Gear Review: Salewa Wildfire Hiking-Approach Shoes
$129, 1 lb. 11 oz. (US men’s 9)
Sizes: US men’s 6-12, women’s 3-9
The term “approach shoes” can misleadingly imply that those shoes aren’t made for dayhikers who largely stick to trails, perhaps only occasionally wandering off-trail, when actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth. For years, I’ve found that shoes lumped into this category are my favorite picks for typical dayhikes of any distance, on trails ranging from packed dirt to rocky, and I’ve liked them for performance aspects that should appeal to most hikers: good fit and breathability, protective uppers, and outstanding traction. Hit those targets while making the shoe lighter and it’s even more attractive. That’s why I tried out the low-cut Salewa Wildfire on hikes ranging from a nine-mile, roughly 2,500-foot jaunt to Observation Point and Hidden Canyon in Zion National Park to hiking and scrambling on spring days at Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve.
The most conspicuous quality of the Wildfires are the mesh uppers, which are impressively armored with an Exa shell overlay on an injected 3D cage, protecting the mesh fabric while keeping the shoe relatively lightweight, as well as a reinforced toe and rand that extends from toe to heel. The uppers kept debris out while providing excellent breathability, keeping my feet dry even hiking in temperatures around 80° F. The only conceivable weak spot for durability appears to be the exterior mesh at the shoe’s collar, but that shows no damage from my use so far.
Not following the traditional definition of “approach shoe,” the Wildfires are designed more for hiking and scrambling any terrain than easy rock climbing (as with some other approach shoes, although that seems to be growing less common). The smoother “climbing zone” patch of outsole under the inside edge of the toes smears well on steep rock, thanks in part to a special rubber compound that provides stickiness on dry and wet rock; it’s not the stickiest of outsoles among the many approach shoes I’ve reviewed, rather falling somewhere in the middle of the field in that aspect. The aggressive, moderately deep, diamond-shaped lugs and braking edge on the heel grip best on loose ground like dirt, scree, and mud. So the Wildfire are fully capable of transitioning from trails to scrambling steep, rocky, off-trail terrain.
The medium-volume fit cradled my heel and midfoot securely while allowing for good toe space. The lacing extends to the toes and integrates with the 3D cage and wires reaching to the heel and sidewalls, wrapping the flexible uppers like a sock around the foot. Even the tongue—which never slips out of place—feels like part of an entire sheath enclosing my foot. One result of this close fit is that slipping into these shoes isn’t quite as effortless as with many shoes—you must loosen the top laces a bit, but not so much that it’s a hindrance. Although these low-cuts do not cover the ankle bones, soft padding at the shoe’s collar cushions the foot just below the ankle.
The Wildfire’s EVA midsole has adequate support for hiking on or off-trail with a daypack, but not as much torsional rigidity as some of the best shoes in this category (like the La Sportiva TX3 and the Scarpa Epic Lite). With generous forefoot flex, the shoe strides as well as any lightweight low-cut.
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Salewa has been making high-quality, durable hiking, backpacking, and technical footwear for a number of years. Among the lighter and more nimble models of approach-style hiking shoes, the Wildfire is a good shoe for dayhikes of any distance on any terrain, as well as off-trail peak scrambling and ultra-hikes with a light daypack. These shoes come in at a competitive price, too—they’re worth trying on. They’re also available in Gore-Tex versions.
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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 categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.
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