Combining the features of hiking shoes, climbing slippers, and even mountaineering boots, approach shoes are in a category of their own. For climbers, they’re an essential piece of footwear that provides stability and traction on rock in addition to comfort for miles on the trail. And because approaches can take on so many different forms—from walking to the crag to scrambling fourth or fifth class or embarking on a multi-day slog—approach shoes are a diverse bunch. Below we break down the top approach shoes of 2024, including comfortable crag and trail shoes, nimble climbers, and mid-height waterproof models. For more information, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks.

Editor’s note: We updated our approach shoes guide on May 13, 2024, to swap several designs to the latest versions, including the La Sportiva TX4 Evo, Black Diamond Session 2.0, and Black Diamond Mission 2.0. We also added the Black Diamond Mission Leather Mid WP, Arc’teryx Konseal FL 2 Leather GTX, and Zamberlan Salathe GTX RR to the list, along with information about our testing practices below the picks.

Our Team's Approach Shoe Picks

Best Overall Approach Shoe

1. La Sportiva TX4 Evo ($169)

La Sportiva TX4 Evo approach shoeCategory: All-around/scrambling
Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz.
Upper: Leather
What we like: Hardwearing leather upper and well-rounded performance; we appreciate La Sportiva’s recent sustainability upgrades.
What we don’t: Narrower and stiffer out of the box than the prior version; breathability is limited in hot summer conditions.

La Sportiva’s popular TX series combines features from climbing shoes, mountaineering boots, and mountain running shoes, ranging from the superlight TX2 Evo below to the burly TX Hike Mid GTX hiking boots. Of this venerable grouping, we like the balanced TX4 Evo best. It offers a standout combination of protection, comfort, and durability, and is suitable for everything from toting up a climb on your harness to long hikes with heavy loads. Another highlight is the Vibram Megagrip outsole, which is super high-quality and among the stickiest we’ve tested for both scrambling and hiking. Finally, the latest Evo model has a nice sustainability slant with recycled materials throughout and a platform that can be resoled to maximize the shoes’ lifespan. 

That said, we do have some complaints about the recent changes that La Sportiva made. Although the latest TX4 Evo incorporates eco-friendlier touches, it’s a couple ounces heavier than the original model and noticeably stiffer out of the box. To be fair, our pair is breaking in nicely, but several users have confirmed our initial impressions: They lack the soft, foot-hugging feel of the prior version. They’re narrower, too, which may be a dealbreaker for those with particularly high-volume feet (the original model’s wide toe box was a boon for on-trail comfort). But overall, the core DNA of our favorite all-around approach shoe remains—including standout grip, well-rounded performance, and a hardwearing build that will stand the test of time. For a step down in price ($159) and weight (1 lb. 9 oz.), La Sportiva’s TX3 features a more breathable mesh upper that’s great for summer missions, although protection and durability fall well short of the burlier TX4... Read in-depth TX4 review (previous version)
See the Men's La Sportiva TX4 Evo  See the Women's La Sportiva TX4 Evo


Best Lightweight Approach Shoe

2. La Sportiva TX2 Evo ($159)

La Sportiva TX2 Evo approach shoe_Category: Cragging/all-around
Weight: 1 lb. 4.4 oz.
Upper: Knit
What we like: A great shoe for toting up walk-off routes.
What we don’t: Minimal support and durability.

The TX2 Evo is not only the lightest member of the La Sportiva TX family—it’s the lightest model on our list (among those that provide a weight spec). At just 10.2 ounces per shoe, the minimalist design packs in a surprising number of thoughtful features. The flat sole, rigid toe box, and sticky Vibram Idrogrip rubber lend themselves to excellent performance on technical rock, and you get a snug fit by way of the pliable knit upper and customizable lacing system. Breathability is excellent for hot summer days, and the TX2 will also drain and dry quickly following a river crossing. And with an elastic loop that combines the shoes for streamlined carry on your harness, it’s our hands-down favorite for hauling up climbs with walk-off descents.

The knock against the TX2 Evo is that it isn’t particularly durable, especially when pushed to its limits. It’s true that Sportiva designed the latest Evo version to be easily resoled, but in our experience with the first-gen TX2, the upper was the first component to fail—and several user reviews cite that the latest version is even more susceptible than before. Further, with a flat sole and little in the way of support or cushion, the shoe falls short for long days on the trail. But for short approaches to the crag, easy scrambles, and toting up rock climbs, it’s hard to beat the feathery weight and easy portability. For a more durable option, Sportiva also makes the TX2 Evo Leather, which is cheaper ($149) and only slightly heavier at 1 pound 4.8 ounces.
See the Men's La Sportiva TX2 Evo  See the Women's La Sportiva TX2 Evo


Best Approach Shoe for Technical Scrambling

3. La Sportiva TX Guide ($179)

La Sportiva TX Guide approach shoe_Category: Scrambling/all-around
Weight: 1 lb. 8.6 oz.
Upper: Mesh
What we like: A high-performance shoe for technical climbing and mountain scrambling.
What we don’t: Expensive and less durable than the TX4 Evo; decidedly narrow fit.

If you’ve been around climbing for long enough, chances are you remember the La Sportiva Ganda. A favorite among experienced climbers and guides, the streamlined Ganda was the shoe to wear while climbing fifth-class rock. After a multi-year hiatus, La Sportiva introduced the TX Guide as their high-tech offering, and we like it a lot. Compared to the TX4 above, the Guide is lighter, leaner, more sensitive, and stickier—in other words, it’s a better option for technical climbing and scrambling. It’s also nicely padded underfoot (touted as having the cushioning of a mountain runner), which is great for comfort and speed on the trail.

It’s important to note that the TX Guide is built on a different last than other models in the TX lineup, which is considerably narrower in the toe box. Further, you do give up some durability with the mesh upper (Sportiva also makes a slightly heavier leather version), and the Guide’s sticky sole won’t hold up quite as well as stiffer rubber compounds. But these trade-offs make it wildly impressive on technical rock: We forgot to pack our climbing shoes for a six-pitch 5.10+ in Washington State’s alpine, and the Guide proved to be a surprisingly capable substitute. Not everyone needs such a high-performance shoe (or will want to pay for it either), but if you’re inclined to long days of mountain scrambling with some technical climbing and fast hiking mixed in, the TX Guide is our top choice this year. 
See the Men's La Sportiva TX Guide  See the Women's La Sportiva TX Guide


Best Approach Shoe for Mountain Terrain

4. Scarpa Mescalito ($229)

Scarpa Mescalito approach shoe_0Category: Mountain/all-around
Weight: 1 lb. 12.2 oz.
Upper: Suede
What we like: A highly durable and protective shoe for demanding mountain travel.
What we don’t: Expensive, heavy, and rounded lugs aren’t super aggressive on soft terrain.

