” adage. Not all approach shoes, however, are equidistant between climbing and hiking; many sit noticeably closer to one end of the spectrum than the other. Knowing where a particular shoe falls in this spectrum is an important part of choosing the best one for you.

To this end, the qualities that make a shoe good for climbing and those that are suited for hiking are often mutually exclusive. For example, stiff, hard soles will last longer when hiking over broken terrain and will edge better on low fifth-class terrain, but will smear relatively poorly, whereas the opposite is true with soft soles.

The Salewa Mountain Trainer falls close to the middle of the spectrum, resting slightly closer to the hiking side. The shoe is low-cut and available with or without a Gore-Tex layer. This review examines the non-Gore-Tex version of the shoe, largely because I’ve never needed Gore-Tex in a shoe that doesn’t even cover my ankles. (Perhaps I’m just an especially skilled puddle dodger?) I suppose it is possible that some approaches require hiking through miles of stream bed where the water is never deeper than 2 inches, but I’ve never been there. (And yes, I digress.)

Selling Points: Salewa’s case for the Mountain Trainer

Among the selling points listed on Salewa’s website are technical lacing that extends farther toward the toes than most shoes; Salewa’s “3F System Evo,” to allow the shoe to flex without restricting movement; and a multi-fit footbed.

The lacing system resembles those found on climbing shoes, and is easy to adjust and achieve a good fit with. The laces themselves resemble utility cord and are more robust than regular laces, so they won’t shred the first time you have to shove your foot in a crack (this might be either trivial or important, depending on what you use your approach shoes for).

Salewa 3F, Blister Gear Review

The Salewa 3F System Evo.

The enigmatically named 3F System Evo appears to be designed to spread the support of the lacing throughout the shoe and promote heel retention without limiting mobility. This is achieved via the addition of a Y-shaped piece of material connecting the sole, the upper-most lace eyelet, and the back cuff of the shoe near the ankle. While this combination of support and mobility is extremely important in the performance of high-top mountaineering or hiking boots that confine the ankle, it’s not terribly relevant to a low-cut shoe where ankles are already fully free to move. The shoe fits and wears comfortably, but it is impossible to tell how, if at all, this apparently noteworthy feature contributes to the functionality or comfort of the shoe.

Last is the multi-fit footbed. This is essentially a two-layer removable liner that can be manipulated to adjust the interior volume of the shoe. It is composed of a proper liner and a thinner rubber liner underneath that can be removed to make a little more room for those with larger-volume feet. It is a considerate nod to the fact that we all have different feet, but, while I appreciate its inclusion, I had a hard time telling the difference between the various configurations. The shoe was comfortable independent of how I arranged the liners, but your feet might feel differently.

Field Testing: Trails and Scrambling

My first trip out with the Mountain Trainers was on the Bierstadt-Sawtooth-Evans traverse, a day trip of third-class scrambling among the peaks, bookended by hiking on more established trail. My early impressions of the shoe were positive. The day included trail, scrambling on broken rock, steep terrain, a scree-filled gully, a marsh, and some snow, and the shoes were fantastic in all these areas. They performed well on trail and even better on more broken terrain such as boulders, roots, etc. They also felt as solid as could be expected in the loose gully we descended, given the terrain.

Dave Alie, Salewa MTN Trainer, Blister Gear Review

Dave Alie with the Salewa Mountain Trainer on the Bierstadt-Sawtooth-Evans traverse, Colorado.

Having taken them out many times since, it is now clear that this round trip was exactly the kind of terrain the shoes are best suited for. They function exactly like a low-cut hiking boot in many ways, including the fact that they have a stiff, hiking rubber sole rather than one made partially or entirely of climbing rubber. (In fact, Salewa uses climbing rubber only the upper, and the only thing that separates these shoes from a low-cut hiking boot is a stripe of climbing rubber that circles the rand. But more on that in a minute).

The softer, stickier climbing rubber grips rock better than the harder rubber used on the sole of the Mountain Trainer, but that extra grip comes at the cost of durability: it fades fast compared to most other footwear materials. The downside to using a harder sole is that the Mountain Trainer doesn’t perform as well on steep, slabby approaches or climbs (such as the east faces of the Flatirons) compared with approach shoes that do have climbing rubber on the soles, like the aforementioned La Sportiva Boulder X, or the 5.10 Warhawk. This is an admittedly narrow advantage for these other shoes, with the Mountain Trainer keeping pace in all other areas.

Dave Alie, Salewa MTN Trainer, Blister Gear Review

For hiking and scrambling terrain, the Mountain Trainer is both lightweight and supportive—a fantastic combination. That said, the shoe is hard and stiff. The materials are relatively thin, with less padding throughout the shoe, particularly around the ankle. While I am partial to shoes of this construction, those who strongly prefer soft and flexible trail runners in these settings might find this shoe to be too stiff for their tastes. This stiffness, however, plays an important role in an approach shoe’s performance on technical terrain….

9 Comments

  1. Zak July 11, 2012 Reply

    I had a Salewa Alp Trainer boot last year. I really liked their look and weight, and used them on a few long day trips with great success. However, they really did a number on my heels (blisters and bone-spur rubbing) as soon as I tossed on a pack. I rarely blister and I’ve never had so much trouble with a pair of boots, and ended up hiking 15 miles in crocs with a 30# pack (never, ever taking crocs again as camp shoes). I guess the hard, stiff heel cup just didn’t work at all for my feet. Apparently, others have had the same problem now that I’m reading the bc.com reviews. Hope these have a different last.

