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In my distant youth, we used to wear an onion on our belt, as that was the style at the time. We also used to buy extra shoelaces, because they broke all the time. We had a drawer full of shoelaces of different colors and lengths, along with the shoe polish kit.

Like modern cars (when was the last time you were stranded on the side of the road? Used to happen all the time up until I was 20, but (knock wood), it just doesn’t happen anymore), we seem to have the shoelace problem licked. I’ve only broken one shoelace in the last I-can’t-remember-when (more on that in a bit). Perhaps Spectra and Vectran and whatever modern fiber tech has propagated to shoelaces. They just don’t break anymore. When I wear out a pair of shoes, I strip the laces before I toss them in the trash. I still have a drawer full of laces, but they’re used, and I’ll likely never use them.

Shoes, on the other hand… specifically climbing approach shoes. Those wear out, or rather, fall apart, seemingly spontaneously. I use them, but I don’t think they get the use that my running shoes get. And I’ve never had a pair of running shoes delaminate. Nike and Adidas seem to have this sorted out.

Check these out:


I run two pairs at once, with a three month offset or so. They’ll cease to be useful running shoes after about six months, because the padding will just lose its bounce. Sometimes, not often, the upper will lose integrity – a stitch will come out, or a thin bit wear through. But not often. 20 miles a week times 25 weeks is on the order of 400 miles.

Even after they’re no longer good running shoes, I will use them for another year or two to walk the dogs. Eventually they’ll become work shoes, and get trashed doing lawnwork, or a construction project, or painting.

But they’ll never delam. Rain, shine, living in the 140 F back of the truck, El Nino, trail runs. Wear out, but never just self-destruct.

These two shoes are my last two back, so they’re going on five years old. I’ve been wearing them to the gym, miles on the elliptical, and walking the dogs.

These two shoes, on the other hand:


The Five-Ten Guides I used for a couple of years, Sierra approaches, Echo, cragging. The soles wore down, as they do, and I put them in the closet until I got around to resoling them. You ought to be able to resole a $150 pair of shoes. But the shoes simply gave up the ghost before then. They’re completely rotted out. Beyond repair. This is the fourth or fifth pair of Five-Tens that have done this to me. Blown up sitting in the closet.

The Mad Rocks let go hiking back from the Bear Crag one day. Thankfully not hiking back into some long-ass Sierra climb, or on some gnarly fourth class descent. Just completely delaminated, flappy sole.

So why is it the $70 running shoes, mass produced by Nike and Adidas, will last literally forever, and the $140 approach shoes, lovingly hand made, will invariably fail after a year or two, and many fewer miles? It can’t be that hard to study what the big guys do and reproduce it. Materials, adhesives, workmanship.

I know approach shoes are hard. They get a lot of abuse. They carry heavy packs over sharp rocks, and tired climbers beat them up on scary loose descent gullies. They want to be light weight so when they’re clipped to your harness you’re not cursing them, but heavy duty so that when you’re muling in to Sam Mack Meadow with ice gear and rock gear and a rope and bivy gear, they give you a bit of support. Light so that when you’re doing Keeler c2c IAD, you don’t feel them. So I understand why the Boreal Flyer’s let go after a year or so. But the Five-Ten Guides, and the equivalent Mad Rock copies – those should last for a while.

I bought my 8th or 10th pair of Adidas SuperNovas last year, and for some reason, they had a weird seam that caused me some distress on the top of one foot. I emailed them, and they promptly sent out a brand new replacement for the shoes that I already had 100 miles on. No questions asked.

When I sent a photo of the delaminated and rotting Guide Tennies to Five-Ten, they told me to get fucked. It’s one thing to wear them out; it’s another to have them fall apart. And I’ve worn them out and bought a new pair smiling. I know the difference between trashed and trash.

I don’t know what La Sportivas QC or replacement policy is, but I guess I’m going to find out.

For what it’s worth, I still think the best approach shoes I ever had were Nike Lava Domes c. 1991. They didn’t have sticky rubber, but you could resole them with Five-Ten dot rubber, and they’d last basically forever. I had two pairs of these that I resoled numerous times, until the uppers finally just wore through. I did a number of big walls in these, in addition to Sierra and Washington climbs. Nike didn’t know how to do sticky rubber, but even in 1990, they knew how to build a shoe that lasted. I remember when they were discontinued, most of us figured that it was because they were too damn good. They just didn’t die.

Oh yeah. The one shoelace that I’ve broken in recent memory? A brand new pair of Five-Ten Daescents.

My last pair, by the way. I’m done with Five-Ten, unless Adidas can bring some of their QC folks over to 5.10. Still, I’m unlikely to pony up $150 for another pair of Guide Tennies.