Field Testing: Technical Terrain
How well an approach shoe chews through hiking or scrambling terrain is only part of the story. They are used in climbing situations, both free and aid, and the criteria for success in those areas are not the same as on a trail. Not that climbers buy approach shoes in lieu of climbing shoes, but they are often the weapon of choice for those who are gearing up for a long day spent in aiders or easier “approach pitches” to longer technical routes. In these situations, the ability to pull free-climbing moves without having to stop and switch out your footwear is a valuable time saver.
Recently, I had several chances to take the Mountain Trainers around Eldorado Canyon State Park outside Boulder, Colorado, to tour the fountain sandstone capital of the climbing world, which involved scree, steep scrambling, and climbing. The stiffness of the shoe and harder sole allowed me to edge better than with other approach shoes I’ve worn. Making this even better, the part of the sole beneath the toe-box includes a continuous rim of rubber. This is designed to make edging easier by not having to worry about stepping up onto a face hold and accidentally catching one of the traction grooves. The climbing rubber on the rand is only mildly helpful in cracks but does complement the stiffness of the shoe in cracks sized for hands or larger. Truthfully, this stripe of climbing rubber doesn’t affect the shoe much, if at all, in non-climbing situations. The sole is thick enough that I very rarely found the rand itself touching rock.
The other side of this coin is that the stiff build prevented me from getting much out of a crack sized below perfect hands. Even that, while doable, would take some very deliberate footwork. Instead, you are better off jamming your foot into the corner (in the case of a crack on the inside of a seam) or using the climbing rubber to employ a “rand smear” of the sort often used on straight-in finger cracks. In relatively thinner cracks, a softer shoe or one with a lower profile (particularly a thinner sole) would give you more play and allow more of the shoe to contact the sides of the crack. Again, this is a minor shortcoming, as these shoes are not meant to replace climbing shoes altogether, but it is worth noting that the Mountain Trainer’s usable range of crack sizes is slightly smaller than that of other shoes.
Getting back to time spent in aiders, the shoe does contain one nice feature that is helpful in aid climbing situations: a cap of rubber that extends up from the sole to cover the very front of the shoe. This small “front point” of harder rubber is the only break in the climbing rubber that skirts the upper. While it might take away slightly from the grip you might get with climbing rubber in that spot, it protects the soft rubber from extended, abusive sessions of standing in aiders with your toes pressed and rubbing against the rock, while simultaneously protecting what is an obvious delamination point.
On the whole, the shoes are very well constructed and performed up to their billing. They eat up hiking and scrambling terrain as well as any other hiking shoe—or even full-size boot—that I’ve tried. They’re ideally suited for long approaches or scrambling, and fall just shy of alternative shoes only on steep, slabby terrain. The choice of sturdier rubber on the sole rounds out Salewa’s dedication to a long-lasting product in the Mountain Trainer, and you could easily have these double as your backpacking footwear without worrying about wearing away the rubber for your next climbing trip. Unless you prefer softer footwear or plan on using approach shoes in such a way that would demand the entire sole be made of sticky rubber, it is hard to imagine being unhappy with the Mountain Trainer.