UKH

Scarpa Rapid - approach shoe meets trail shoe Review

© Dan Bailey

As someone who does a lot of scrambling, and loves a hike to a mountain crag, I spend a lot more time walking in approach shoes than actually climbing in them. I'd bet most of us do. For typical UK use, approach shoe essentials include plenty of support on rough ground, and a sole that offers decent traction on wet and grassy terrain as well as dry rock. If the upper is light, cool, and quick-drying, that tends to be a bonus. But some degree of on-the-rock ability is required too - otherwise you might as well go all-in with a pair of trail shoes.

Road testing the Rapid in Pembrokeshire   © Dan Bailey
Road testing the Rapid in Pembrokeshire
© Dan Bailey

Since they're generally designed for warm, dry environments overseas, most approach shoes don't fare well away from the paths in wet and green Britain, and while they may be fine on a pitch of Mod rock they fall down (and so do you) on the way to the crag. In the UK hills, I've often thought, what you really need is footwear that combines the climbing-friendly toe of an approach shoe with the tread, comfort and shock absorbency of a trail runner. Perhaps Scarpa have read my mind (or umpteen of our previous reviews), because that hybrid idea fairly describes the Rapid.

Trying to keep the feet dry on a mid-tide Hawkcraig  © A9
Trying to keep the feet dry on a mid-tide Hawkcraig
© A9

As a cross between a trail shoe and an approach shoe, the Rapid treads similar ground to La Sportiva's TX Guide. It's a bit lighter and softer than the TX Guide, arguably better for running, but not quite as good on steep grass or technical climbing. This is a jack of all trades (or terrains) rather than a shoe that excels at any one thing in particular.

What are they for?

Made, say Scarpa, for 'moving fast on mountain terrain' (but of course fine for moving slow too), the Rapid bears more than a passing resemblance to trail shoes such as the Spin 2.0 - indeed with their soft and shock absorbing sole, and light synthetic upper, they look and feel more like a running shoe than the stiffer, clumpier fare you'd more typically associate with the approach shoe world. You can in fact run in them. I don't feel they have the technical performance to take very far into the climbing grades - I wouldn't choose them for something like a traverse of the Cuillin, for instance - but for big scrambling hill days, or long walk-ins, they'd be ideal. On muddy or grassy ground, the key advantage they have over most full-blown approach shoes can be summed up in one word: grip.

Unlike many approach shoes, a decent tread means they're suitable for more than just dry rock  © Dan Bailey
Unlike many approach shoes, a decent tread means they're suitable for more than just dry rock
© Dan Bailey
 

Weight

My pair of size 47 weigh 750g (Scarpa say 590g/pair size 42). In trail shoe terms it's a midweight, but if we're calling it an approach shoe then the Rapid must be one of the lightest available. That would clearly be a big selling point when they're clipped to your harness on a big mountain route.

Fit

We generally preface any notes on fit with the caveat that whether or not a particular shoe suits your foot shape is the fundamental question - and not one that a review can answer. When it comes to footwear you can't state the obvious too often: always try before you buy.

Approach shoes you can run in, or running shoes that are good for scrambling? You decide...   © Dan Bailey
Approach shoes you can run in, or running shoes that are good for scrambling? You decide...
© Dan Bailey

The Rapid is available in both a men's and a women's/lower volume version. My men's size 47 is almost as big as they go, but still not ideal for my broad, square-ish toed foot shape. This is a mid-volume shoe, with a snug fit overall. Thanks to the narrow, pointy front end, my toes push out against the sides - particularly on the outside edge, which I often find a problem area on Scarpa footwear. Given the softness of the upper I've not found this pinch to be a show-stopper, but in hot weather, with swollen feet (bruised from wearing rock shoes all day) I've started wishing I'd worn something wider.

In other respects this is a very comfy and forgiving shoe. Scarpa's stretchy 'sock fit' tongue hugs close around the top of the foot to give a precise feel, and with no hard edges to dig in I think it works really well. With a little - but not too much - soft mesh padding, I find the heel holds my foot securely in place with no lift, no rubbing, and no pressure on the achilles.

Upper

Featuring plenty of breathable mesh, the Rapid is a good choice in warmer conditions. This very thin mesh is reinforced in key areas by a heat-sealed plasticy 'film', with additional external structure at the heel, and enough rubbery rand over the toe to protect against kicking rocks. While the mesh does nothing to keep out moisture if you're walking in wet grass, the materials are completely non-absorbent, and compared to a more traditional leather approach shoe this running shoe-like upper is light, flexible, and quick-drying. Being fully synthetic, the uppers have developed a bit of a whiff, but nothing untoward so far.

