ProView- Salewa Firetail 3
The Salewa Firetail 3 is a superb women’s approach shoe that excels on long approaches and performs well in fifth class terrain. The Firetail 3 is burly yet low profile, comfortable on trail and secure while climbing, and has Vibram™ Reptail soles that are as sticky as they are durable.
The Firetail 3 has become my go-to shoe for getting to more remote climbs and for travel in the mountains, especially when my pack is heavy and the terrain is rough.
Construction and design
Quality craftsmanship and good materials are Salewa’s strong point, and this certainly extends to the Firetail 3. The Firetail 3 is made of synthetic uppers and Vibram™ Reptail sticky soles, a durable and effective sticky rubber.
Vibram™ Reptail sticky rubber hits the sweet spot between durability and stickiness. The rubber kept me feeling secure while traveling on slabs and slippery rocks but showed relatively little wear after a lot of use in mountainous terrain. The tread pattern is effective on rock as well as on the trail, but does tend to collect and hold onto mud.
The Firetail 3 is impressively breathable for being such a sturdy shoe and was comfortable in all but the most extreme climates. The breathable mesh uppers are not waterproof but effectively repel water in anything short of a downpour or creek crossing. Once they are wet the shoes are slow to dry, but due to their good fit they did not produce hot spots or blisters even when worn wet.
For an approach shoe, the Firetail 3 climbs fairly well. Although it is no substitute for a real climbing shoe in technical terrain, the Firetail 3 can take on a bit of fifth class terrain quite well, and it excels on long alpine scrambles and steep rocky approaches. The shoe is not featherweight but is light enough to clip onto the back of your harness without being too cumbersome, and is certainly worth having on long or convoluted descents.
Salewa’s climbing specific lacing system allows you to cinch down the laces for a more snug and accurate climbing fit that tightens the shoe over the top of the foot and anchors the heel nicely. Smooth rubber extends up around the toe box, providing ample area to make contact with the rock while climbing. The stiff sole contributes to the shoe’s ability to edge well on delicate features, as well as its ability to smear on steep slab.
Due to the Firetail 3’s slightly larger toe box, it is not great for narrow cracks or shallow pockets, so this may not be your dream approach shoe if you’re wedded to the desert. But for long and sometimes clumsy approaches, the toe box keeps your feet protected and feeling fresh. I found this to be a worthwhile trade off.
The Firetail 3 is an excellent shoe for long off-trail approaches with a heavy pack. The shoe is moderately cushioned and has a stiff sole that multi-tasks protecting your feet when traveling over sharp rocks and contributing to the shoes climbing ability. The extended 3F lacing system keeps the heel secure without needing to over-tighten the laces, a feature I appreciated when contouring along steep hillsides and traversing slabs.
I generally prefer more minimalist, low profile shoes and was surprised by how much I appreciated the Firetail 3’s sturdy toe box and stout construction. The Firetail 3 does not have much midfoot support, so if you have high arches or need more support I would recommend augmenting with an insole. This shoe suits people with average to wide feet and may not provide the best fit for narrow feet.
The Final Word
The Salewa Firetail 3 is a solid approach shoe for folks who spend time traveling through mountainous terrain and want a shoe that is going to hold up to a lot of miles. Built with longer approaches in mind, the Firetail 3 is sturdy without being cumbersome and won’t let you down in fourth and low to moderate fifth class terrain. If you’re looking for an approach shoe that’s as comfortable, functional, and durable, I highly recommend considering the Firetail 3.
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Alyssa Young transplanted from California to the San Juan Mountains, where she oscillates between teaching avalanche courses in the winter and environmental education in the summer. Alyssa is a dedicated search and rescue volunteer and is passionate about botany, social and environmental justice, and wild places.