The Vasque Grand Traverse isn’t your Swiss Army Knife outdoor shoe, but it is one of the most fun pairs we’ve tested this year. With a lightweight and flexible build that is great for desert scrambling, this hybrid hiking and approach shoe is about as sticky as it gets. After taking the Grand Traverse out in the Utah desert, below we break down its traction, weight, support and stability, sizing and comfort, and more. To see how the Grand Traverse stacks up, see our articles on the best lightweight hiking shoes and best approach shoes.
The Vasque Grand Traverse wears a lot of hats: the shoe is marketed for everything from hiking and approaching to trail running. Right off the bat, we’ll tell you that we think the Grand Traverse is best as a hiking shoe. It likely falls short in pure climbing performance and doesn’t offer the necessary cushion for serious trail running, but it’s awesome for desert rats who like to scramble.
We’ll start with traction, which is perhaps the strongest point of this shoe. Simply put, the Vasque Grand Traverse is grippy as heck. We spent a number of days outside Moab and in Canyonlands National Park ripping around various rocky surfaces both with and without a pack, and can’t remember a time that we slipped. This didn’t include actual rock climbing but a lot of hiking, scrambling, and smearing, and for these purposes the Grand Traverse is exceptional.
Approach shoes are meant for dry conditions or wet rock at the most. Just for kicks, we wore the Grand Traverse on an extremely muddy hike up Lone Cone outside of Tofino, British Columbia. As expected, the relatively flat “Megagrip” sole caked up with mud rather quickly and I was sliding down the trail while my partner in traditional hiking boots was not. This shoe is great for places like the American Southwest (Utah, Arizona, California, etc.), but we wouldn’t recommend it for someone doing the majority of their hiking in a moist environment like the Pacific Northwest.
At 1 pound 10 ounces for the pair, the Grand Traverse is a nice lightweight option. It’s exactly the same weight as our favorite all-around hiking shoe, the non-waterproof Salomon X Ultra 2, and less than the popular Merrell Moab 2 Vent and The North Face Ultra 109 GTX, both of which weigh 1 pound 15 ounces. You can go lighter with a trail-running shoe like the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 at a feathery 1 pound 3.4 ounces, but that’s a totally different type of option with much less traction on rock and a thickly cushioned midsole. Taking the whole category of lightweight hiking shoes and approach shoes into account, the Grand Traverse is one of the lightest models we’ve tested. A number of specialized approach shoes are lighter, but those are much less versatile and more climbing-centric than the Grand Traverse.
If you like shoes with a ton of cushion, look elsewhere. The Vasque Grand Traverse is minimalist in design, with a low profile Vibram outsole and EVA midsole. The foot sits flat in the shoe and you’ll feel plenty of trail and rock beneath you as you hike or scramble. In practice, we liked the feel of the shoe for moving over rocky surfaces in Canyonlands, but some may prefer more cushion and less impact for long days on the trail with a pack.
Interestingly, we found the Grand Traverse to be quite stable despite the low ankle height. Perhaps it’s due to their grippy nature and climbing shoe-like lacing system, which extends all the way to the toes, but we wore these shoes on a multi-day backpacking trip with a decently heavy pack and only lightly turned our ankles on a couple of occasions. The shoes tighten very evenly and snugly around the foot, so if you have strong ankles and aren’t prone to turning them, the shoe should do the trick even with a pack.
We feel like these non-waterproof shoes are built for the desert, and accordingly, they breathe very well. The suede leather upper is relatively thin and light, and mesh panels along the side and top of the shoe do a great job at releasing heat. They don't offer much in the way of water resistance, but the upside is they dry quickly when wet. We didn’t have the opportunity to really push the breathability of these shoes as it was in the mid-80s during our Utah trip, but never did our feet feel hot even while moving quickly with a pair of lightweight merino wool hiking socks underneath.
After wearing the Grand Traverse alongside a number of other pairs of hiking shoes and boots, we’ve become big fans of this type of lacing system. As mentioned above, climbing shoes often have laces that extend all the way to the toes for maximum customization and tightness (climbers really need to dial in fit), but this style transitions very well to hiking. The laces on the Grand Traverse are strong, and once you tighten them fully, the fit is exceptional for a hiking shoe. Compared to something like the Quicklace closure system on Salomon’s X Ultra 2s, which has improved over the last few years, we still prefer old-school laces with full coverage. The system on the Vasque is a little less efficient but both tighter and more comfortable for a variety of foot shapes.