We’ve included a lot of La Sportiva shoes in our top picks but would be remiss to overlook the other Italian footwear giant: Scarpa. Their popular Mescalto is purpose-built to tackle demanding mountain objectives, bucking the lightweight trend with a durable suede upper, generous wraparound rand, and supportive TPU shank. Underfoot, the Vibram Megagrip sole features rounded, rectangular lugs that are versatile for both rock and soft terrain, along with a climbing zone at the front for precision while edging and smearing on rock. Finally, the 37.5 Technology lining helps minimize sweat buildup and odors, keeping the shoes fresh for longer than many leather competitors... 

The Mescalito is a go-to choice for mountain guides and serious climbers who get out a lot, but it’s not our recommendation for most climbers. First, at $229, it’s one of the most expensive shoes here, and you don’t get the Gore-Tex waterproofing of models like the Salewa Mountain Trainer or Zamberlan Salathe GTX RR below (although you can treat the suede with a waterproof finish). Further, the Mescalito can feel brick-like and heavy on casual, on-trail approaches, and the jack-of-all-trades tread isn’t particularly aggressive on loose terrain like mud, snow, and scree. But for serious forays into the mountains, you won’t find a burlier or more tailor-made design. For $10 less, Scarpa also makes the Mescalito Planet, which features a synthetic upper made from 45%-recycled yarns and an EVA midsole with 45%-recycled foam.
See the Men's Scarpa Mescalito  See the Women's Scarpa Mescalito


Best Mid-Height Approach Shoe

5. Black Diamond Mission Leather Mid WP ($190)

Black Diamond Mission Leather Mid WP approach shoeCategory: Mountain
Weight: Unavailable
Upper: Nubuck leather
What we like: Top-notch support and protection for hauling heavy loads into the mountains.
What we don't: Pricier and less versatile than most low-top approach shoes.

For long slogs into the mountains with a full pack, a mid-height approach shoe like Black Diamond’s Mission Leather Mid Waterproof makes a lot of sense. Perhaps you’re climbing a route like the Beckey-Chouinard in the Bugaboos, which requires hauling a heavy load miles to basecamp, kicking steps in steep snow on the approach, toting your shoes up the rock climb, and descending steep snow to return back to camp. A mountaineering boot would be ideal for the job, but with a shoe like the Mission Leather Mid, you can have similar performance in a lighter package. Black Diamond accomplishes this impressive level of support by way of a padded collar with two locking eyelets for dialing in a secure fit at the ankle, a quality Nubuck leather upper with minimal stitching, and beefy rubber at the toe and heel for taking the sting out of rough terrain.

Mid-height approach shoes like the BD Mission Leather Mid Waterproof have their place for demanding, gear-heavy missions into the backcountry, but there’s a reason that low-top approach shoes dominate the market. While Black Diamond doesn’t provide a weight spec for the Mission Leather Mid, it’s undoubtedly heavier than most shoes here, and the waterproof BD.dry membrane and leather upper limit breathability. In other words, if you’re going to buy a single pair of approach shoes, we’d recommend an option like the TX4 Evo above—even Salewa's mountain-ready (but low-cut) Mountain Trainer 2 GTX below is more versatile. But if your climbing objectives take you far off the beaten path and you anticipate needing the added support, the Mission Leather is a highly capable and purpose-built option. It’s also available in a low-cut version for $15 less, as well as a more breathable synthetic variation called the Mission LT 2.0 that we cover below.
See the Men's BD Mission Leather Mid WP  See the Women's BD Mission Leather Mid WP


Best Approach Shoe/Trail Runner Hybrid

6. La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II ($149)

La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II approach trail running shoe_Category: All-around
Weight: 1 lb. 9 oz.
Upper: Mesh
What we like: Great protection and grip paired with excellent long-distance comfort.
What we don’t: Mesh upper has a much shorter lifespan than leather.

More and more climbers are turning to trail running shoes, and the trend makes sense: They’re decently lightweight, comfortable for miles of hiking, and provide serviceable traction on rock. Compared to rigid and clunky approach shoes, they’re also a lot easier on your feet, especially during long outings. And while it’s true that you can get by with any old pair for short and easy approaches, you’ll want a fairly beefed-up trail runner for mountain terrain. The Ultra Raptor—one of the most longstanding shoes in Sportiva’s mountain running category—sticks close to this definition and offers a nice solution for those traveling fast and light.

One of our favorite features of the Ultra Raptor II is its Vibram FriXion XF 2.0 outsole (aka FriXion white), which offers incredible traction on rock—arguably more than the MegaGrip used in the TX series. Alongside the generous protection at the toe and heel, you also get running-shoe levels of cushion and flexibility, which is great for long days on the trail. We’ve used the Sportiva for missions that include running, off-trail travel, glacier crossings (it pairs well with the popular Petzl Leopard crampon), and low fifth-class scrambling, and found it to be an incredibly capable tool for the job. Keep in mind that you give up a good deal of durability (we don’t love the shoe for crack climbing), and the breathable mesh upper won’t protect your feet from cold and wind quite like leather. But for full-value summer days in the mountains, the Ultra Raptor is hard to beat... Read in-depth review
See the Men's La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II  See the Women's La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II


Best Approach Shoe with Everyday Appeal

7. Black Diamond Session 2.0 ($140)

Black Diamond Session 2.0 approach shoeCategory: Cragging/all-around
Weight: Unavailable
Upper: Synthetic
What we like: A casual and comfortable approach shoe with a unique bootie-like fit.
What we don’t: Outsole rubber is not super sticky.

Approach shoes have become so ubiquitous amongst climbers that it’s common to see them not just at the crag but at the brewery, the gym, and everywhere in between. But models like the TX4 Evo above and Mtn Trainer below can be fairly overbuilt (read: uncomfortable) for daily use. Black Diamond’s Session 2.0, on the other hand, is built with casual intentions, combining urban styling and a soft, bootie-like upper with all the features we look for in an approach shoe. The result is a wildly comfortable and easy-wearing shoe that both looks good and plays hard. In addition to the standard synthetic version featured here, Black Diamond also offers the shoe in a more hardwearing suede model.

