Monday, December 5, 2011

Gear Review: Five Ten Camp Four Approach Shoes

There has long been a search for the perfect approach shoe--the mythical creation that can hike heavy loads, scale 3rd class scrambles with ease, confidently ascend 5th class like a climbing shoe, and last forever.  While the Five Ten Guide Tennie has definitely been the go-to approach shoe of choice since the mid-1990s, I find it doesn't quite meet my durability needs.  As a climbing guide, I wear my approach shoes pretty much everyday I am working and nearly as frequently during my personal time (since I'm usually climbing).  Consequently, the shoes I value are ones that can take a beating.  Here's my criteria in an approach shoe:

The one thing that separates an approach shoe from a hiking shoe is its ability to climb well.  If it doesn't climb well, then you shouldn't have paid extra for the sticky rubber.  As a guide, I need to have shoes that offer supreme performance on technical hiking terrain, such as talus and low-angle rock, where I might be short-roping.  Further, I should be able to lead at least 5.6 in my approach shoes, which is useful on everything from alpine rock routes to quickly setting up multiple top-ropes for a day at the crag.

Since approach shoes are suppose to serve as the one shoe for multiple jobs, they should hike reasonably well.  In other words, comfort, ventilation perhaps, maybe water resistance, and a good rocker are all things to consider.  Depending on the objective, comfortably supporting a large load may also be relevant.

Lastly, approach shoes need to be durable.  It is not uncommon for a guide or avid recreational climber to wear out a pair of approach shoes in a season or less.  The problem is that approach shoes typically feature climbing rubber on the sole, which is less durable but much stickier than the rubber typically used on a hiking shoe.  Consequently, in the face of significant use, the soles of approach shoes tend to wear out, de-laminate, shred, peel, crack, and anything else imaginable fairly quickly.

Enter the Five Ten Camp Four.

I have been wearing the Camp Four's since the summer of 2008.  In four solid seasons of climbing and guiding, I am barely into my third pair, which is a testament to their durability.  Even after I have retired them from climbing use, they still end up on my feet just to wear around town as general footwear.  I have been quite impressed with how long my Camp Four's have held up to the rigors or climbing, scrambling, and hiking on all types of terrain.

What really determines the worth of an approach shoe, though, is how well they climb.  I have comfortably led up to 5.8 and top roped 5.10 in my Camp Four's with no ill effects.  The Stealth S1 all-purpose rubber that coats most of the shoe is great for smearing (in fact, I think it's easier to climb slab up to 5.8 in a good pair of approach than it is in climbing shoes since you can paste so much more rubber on the rock).  The inside toe edge of the sole is made of a separate layer of Stealth C4 climbing rubber that affords good purchase on smaller holds.  Finally, I feel totally confident in these shoes on semi-technical terrain, especially while short-roping.  When I'm not wearing them, I'm frequently taken aback by how much more my feet slip while scrambling up talus.

Leading in the Camp Fours
On the hiking side of things, they perform quite adequately.  The leather uppers are fairly waterproof when intact and will shed light rain and walk through a couple inches of water without soaking through to my socks.  They also do just fine kicking steps in snow for summer rock routes approached via isothermal snow pack.  The rocker definitely helps when slogging a big load, up to about 50 pounds.  Otherwise, they are generally comfortable to wear all day and require almost no time at all to break in.

While I love the Camp Four and the versatility they afford me, since they are so versatile, they do not excel in any single area.  They climb well, but not as well as the Five Ten Guide Tennie or similar shoes, and they require a bit extra foot strength when edging.  The can certainly hike a long way, but under heavy loads (50+ pounds) or longer distances (12+ miles in a day) my feet begin to suffer a bit.  Finally, for whatever reason, the shoe laces consistently break.  I usually have to change one or both laces out in the life of a pair of shoes.

Though Five Ten has since started marketing the Camp Four as a "light hiker," the truth of the matter is that they are still one of the most rugged approach shoes on the market.  Great for everything from hiking to scrambling to climbing (the folks at Outdoor Gear Lab/Super Topo love them for big walls), the Camp Four really is my "go-to" shoe.

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