Weight: 430 grams (men’s size 9)
Approach shoes aren’t typically at the top of my climbing wish list. Over the years I’ve made do with any old pair of running shoes or hikers without complaint or regret. The value of my trail footwear always fell soundly below that of my apres climb beer. But no more.
Salewa, new to the footwear manufacturing carnival, clearly did their homework when designing the Firetail GTX. I gave this new shoe a beating for six months on approaches in the Rockies and slushy treks in Iceland. Their performance–dry and wet, long days and short, steep and mellow, on and off rock–revised my understanding of what approach footwear can do.
The Vibram dot rubber sole provided solid traction on a variety of surfaces, from hopping wet river rocks in Colorado’s Poudre Canyon to scaling the rough granite of Vedauwoo, Wyoming. A small sliver of extra-sticky solid climbing rubber lines the inside toe of each shoe for outstanding edging on rock. Even with my exceptionally average abilities, I felt totally comfortable tackling easy face climbs with the Firetail, socks and all. And with sturdy construction–including a full rubber toe cap and Aramid (a fiber used in ballistic armor) reinforced midsole–stuffing the Firetail GTX into cracks was both easy and non-damaging. For jamming fist cracks and larger, they actually felt more secure and comfortable than my dedicated rock shoes due to their higher volume, sole stiffness and ankle protection. Even if traditional climbing shoes are preferred, the Firetails are light enough (if a bit cumbersome) to clip onto a harness and carry up a route.
An EVA midsole and shock absorbing PU heel provided a damp, stable platform for schlepping daypack-size loads into the mountains, and the same durable fabrics that protected the shoe while climbing kept trail debris (and my bad habit of dragging my feet) from tearing apart the uppers. In fact, after several months of near constant usage, they still appear as new. The same cannot be said for my legions of totally destroyed discount trail runners now relegated to garage duty.
Perhaps most impressive was how the shoes held up in icy sludge. Even with a low ankle cut, the GTX (Gore-Tex) part of the Firetail equation kept my feet dry and warm through mushy, slushy slogs in Iceland. And they hosed off easily afterward. Back stateside, when the shoes weren’t covered in layers of mud, they breathed well enough to stave off the dreaded swampfoot during hot Front Range approaches. Of course, they don’t breath as well as mesh, and for those who play in the desert, Salewa makes a Firetail without the waterproof membrane.
Fit and finish was top notch right out of the box, and never was there even a hint of blistering on my slightly wider than average feet. The lacing system, which extended all the way to the knuckle of my big toe, helped conform the shoes around my feet snugly and comfortably–great for hikes and light climbing. The laces were supported by a Y-shaped “3F System,” which featured tiny, braided steel wires that were supposed to secure the heel and ankle. The wire system seemed distinctly gimmicky and probably just added unnecessary weight to an otherwise very lightweight shoe. That said, the system neither got in my way nor compromised performance.
The Firetail GTX could be the ultimate all-in-one Teton or Rocky Mountain National Park shoe, with enough hiking chops for long approaches and plenty of climbing prowess for moderate routes. I guess I’ll have to upgrade the value of my approach footwear to just above my apres beer. But only just.
Pros: Supportive and comfortable; lightweight; fantastic trail traction; waterproof and breathable; climb well, especially in fist and wider cracks.
Cons: Not cheap; could be lighter; only two colorways: black and Mopar green.