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SNEWS Review: Salewa Firetail GTX shoes

There was no better place than the Grand Teton for us to test Salewa's Firetail GTX shoes. And they met the challenge, scoring big for their ability to perform as the perfect combo approach/hike/climb footwear.

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The performance of any product relies largely on its design, materials and personal user preferences. But don’t forget to add “setting and environment” to the list of requirements.

That’s why when we received a pair of Salewa’s Firetail, lightweight, do-it-all approach/hike/climb shoes, we were even more thrilled to learn they came with a media/dealer trip to climb the Grand Teton in Wyoming. If one looks at what the Firetails set out to achieve, the trip was tailored to exhibit their full potential and beyond.

Italy-based Salewa offers a full line of outdoor gear and apparel in Europe, but the company’s North American arm chooses to focus solely on its technical mountain footwear. That’s the category where the brand’s product sets itself apart in a crowded outdoor field, Salewa North American Director of Sales and Marketing Jim Lamancusa said.

The Firetails build upon the company’s Alp and Mountain Trainer footwear by introducing a slimmed down shoe that attempts to bridge, as company officials put it, “the comfort and lightness of trail runners with the technical features of an alpine approach shoe.” It’s available in men’s and women’s, with the option of Gore-Tex versions too. We tested a men’s 10.5, GTX.

We chose the Firetails over the Alp or Mountain Trainers for the Grand Teton trip to see if it would uphold three full days of intense and varied use, led by Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. Mission accomplished, and the shoes continue to be the perfect multiple-use footwear for our Rocky Mountain treks in Colorado.

In the Grand Tetons, on the day-one ascent to high camp at 11,000 feet, the Firetails provided good support to carry up our multi-day packs. Their slightly sticky soles helped us keep our grip as we scrambled across several boulder fields.

On day two, the shoes were back at work on the rocks as we climbed several surrounding multi-pitched faces. Here, the Firetail’s straight edge in the toe’s climbing zone, its sticky sole and slim profile allowed us to find grips that wouldn’t have been possible with regular hiking shoes or boots. Plus, the Firetails have a stiffer feel than trail runners, letting us more easily stand up straight on a rock edge. The footwear’s lacing, which looks much more like a climbing shoe, let us achieve a snug fit for the activity.

Day three was the real test — could these lighter shoes help our feet withstand a 15-hour day of climbing the 13,770-foot Grand Teton and descending all the way back to the parking lot? Indeed they could, delivering on all of the above, and for our tester, without a single blister.

What made the performance even more impressive is that the shoes ended up being a half-size too large for our tester. Anecdotally, within the group, the Firetails sized about a half size too big from the norm, so make sure to get your customer correctly fitted. All Salewa shoes also come with a multi-fit footbed that allows one to take out a layer, particularly for wider feet. A final fit point to consider: Salewa’s footwear lineup is built with a variety of lasts. So if the Firetails don’t fit, the consumer doesn’t have to give up on the entire brand. The Mountain Trainers feature a wider footbed and a deeper heel cup, and the new Wildfires boast a more anatomical last with raised arch support.

Blessed with great weather the entire trip, the only feature we didn’t get to test this test was the Firetail GTX’s waterproofness. We can report the shoes breathed well for being waterproof, and a week later back at home, we found some rain puddles to confirm that they keep feet dry.

The Salewa Firetail is our new favorite all-around hiker/approach/climber. In our view, it’s the perfect shoe to recommend to serious users for those outdoor adventures that involve rocky terrain.

Last but not least, big props go to Jackson Hole Mountain Guides for leading our group successfully up the Grand Teton without a single slip or fall. Rob Hess and his crew dealt with a wide variety of skills — from novice to expert — and made sure all of us had an enjoyable and safe experience.

MSRP: Salewa Firetail GTX $149 (non Gore-Tex version $129)

SNEWS® Rating: 5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection.