The North Face Safien GTX - Women's Review
Cons: Stiff upper, runs narrow, less toe protection, not the most durable
Manufacturer: The North Face
Our Analysis and Test Results
Is weight your main concern? The Safien GTX is lightweight! And waterproof. This hiking shoe is a great choice for light and fast hikes on dirt trails. It looks like a trail runner but acts like a hiking shoe, providing unexpected support for a fabric shoe. It is not the most comfortable, durable, or protective, but if you are a person who counts the ounces of your hiking gear, this may be the shoe for you.
Comfort is critical in a hiking shoe. When your feet hurt, the whole adventure can quickly become a bummer. Though it looks like a sneaker, the Safien GTX is a comfortable, lightweight, and surprisingly stable hiking shoe. The shoes are quite stiff out of the box and after many miles in them, they remain stiff, so if they don't feel good to you right away, don't expect them to get more flex over time. Another lightweight option that is slightly more forgiving is the Salomon X Ultra 3, our Top Pick for light and fast adventures.
The Safien GTX has a plush foam midsole and a decent amount of built-in arch support. The insole itself is quite thin and doesn't add a lot of support, but helps keep the shoe light. While the soles felt comfortable without a pack, or even with a light pack, we started to notice the rocks underfoot a lot more when we were carrying a more substantial amount of weight. A shoe that works better over distance with a heavier pack is our Editors' Choice, the Oboz Sawtooth II.
The Safien runs narrow and is probably not a great choice if you have wide feet, as the stiff fabric doesn't flex enough to accommodate a wider foot. It fits like a typical running shoe, with a taper in the toes, so there is also not a ton of room for splaying out toes. If you like more room for your toes, the Hoka One One Tor Summit is also light and has a generous toe box. However, the Safien GTX is the lightest shoe we tested and it felt quite nimble on the trail.
Support in a hiking shoe refers to arch support, the lacing system, and lateral support. We found the Safien GTX to be plenty stiff for lateral support, truly surprising in an all-fabric upper. The lacing system is standard but totally adequate for getting a snug fit and preventing heel slippage. The ankle does have a lower cut than many of the other shoes in the test, providing less ankle support than some models, such as the Hoka One One Sky Arkali.
However, where we feel support is lacking is underfoot. While the foam sole is plush and structured enough for short hikes, when carrying more weight, especially on longer hikes, we wished for a little more structure in the midsole. It is hard to have everything in a shoe, and stability and protection add weight, so we don't really fault this shoe for lacking support when it excels at being lightweight.
There are a few different components that we consider for a shoe's traction score, including the depth and shape of the lugs and the quality of the rubber. The lugs on the Safien GTX are quite shallow and didn't perform especially well on loose scree. However, the rubber proved sticky enough and provided ample traction for everyday hikes on packed dirt. If you tend to tackle steep, sketchy terrain, you may want to take a look at the Merrell Moab 2 Waterproof, one of the top scoring shoes in the traction metric.
The Safien GTX easily earns a top score in the weight metric. These hiking shoes weigh in at 1 pound 5 ounces in a women's size 7. That makes them two ounces heavier than the Merrell Siren Edge Q2 WP, but over eight ounces lighter than our Editor's Choice, the Oboz Sawtooth II. Four ounces per foot is noticeable, and we appreciated how nimble and quick our feet felt in these shoes.
These shoes received a good score for waterproofness as well. We did find them to be 100% waterproof in our bucket test, and the fabric beads off water easily, gaining a mere 1/4 ounce after soaking for ten minutes. The Gore-Tex barrier worked perfectly to keep our feet dry, with no leakage at the tongue gusset or any of the seams. The only thing to hold against the Safien GTX in terms of waterproofness is the relatively short ankle height, 3 1/4", which allows water to flow over the top in shallower water.
Durability is one of our biggest concerns with this shoe. With no leather anywhere on the upper and only a small rubber toe bumper to protect it from run-ins with sharp rocks, branches, and general trail wear, we wonder about the longevity of the Safien GTX. After hiking about 30 miles in them we saw signs of fraying in the fabric as well as snags in the sidewalls of the soles.
Our testing ground is covered with very sharp lava rocks, which is notoriously hard on shoes. If your trails are soft and primarily dirt you can likely expect greater longevity with this shoe. However, if you cover rugged terrain on a regular basis, you may want to look for a more durable shoe, such as the Oboz Sawtooth II, our Editors' Choice Award Winner among the women's hiking shoes.
If your trails are soft, buff, and potentially wet, then these shoes are a great choice. If you want to move light and fast, maybe even run the downhills, even better. We loved these shoes in the pine duff, especially, where there was no need for massive lugs of traction. And while the upper provides quite a bit of stability for uneven situations, there are better options for rocky, steep trails. Because they look so much like a sneaker, the Safien GTX is also a great choice for everyday adventuring that may or may not include hiking.
The North Face Safien GTX retails for $140, putting it just below the middle of the pack in price, which is not bad for something this functional. However, depending on your terrain, the number of miles that you expect to get from a pair of shoes, and your annual hiking shoe budget, this may not be the best value in terms of durability. If you don't mind paying ten more dollars and wearing an extra 6 ounces, the Salomon X Ultra 3, our Top Pick for Fast and Light Hiking, and offers much more durability.
While we did not find the Safien GTX to be the best in rugged conditions or the most durable shoe, we are very impressed with its functionality, especially considering how light it is. We recommend it for those who count every ounce and are heading out for shorter hikes on buff trails.
— Laurel Hunter