The Salewa Firetail EVO GTX
Photos and Review By Chris Weidner I’m wary of gear that looks too high-tech for what it is. Like ergonomic water bottles with tricked out lids or something. The techy stuff just adds bulk and weight to an otherwise functional piece. And at the end of the day, it’s just a water bottle.
So it’s no wonder my hackles were raised when I first saw the Firetail EVO GORE-TEX approach shoe (even the name sounds technical). They’re attractive kicks, but I was thrown off by the thin, steel cables that wrap around the heel, through the top lacing eyelet, and back down under the arch — the so-called 3F EVO system.
I felt like I should read a user’s manual before wearing them.
But if there’s anything I’ve learned about gear in over 30 years of outdoor adventures, it’s that looks aren’t everything. In this case, despite its gimmicky façade, the Firetail EVO GORE-TEX surprised me with outstanding performance and durability.
In Colorado’s Flatirons in February they offered stiffness and support as I boulder-hopped between patches of ice on trails. Yet they were flexible enough in the toe for primo smearing on the Atalanta, a 5.3 slab on the First Flatiron. I immediately liked the Firetail.
Out of the box they had much better traction and edging on rock than shoes with standard dotted soles. Salewa augmented their dotted sole by adding a flat rim of sticky rubber around the toe. This Vibram Tech Approach sole eliminates the annoying need for dots to wear down before they smear well. The laces extend almost down to the toe so you can tweak the fit for precise footwork while climbing.
By early spring I put the GORE-TEX lining to the test. I kicked steps in snow to approach Eldorado Canyon’s walls, hiked through three inches of wet slush in a Flatirons storm and submerged my feet in mud at the edge of South Boulder Creek. Throughout all these my socks and feet stayed dry. Seriously, I couldn’t believe it.
The only times my feet got damp were when snow spilled over the low-cut rim of the ankle, and when I hiked in the heat of Red Rock, Nevada, and Indian Creek, Utah, where the GORE-TEX lining didn’t breathe as quickly as my feet sweat.
The prickly, desert environment was an excellent test of the aramid material used in the uppers. Composed of strong, synthetic fibers, it’s the same stuff used in body armor fabric. Not once did a cactus poke me through the material as often happens with mesh or leather uppers.
At 415 grams (14.6 ounces) per shoe, the Firetail is on the lighter side of burly approach shoes. However, their bulk — and to some extent their weight — prevents them from being ideal for clipping to your harness on long climbs. They feel light in a pack, which is how I carried them up routes in the Flatirons and Red Rock.
A unique feature of Salewa’s recent shoe models is the Multi-Fit Footbed (MFF). It consists of two insoles: a thin, foam base that fills out the shoe and a slightly thicker insole that slides on top of the first and attaches with Velcro. It’s a simple and effective design that allows you to remove the top insole for a higher-volume fit if, for example, you’re wearing thick socks.
I didn’t take advantage of the MFF very often though. What I found instead is that the shoe, over time, conformed enough to my feet (and typical sock thickness) that I didn’t have to adjust anything. This proved especially nice because the Firetail’s last is on the narrow side while my feet are wider than average. This wasn’t an issue after several days of wear.
After more than two months of heavy use the uppers are slightly fuzzed and the soles are a bit worn. Overall they’ve held up incredibly well. And I’m no longer put off by the steel cables — even if all they do is make the shoes look technical.
But hey — looks aren’t everything.