★★★★ (4 out of 5)
Climbing shoes have traditionally lived in a very technical and niche slice of the footwear industry, with shoes only worn on rock or en route to getting on rock. In recent years things have changed as climbing has become more accessible, popular and mainstream via climbing gyms. The rise in popularity has led to an increase in casual climbing apparel and footwear as technical brands look to carve off a portion of the massive non-technical clothing and footwear market. Browse the latest collection from your favorite climbing brands and you are bound to see them offering everyday denim, button-up shirts, and footwear with just the slightest touch of technical flair to stay true to their core outdoor brand…or at least convince you they are.
The casual climbing shoe market is still relatively small, we surmise due to the dirtbag nature of climbers. Why buy a less-than-technical shoe that will wear out quickly when you could just wear your beefy approach shoes all day, every day? Increased comfort and reduced bulk is the obvious answer but it likely still isn’t enough to push most climbers to buying a casual climbing shoe given the cost and abundant options outside of climbing brands.
The Black Diamond Session Approach Shoe fits squarely in the casual shoe market even if BD categorizes it as an approach shoe. As long as your technical footwear expectations are tempered, you’ll likely be happy with your purchase for everyday wear and tear with the BD Session.
$120 | Where to Buy
The notion of crag-to-pub apparel and footwear is thrown around a lot in outdoor brand catalogs and websites. The Black Diamond Session Approach Shoe fits more in the pub end of the spectrum, and that’s all good. They are a comfy everyday shoe that can also hold their own for simple outdoor jaunts.
These shoes go on easy with stretch built in all across the shoe. The rubber heel strap, knit upper and integrated tongue result in a shoe that provides a nice stretch when slipping it on. It also lends itself to a generally all around comfy fit with your foot feeling securely wrapped in the shoe without being overly tight. Those with wide feet may disagree as the shoe is fairly narrow.
As already mentioned, the integrated tongue has nice give while also adding a secure feel when wearing the shoe. This is an added benefit if you truly are using these as approach shoes by having your foot staying snug and not sloshing around the shoe.
The Session features a collapsible heel, allowing you to easily slip into your shoes quickly. This is one of those technical flairs that climbers will likely enjoy between burns on routes or boulder problems, or if you need to quickly slip on a pair of shoes to take out the trash.
BD has kept the design of the shoe simple. They don’t look more technical than most every day sneakers and don’t sport giant logos or obscene color ways. If you are looking for a statement piece, theses aren’t your shoes.
OK, I know I took a cheap shot earlier in the review about brands touting technical additions to their casual lineups, but it is appreciated in the Session. The shoe features a mildly protective rubber toe, pull tabs where you want them, and a stickier than normal sole. Dig it.
The Black Diamond Session Approach shoes in Joshua Tree
The Not So Good
It’s a bit difficult to stomach the $120 price tag given the simplicity of the shoe. The collapsible heel is the most unique design aspect and something you can’t easily find in many other shoes, but outside of that it’s a pretty standard shoe given where the industry is today. Be on the lookout for when the Session goes on sale for under $100.
While there is a lot of stretch built into the Session, it does have a narrow fit in the toe box that I imagine would not be appealing to those with wider feet.
The shoe holds up just fine as an everyday or easy hiking shoe but these will not sport the same protection as other approach shoes or even trail runners for that matter. When we think approach shoe, we think of a solid stiff sole with a protective leather or synthetic upper that can take a hit if needed. You wouldn’t want to tackle a scree field with the Session.
I typically wear an 11.5 street shoe or up to a 12 in running shoes. I stayed true to my typical 11.5 street size and the fit is good. They are snug during the break in period and the narrow fit only amplifies things. Over time the shoe has stretched out a bit to not be so snug and narrow but it’s still a fairly close-to-the-foot type of wrapped fit. Extra heavy winter socks don’t jive with these shoes, but these also aren’t what you would want to wear in the winter given the mesh construction and low profile.
The Final Verdict
The Black Diamond Session Approach Shoe is a great everyday shoe…for those identifying as climbers. The price of the shoe will generally keep most people from purchasing given how many other lower priced options are on the market. If you have a bit of extra cash to burn and want a shoe that has slightly more tech built in, then we say go for it. If you are looking for a serious approach shoe to wear while lugging in a full pack to the crag, look for a more rugged approach shoe similar to the Scarpa Crux.
$120 | Where to Buy