Rounded toe profile is harder to jam into cracks and pockets
Traction lacking on softer surfaces or mud
Mesh limits shoe to warmer/drier climates
The Salewa Firetail 3 is a supremely comfortable approach shoe built on a stable platform that checks all the boxes for use in warmer and drier conditions. The shoes produced zero hotspots, even during super steep and long approaches and the traction provided confidence on rocky surfaces. This approach shoe is hard to beat for three season approaches in temperate zones that don’t demand much small crack or shallow pocket jamming.
Support/Stability The Salewa Firetail 3 midsole’s flatter profile (from heel to toe) and relatively wide and straight last provided surefooted stability even on extremely angled slabs. The extended lacing system, which integrates tension through a yoke around the heel (3F Total System), keep the foot planted on the shoe’s platform. This elastomer yoke along with the stiff heel counter also harnessed rear foot rolling and shifting even while traversing steep side hills. The foot bed midfoot support is minimal so these shoes are better for those with a higher and more stable arch (or opt for aftermarket insoles/orthotics).
Protection The Salewa Firetail 3’s mesh construction offers welcome breathability in warmer conditions but limits the usability to three season use in temperate climes. The toe box of the shoe is protected by an extended sole and substantial rand, offering welcome protection in this area from haphazard bumping and kicking. A stiffened heel cup offers the same for the rear of the shoe. Midsole characteristics defended well against sharp edges and stones; only extremely heavy loads would cause pressure points.
Comfort This is the Salewa Firetail 3’s strong suit. The shoe best fits the classic “duck” foot: narrow heel, wide forefoot but thin vertically. The shoes proved comfortable right out of the box; the friction free interior, shape of the last (on the wide side), and lacing system provided a comfortable solace for feet after a long day stuffed in tight sport climbing shoes. The midsole’s combination of cushioning and flexibility proved just right for all but the most extreme trails with heavier loads.
Quality and Construction Material choices of the Salewa Firetail 3 all perform their functions well and the quality of construction is what is expected in a high end athletic shoe. Securing items to the upper is done mostly through double stitching which was tight, straight end evenly spaced. There was one missed stitch on each shoe. Bonding of the midsole, outsole and items to the upper are cleanly executed, with only a touch of glue visible on the toe cap. One minor nick in material choice: the laces are slippery, demanding tight knots to avoid loosening until they are well broken in.
Performance Vibram Reptail soles with their Magagrip compound gives excellent traction on rocky slabs, boulders and hard dirt surfaces. The flat and tread free front edge of the shoe smeared well, even when new. Care had to be taken when moisture entered the equation on any surface. The midsole density straddles the sensitivity vs. support/protection ratio well, providing ample sensitivity and edging ability while still having necessary support and underfoot protection. The rounder toe profile of the Salewa Firetail 3’s is harder to place into smaller cracks or pockets should the approach demand such moves and the wider last won’t tightly hug your foot for more demanding edging or stemming. Think of this shoe as a light hiking shoe that works well as an approach shoe, rather than a climbing shoe that functions as an approach shoe.
Seiji Ishii works as a trainer to professional supercross/motocross riders, adventure riding test editor at Dirt Rider Magazine and an AMGA certified rock climbing guide/instructor for White Star Mountain Guides/Austin Rock Gym. He lives in Wimberley, TX with wife Shay, 3 year old daughter Sequoia, 3 dogs and a cat. His personal time is spent rock climbing, any form of dirt biking, cycling, and training for the next mountaineering adventure.