This is a good, breathable shoe for use in warmer weather  © Dan Bailey
This is a good, breathable shoe for use in warmer weather
© Dan Bailey

While you can also get a Rapid GTX (£155), I don't personally think much of waterproof-lined shoes. A lining just makes your feet unpleasantly sticky, and turns a shoe into a bag of water if you manage to flood it. As with trail shoes, two key attractions of the Rapid are its lightness and breathability, both things that a lining will compromise to an extent. If it's too wet to wear the non-waterproof Rapid then perhaps it's too wet for climbing or scrambling. But if you do find yourself on a boggy approach then just tread carefully around the mires, and learn to accept the risk of an occasional wet sock. Don't let me talk you out of it though; some people actually like boiling their feet in Gore-Tex shoes.

They're decent on scrambling terrain, though I probably wouldn't take them far into the climbing grades   © Dan Bailey
They're decent on scrambling terrain, though I probably wouldn't take them far into the climbing grades
© Dan Bailey

Sole

The soft upper is complemented by a comparatively bendy sole. The feel is more reminiscent of a running shoe than a typical chunky approach shoe, and this does result in only so-so edging ability. On steeper rock I like something solid that'll reliably hold an edge, or jam reassuringly into cracks, so the flex here definitely limits what I'd be comfortable doing in these shoes. Think scrambly crag approaches rather than actual low grade climbing.

However the upside is a less clumpy, more precise and more forgiving ride on walking terrain (which, let's face it, accounts for most of your mileage in any approach shoe). An EVA midsole soaks up the impact on hard tracks, offering some cushioning and bounce. While the Rapid isn't likely to be anyone's first choice as a running shoe, I have certainly used it as such a few times, and it really isn't half bad. This is the first approach shoe I've personally reviewed that I can comfortably run in.

Enough support for carrying a heavy pack on rough ground  © Alan James
Enough support for carrying a heavy pack on rough ground
© Alan James

Being quite heavy I tend to go for a more supportive and cushioned sole for trail running, and for me the front end on the Rapid feels a bit insubstantial when stood on sharp stones. Others will like the sensitivity. To gauge the sole's flexibility I've compared the Rapid with probably the closest thing in my cupboard, an old pair of Scarpa Spin Ultra trail shoes - and it's a lot bendier. Though there's a springy forefoot flex that's well suited to running, the Rapid still has enough beef around the midfoot and heel to offer a decent level of support when you're carrying a heavy climbing pack on rough ground, so no worries there.

Underfoot you get a Vibram Megagrip outsole, quite a soft rubber that grips well on rock. As you'd expect, there's a flat climbing zone at the toe, which complements the close front-end fit to give you a nice precise feel when scrambling. But what sets the Rapid apart from the majority of skiddy approach shoe soles is that you also get a decent deep-ish tread that offers reassuring bite on grass and wet ground. If I'm being picky, a more pronounced heel breast would be good for downhill braking, but overall the outsole on the Rapid is one of its main selling points for use in the damp, green British hills.

Run, forest, run  © Dan Bailey
Run, forest, run
© Dan Bailey

Scarpa say:

RAPID is the approach shoe designed for moving fast on mountain terrain. Ideal for technical trails, when approaching the climbing wall, easy to attach to the harness and performing well on steep and fast descents.

  • Sizes: 41-48 (men) 36-42 (women)
  • Weight: 750g/pair size 47 (our weight)
  • Fit: precise and wrapping, thanks to the internal Sock-Fit LW by SCARPA construction system that avoids compression points, wrapping the foot and ensuring greater lateral stability.
  • Upper: technical mesh with external TPU cage heat-sealed side support film. Anti-pressure and anti-impact mesh on the collar and tongue to ensure durability and protection in sensitive areas.
  • Sole: the new Agility sole has an EVA midsole with different densities to cushion impacts and increase comfort. Stability is supported by a TPU insert placed in the medial area. Dynamic Protection System (DPS) in the forefoot for propulsion and reactivity. VIBRAM® Megagrip outsole with climbing zone.


For more information visit scarpa.co.uk

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10 Oct
I would be interested to see how this, described as an approach shoe by Scarpa compares to the Ribelle Run, sold as a running shoe. There is an awful lot of overlap , and I wonder which is better on 'technical' terrain i.e. the Cuillin.

I like Scarpa a lot, but there range is hard to navigate sometimes - maybe a problem of too many choices!

Horrible colour tho'!


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