Top Gear: Scarpa Crux Approach Shoe Review
(kruks) - n
- a vital or decisive stage, point, etc
- a baffling problem or difficulty
- in mountaineering, the most difficult and often decisive part of a climb or pitch
Brand new for 2012, the Scarpa Crux is the latest approach shoe from the famous Italian manufacturer, and the name is an obvious reference – given its climbing shoe aesthetics and leanings - to the critical part of a climb, but maybe it’s also a sly nod to the fact that it’s been designed to solve the baffling and vital problem of choosing what footwear to take on your approach, or maybe even the issue of plastics and the environment – probably the first guess though!
Evolution for purpose
The Crux appears to be the natural evolution of the older Scarpa Quest (of which I’ve been through three pairs now) and I was excited to see it in the flesh when it arrived.
Initial impressions were good, it retains the spirit of my old favourites, but improves upon the issues I had with them…it also only weighs around 394g for a size 42 (UK 8) - being as I’m a 41 I save an extra gram or two…bonus.
Both the older Quest and the new Crux share a very similar upper design, which has a blatant and deliberate similarity to many rock climbing shoes. This is not only for effect of course, and features like the extended lacing (which reaches much further than a ‘standard’ shoes) not only make the Crux look decidedly ‘climby’, but also allow for varying degrees of lace tension up and down the shoe. Of course this wouldn’t work if the laces were smoothly free-flowing, but they’re quite stiff so it pans out surprisingly well, unless you were after speed-lock style lacing a la Salomon.
It's all in the last
The Crux uses the same BF last as the Quest (luckily for me) which is mildly asymmetric and designed to give the foot a good blend of hold, comfort and balance; which all helps when scrambling or clambering over rocks.
To be honest the reason I loved the Quests and now the Crux is because this last feels like a glove to me…it’s perfect. A bit like a stiff-boarded all-day climbing shoe, it doesn’t pull the feet too much, but gives enough sensitivity and a close enough fit to inspire confidence in your foot placements.
I can say that although historically Scarpa has been known for a narrow fit, they’re nowhere near as bad as cliché would suggest (kind of like Skoda), and although they’re definitely not going to rank as a super-wide fit, most people should have too much trouble with the width.
I will have to add a caveat and say that footwear lasting is subjective; one man’s treasure etc.
All about uppers
As with any Scarpa footwear, the uppers are of a very high quality (suede in this case); supple enough for out of box comfort, but sturdy enough to help feet feel secure. A large plastic rand around the toes helps to stop the front of the shoes getting too beaten up, and a rear-foot loop reminds us of sling-shot heels taken directly from Scarpa’s actual climbing shoe range. Whilst you won’t be heel-hooking in these, it looks good (in our opinion) and does help the heel feel cradled (assuming the shoes fit correctly). The forefoot straps help you to lock the forefoot in place when on more vertically challenging sections of the rope.
Internally a polyester mesh (well padded at under the tongue and around the rear) helps wick moisture and provide some comfort, without losing too much sensitivity…which helps give the Crux a feel that's much closer to a climbing shoe than some of the heavier approach shoes I’ve worn...without of course, being as tight and restrictive as your rock boots.
Beneath your feet
Underfoot you have a polypropylene board for support, which is both pretty stiff, especially given its weight, and also relatively easy to ‘feel’ through. This gives a great blend for treks where the terrain does require precision placements, like via ferrata and crag-hopping, and it’s also nice for general purpose yomping. Cushioning is provided by an EVA midsole, which runs from thin at the front to thick at the back. It does a grand job of giving comfort and shock absorption, although they definitely don’t feel as cushioned or bouncy under foot as approach shoes with a more conventional two part or thicker composite midsole. The trade-off for a bit less spring is that of course, you feel more connected to what’s going on under your feet.
When out on the hill the Crux does a surprisingly good job of emulating the way a boarded climbing feels when on rock, although the lack of stiffening on the toes in may be noticed on tiny lips, and whilst edging you may also notice the lack of lateral stiffening. Of course you generally don’t want to be walking to the hill in your stiffened mountain boots or climbing shoes, so overall it’s a compromise I’m happy with, and they do a much better job of aping a climbing shoe's performance than any other model I can think of.
For all my love of my old Quests, there was one fundamental problem I had with all three pairs (admittedly I worn them on concrete everyday: to work, play or whatever so my fault really) and that was that the soles wore down very fast. In fact the uppers of all three pairs were near immaculate and could’ve lasted forever, whereas I nearly went through the soles within a few months. Now of course, being in the trade the term ‘intended use’ springs to mind but I’m slightly happy to see that the Crux has changed sole unit and is now a Vibram model called the Vertical (shown left).
It also looks a bit more like a conventional sole that the old ones and being a firmer compound should provide a much longer lifespan (although still best not to wear on concrete every single day for 10 hours if you want maximum lifespan). What’s most immediately obvious when looking at the soles is the large flat area around the toe. What it most reminds us of is, of course, a climbing shoe and the large surface area equates to improved smearing abilities, or rock clambering. The mid to rear foot tread is more conventional and helps to provide traction and braking on grass, mud or path.
Waterproofing (or not)
Just to forewarn you, the Crux has no waterproof lining, and is therefore, not waterproof…you will get wet feet eventually. Now here’s some advice from previous experience, but no guarantees! Because Scarpa uses good quality leathers, and the Crux has a lack of mesh on the upper they resist water surprisingly well; if regularly treated with Nikwax (or similar) then you’ll find they’re surprisingly water resistant. There’s another bonus to the lack of a membrane as well…they’re much more breathable than if they had one, so when you’re working hard in warmer weather your feet will feel cooler. They’ll also dry out quite quickly if they do get wet.
Saving the planet, one step at a time
The Scarpa Crux is also being marketed on its eco-conscious construction, and this includes all the plastic components being comprised of at least some recycled materials: the sole is 25% recycled; the laces and webbing are 100%; the internal lining is partly recycled; the midsole is designed to breakdown faster once in landfill.
How much this matters to you or not is entirely down to your views, but to be honest, it’s a noble effort and although not quite perfect, there’s a definite momentum building up with outdoor clothing and equipment beginning to see the use of recycled and partially recycled plastics. Although it’s probably not a reason to choose the Crux over anything else, at least you can take comfort in even remotely helping the environment out in some small way; you’re probably buying these shoes to enjoy the great outdoors after all.
Overall the Scarpa Crux is a great lightweight approach/scrambling shoe, and one I’m going to enjoy just as much as the old Quests. If I’m being honest, it’s not quite as comfy underfoot as the beefier trail shoes on the market, so for long hikes with little rock or scrambling work you may well be better suited with a heavier shoe with larger midsoles, especially if you want them fully waterproof. It won’t actually replace your climbing boots either, but for light & fast day walks, scrambling and crag approach, via ferrata, or just as a general multi-activity shoe, the Scarpa Crux is thoroughly recommended! It’s even pretty nifty as a travel shoe.
As well as the Men's Crux, there's also a Women's Crux (shown left) available, with some anatomical differences like lower internal volume, and a more feminine colour scheme.