One of our favorite features of the Session is the heel, which includes an elastic stretch that makes the shoe easy to pull on and off without bothering with the laces. The heel also folds down for use as a slip-on, which is a great feature for gym climbing, bouldering, and myriad around-home uses. And the Session holds its own among approach shoes, too, with a durable rubber sole, protective toe caps, and webbing loops at the heel for tagging up a climb. A final bonus: Black Diamond boosted the sustainability focus with the 2.0 by utilizing recycled materials in the upper and algae-infused foam in the midsole. Keep in mind that Black Diamond’s BlackLabel-Street rubber is designed for use on pavement, so the Session is built to last but offers less grip on rock than more performance-oriented shoes.
See the Men's Black Diamond Session 2.0  See the Women's Black Diamond Session 2.0


Best of the Rest

8. Arc’teryx Konseal FL 2 Leather GTX ($220)

Arc'teryx Konseal FL 2 Leather GTX approach shoeCategory: All-around/scrambling
Weight: 1 lb. 6 oz.
Upper: Leather
What we like: Great performance and support for the weight; high-quality and good-looking leather upper.
What we don’t: Steep price tag; Gore-Tex membrane and leather upper limit breathability.

British Columbia-based Arc’teryx is a top performer when it comes to technical mountain gear and apparel, and their Konseal FL 2 Leather GTX approach shoe is a case in point. Similar to the La Sportiva TX Guide above, the Konseal FL 2 features a hybrid design that combines the support, traction, and close fit of an approach shoe with the agility and comfort of a trail runner. The net result is an excellent all-rounder for alpine missions that involve a mix of trail miles, cross-country travel, and technical scrambling. You get a Vibram Megagrip sole similar to that on La Sportiva’s TX4 Evo, along with a suede upper that promotes a precise, foot-hugging fit and holds up well over time. Tack on a springy foam heel and low 1-pound-6-ounce weight (6 oz. lighter than the also-leather TX4 above), and the Konseal is nimbler and lighter than most approach shoes here. 

It’s worth noting that we had previously the standard Konseal FL 2 ranked here, which swaps in a ripstop mesh upper, omits a waterproof liner (read: better breathability), and retails for a considerable $75 less than the leather version. While the latter is undeniably pricey at $220, overall build quality is top-notch, and we love the premium look and feel of the suede upper (especially in the Relic/Black colorway shown above). Alternatively, La Sportiva’s leather TX4 Evo above will save you around $50 while offering similar advantages in durability and fit, but the Konseal offers a step up in protection with a fully waterproof Gore-Tex membrane while undercutting the TX4 in weight. Overall, if you’re willing to spend up for premium levels of performance, the Konseal FL 2 GTX is an expertly built approach shoe that can handle just about anything you throw its way.
See the Men's Konseal FL 2 Leather GTX  See the Women's Konseal FL 2 Leather GTX


9. Scarpa Crux II ($159)

Scarpa Crux approach shoe (shark tonic)Category: All-around
Weight: 1 lb. 10.8 oz.
Upper: Suede
What we like: A comfortable, inexpensive, and lightweight all-rounder.
What we don’t: Not our favorite outsole design.

The Crux is Scarpa’s classic all-around approach shoe, built to handle miles of hiking and the occasional off-trail scramble. With a suede upper and Kevlar webbing that connects the laces to the midfoot, you get the snug fit of a leather shoe but without too much stretch—in our experience, the Crux has a lot more structure than the similarly intentioned La Sportiva Boulder X below. And while a generous dose of cushioning underfoot means the Crux isn’t the strongest edging platform, it’s a very comfortable hiking shoe and has performed well for us on everything from heinous side-hill slogs to moderate climbs such as the classic Wolf’s Head in the Wind River Range.

In terms of outsoles, we give the edge to the La Sportiva TX4 Evo above, which has slanted, opposing lugs that offer superior grip on rock and better edging capabilities thanks to the stiffer platform underfoot. On the flip side, the Scarpa’s relatively flexible and cushioned sole is by far the more comfortable pick for miles of easy trail hiking. However, at 13.4 ounces per shoe, the Scarpa can’t match the nimbler feel of the modern competition. But for casual approaches where you don’t need to carry your shoes on your harness, it’s a comfortable and well-rounded choice... Read in-depth review (previous version)
See the Men's Scarpa Crux II  See the Women's Scarpa Crux II


10. Black Diamond Mission LT 2.0 ($160)

Black Diamond Mission LT approach shoeCategory: All-around
Weight: Unavailable
Upper: Synthetic
What we like: A capable but comfortable and fast-moving design for long approaches and easy scrambling.
What we don’t: Tight fit; less breathable than the original version.

Black Diamond’s approach shoe lineup is giving La Sportiva and Scarpa a run for their money, with a growing assortment of shoes to meet climbers’ various demands. The versatile Mission LT is a capable but comfortable workhorse made for long days of hiking over rugged, challenging terrain. Underfoot, the outsole nicely balances rock traction at the forefoot with sharper lugs at the back for navigating wet and loose ground. Protection and durability are also impressive, including an abrasion-resistant synthetic upper, reinforcements along the sides to fend off snags and tears, and a very solid toe and heel. Finally, the EVA midsole is nicely cushioned for long days out—despite taking the shoes out of the box and directly onto the trail, we’ve experienced minimal foot soreness, even on long and rocky approaches.

It's worth noting that the latest Mission LT 2.0 is pretty different from the original model that it replaced. The upper was one of the biggest changes, with Black Diamond transitioning from their EnduroKnit fabric to a tightly woven synthetic material. The biggest trade-off is reduced breathability, although we expect the Mission LT 2.0 will hold up better over time. We’ve also found the latest model to be very snug out of the box in our usual size. While the shoes have loosened up a little over time, we’d advise trying them on before you buy. But if you can get a good fit, the Mission LT 2.0 strikes a really nice balance with great long-distance comfort, a capable outsole, and far better durability than many knit and mesh competitors (like the TX2 Evo and Ultra Raptor II above)... Read in-depth review (previous version)
See the Men's BD Mission LT 2.0  See the Women's BD Mission LT 2.0


11. La Sportiva Boulder X ($149)

La Sportiva Boulder X approach shoeCategory: All-around
Weight: 2 lb. 2 oz.
Upper: Leather
What we like: Sticky rubber and quality leather upper for $20 less than the TX4 Evo.
What we don’t: Heavy and bulky.

