Black Diamond Mission LT Approach Shoe 1st use review
Black Diamond is relatively new to the approach shoe scene, but with decades of heritage in technical climbing shoes and apparel it’s safe to assume they know what they are doing.
The Mission LT is one of their ‘technical’ approach (as opposed to ‘lifestyle’ approach) shoes designed for light and fast hiking and technical approaches and climbs. Where the Technician Approach shoe, the other offering in this category from BD, is focused more towards climbing than hiking, the Mission LT is designed as a true hybrid hiker and climber.
The approach shoe category fills a gap between technical climbing shoes and trail runners/light hikers. Comfortable and supportive enough for all day hiking but still capable enough on technical ascents. For me this really hits a sweet spot, I’m tired of having to back off technical climbs when wearing trail shoes which just don’t give me the grip or confidence I need, and of the agony of trying to move on non-technical ground between sections in tight technical rock shoes.
I have to admit I was dubious initially of this shoe, and the category in general. Despite that I agreed to take a pair out on a day’s adventure in Queensland’s Glasshouse Mountains. Starting with a warm up on up Beerwah Tourist route and then moving onto the more technical Caves Route up Tibrogargan
Shoe Specs/Technical Details
- EnduroKnit one piece breathable, durable knit upper
- High Performance BlackLabel-Mountain sticky rubber
- Rubber toe protection
- Sock-like bootie fit
- Nylon rock plate for protection
- Tuned EVA midsole for stiffness and comfort
- Webbing reinforced fit system
- Multiple webbing loops for various tagging options
- Weight: 312g (each, men’s EUR43)
The first thing you notice putting these on is the internal sock like fit system called ‘EnduroKnit’. This ensures a snug fit around the whole foot which you’d expect from a shoe required to hold your foot securely on uneven ground. It is a bit harder to get into than a normal shoe, and I did find I needed to loosen the laces at least half way down to get my feet in. I started with my usual shoe size which felt a bit too tight across my foot. Half a size bigger felt better, having read some reviews though I knew there was chance they would stretch so I opted to stay with the smaller size. This is definitely something I’d recommend, the fabric upper does relax after wearing for a while and after a few hours they no longer felt too tight, but didn’t relax excessively.
The lacing system is standard, the only difference to normal shoes being that they run all the way to the start of your toes. I ended up adjusting during the day as the shoes relaxed and found the ability to tighten right the way down very useful to ensure a snug and precise fit, especially as the grade got steeper. There are double lace holes at the top if needed to lock your heels in, personally I didn’t find these necessary as they held my heels in place securely. Additional black laces are supplied, I presume in case the standard mustard colour isn’t to your liking.
Despite the initial tight fit, the shoes were surprisingly comfortable. I generally wear well cushioned trail runners with orthotics so was concerned these would be too firm for me. While certainly firmer than my trail running shoes, due to the dual density heel I had no issue with a lack of cushioning.
On the trails
In total I walked just over 5km with them on rocky trails and was pleasantly surprised by the comfort, cushioning and protection.
Once the fabric relaxed the fit stayed secure but not so tight as to cause discomfort. The one-piece soft upper moved with my foot and didn’t form annoying creases. It also did a good job of keeping my feet cool (note that is was a relatively cool day, I’ll test them again on a hot humid Queensland summers day and report back)
The nylon rock plate performed well on the rocky tracks with no pesky sharp stones poking through and hurting my feet.
Overall, I was really impressed with the hiking experience in these shoes and would have no issue using them on all day hikes.
On the rock
It’s fair to say the Beerwah Tourist track can be comfortably done in trail running or light hiking shoes. While this route wasn’t a great test for the Mission LT’s technical climbing ability, the outsoles sticky rubber certainly was confidence inspiring on the bottom slab that requires some smearing on rock that’s fairly polished.
The ascent was easy and comfortable in these shoes, but where they really impressed was on the way down. Moving quickly down with some sliding which didn’t allow for time to find the perfect foot hold meant smearing grip was essential, and with the Mission LT this was there in bucket loads.
A quick jog back to the car showed that, while certainly not a running shoe, these shoes can move quickly if required with little fuss.
Moving onto the Caves route the shoes were put to the test on a true climb. The route is not technical enough to justify rock climbing shoes, but probably not one I’d feel comfortable climbing in trail running or hiking shoes, at least not unroped as we were.
The route is far less climbed that the tourist routes so the rock was generally unpolished and not as smooth as the more popular climbs, grips are plenty but can be (relatively) small and edgy and sometimes pretty dirty.
While the shoes climbed effortlessly up the route feeling secure and comfortable, this is where the trade-off between a comfortable hiker and technical rock-climbing shoe is evident. The smooth grippy climbing zone around the clean, precise edge is great, as is the wraparound rand for extra protection and grip, but the extra room in front to ensure comfort does result in less precise contact when compared to technical rock shoes. That said at no time did I feel at risk of a foot popping off a grip, and in all likelihood, someone not used to ultra-tight technical rock shoes wouldn’t find the roomier fit at all out of place.
Overall, I was impressed with the climbing ability of the shoes. I’d be comfortable moving to slightly more technical routes that the Caves route with these, beyond that I think the BD Technician, which is more climber than hiker, would be more at home. Smearing ability is great, edging is good but not amazing.
The most telling sign for me was that I didn’t take the shoes off until I got home, happily driving the hour plus after 5+ hours on the trails and rock in them. From an all-day comfort perspective, they get a 5-star rating.
Hiking/walking is comfortable, cushioned (enough) and protective enough for all day use.
Climbing is good, but this is not a super technical climber or excellent edger, there are other approach shoes that will perform better as a pure climber.
Looks may not be to everyone’s liking and they certainly didn’t waste money on aesthetics design! The two tone black rubber with blue fabric (women’s is light purple) is a bit bland, but then these probably aren’t shoes your buying for a night on the town. In their deference, I’ve yet to see an approach shoe that is designed for looks.
Important Considerations for climbing in the Glasshouse Mountains
Being only an hour outside of Brisbane, the Glasshouse Mountains are easily accessible which results in fairly large numbers of walkers and climbers enjoying what the area has to offer. Unfortunately, the accessibility also results in numerous incidents with poorly prepared or inexperienced walkers and climbers getting themselves into trouble. On average there is now one rescue per week.
If venturing into the area always make sure you are well prepared, have the right gear and equipment for any eventuality, try not to go alone, and always get someone to guide you up any unfamiliar route.
Review by TerraTribe Athlete, Stefan Krueger