The North Face Safien GTX
$140, 1 lb. 10 oz. (US men’s 9)
Sizes: men’s 7-14, women’s 5-11
Few outings test the comfort and support of hiking shoes like a rim-to-rim dayhike across the Grand Canyon. So to take the full measure of the purported extra cushioning in The North Face Safien GTX shoes, I hiked them across the Big Ditch and back again over two days—a total of 42 miles and about 22,000 vertical feet of serious pounding on consecutive days—and finished feeling no small measure of relief that these shoes really are as cushy as TNF claims. They also have other strengths as well as some minor weaknesses.
The Safien stand out for comfort and support: They proved exceptionally cushy when my feet endured the cumulative pounding of over 11,000 feet of elevation gain and loss two days in a row in the Grand Canyon. Credit goes to the shoe’s XtraFoam midsole, which has a unique shock-absorbing effect that noticeably reduces the pounding impact on the soles of your feet. (Squeeze the shoe’s midsole with one hand inside and one pressing from the outsole side, and you can feel and visibly see the slight shock-absorbing compression of the midsole.)
The medium-volume fit provides plenty of toe space, a snug midfoot that prevents any forward slipping when going downhill, and a supportive, firm heel cup that’s slightly roomier than average compared to other shoe models.
The Gore-Tex membrane kept water out when I stood in shallow creeks to test the shoes, and breathability was good hiking in the Grand Canyon in temperatures ranging from the 20s (on the North Rim in early morning in October) to the 70s Fahrenheit with dry conditions, although I walked through some mud and shallow puddles from heavy rain the day before we hiked. (I had similar conditions dayhiking in these shoes in Bryce Canyon National Park.)
My feet never got more than slightly damp with perspiration, even on afternoons under the hot sun, thanks in large part to the TPU-coated, mesh uppers and gusseted mesh tongue and a below-the-ankle height that allows for more efficient heat release from the collar. The low collar also means no ankle protection, but synthetic overlays on either side provide some protection below the ankle.
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The Safien’s construction also integrates a reinforced, molded toe cap, the heel, and a mudguard—which wraps completely around the shoe just above the outsole—directly into the upper. TNF’s EXTS proprietary outsole has shallow, multi-directional lugs that delivered good traction on dirt and rock trails.
With exceptional cushioning, a waterproof membrane and uppers that breathe well, and good traction on a variety of trail surfaces, The North Face Safien GTX shoes are a good choice for dayhikers and lightweight or ultralight backpackers who prioritize low weight over added support in their footwear. And these shoes come at a competitive price for low-cuts.
The North Face Safien Mid GTX ($150), also in men’s and women’s sizes, offers the same performance with more support and protection, especially at the ankle.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase the men’s or women’s models of The North Face Safien GTX hiking shoes or The North Face Safien Mid GTX boots at moosejaw.com, ems.com, or rei.com.
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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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