[Photo] Tyler Scheer
I’m one of those guys who have a different pair of shoes for every situation and will debate my options to an embarrassing extent. Over a year ago, while searching for a good all-around pair of approach shoes, I tried a pair of Salewa Wildfires. I chose them because they appeared light, sensitive and supportive, and I sized them loose, as I would with hiking shoes.
Because of the larger fit, I didn’t expect them to climb well but they do: the rubber is firmer than that of the softer, more supple 5.10 Guide Tennies, but I still felt comfortable when I soloed the 1,000-foot slabs of edgeless sandstone found on the Flatirons, and I felt solid on Positively 4th Street, a vertical Eldo 5.9 face and crack route with rounded, polished ledges.
[Photo] Tyler Scheer
Then I took them on a trip to the Cirque of the Towers in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, a stunning, grey granite bowl with rolling hills and loose scree surrounding house-sized boulders and rocky peaks. For the ten-mile uphill slog, I had a 75 or 80-pound pack, stuffed with gear that belonged to me and to another group member (who had to take it easy because of her injured neck).
Three hours after leaving the trailhead, we were hiking by headlamp through constant rain over mixed rock and mud. The Wildfire’s supportive foot bed kept my legs feeling springy, and I stepped wherever I wanted without worrying about slipping on wet, loose gravel, or soaked blocks. To save money, however, I hadn’t purchased the Gore-Tex version of the Wildfires, and so my feet were soaked. I spent the last hour sloshing in wet shoes to reach base camp, but I didn’t get a single blister. With the shoes still wet the next morning, we hiked farther into the Cirque. They dried during the hike, and retained the shape and comfort that I’d become accustomed to.
Early the next morning, I laced the Wildfires up tight, and my partner and I ran over refrigerator-sized boulders and baseball-sized scree to reach the Northeast Face of Pingora, a 1,200-foot 5.8, which we climbed in our rock shoes. During the run, I found the Wildfires were flexible enough to rock over sharp spines of boulders, grippy enough to leap from 40 degree slab to slab, and lugged well enough to scurry up loose scree with impunity.
The shoes fit true to size for me. Although I wear an 11.5 street shoe, I would go down to an 11 if I was planning to do a lot of technical climbing. A tighter fit would add security when standing on small edges. But my feet swell during warm, long hikes and I like having the extra space so my toes don’t feel squeezed. Thus, because of my narrow feet, I’ve have had to lace the shoes down tightly to get them to fit snugly. After a year of heavy use, the fit hasn’t changed appreciably and they’ve never given me blisters. Today the Vibram-rubber soles look almost untouched, and the uppers are dusty but otherwise solid. The only real damage I’ve managed to cause was to break a metal tab that covered the final eyelet, the loss of which has not affected performance.
One drawback is the shoes don’t pack down as well as the minimalist Evolv Cruzers. The heel of the Wildfires is stiff and doesn’t fold down to an alpine-pack-friendly size. When I didn’t have the patience to jam them in my pack, I’d clip them to my harness, and I had to slide them out of the way before sitting down on ledges. Overall, I find that tight-fitting Guide Tennies climb more securely than the Wildfires. And for wet terrain, I prefer the La Sportiva Boulder Xs. The Wildfires are, however, a much more complete shoe than any other I’ve used, and they aren’t weak in any single aspect. It’s because of their versatility that I’ll be buying a replacement pair, that is, if I ever manage to wear out this current pair.
Pros: Durable, lightweight, supportive and comfortable when hiking. Work great at rock hopping, are solid at climbing and stable when carrying heavy loads.
Cons: Bulky and more expensive than some other approach shoes on the market.