Salewa Mountain Trainer Approach Shoe

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.

Dave Alie, Salewa MTN Trainer, Blister Gear Review
Dave Alie with the Salewa MTN Trainer.

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.

Bottom Line:

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.

9 comments on “Salewa Mountain Trainer Approach Shoe”

  1. 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 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.

    • 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. 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. 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?

    • 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. 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. 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,

      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.


  6. 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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