For climbers who are just starting out or traditionalists looking for a value option, La Sportiva’s Boulder X fits the bill nicely. For $20 less than the top-ranked TX4 Evo, the Boulder X is extremely comfortable with a quality leather upper, excels on the trail, climbs third and fourth class well, and boasts insanely sticky rubber. While entirely subjective, we also like the look of the shoes—while far from the most modern choice here, they have a classic, timeless appearance that’s not out of place on the trail or around town.

What are the downsides of the Boulder X? The shoe is too heavy to carry on a harness, doesn’t edge well on fifth-class terrain, and boasts bulky soles that don’t take aluminum crampons well. Moreover, the leather upper stretches so much when wet that we’ve had issues with our feet twisting in the toe box, resulting in a tear where the rubber rand meets leather. That said, if you have wide feet and want an entry-level shoe that is a beast on the trail, the Boulder X should be near the top of your list.
See the Men's La Sportiva Boulder X  See the Women's La Sportiva Boulder X


12. Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 GTX ($230)

Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 GTX approach shoeCategory: Mountain
Weight: 2 lb. 0.3 oz.
Upper: Suede
What we like: Powerful and durable shoe for mountain environments.
What we don’t: Narrow fit isn’t great for everyone; too heavy and clunky for climbing.

Straight out of Montebelluna, Italy—otherwise known as the boot-making capital of the world—Salewa’s Mountain Trainer 2 GTX is an approach shoe truly designed for the mountains. With the wraparound protection of a full rubber rand, a waterproof Gore-Tex membrane, and durable Vibram sole, the Mountain Trainer is more akin to a tank than a race car, and a great shoe to have on your feet for off-trail travel involving talus slopes, kicking steps in snow, boulder-hopping, and more. Even for non-climbers interested in exploring the alpine with a lighter and more form-fitting shoe, the Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 is an excellent choice.

How does the Mountain Trainer compare to the Scarpa Mescalito above? The former is significantly heavier at 2 pounds 0.3 ounces per pair, although the extra heft does get you a waterproof membrane. The Scarpa is overall a much better scrambling shoe with rounded tread and a firm edging platform, while the Salewa has sharper lugs that make it a better choice for wet and soft terrain like mud and snow. Keep in mind that the latest Mountain Trainer 2 is very narrow, and an integrated stretch gaiter at the tongue makes it difficult to slip on. But for the right environments or as a lightweight substitute for a mountaineering boot, it’s hard to beat the durability and protection the Salewa provides. For a more climbing-focused design that’s similarly well-built, check out Salewa’s Wildfire 2 GTX.
See the Men's Salewa Mtn Trainer 2 GTX  See the Women's Mtn Trainer 2 GTX


13. Scarpa Gecko ($189)

Scarpa Gecko approach shoe (shark azure)Category: Scrambling/all-around
Weight: 1 lb. 6.6 oz.
Upper: Suede
What we like: A technically minded approach shoe that’s offered in both suede and synthetic versions.
What we don’t: Stiff build isn’t ideal for long approaches.

Scarpa’s goal with the Gecko was to make a slimmed-down but precise approach shoe that excels on technical terrain. Overall, we think they did a pretty good job: The slip-lasted toe box is designed with climbing in mind and boasts a sensitive feel, over-the-toe rubber for jamming in cracks, and an aggressive outsole for smearing and technical edging. To balance things out, the heel is board-lasted (read: stiffer) for stability, and a cushioned EVA midsole adds comfort for the trail (as long as your load isn’t too heavy or your approach too long). If the La Sportiva TX Guide above caught your eye, the Gecko is well worth a closer look, too.

The standard Gecko features a suede upper, which offers a long lifespan, custom fit (leather stretches to the shape of your foot over time), and modest water resistance—especially when treated with a leather conditioner. It’s worth noting that Scarpa also offers the Gecko LT ($169), which mimics the original design but swaps out the suede upper for a lighter but still durable ripstop synthetic fabric. The result is a slightly lower-profile feel, which translates to better precision on technical terrain. Synthetic uppers have become increasingly durable (the TX Guide and standard Konseal FL 2 are prime examples), and they’re often the best option for climbers looking for high performance. Regardless of which model you choose, both Geckos are stellar approach shoes intended for those who spend a lot of time on technical terrain.
See the Men's Scarpa Gecko  See the Women's Scarpa Gecko


14. Zamberlan Salathe GTX RR ($280)

Zamberlan Salathe GTX RR approach shoeCategory: Mountain/all-around
Weight: 1 lb. 15.4 oz.
Upper: Suede
What we like: Bombproof durability and excellent support for long mountain missions.
What we don’t: Heavy, clunky, and expensive; upturned toe detracts from precision.

Joining Salewa’s Mountain Trainer 2 GTX above is another mountain-ready design to have on your radar: Zamberlan’s Salathe GTX RR. Compared to the Salewa and most other designs on our list, the Salathe has a slightly taller cut (by around 0.5 in.) that provides a nice dose of added ankle support—great for long and technical approaches that involve a mix of trail and scrambling. Attention to detail is also impressive, including a tough suede upper and full rubber rand for protection against harsh impacts. Finally, while we generally prefer non-waterproof approach shoes for their breathability, the Salathe’s Gore-Tex Extended Comfort lining does a decent job regulating heat—and we’ve certainly appreciated it on puddle-strewn approaches (they're great on snowy patches of trail, too). All told, it's a nice middle ground between low-top leather models like the TX4 Evo and true mid-height boots like the BD Mission Leather Mid WP above.

