When I was child my mum had a lot of issues with my footwear, not due to me having strange feet (although I do), but due to the rate at which I wore out my shoes (and everything else I wore). For this reason I grew up wearing red wellies for much of my early child hood, well until I moved to the city aged six, where such attire would either make you look mad or a posh lad from the country. Another issue was I couldn’t tie my shoelaces until I was in my teens, (at 45 I still have trouble getting laces to stay done up, so maybe I never knew) so wellies were ideal, but shoe selection was limited. This issue was partly solved by the introduction of space age velcro trainers, bought on some still remembered Saturday morning from Woolworths, the shoes a quantum leap in young Andy’s footware performance. As for my destructive shoes issues, one of my strongest memories was being dragged to town after school by my hard up mum to British Home Stores, where she bought me a pair of shoes guaranteed to be indestructible. They were like thick brown bricks, and I doubt they were cheap, but I guess my poor mum just needed one less thing to worry about. Anyway, two weeks later, we were back, the shoes having fallen apart.
I must have had about thirty pairs of approach shoes over the years, double that if I threw in trainers, maybe more. I’ve had many pairs of boots and shoes that only lasted a single trip, one two occasions no longer than a single walk (note: never wear lightweight runners on limestone ridges or on long rocky descents). Of these approach shoes there are few that really stand out, as most were just beefy trainers with a bit of stick. Of the ones I’ve had I guess the Five 10 Guide Tennie always stood out as being the most ‘climby’ shoe, as the rubber was very sticky, it fitted well for climbing, and had lots of rubber on the uppers. The issue was it was more rock boot than running shoe, that’s why it was good for climbing, but not so good for anything else, in fact often this shoe worked well because I, and others, tended to fit it a bit on the tighter side. This mean, go for a long walk, and your toes would not be happy. Another major issue with the Guide is for some reason Five 10 cannot nail its build quality, which can range from a pair that will do years of very solid service under the hardest of masters, to pair where the soles people off in the first week. Since then I’ve had a lot of Sportiva shoes, and with those I’ve used, primarily the classic ‘Cliff’ model, I always found them very soft, like slippers. They lasted very well, were light, but always felt that they lacked some heft.
And so, last year, having had my last shoes die, I got a pair of the new Sportiva TX 4. To be honest when I unpacked them I just though they’d be just bread and butter shoes, nothing wrong with them at all, but nothing amazing either. I was half right.
I think I put more use into these shoes than any other pair I’ve ever had, both because I did a lot in them, and because I didn’t own a pair of walking boots, and used them to fill in. I’ve used them as classic approach shoes, getting to and from climbs, scrambling, rock climbing up and down slabs etc. I’ve done easy climbs in them (5.5) where the temperature was below freezing, as well as hillwalking and long multi day trails. And they were amazing.
On the rock front, the biggy is always the grip. Shoes tend to come in either a hard grip or a soft grip, Five 10 Guides being the soft kind. The soft stuff is amazing at climbing (better than rock boots often, as they have a lot of rubber contact), but wears out fast, while the harder stuff lasts, but lacks that ‘stick’ confidence, vital when down climbing some slabs or on exposed terrain (where you should have put on your rock boots!). Now the TX 4, which has some blah blah rubber (who cares!), feels hard, and does last very well, and yet still seems to have a very good level of stick - not 5.10 stick - but sticky enough once you find it’s level, to rock climb to a good standard in them. They outperformed my expectations, and after over a whole year of heavy use the soles are still fine (they have a full climbing front edge and low lugged curved sole with a very low profile heal).
The lacing system is a little unusual but really works in getting a very close or comfy fit (think Sportiva Mythos, but without two metre long laces!). The shoes also feature a clip-in loop on the back made from 2mm cord, which may sound odd compared to the usual 5mm webbing loop you get, but in action, two thin cords rack much better on a krab (dropping a shoe is always a multi-pitch climber’s worst nightmare).
What I like most about the shoes is the upper, which is very simple (I like simple), with a very solid full rubber rand that encloses the shoe, and a simple thick leather upper with minimal seams. I can’t be arsed digging deeper than Sportiva’s website, but I’d not be surprised to find the leather uppers have some plastic membrane or some such (‘Shit tex’ as Dick Turnbull would say), as the uppers seem remarkably water resistant. This maybe nothing to do with the leather uppers (which may leak like a sieve), but rather the rubber rand, which is the heart of why they shoes are so good, creating a very solid feel to the shoes. How waterproof you may ask, well I wore them for 8 days this winter in the Lakes over new year and didn’t once get wet feet. Of course these are approach shoes, not walking shoes, but it’s nice having an approach shoe that will work on all sorts of terrain, especially if you’re climbing in the UK.
Weight wise they weigh in at 370grams, which is on the heavy side of medium, but there is a lighter version in the shape of the TX 3 (360g) or the lighter TX 2 (280g), but I suspect a lighter shoe would make compromises that you’d not want in an all round shoe. If ultra lightweight is what you need, say you want to have the smallest weight in your pack when climbing, then go for the TX 2 or maybe even flip flops!
So in summation: The TX is one of the better approach shoes I’ve had, and although not indestructible, or the best to climb in, they balance these two competing values very, very well. If I had one complaint, it would be the bloody laces coming undone… although maybe that’s not an issue for Sportiva to solve!
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Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram