During the last Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, Black Diamond announced their entrance into the performance shoe market via a line of approach shoes. The brand best known for hardgoods has firmly planted itself in the outdoor apparel market and recently released climbing shoes. Black Diamond’s release of four approach shoes this month is a logical expansion of their offerings. We’ve been testing their Circuit approach shoe model (MSRP $100) for the past two months, at sport climbing crags, bouldering areas, and across town.
The Black Diamond Equipment Circuit approach shoe is a light, very breathable, sensitive, and unstructured lifestyle approach shoe that is equally adept at navigating urban environments as it is crossing slabs. Given the low weight and spartan construction, the Circuit is best for hiking to boulders or sport crags with easier access. The Circuit also possesses an undeniable style appropriate for approaching the brewpub.
Breathability and comfort
The most notable attribute of the Circuit was the seamless knit upper; it provided great breathability for warmer temperatures and allowed my feet to air out between burns on the project. The upper is lined and padded, which made belays without socks comfortable.
The shoe has a low heel rise and the molded EVA midsole provided light cushioning appropriate for carrying the smaller loads of bouldering or sport cragging. This relatively thin midsole made the Circuit very soft but sensitive to the ripples, crystals, and other small features. A downside was the feet were more prone to stone bruises; I had to take cautions when boulder hopping onto surfaces with sharp or knobby features.
The fit is tighter than a casual shoe, but not as form-fitting as a true approach shoe. The fit felt appropriate for getting to my local sport crags which aren’t in mountainous regions. I would want a tighter fit for more involved treks. I found the amount of snugness the perfect compromise between performance and comfort for a lifestyle-oriented shoe that can still travel to the cliffs.
As a casual, in town shoe, I found the Circuit to be super comfortable as I prefer flexible and light shoes when not loaded with gear; these shoes were supple right out of the box and they have a verified weight of 1 pound, 2 ounces per pair in a men’s size 10.
Sticky rubber is a requirement for approach shoes and Black Diamond delivers with the Circuit. Their proprietary Black Label-Street rubber proved tacky on granite and limestone which bolstered confidence on well-worn slabs. The rubber rand around the forefoot helped mitigate both abrasions and impacts.
The outsole knobs are short; this meant limited traction on loose over hardpacked terrain, but the tradeoff was less squirm on stone. The outsole has a solid perimeter around the forefoot, which usually adds to edging ability, but the softness of the shoe hampered this on anything other than large features.
The Circuit’s unstructured construction did provide one often used function: the heel folded down for use as a slip-on, making for quick and easy transitions between climbing and belaying, or between attempts at the boulder or climbing gym.
The lacing on the Circuit does not extend toward the toes; although this is a nod to style, convenience, and casual comfort, I prefer to-the-toe lacing for any climbing-specific footwear.
Black Diamond offers the Circuit in two men’s colorways and one women’s colorway.
The Black Diamond Equipment Circuit approach shoe is a lifestyle model that is capable of schlepping bouldering and sport climbing loads over shorter and casual approaches. The Circuit is breathable, soft, light and comfortable, but not adept for technical approaches or heavier loads. But the shoes are excellent for double duty; their styling plays to the urban scene well and drew positive comments from both climbers and non-climbers alike.