Gear Review: La Sportiva Boulder X Approach Shoes

Boulder xIn May 2017, I reviewed the La Sportiva TX4 approach shoes, and that review still gets a heap of clicks. I suppose that’s because approach shoes are an unusually expensive piece of kit, relatively speaking. Due to the addition of sticky rubber, they are similar in price and durability to many climbing shoes, but often bear the brunt of far greater mileage. The frequency with which they are replaced means that approach shoes are a bit of an investment, so extra research is warranted to make sure you get the right pair.

Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of the Guide Tennies, and this hasn’t changed an iota with the latest model – in fact, I think they’ve gone backwards in quality and design. 5.10 made a bit of a song and dance about their innovative “sock construction” which makes it “easy to slip on and off”. Well, they’re not wrong… in fact, the shoe quite often takes itself off. I tried a pair last year and found that they had a tendency to slip off my heel on anything steeper than a carpark. But maybe that’s just my foot, your mileage may vary.

In my appraisal of the TX4’s, I stated that they “are not perfect, but they come pretty close.” Well folks, I think I may have found an approach shoe which takes the next step toward perfection… All hail the La Sportiva Boulder X!

Let’s address the elephant in the room straight away – the Boulder X’s are not as comfortable as the TX4’s straight out of the box. I found that the toe was much more rigid and required a breaking-in period. This took somewhere between 2-4 weeks, after which the shoes became quite comfortable, but the TX4’s are still superior in this regard. This is a sacrifice that has come from an increase in the overall rigidity of the shoe.

What the Boulder X has lost in comfort, it has gained in stability. The rigid sole excels in climbing scenarios, and performs quite well in a hiking context. In comparison to the TX4, the shoe seems to have more moulded, streamlined shape which contours very effectively to the foot. This, in conjunction with the form-fitting collar around the ankle, gives the shoe a snug fit which gives a noticeable boost to performance. I’m not particularly happy with the lacing, however – the standard laces seem to come undone quite often and are too short to tie a double-knot unless you’ve really got them cranked down hard.

Climbing Performance:
When it comes to climbing performance, the Boulder X is the Lamborghini Diablo to the TX4’s Fiat Panda. I previously noted that the TX4 performed well on slab, and the Boulder X doesn’t disappoint here either, but far outstrips the former shoe in many other areas.

The toe box of the Boulder X is significantly narrower than the TX4, meaning greater performance in cracks and pockets. Most notably, the Boulder X is a far superior edging shoe. Combined with the aforementioned stiffness and snugness of the fit, I found that they climbed quite comfortably up to about grade 18/5.10a.

It seems that the rubber is slightly harder than the TX4, but this doesn’t seem to have compromised performance in any appreciable manner, and has actually contributed greatly to the overall durability of the shoe.

If you look closely, you’ll see a cheeky cameo by the Boulder X on top of Sueño Lento (6a/18, 260m) at Piedra Parada. Although admittedly soft for the grade, I was able to climb the entire route in these bad boys.

My main complaint with the TX4’s was that the rear gear loop was flimsy, a fault that the Boulder X does not share. Sportiva have drastically improved the width and strength of this loop, which means I don’t feel tentative about clipping them to the back of my harness, even though my lack of grace tends to drag them across the rock at regular intervals.

As noted, I found the rubber sole to be harder and thereby more durable, yet with no noticeable decrease in performance – a big win in my book. Below is a photo of the tread after 6 months of sustained use, as compared my long-suffering TX4’s (which were actually on their second resole!)

The leather upper is bombproof and will be able to take pretty much anything you can throw at it, but unfortunately, the synthetic inner has not withstood the same amount of punishment. This seems to be a common fault in Sportiva approach shoes, one shared by the TX4’s and TX3’s.

And again, I have to piss and moan about the laces – one of mine broke after about 8 months, and because of the complex configuration of the lacing, it is difficult to replace. Admittedly, those were 8 hard months for the Boulder X’s, but it still puzzles me that humankind has landed on the moon and yet still can’t manufacture a quality shoelace.

These shoes are definitely on the weighty side in comparison to others in the market. At 481g, they’re 110g heavier than both the TX4’s and Guide Tennies – no small margin! If weight and bulk your main concern, these may not be the shoe for you.

At $229.95 AUD, the Boulder X is the same price as a pair of TX4’s and about $10 cheaper than a pair of Guide Tennies.

It might seem as though I’ve given these shoes a bad rap, but I’m genuinely pleased with them. To be fair, they are quite weighty and not as comfortable as the TX4’s. However, if climbing performance and durability are more important to you, the La Sportiva Boulder X’s provide excellent value for money.

More information and specifications can be found at the La Sportiva website. This is an independent review and I earn approximately 0% or less in commissions.

Ryan Siacci, Esq.
April 2019

Thoughts? Opinions? Cries of dissent?

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