The Switchfoot system and edging plate make the Wildfire Edge excellent climbers with hiking comfort
Approach shoes are specialized hiking shoes that blend walking comfort with climbing ability. These opposing requirements make approach shoe design challenging; flexibility for walking but stiffness for edging are contrasting requirements, as is generous fit for hiking comfort but tight fit for climbing sensitivity.
Salewa introduced the Wildfire Edge for this spring season, introducing the Switchfit system to compress the toes into the front of the shoe when required and a plate under the toes to enhance edging. We’ve been testing a pair for the last three weeks on approaches to sport climbing areas for this First Look.
The Switchfit System and edging plate
The Switchfit system incorporates an extra pair of eyelets at the top of the shoe that pull on steel cables and a plastic stirrup above the heel cup that pushes the foot forward into the shoe, compressing the toes together and against the front edge of the toe box.
Salewa also put a stiffening plate under the forefoot to enhance edging power.
Does it work?
Indeed. The effect of pulling the laces tight in the Switchfit eyelets produced a pronounced effect. The entire foot got shoved forward and provided the feeling at the toes that is familiar to rock climbers. The amount of toe compression is adjustable with lace tension. Engaging the Switchfit system greatly enhanced both sensitivity at the toes and confidence in feeling what was going on at the shoe and rock interface. I found it particularly inspiring when traversing sketchy slabs; the general tightness of the shoe with the Switchfit active greatly enhanced sensitivity to features on the rock.
The compression of the toes together and against the toe box and insole combined with the edging plate and solid outsole under the toes made the Wildfire Edge great at edging, especially when lugging a heavy pack. One nitpick; on my small heel, the Switchfit system caused gapping in the upper around the opening of the shoe; this didn’t reduce comfort, but it could potentially make it easier for debris to enter.
The Wildfire Edge carries over the 3F system and EXA Shell from previous Wildfire versions; the 3F system is a tensioned wrap that encircles the ankle area to provide fit and support, while the EXA Shell is a synthetic wrap for other areas of the shoe that provides both structure and torsional rigidity.
The Wildfire Edge uses an EVA midsole with a tallish 10mm drop; although I found this amount of drop acceptable for hiking, I prefer less drop for extensive rock scrambling.
The Wildfire Edge incorporates a Pomoca Speed MTN sole with a butylic rubber compound. This sole is also a carryover from other Wildfire series shoes, and I’ve been a fan since its inception. This Pomoca sole is one of the grippiest I’ve tested, across a wide range of surfaces; from granite, loamy trails, and dust over hardpack, the Speed MTN is on of my favorite outsoles. The diamond tread pattern (3mm tall in the forefoot, 5mm in the rear) has solid filled in areas on the rearmost boundary and inside perimeter under the big toe for better edge stiffness and traction during both downhill braking and edging.
The 1.6mm suede upper broke in nicely over the testing period, and will most likely continue to soften over time. The durability of the upper felt high, showing no signs of abrasion despite hard use. If the Wildfire Edge follows other Wildfire series shoes, the EXA Shell will start to wear before the upper material shows any real damage. The upper was better suited for shoulder season temperatures as it proved hot for summer temperatures in the south and breathability felt limited. The rubber rand extends over the edges of the forefoot and covers the top of the big toe, which provided both traction for jamming and some impact protection.
While hiking, the Wildfire Edge was on the stiffer side for approach shoes; this felt advantageous when ferrying heavier loads or when the trail was full of stones. A potential disadvantage would be when feet are sensitive from a long and difficult day stuffed in tight climbing shoes.
Our US size 10 sample fit true to size and weighs a verified 1 pound, 15.5 ounces for the pair and MSRP is $170.
The Switchfit system and the edging plate of the Salewa Wildfire Edge make it one of the best climbing approach shoes tested to date, and can be quickly disengaged to preserve hiking comfort. If climbing performance is high on the list of approach shoe qualifications, the Wildfire Edge is a great choice.