In our experience, fit is another one of the Zamlerlan’s selling points: We’ve had no trouble effectively customizing tightness whether cinching things down on technical scrambling and light climbing missions or loosening the laces on long treks back to the car. We’ve also found there to be adequate room in the toe box to account for natural foot swelling as the miles add up, although some users report a narrow fit at the front. In our experience, the bigger issue is the upturn of the forefoot, which results in less precision when toeing in on small edges or smearing across slick slab. Coupled with the Salathe’s 1-pound-15.4-ounce weight, these shoes have a relatively clunky and imprecise feel compared to many of the picks above. And then there’s the $280 price tag, which will be out of reach for many. But for mountain athletes who prioritize long-term durability and support, we’ve been really impressed by the Salathe’s performance. They're also sold in a true mid-height boot version for $50 more.
See the Men's Zamberlan Salathe GTX RR


15. La Sportiva Aequilibrium Speed GTX ($329)

La Sportiva Aequilibrium Speed mountaineering bootCategory: Mountain
Weight: 2 lb. 5.4 oz.
Upper: Synthetic
What we like: Great for snowy approaches; heel bail takes semi-automatic crampons.
What we don’t: Heavy and lacks the precision of traditional approach shoes.

Climbers love to push the limits of approach shoes, but some terrain—think the North Cascades, early-season Tetons, or Patagonia—quite simply demands more from your footwear. It’s no easy feat finding a boot that’s capable (and comfortable) on easy trail, glacier, and rock, but La Sportiva’s Aequilibrium Speed GTX checks the boxes better than most. Like an approach shoe, it’s flexible and cushioned enough to retain good comfort mile after mile, and the lightweight build won’t weigh your pack down too much on the climb. On the other hand, with a mid-height cut and heel bail, the Aequilibrium Speed offers the best stability and crampon compatibility of any approach shoe here. 

The Aequilibrium Speed’s tall collar and significant bump in weight mean it’s too heavy and bulky for most summer objectives, especially when you’re carrying your gear up and over a climb. Additionally, with the Gore-Tex lining, you’ll compromise on breathability compared to a non-waterproof shoe like the TX4 above. And finally, with such lightweight construction, the Speed suffers in terms of durability when held up against comparable mountaineering boots. But for mixed conditions or long snowy approaches to alpine rock, the Aequilibrium Speed could be Sportiva’s best solution yet.
See the Men's La Sportiva Aequilibrium Speed  See the Women's La Sportiva Aequilibrium Speed


Approach Shoe Comparison Table

Shoe Price Category Weight Upper Sole
La Sportiva TX4 Evo $169 All-around/scrambling 1 lb. 12 oz. Leather Vibram Megagrip
La Sportiva TX2 Evo $159 Cragging/all-around 1 lb. 4.4 oz. Knit Vibram Idrogrip
La Sportiva TX Guide $179 Scrambling/all-around 1 lb. 8.6 oz. Mesh Vibram Megagrip/Idrogrip
Scarpa Mescalito $229 All-around/mountain 1 lb. 12.2 oz. Suede Vibram Megagrip
BD Mission Leather Mid WP $190 Mountain Unavailable Leather BlackLabel-Mountain
La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II $149 All-around 1 lb. 9 oz. Mesh Vibram FriXion XF 2.0
Black Diamond Session 2.0 $140 Cragging/all-around Unavailable Synthetic BlackLabel-Street
Arc'teryx Konseal FL 2 GTX $220 All-around/scrambling 1 lb. 6 oz. Suede Vibram Megagrip
Scarpa Crux II $159 All-around 1 lb. 10.8 oz. Suede Vibram Approach/Megagrip
BD Mission LT 2.0 $160 All-around Unavailable Synthetic BlackLabel-Mountain
La Sportiva Boulder X $149 All-around 2 lb. 2 oz. Leather Vibram Idrogrip
Salewa MTN Trainer 2 GTX $230 Mountain 2 lb. 0.3 oz. Suede Vibram Mtn Trainer Evo
Scarpa Gecko $189 Scrambling/all-around 1 lb. 6.6 oz. Suede SuperGum
Zamberlan Salathe GTX RR $280 Mountain/all-around 1 lb. 15.4 oz. Suede Vibram Pepe w/ Megagrip
LS Aequilibrium Speed GTX $329 Mountain 2 lb. 5.4 oz. Synthetic Vibram Dura Step

About Our Testing Process

Approach shoes are a fun bunch, merging hiking and climbing performance for a best-of-both-worlds combination on scrambles and technical terrain en route to the crag or in the mountains. Former senior editor and passionate mountain athlete Jenny Abegg drew from her decades of experience on the rock and in the alpine to compile our initial list of 16 approach shoes in 2017. Based in eastern Washington, Jenny’s favorite approaches take her as far off the beaten path as possible, covering everything from dusty trails to loose talus and—eventually—perfect granite. Senior editor Chris Carter currently manages the guide. From single-pitch crags close to home in the southeastern U.S. to big-wall ascents in Yosemite, Chris has an extensive climbing resume and a healthy selection of approach shoes to match.

Our current lineup of 15 approach shoes covers the full gamut of options, from mid-height, waterproof boots for long slogs into the mountains to lightweight designs that are easy to tote up multi-pitch routes on your harness. Every climber is different, and a final choice will largely come down to your objectives and preferences on weight, support, protection, and durability. When we test approach shoes, grip is one of our biggest considerations—we look for designs that are sticky on rock and edge well on steeper terrain but still retain enough comfort for long stretches of trail. Breathability, heft, and stiffness are also important factors, and we prioritize shoes that strike a nice balance. As the market changes, we will continue putting new and noteworthy designs to the test, amending the list above based on our experiences.

Approach shoes (sitting on rock in snowy mountains)
Whether you're an alpine climber or prefer single-pitch cragging, there's an approach shoe for you | Credit: Switchback Travel

Approach Shoe Buying Advice

What is an Approach Shoe?

An approach shoe is a specialized type of footwear for climbers, mountain scramblers, and hikers who often find themselves on rocky terrain. They are stiffer than a hiking shoe or trail runner, closer-fitting to boost precision, and have generous rubber rands for protection. But most importantly, they’re designed with ultra-sticky rubber soles (similar to a climbing shoe) for great grip on rock. In short, no other style of shoe comes close to the level of protection, traction, and stability that an approach shoe provides on more technical terrain.

Scrambling in the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II
Ridge traversing in the La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II | Credit: Jenny Abegg

All that said, just because you’re a climber doesn’t necessarily mean you need an approach shoe. For short, easy walks to the crag, you can get away with a pair of trail running shoes or even hiking sandals. Heck—at a crag like Rifle in Colorado or Wall Street in Moab, Utah, you can practically belay from your car. But for long approaches to the crag, adventurous multi-pitch missions, or big treks into the alpine, approach shoes are an indispensable addition to your climbing kit.