We scrambled extensively in these shoes but stopped short of actual rock climbing. However, it’s clear from the build that the Grand Traverse trends toward hiking and away from hardcore climbing. Despite a rubber toe cap that is more substantial than most hiking shoes, true approach shoes like the popular Five Ten Guide Tennie and Scarpa Crux (see our in-depth review) much more closely resemble climbing shoes. The mesh panels on the Grand Traverse help with breathability and keep weight down, but support and protection are limited. More, the soft suede leather upper quickly shows wear when you jam the shoes into tight pockets of rock. We love these shoes for smearing, but much less for edging and true climbing.
We haven’t put in a full season just yet with the Grand Traverse, but do have some initial thoughts on durability. On the spectrum of hiking and approach shoes, they fall on the lightweight end and aren’t as tough as a shoe like Salewa’s Firetail 3 that we recently tested. The Vasque’s burly toe cap gives the shoe a boost in protection while scrambling, but the leather and mesh upper is thin, and even the midsole foam is starting to show some signs of wear. They seem well made, but the efforts to cut weight may have an impact on the Grand Traverse’s lifespan (we’ll update this information as we continue to wear the shoes).
The Vasque Grand Traverse fit true to size. We grabbed our usual size 12 and had few issues despite wearing them fairly aggressively straight out of the box. In terms of fit, the shoe is on the thin side and fits snugly due to the lacing system and leather upper. It’s easy to tighten these shoes down and really dial in performance, which is very helpful when you’re moving over uneven, rocky surfaces.
The lack of cushioning definitely can have an impact on comfort over time. Personally, I don’t need tons of cushion when hiking, but it is a matter of preference. The thin midsole and general lack of support on the Grand Traverse does lead to more impact with each step than with a cushier shoe. This means that the Grand Traverse is better suited for moderate hikes but less so for heavy hauling over long distances.
What We Like
- Superb grip and traction over rock.
- Lightweight at 1 pound 10 ounces and breathes well.
- Climbing shoe-like lacing system creates a snug and comfortable fit.
What We Don’t
- Lack of support can lead to tired feet after long days.
- Doesn’t climb as well as many true approach shoes.
- Poor traction in muddy conditions.
|Vasque Grand Traverse||$120||Approach/hiking||1 lb. 10 oz.||No||Leather / mesh|
|Salomon X Ultra 2||$120||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 10 oz.||No||Synthetic|
|Salewa Firetail 3||$139||Approach shoe||1 lb. 11.6 oz.||No||Mesh|
|Vasque Breeze 3.0 Low GTX||$150||Hiking shoe||2 lb. 3 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Leather / mesh|
|Merrell Moab 2 Vent||$100||Hiking shoe||1 lb. 15 oz.||No||Leather / mesh|
In reality, although we love the Vasque Grand Traverse, it is a specialized shoe. Our favorite all-around hiking shoe is the Salomon X Ultra 2, which has more cushion and better traction in muddy conditions at the sacrifice of grippiness on rock. For most hikers who will see a variety of conditions on their adventures, the X Ultra 2 is a more rational choice and considerably more versatile.
A comparable hiking/approach shoes is the Salewa Firetail 3, which also comes in a waterproof GTX version. The Firetail has a similar weight at 1 pound 11.6 ounces along with a sturdy build that can both hike and scramble well. All in all, we found the Firetail 3 to be tougher and more capable of handling rough terrain. But the Grand Traverse feels lighter on the foot and is more flexible, making it a more comfortable shoe overall. For easy to moderate hikes and scrambles, we like the Grand Traverse. If you need a workhorse that can haul heavy loads of ropes and climbing gear over challenging terrain, grab the Firetail 3.
The final comparison we’ll make is in-house to the Vasque Breeze 3.0 GTX. Instead of being a hybrid hiking/approach shoe, the Breeze 3.0 is more of a traditional lightweight hiker. You get better support, traction in muddy conditions, and cushioning, but less responsiveness over rock and an inferior lacing system that can’t dial in fit as well as the Grand Traverse. Again, the Breeze 3.0 is the better shoe for muddy conditions and for those who don’t plan on getting out on rock much, but we prefer the Grand Traverse for the desert.
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