- 3F System Evo
- Climbing Lacing
- Multi Fit Footbed
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).
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.
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.
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….