Approach shoes (La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II in mountains)
While technically billed as a trail runner, La Sportiva's Ultra Raptor II makes for a great approach shoe | Credit: Jason Hummel

Approach Shoe Categories

With climbing becoming a more and more diverse discipline (including everything from alpine scrambling and rock climbing to bouldering and gym climbing), approach shoes have followed suit. Some designs are stiffer, more streamlined, and more protective for performance on technical rock, while others prioritize breathability and flexibility for the trail. Others still are made specifically for cragging, light descents, or everyday use. We’ve broken down the market into four main categories: all-around, climbing, cragging, and mountain.

Approach shoe lineup
Make sure you consider your intended use when buying an approach shoe | Credit: Jenny Abegg

All-around approach shoes are your standard designs, built to tackle the mix of trail and rock that stands between you and your climbing objective. These designs are comfortable and supportive for long days of hiking, offer traction on both rock and wet terrain, and are roomy enough to accommodate foot swelling. While many shoes in this category can hold their own on technical rock (for these features, see our “Scrambling” category below), their design prioritizes performance on the approach—this is most epitomized in the sole, which often features a versatile combination of a climbing zone, smooth lugs, and aggressive heel. All-around shoes come in both leather and synthetic (often knit or mesh) uppers, so you can decide whether you want to prioritize durability or breathability. And finally, if you’ll be hauling your shoes up a multi-pitch climb for the descent, it’s worth considering this category’s more lightweight options. Some of our favorite all-around shoes include the La Sportiva TX3 and TX4, Scarpa Crux, and Arc’teryx Konseal FL 2 Leather GTX.

Approach shoe (La Sportiva TX4 leather upper)
The La Sportiva TX4 is our favorite all-around approach shoe | Credit: David Wilkinson

Some climbers favor an approach shoe over a climbing shoe for easy-to-moderate climbing like scrambling in the Flatirons, guiding clients up mid-fifth-class routes, or moderate ridgelines in the alpine. More comfortable than a climbing shoe but more precise than a standard approach shoe, designs in our scrambling category place a priority on technical-rock performance with low-profile builds, flat and stiff soles with dotted rubber (often forgoing a heel brake), and a precise toe edge that provides a delicate connection with the rock. Because they carry many of the features of a climbing slipper, scrambling shoes lack support, comfort, and traction for long sections of trail, and aren’t our first choice for those looking for a one-quiver option. Popular approach shoes in this category include the La Sportiva TX Guide and Scarpa Gecko.

Scrambling in the La Sportiva TX3 approach shoe
Scrambling in the La Sportiva TX3 | Credit: Fixed Line Media

For most climbers, heading to the crag or boulders means a short walk on a trail, followed by a day of climbing in one location. The sticky rubber sole and stiff build of an approach shoe might come in handy for rock hopping, but once you’re at your destination you’ll want a comfortable shoe that’s easy to get on and off (we’ll often bring a pair of flip flops to the crag for this very reason). As such, approach shoes in our cragging category (also ideal for bouldering) are on the more casual side, with features like a knit upper, microfiber liner for comfort against bare feet, and a heel that folds down for a quick slipper. Cragging shoes can also be a good fit for multi-pitch climbs when you want a lightweight shoe to haul up the climb for use on the descent. The Black Diamond Session 2.0 and La Sportiva TX2 Evo are two of our favorite cragging-specific approach shoes.

If you’re headed to an alpine climbing area such as the Bugaboos or the North Cascades, you’ll want an approach shoe that can handle snow and technical cross-country terrain. Many of the shoes in our all-around category can get the job done, but dedicated designs will provide better stability and protection with beefier leather uppers, sharper tread and deeper lugs, mid-height builds, and built-in waterproofing. Further, those using strap-on crampons will want a relatively stiff sole and upper (leather is better than mesh), and a raised collar will provide more comfort and security. Approach shoes in our mountain category include the Black Diamond Mission Leather Mid WP, Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 GTX, Zamberlan Salathe GTX RR, La Sportiva Aequilibrium Speed GTX.

Approach shoe (La Sportiva Trango Tech on snow)
Approaching in the Alaska Range wearing a lightweight mountaineering boot | Credit: Jenny Abegg

Outsoles and Traction

The sole of an approach shoe can tell you a lot about what it’s designed for. There are three main areas to an approach shoe sole: the toe box, the midfoot, and the heel brake area. Starting with the toe box, most approach shoes have a large rubber rand that surrounds the front, sides, and top of the toes, mimicking a climbing shoe. And approach shoes that are made to edge and smear well will have a smooth patch on the sole underneath the toe, allowing for close and responsive contact with the rock.

Approach shoe (Black Diamond Mission LT edging)
Approach shoes often feature a wraparound rubber rand | Credit: Switchback Travel

Moving to the midfoot and heel brake, the outsole design here can vary quite a bit between models. Generally, the dotty style found on shoes such as the La Sportiva Boulder X provides great surface area on rock but fails to perform on wet or snowy terrain. On the other hand, models with sharper tread, like the Salewa Mountain Trainer 2, are made to provide a high amount of traction on wet and snowy terrain but are generally more clunky on technical rock. Lastly, most approach shoes will have a heel brake, made of thin strips of sticky rubber for traction and downhill braking. Some shoes lack a heel brake, some lack a technical patch on the toe, and all will have slight variations in the midfoot rubber. Pay attention to each of these features to make sure you purchase an approach shoe that meets your specific needs.


For the majority of users who wear their approach shoes exclusively for hiking and moderate scrambling, edging is a non-issue. But for those who are proficient enough to climb technical terrain in the same shoes they hike in, a stable edging platform is essential. Most shoes in this category have a flat rubber patch under the big toe, providing a smooth and responsive platform for edging. Not only that, but climbers will want to look for models where the rubber rand comes flush to the sole (as seen in the Arc'teryx Konseal FL 2 Leather GTX and Scarpa Gecko). This provides a seamless, stiff edge like that of a climbing shoe. Even to the uninformed eye, this edge will look different from one that is made up of layers of cushioning, like that of La Sportiva’s Boulder X or Scarpa Crux.

