Black Diamond Technician
$135, 1 lb. 4 oz. (US men’s 10/Euro 43)
Sizes: US men’s 6-14, women’s 5.5-11
My summer goal was to bag all the 11ers in my home range, Utah’s Wasatch, and the Technicians accompanied me on almost every summit—including technical climbing up the North Ridge of the Pfeifferhorn, a mixed day of scrambling and hiking over 17 miles and 7,000 feet of vertical on the Thunder Traverse, and various moderate rock climbs at the crag (up to 5.10a). In these situations, the Technicians performed exceptionally on rock, but left some things to be desired on long days of hiking.
When designing so-called “approach shoes,” brands must choose whether to prioritize climbing or hiking performance. With the Technician, Black Diamond prioritized scrambling and climbing.
The Technician’s emphasis on climbing starts in the outsoles, with BlackLabel-Mountain rubber providing climbing shoe-like grip on any type of rock. The outsoles also look much more like a climbing shoe than a hiking shoe, with a sticky, smooth area under the toes that gives the Technician smearing performance on par with some rock-climbing shoes, and shallow, dot- and diamond-pattern lugs best suited to gripping on rock, if not delivering quite as much traction as deeper lugs when descending loose scree.
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The toe box is narrow and features a thinner outsole and midsole than most approach shoes, which gives the shoe a surprising amount of responsiveness when rock climbing: The Technicians allowed me to use smears and footholds which would be too small for most approach shoes. However, wide-footed people take note: Due to the narrow toe box, BD recommends sizing up by a half size if you have wide feet.
BD smartly protected the sides and top of the toe with a stiff rubber rand, for hiking rocky terrain and allowing the Technician to jam effectively in cracks. I found that my men’s size 8.5 shoes jam securely in thin hands to fist-size cracks, although not quite as comfortably as a stiff rock shoe.
All of these outstanding climbing features are brought together by the shoe’s graduated-fit lockdown lacing system, most uniquely featuring a molded TPU midfoot strap and lace lock and lacing that extends to the base of the toes. I found the Technicians to be the most secure of any hiking shoe I’ve worn and the lacing system held the shoe firmly in place for technical climbing.
Unfortunately, many of the features that make the Technicians great for climbing hinder their hiking performance. I’ll start with the upsides. The breathable EnduroKnit uppers provide excellent ventilation, keeping my feet and socks as dry as could be expected on long, hot days. Furthermore, the tight climbing fit keeps the shoe from slipping while hiking, preventing blisters. I never developed a single blister while logging at least 100 trail miles in the Technicians. Finally, they’re light, weighing just over a pound per pair.
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For the downsides, there are a few. The biggest is the thin outsole and EVA midsole. While good for climbing, it fails to provide much support or cushion when hiking. Small pebbles, sticks, and other objects can be felt through the shoe, leading to sore feet after a long day of hiking as well as more soreness in knees and quads than I would get with a more supportive shoe. (And worth pointing out: I’m 21 years old and hike a lot.) Moreover, the thin upper provides less overall arch and foot support than most hiking shoes I’ve used.
After more than 100 miles and close to 100,000 feet of vertical hiking in these shoes, they’re a bit beat up: a hole in one toe, the outsoles beginning to delaminate. But that’s only after a significant amount of hard use, much of it off-trail in very rugged terrain. Durability compares with many models of lightweight shoes.
While not suited to very long days of hiking, the Black Diamond Technician shoe stands out for mid-length hikes on rugged trails, scrambling off-trail, and even moderate rock climbing.
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Note from Michael Lanza: Nate Lanza has many years of experience as a backpacker, dayhiker, rock climber, whitewater kayaker, and skier, and as my son, he has experience beyond his years on wilderness adventures.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See The Big Outside’s Gear Reviews page for categorized menus of all gear reviews and expert buying tips.