Friday, September 27, 2013

Gear Review: Patagonia Cragmaster Approach Shoe

The utility of a good approach shoe for rock and alpine climbing is not to be underestimated. Most climbers starting out their first few seasons will get by with whatever light hiking shoes they use normally while in the outdoors. This is fine for a time, but as one’s climbing ability increases and your objectives become more significant having a dedicated approach shoe designed for rock scrambling is invaluable. Unlike many hiking shoes, approach shoes will have a sole comprised of sticky rubber resembling a rock climbing shoe, a durable upper material to resist scrapes and tears, and plenty of flexibility for smearing and conforming to rock. These traits make moving through 3rd and 4th class terrain much easier before donning proper rock climbing shoes for the harder 5th class rock of the route itself.

 My well loved pair of Patagonia Cragmasters

I’ve used a number of approach shoe models including classics such as the FiveTen Guide Tennie and the La Sportiva Boulder X. But a new model from Patagonia came out a couple years ago and it immediately peeked my interest. I had worn through the approach shoe I was using at the time and was shopping around for a shoe that would meet my needs of enough support for multi-mile approaches but enough climbing ability for easy 5th class terrain. These two features are normally mutually exclusive in approach shoes. They will either be very supportive and climb poorly, or climb nearly as well as a comfortable rock shoe but offer no support for the hike. Patagonia has nailed the sweet spot between these two ends of the spectrum with their Cragmaster.

An unknown climber on pitch 2 of the North Face Directismo 5.8 of Concord Tower

I’ve been using these shoes for three seasons and absolutely love them. They look like a rock shoe, and climb like one too. I’ve been able to lead some alpine 5.8 pitches in them such as the North Face Directismo of Concord Tower in Washington Pass, and follow a few 5.9 pitches here and there with them as well. They’re my go-to shoe for instructing alpine rock rated 5.6 or easier because they allow me to forgo even putting rock shoes in my pack. The Vibram sticky-dot rubber sole does wonders on rock and provides adequate traction on trail as well. Hiking multiple miles into alpine routes has been comfortable in these shoes due to the ample EVA foam cushioning under foot. I recently did the North Ridge of Mt. Stuart in a single push from the car in 24 hours; a true test of comfort and precision for these shoes. This involved a seven hour approach over nine miles, a 3,000 foot ridge climb where I wore them on all but the 6 or so 5.8-5.9 pitches, and the 5 hour descent to the car. A big day to say the least and my Cragmasters kept me light on my feet the whole time. I’ve also used them in a pinch for running too. During three weeks of guide training this spring they were my only shoe I stuck in the duffle, so when I was inspired to get in 6 miles of running before a day of climbing instruction they were the answer. Although not designed for running they did a fine job of cushioning my foot and sticking to the trail.

Simul-climbing somewhere in the middle of the 3000' Direct North Ridge of Mt. Stuart

The longevity I’m getting out of these shoes is also very surprising. I’m not wearing them around town which helps, but my days logged in the mountains with these far exceed the lifespan of any other approach shoe I’ve used. Normally my fellow guides are lucky to stretch a pair of shoes through two seasons on rock, but I’m moving into the fall of my 3rd year with them and they're still kicking. I’m curious about resoling them as well, because that is the only part of the shoe that’s really starting to wear out. It would appear to be a simple job with a quick cutout of sticky-dot rubber to be replaced.

The one criticism I’d have of the shoe would be the traction on loose dirt trails due to the limited tread of the sticky-dot pattern. Deeper tread on a shoe allows it to dig into loose terrain gaining better purchase. I’ve only rarely had an issue with this however because once the trail becomes steep enough for my feet to slip the terrain has normally changed to exposed rock where these shoes excel.

I’d highly recommend the Patagonia Cragmaster Approach Shoe for anyone looking for the perfect blend of hike and climb. Just a quick note on sizing; I normally wear a size 9 hiking shoe and size down to a size 8.5 for approach shoes, making for a tighter and more precise fit while climbing. I have the Cragmaster in an 8.5 and it still feels a little roomy. It hasn’t been a problem but I might consider going down to a size 8 on my next pair. Always best to try them on before you buy!

--Jeremy Devine, Instructor and Guide


Anonymous said...

Hi Jeremy,

Do you feel like the Cragmasters stretched out on you at all, or were they always a little big to begin with? I've got a medium/wide foot and usually wear a 10.5 street shoe. I ordered the Cragmaster in a size 10 which is a little snug right out of the box, but I'm hoping will stretch a little bit.


Jeremy Devine said...

Hi Jason,

Thanks for your question. I felt like the shoes did have some break-in, both from the EVA cushioning packing out over time and the leather upper stretching a bit. I wouldn't say they stretched as much as half a size, but they did break in to become more comfortable.

I think you should possibly consider what you're intended use is for the shoes specifically and judge your fitting accordingly. On one end of the spectrum you could be using these as comfortable climbing shoes you're trying to use while leading 5.7 rock climbs and easier in a place like Red Rock, or you could be trying to use them as an approach shoe for alpine routes with some short glacier travel in a place like the Cascades. If you're more leaning towards the first, then they should be tight anyway. If you're hoping more for comfort on miles of approach trail, you may want to send them back for the next half size up.

Tough decisions! But I think you're right in thinking they will break in a bit. Good luck with them and let me know how you like them!

Unknown said...

Hi Jeremy, nice review! I was wondering how well you think these would do for multi day ridge traverses/long approaches? I usually pack light, 10-15 lbs, but after a few long days that plus many miles of talus and boulder hopping usually leaves my feet pretty beat in my sportiva running shoes.