La Sportiva TX3 approach shoe (edging)
We were impressed with the climbing abilities of La Sportiva's TX3 | Credit: Fixed Line Media


With a few exceptions, climbers generally limit their endeavors to days when conditions are dry and warm. In the world of approach shoes, breathability is a far more important factor than waterproofing. However, waterproofing is a nice security blanket if your climbing takes you into the mountains. The extra protection that comes with a waterproof and breathable membrane inserted into the shoe is great for creek crossings, surprise rainfall, or crossing snow. However, the extra layer adds weight and impacts breathability pretty significantly, hence why there are very few Gore-Tex models on our list. If you know you’re looking for a waterproof approach shoe, however, we’ve found Gore-Tex models to work consistently well, including the Arc’teryx Konseal FL 2 Leather GTX, Zamberlan Salathe GTX RR, and Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 GTX. Black Diamond's Mission Leather Mid Waterproof is also a good option for those who need the added ankle support and features their in-house BD.dry membrane.

Recently, we’ve seen an increase in the use of synthetic materials for approach shoe uppers, with models like the La Sportiva TX2 and TX3 and Black Diamond Mission LT 2.0 and Session 2.0. Although you get very little water resistance from these shoes, it’s important to remember that their mesh and knit uppers wick water far better than leather and do not grow heavy when wet. As a result, they also dry out more quickly after a full dousing. For this reason, we think synthetic materials are a great option for summer travel when wet feet aren’t a threat to your safety. That said, we still opt for leather shoes (like the TX4) for most approaches in the mountains.

Approach shoe (Arc'teryx Konseal FL crossing river)
For warm weather, we prefer a quick-drying shoe over a waterproof model | Credit: David Wilkinson


In terms of breathability, approach shoes constructed with a mesh or knit upper are going to breathe better than suede or leather versions, and far better than GTX models. There certainly is a trade-off, however: Highly breathable shoes (like the La Sportiva TX2 Evo) are not as durable or protective as their leather counterparts (the La Sportiva Boulder X, for example), although this notion has recently been challenged by designs like Black Diamond’s Mission LT 2.0 and Session 2.0, along with Arc’teryx’s ripstop mesh (as seen on the standard, non-GTX version of the Konseal FL). These two materials, in particular, have impressed us with their combination of breathability and abrasion resistance.

Additionally, shoes with a mesh upper are far more permeable to small particles such as sand, dirt, and snow. This will depend on the size of the holes in the mesh, however, and a shoe like the mesh TX3 will be much more vulnerable than the mesh Konseal FL. Further, additional features like a sock-like liner (as seen on Black Diamond’s Mission LT 2.0)—or even the addition of a short gaiter—will aid in keeping trail debris at bay. Long story short: mesh shoes are your best bet for warm-weather approaches, but some models will be more compromised than others. And if you’re truly looking for the best in protectiveness and durability, we’d recommend a shoe with a leather or suede upper.

Approach shoe (Arc'teryx Konseal FL mesh upper)
The Konseal FL's tight mesh and attached tongue mean it's less permeable to trail debris | Credit: Jenny Abegg


The weight of an approach shoe matters both when it’s on your foot and when it’s in your climbing pack or hanging on your harness. Hiking mile after mile with less than a pound on each foot is going to feel far less strenuous than if you had a two-pound boot on each foot, and the same goes for carrying the shoes.

Consider the weight of an approach shoe especially if you’re spending just as much time carrying them as wearing them on your feet. Most likely, the more this ratio tends towards carrying over hiking, the lighter a shoe you should consider (the La Sportiva TX2 Evo, for example). However, there are always trade-offs in shaving weight. The lighter your approach shoe, the less protection, stability, and durability it likely offers. If your approaches require a high amount of performance from your shoes, don’t streamline too much.

Approach shoes (hanging on harness)
The weight of your shoes is important if you'll be carrying them on a harness | Credit: Jenny Abegg

Fit and Sizing

There always is a compromise when choosing the size of your approach shoe. Many designs in our scrambling category are made to fit snugly so that they are responsive and stable on technical rock. Shoes in our all-around and mountain categories should fit more like a hiking shoe, with a bit of room for the toes to move around for downhill slogs and over long distances as the feet swell.

Most approach shoes are constructed with a to-the-toe lacing system, so it is possible to provide your toes with more or less room depending on the activity. Because of this, we recommend sizing your shoe comfortably with the ability to cinch the laces down tightly. Additionally, make sure you buy a model that fits the width of your foot well. Different brands or models fit differently. For example, La Sportiva's TX3 is known to be rather wide, whereas the Scarpa Gecko has a snug fit.

Approach shoe (lacing up Arc'teryx Konseal FL by river)
Approach shoe laces extend much farther than standard hiking shoes for a customizable fit | Credit: Jenny Abegg

Stiffness and Stability

Most approach shoes have built-in shanks or internal supports to provide a degree of stiffness. This construction differentiates these shoes from light trail runners, though they are a far cry from the full shank of a mountaineering boot. In general, the more technical your terrain, such as snow, scree, or steep trail, the more you will benefit from a stiffer approach shoe (examples include shoes in our mountain category like the Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 GTX). A stiff shoe will be less comfortable on easy trail and during high mileage days (it’s for this reason that we hesitate to recommend approach shoes to hikers), but on uneven terrain it will keep your foot from flexing and straining to support itself.

Salewa MTN Trainer Mid GTX hiking boot (hopping between boulders in Patagonia)
The mid-height Salewa Mountain Trainer GTX offers excellent stability | Credit: Brian McCurdy

Additionally, the stiffer an approach shoe is, the better it will perform on technical rock (within reason, of course). To illustrate this point, imagine edging on a small hold while wearing a pair of running shoes. In our mind’s eye, the soft cushioning compresses, the shoe doesn’t hold its form, and your foot scrapes off the hold. Now, perch on that same edge with a stiffer, more precise approach shoe. The rubber doesn’t compress much and the sole maintains a solid platform. For this reason, many of the shoes in our scrambling category (the La Sportiva TX4 and Scarpa Gecko, to name a few) have rigid midsoles and soles. Again, you’ll have to find the right balance for your needs as stiff shoes can feel clunky and onerous on the trail for many.

Toe Protection

The majority of shoes on our list have a rand that extends over the toe box, providing protection from stubbed toes and additional traction on rock. Many of these shoes have full, wraparound rands, extending this level of protection and traction around the entire foot. The larger the rand—both in height and in area covered around the foot—the more durable the shoe and the better it will perform in cracks and on rocky trails. 

