La Sportiva TX4 Review
Approach shoes are part of the Outdoor Instructor uniform along with brightly coloured trousers, gilets and VW vans. I’ve worn, and worn through, half a dozen pairs of various sorts over the last decade, mostly to the point where they become more hole than shoe. For the less fashion conscious instructors among us, they become the default thing you put on for walking to the wall/shops/pub as well as lowland navigation work and scrambling (where I’m not expecting to short rope clients), climbing indoors or out – work or play.
Sometimes they’re not quite the best thing; not enough tread or waterproof, but being light, comfy and convenient often wins out over heavier or more waterproof options. The current consensus seems to be that the king of the approach shoes are the La Sportiva TX4.
Before I bought mine I’d seen that Alex and Chris used them, as did many MCI’s I knew. Although Chris’ are consistently the cleanest. I give mine a bit of a wipe and some leather conditioner every so often but how does Chris keep the laces so yellow? It’s a mystery. I suspect he doesn’t wear them outside. Anyway, coming as they did with a strong groupthink recommendation, I was ready to be impressed.
An aside – Having owned the TX4 for a while the wonders of the internet drew my attention to an additional review from no-one’s favourite I’m a Celebrity Bronze medal winning ex-Health Secretary, who sung their praises for a rapid and blister-free Tour du Mont Blanc circuit. I’m trying not to hold this against them.
Anyway, first, the choice of a Gore Tex liner or not. Their primary purpose for them to be used on unroped scrambling and approaching rock climbs, things I try to do when it’s not raining. The high rand gives a decent measure of puddle and bog proofing if you look where you’re going. Going liner-less was also cheaper and has the potential for slightly less sweaty feet.
I fitted both 9.5 and 10 comfortably. 9.5 would have been the performance climbing & scrambling option but since I anticipated doing some long journeys with plenty of toe-stubbing descent I went with the 10 for all-day comfort. Soft sticky rubber, a flat climbing zone on the toe, good sensitivity through the sole and a long lace bed providing excellent adjustability all mitigate the larger size and I’ve not regretted the decision.
Their climbing and scrambling performance has been excellent. When the terrain isn’t too hard they’re a comfortable joy to move in. They smear really well and are as confidence inspiring on wet rock as can be hoped for. On small footholds they obviously don’t edge as well as something stiffer but you can’t have everything. A focus on bearing down with those toes and the shoe’s sensitivity mean you can generally make it work and at least feel if a foot is likely to pop or not. Definitely not a recommended use but over the summer I did manage to abseil into South Stack without my climbing shoes. My TX4s did a fine job on Pel VS 4c, seconding Rachael up the 4c first pitch and comfortably leading the 4b second pitch.
“Approach shoes” are not really necessary/being used to their full potential for approaching Stanage, or Burbage, or many of our friendly, near roadside gritstone in the Peak. Hati’s trusty crocs will probably get you there (again, not recommended, except by Hati). Where the Sportive TX4s are really useful is for the steep scree, boulder or grass approaches of many of the UK’s multi-pitch climbs and scrambles, where they might well be carried on a harness once the climbing starts and put back on again for the descent. This means they need to be: light – tick; have a decent loop on the back for attaching to your harness – tick, although it’s a bit thin, not very confidence inspiring and mine is breaking so I’m a bit scared of it snapping off halfway up something; and… Decently deep lugs on the bottom so you don’t slip on the UK’s copious quantities of steep wet grass.
On this last one the TX4s are just about good enough. All approach shoes have compromises to make here. Deeper tread means a heavier shoe and is often paired by manufacturers with a harder rubber, which for climbing comes with less sensitivity and poorer performance on wet rock and smears. Harder rubber means you get a more durable sole and better edging. I’m not really sure where the dots vs traditional tread pattern decision comes in but I suspect it’s a smearing thing too and certainly comes with a wet-grass trade-off. The TX4s also have a more aggressive transition, i.e. step-up, to the heel lugs than many similar shoes. This is useful because my soft-rubber, not-that-deep-in-the-first-place dots have worn almost completely away, leaving me reliant on side-step edging (not great with soft rubber) or the heel step on slippery vegetation. Having now covered a fair bit of this kind of terrain in Wales, the Lakes and Scotland with the La Sportiva TX4 I’d summarise their wet grass capability as good when new and fine later on. The upper on the other hand seems extremely durable and is barely showing any wear despite taking a lot of abuse including more than its fair share of foot jams.
Come the spring a resole beckons.
Pros: Sticky rubber, hardwearing rand and upper, very adjustable – should fit a variety of feet and toe box can be laced tight for climbing, climb well, super comfy for long hill days, look good (especially if you clean the laces)
Cons: Only average on wet grass, would have preferred a more confidence inspiring heel loop, soft rubber wears down faster, laces seem to untie themselves more easily than most.
Beyond the Edge Ltd is based in the Peak District, easily reached by train from London and within easy travelling distance from Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds, Nottingham and other Northern towns and cities.
We are one of the UKs most experienced providers of climbing, walking, scrambling, mountaineering and navigation training courses.
Most of our courses are run in the Peak District National Park which has some of the finest climbing, bouldering, walking and hiking in the world.