In the saturated and expensive market of high-tech sneakers for climbers, called ‘approach shoes,’ one model has for several years stood out in terms of durability and utility. In partnership with Bobo Products, the New Zealand importer of Salewa, I recently got my hands (or feet) on some new Salewa Mountain Trainer IIs. Not that I needed to: my 5 year old pair still looks almost new, despite considerable abuse. Nevertheless, the new model has received a few upgrades and improvements, and at the outset of this review I’ll simply say that they are great (you can stop reading now if you wish).
Like most approach shoes, my new Mountain Trainers are intended to be useful on what the North Americans call 4th/low 5th class scrambling (i.e. at the rough limit of soloing), and due to the ubiquitous sticky Vibram sole I had no trouble scrambling some Squamish 5.7 in them. They’ve also been warm for short walks in the frigid snowy winters of the Canadian Rockies, and comfortable enough for long-haul travel, despite their fairly specific intended use.
What sets apart these shoes from many others on the market is that they are, for an approach shoe (or anything looking like a sneaker), very stiff in the sole - an extremely useful trait for edging on tricky approaches to climbs and even more useful when standing all day in big wall aid ladders. The new model contains a pair of lugs in the tread, in the middle of the foot, that’s intended to sit well on via ferrata ladders. Clearly Salewa has the European market in mind with this, but I’m picking (although I haven’t tested this yet) it will work well in big wall ladders too.
Previous generations of this shoe have been among the most durable aid climbing shoe I’ve seen. Due to multiple layers of material layered on the toe, the shoe withstands plenty of abuse big-walling. Back in June, I witnessed brand new pairs of Scarpa and 5.10 approach shoes blow out in the toe on their first big wall - whereas my old Salewas look unchanged after three big walls (around 75 pitches of aiding or jumaring on rough granite).
The new Mountain Trainers have substantially thicker soles than the previous version, so they are likely to have an even longer life than my older pair. They have a proper insole now, which is a much-needed improvement on the nearly useless insoles that let down prior versions of the Mountain Trainer. I’ve opted this time for a non-Gore-Tex version of the shoe in the hope it will be a little more breathable in hot weather (and so far waterproofness seems unchanged). Of course with all the durability, this is a heavy option (~500g per shoe), but they are comfortable and well-padded. If you’re planning to carry these shoes up a climbing route, then clearly they are a bit more of a drag than lighter offerings on the market - but I’m more interested in shoes that last year after year. As the rule of gear states: you can have lightweight, durability, or value; but you only get to choose two.
With the stiff sole the Mountain Trainers are particularly ideal for Fiordland approaches up granite boulderfields and across gentle snowfields; modern ultralight strap-on crampons fit well to them and stay firmly attached compared to fitting crampons to more flexible shoe options.
The Salewa Mountain Trainer is also an ideal shoe for easy tramping routes where a full boot isn’t needed - running in them would be a little suboptimal but not totally out of the question for short bursts. But I’d like to see this shoe, or a similar model, offer an inbuilt gaiter, such as we’re seeing more and more on Salomon or Scarpa shoes. To my mind this would make the Mountain Trainer a weapon for fast and light alpine approaches, bushbashing to remote crags, and for travel. For now, while they are already adequate in those areas, they are unbeatable for rock approaches and big wall climbing comfort and durability. For those wanting something more suited to tramping, the Mountain Trainer is also available in a ‘Mid’ version, with reasonably high ankle support, but this adds weight and warmth and would be less ideal for rock climbing approaches.