Scarpa Crux appraoch shoe (lacing)
A large rubber rand grips well on rock and protects your toes | Credit: Adam McKibben

Upper Materials

The type of material used in a shoe’s upper—the fabric that connects to the rubber outsole—correlates directly with its durability, water resistance, and breathability. Most often, a shoe will be made with synthetic mesh or knit material, leather, or a mix. Below we spell out the pros and cons for the most common materials used in approach shoes.

Mesh-woven nylon, open mesh panels, and knit uppers are becoming increasingly common in approach shoe construction as manufacturers seek to shave weight from their models. These airy synthetic uppers certainly aid in breathability and cutting weight, but detract from the waterproofing, durability, protection, and climbability of the shoe. In the end, we love mesh or knit shoes during the summer months, but they’re not ideal for wet or snowy terrain or particularly technical climbing.

Approach shoe (La Sportiva TX3 mesh upper)
The airy mesh upper of the La Sportiva TX3 | Credit: Fixed Line Media

However, as we’ve mentioned a few times above, there are some synthetic uppers that manage to achieve many of the benefits of leather while maintaining a high degree of breathability. Particularly, Black Diamond’s mesh-like synthetic seen on their Session and Mission LT and Arc’teryx’s ripstop mesh on the standard version of the Konseal FL are impressively durable and protective—so much so that we’ve come to think of these shoes as being in the same class as leather shoes like the La Sportiva TX4 Evo and Scarpa Crux. They also come with the added benefit of being able to wick water and dry out quickly, whereas leather can grow heavy when wet.

The majority of approach shoes, similar to climbing shoes, are made with a leather upper. Without getting too deep into technicalities, suede, leather, and Nubuck are all derived from the same material and generally perform similarly. On approach shoes, this leather will be lighter and more flexible than the typical glossy full leather you might see on an old hiking boot. Of all upper materials, leather will provide the most protection, durability, and water resistance. However, it’s the least breathable. Occasionally, as in the case of the Scarpa Gecko, leather and mesh will coexist to provide both breathability and durability.

Five Ten Guide Tennie (crack climbing)_0
Leather is the most durable upper material | Credit: Adam McKibben

Leather also tends to stretch. Because approach shoes aren’t sized as tightly as climbing shoes, approach shoes will not stretch as noticeably. However, especially when wet, full leather models such as the La Sportiva Boulder X certainly will expand, leading to a less supportive fit. On the flip side, as these all-leather models dry, they will conform more to the size of your foot (if they dry while on your foot), and fit even better.

Approach shoes (La Sportiva TX series)
La Sportiva's leather TX4 (right) is more durable than the mesh TX3 (middle) and TX2 (left) | Credit: Jenny Abegg


Our impact on the environment has never been of greater concern, and we’re happy to see many outdoor brands rising to the challenge by incorporating eco-friendlier materials into production. Two of the most common measures to look out for are the use of recycled materials and resoleable platforms that can be replaced to maximize the shoes’ lifespan. For reference, La Sportiva’s TX4 and TX2 Evo both utilize recycled components throughout, with tread and foam that can be replaced once worn down (you will need to send the shoes into a La Sportiva-approved cobbler). Black Diamond’s Session 2.0 is another example, with an upper made from 40%-recycled yarn and an algae-infused midsole that minimizes the use of fossil fuels during production. Overall, we appreciate when brands go the extra mile in improving their lineup and look forward to seeing more sustainably built shoes hit the market.

Approach Shoe Care

Approach shoes aren’t cheap, and much can be done after purchase to ensure their longevity and performance. Below, we offer three suggestions for shoe care.

Keep Them Clean
Your shoes are getting you through some tough environments, and mud, bits of sand or dirt, and wet terrain can all add up. At the end of a day out, feel free to give the shoes a spray down with the hose if need be, leaving them out to dry completely. Turn your shoes on their sides and stuff them with newspaper to speed up drying. Additionally, throughout the day or at the day’s end, take out the insole and give your shoes a good shake—all that sand and dirt can accumulate and abrade the material quickly if not taken care of.

La Sportiva Ultra Raptor II (worn upper)
Dirt, sand, and grime can quickly wear down your shoes | Credit: Jenny Abegg

If you have approach shoes with a leather upper, it is wise to treat them with a leather conditioning/waterproofing product. If not treated, leather can absorb water, making it heavy and more prone to stretch and shrink. Nikwax and Gear Aid both have a full lineup of products that will do the trick.

Approach shoes (hiking in Scarpa Crux)
It's a good idea to treat leather designs with a conditioning/waterproofing product | Credit: Adam McKibben

Seam Gripping the Seams
Climbers often apply seam grip to the seams of their climbing shoes (over the stitching and where the rand meets the leather) to reinforce them against abrasion from cracks. This simple practice drastically increases the lifespan of a pair of climbing shoes. You can perform the same practice with approach shoes, especially if you’re planning on using the shoes for scrambling or technical climbing. Additionally, when aid climbing, expect your shoe’s toes to blow out extremely quickly if not reinforced. Gear Aid products such as Seam Grip or Aquaseal can be applied to these wear-and-tear areas upon purchase and many times thereafter.

The Mid-Height Approach Shoe

Approach shoes are specifically designed for climbers as a replacement for hiking boots, so what’s with the mid-height approach shoe? Climbers may opt for a mid-height model for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you need more ankle stability or protection, whether you’re carrying heavy loads over tricky terrain or preventing ankle rolls. Perhaps you want a lightweight hiking boot but crave the sticky rubber of an approach shoe. Perhaps you plan on traveling over snow a great deal and want more coverage along with a sturdy attachment for a pair of crampons. Or perhaps you’re a big wall climber who needs more support when standing in aiders for days on end.

Approach shoe (La Sportiva Trango Tech GTX)
The mid-height La Sportiva Trango Tech | Credit: Jenny Abegg

The mid-height approach shoe can be used to level up—both weight-wise and stability-wise—from a typical approach shoe, or level down from a hiking boot. When the hiking is technical and weight is less of an issue (i.e., you’re not planning on carrying your boots on a climb), the mid-height shoe is an excellent choice. Approach shoes in this category include the Black Diamond Mission Leather Mid Waterproof and La Sportiva Aequilibrium Speed GTX (which, granted, is more of a mountaineering boot than an approach shoe).
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