By Tony Lourens
I started traipsing up and down mountains and walking to crags looong before the “Approach shoe” was invented. Back then anything went really – from old North Star takkies to proper chunky leather mountain boots, and anything in between.
It wasn’t until the last decade or two that “approach shoes” really started to make their mark – shoes that were designed for just that – approach. This means a pair of shoes that you would use to walk from the car to the base of the crag or whatever route you were climbing. You would then swop these for your specialist climbing shoes for the route itself, then you would change back into your approach shoes after the climb to walk back down to the car.
Initially, the main thing that separated approach shoes from other low cut running shoes, was the stickiness of the rubber sole. This was important, as when approaching rock climbs, one often had to do some steepish rock scrambling, which needed a shoe with good friction between rock and sole.
But over the years, approach shoes have come into their own and are now a whole sub species of shoe, and a sticky sole is just one of the many design features that make this genre of shoe so desirable to climbers, hikers and casual walkers alike.
There are many brands to choose from and many different styles and cut. In fact today, one can use approach shoes for much more than just approaching the crag. Indeed many people use them on multi-day hiking trails, mountain trips, actually climbing proper rock routes and also jolling around town.
I myself come from the North Star takkie brigade, but have been somewhat ‘domesticated’ over the years and am now a firm believer in the approach shoe. In fact there are not many brands and styles I have not used and I have quite a substantial graveyard of shoes that have been put through their paces. Truth be told, I’m quite a hard task-master when it comes to approach shoes. They must be equal to the job and tick a long row of boxes. So when I was asked to try out HI-TEC’s new Trail Ox Chukka boots, I was quite excited and also intrigued as to what new or different design features I will be seeing on this new shoe.
To be fair from the start, the Trail Ox Chukkas are not pitched as an approach shoe, but rather a mid height, trail, cross over shoe that can also be worn comfortably around the campsite. But for me, if a shoe can handle long tough approaches, they can pretty much handle anything you can throw at them, so I decide to use my Chukkas as my new approach shoes and see how they fared on the tougher side of the hiking spectrum.
The things I liked about the Chukkas, before even trying them on, was its sturdy look and feel, the chunky (but not too soft) Michelin soles, the padded inner sole with arch support and of course the fact that it is waterproof.
So my first foray into the hills was a relatively short walk up to a crag in Montagu. But although short, I chose this crag, because the approach was rough and steep and involved a fair amount of boulder hopping and some easy short sections of scrambling – a good initial test I thought.
The Chukkas enveloped my foot like a glove and with the lacing system done up snugly against a softly padded tongue, the shoe felt really comfortable. The first part of the approach was along a regular path, which gave me time to get a little acquainted with the shoe. The Innersole provided good cushioning and the padded ankle area felt soft and gave plenty of support. When we got to the boulder hopping, I particularly looked for testy and angled boulders to check the grip and support of the sole. I must say, I was rather surprised how easily the rubber stuck to the rock, even when a little dewey. And at the short scramble bits, the sole gave more than decent support on edges and smears. All in all, the shoe was ticking a good few boxes on its first outing.
Next up was a substantially longer trail – up India-Venster on Table Mountain and down the Right Face-Arrow Face Traverse. Quite a long day out, also with some interesting scrambling, but more importantly, some very rough and fairly steep downhill sections. Again the shoes were comfy throughout and felt light on my feet, even after seven hours of assault and battery. The Chukkas handled the steep and loose downhill bits really well, giving excellent grip and great ankle support on the scree slopes. Walking the last stretch along Tafelberg road back to my car I was struck by the fact that I did not have one single sore spot on either of my feet. And that for a pair of shoes that has done less than 20 mountain hours is pretty incredible.
Although I can’t attest to the durability of the shoe, the robustly constructed leather uppers do look set for the long haul and the Dri-Tec waterproof treatment with its breathable layer will keep your feet dry and comfy through continuous soggy conditions.
While not a pukka approach shoe, the Chukkas are well up for the job, as long as you don’t want to push it to technical climbing. And for hiking single or multi-day treks and for rough mountain trails, I wouldn’t hesitate to entrust my Chukkas to the job.
All in all, HI-TEC’s new Trail Ox Chukka is an extremely versatile boot equally at home on a steep rocky mountain slope, The Inca Trail, or for casual wear around the campsite, or indeed around town.
Available at: www.hi-tec.co.za