    For full disclosure: I know that Salewa offers a blister-free guarantee, but that is supposedly done through the shop at which you bought the shoes. I bought them on an extended trip, and tossed the receipt after a few long day hikes with no issues.

    • Author
      Dave Alie July 16, 2012 Reply

      Zak,

      Glad to hear your take on their product line. Like yourself, I generally lead a pretty blister-free life, so that might have helped out the Salewa’s in my case. I don’t experience any sort of chaffing with them, but I think there might be a large difference there between high and low top versions of the boots. It’s interesting to hear your experiences as Salewa trumpets their lacing system as an effective method of achieving ideal fit, which should go a long way to preventing blisters in the first place. Clearly that didn’t work on your trip.

      In speaking to several people who have worn Salewa shoes before, I have heard of one other instance in which a user reported their heel rising up off the sole while walking. This was so pronounced for them that their heel actually popped out of the shoe on a steep climb. After hearing your account, I wonder: did you notice movement in your heel while using the shoe (with a pack on or otherwise) that was worse than you are accustomed to with other footwear?

      While it’s true that not all shoes will fit all people and poor fit will lead to blistering, that doesn’t seem like the case with you as it is unusual that the performance and fit would have been so different with a pack than without. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

  2. Zak July 16, 2012 Reply

    Hey Dave,

    I really have no idea what was up with the boot. My “boot quiver” is mainly La Sportiva and Garmont for climbing, approach, and mountaineering boots. I experience a little heel lift in my mountaineering boots (Nepal Evo) because I sized them a bit large, but other than that, I strive for no heel lift in any shoes/boots I buy. It’s been a while since had the Salewa’s on, but I’m pretty sure there was no appreciable heel lift in those either. I’m fairly experienced with fitting hiking boots, and I am truly at a loss as to why these worked in the store and for a few longer hikes in GNP but not a backpacking trip. I honestly have no idea why the pack made such a difference. It seems crazy to me too! But I’m not about to take them out for another day hike—partly because, in addition to the blisters, they *hurt* my heel. I don’t have a bone spur, but this is the second pair of shoes that have aggravated the area where the Achilles tendon attaches to my heel (the other pair was a cheap pair of climbing shoes about six years ago). Interestingly, the blisters I got were huge in diameter (silver dollar size), but relatively shallow—with some bandaging, I was able to climb Rainier in the weather window that opened up the day after my backpacking trip.

    Like I said, this has nothing to do with the particular shoe you reviewed, I just wanted to mention that I (and apparently others, according to the reviews on a few websites) have had trouble with the Alp Trainer. Either this is a different last or you have a “Salewa” foot.

    Blister is killing it with the reviews, as always. Be neat to see some more shoes reviewed.

  3. Rubén November 17, 2013 Reply

    Hi from Spain!!!!.
    Great job with the review of salewa mountain trainer. I wanna buy a pair of that shoes, they look great but i have a doubt…. for me a contra could be the material of the “y” of the 3f system and it’s stiching, I supposse that your shoes have already a lot of km’s, any damage in the “y” or in the stiching?

    • Dave Alie November 19, 2013 Reply

      Ruben,
      The “Y” on the shoe is still in good shape after all I’ve used it. That material is stitched very closely and runs along the sides of the shoe, functioning more like a suspension than anything that would actually receive much direct wear. In general, these approach shoes are among the more durable of the seven or so approach shoes I’ve used. They’re stiffer than most, and they’re not as light as some other shoes which more closely resemble trail runners, but if that’s the sort of shoe you’re looking for and durability is your primary concern, I’d say go for it.

  4. Rubén November 19, 2013 Reply

    Many thanks Dave.
    I’m gonna try, stiff is exactly what I want… if the “y” doesn’t wear a lot it could be my shoe.
    Thanks again. Best regards

  5. jackson May 14, 2015 Reply

    Really quite well-written review, both content and style. You convey a lot without being chatty and the account of the shoes is full. I’ve a pair of the Wildfires and will probably go for these [Wildfires fit large]. Hope you keep writing. When you’re not out of doors.
    jackson

    • Dave June 8, 2015 Reply

      Jackson,

      Thanks heartily for the kinds words and encouragement, and my apologies for being so long in replying! Blister represents a tremendous amount of labor-of-love on the part of many people, and we really enjoy getting your feedback. I think you’ll dig the Moutain Trainers, they’re a solid shoe.
      Cheers,

      Dave

  6. sean May 18, 2016 Reply

    I bought a pair last year and agree that they are great for scrambling on talus slopes + general backpacking.

    i wear mine with a 15kg pack with no issues except Inow find the soles a little stiff after progressing to more flexible footwear over the last couple of years. They are designed for edging, via ferrata etc so i can forgive them for being fit-for-purpose. The sole grips very well, I think, and the shoe is suitable for those with a wider and low volume foot – which can be difficult to shop for. They are wider than an asolo fugitive, for example.

    i have modified the shoe by drilling out a new lace hole further down the ‘Y’ section. this is so i could get an effective heel lock with the laces – to accommodate the stiff sole. Without this i was getting heel slippage.

    If i continue to use these shoes for all my backpacking (i pretty much use them for scrambling routes now) i will drill some drain holes through the leather as well as they do not drain well after creek crossings.

    If they produced this shoe with a ballistic nylon hybrid upper it would be an ideal backpacking shoe for rocky off-track terrain.

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