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The North Face Safien GTX Review

A comfortable hiking shoe with a thick cushioned sole that is as capable at the gym or on a train run as it is hiking on the trails.
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Price:  $140 List | $139.95 at MooseJaw
Pros:  Lightweight, incredible comfort, casual look
Cons:  Durability, below average traction
Manufacturer:   The North Face
By Ryan Huetter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 30, 2019
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71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 15
  • Comfort - 25% 7
  • Weight - 25% 9
  • Support - 15% 6
  • Traction - 15% 6
  • Versatility - 10% 7
  • Water Resistance - 5% 6
  • Durability - 5% 5

Our Verdict

While many hiking shoes continue to look like a low-top version of a classic hiking boot, featuring leather materials and heavy-duty soles, some models are blurring the lines between a running shoe and a hiking shoe. The North Face Safien GTX is one of those shoes that look like a comfortable walking or running shoe but has the traction and waterproofing that would be expected from a hiker. Capable of being a trail running shoe or a cross-training shoe as well, the Safien GTX is versatile. It has many non-hiking applications, but when looked at purely as a hiking shoe, it did not inspire as much confidence as other crossover shoes like The North Face Ultra 110 GTX.

Our testers like the casual look of the Safien, although they preferred the more comfortable fit of the Hoka Sky Toa that has a softer heel cup and fits medium volume feet better.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Safien GTX was a solid performer, doing well in most metrics but not exceeding in any one of them.

Performance Comparison


Consider this a casual hiking shoe that can head to the local boulders and hike over some rough trails and then go for a trail run once you're done with your circuit.
Consider this a casual hiking shoe that can head to the local boulders and hike over some rough trails and then go for a trail run once you're done with your circuit.

Comfort


Immediately upon slipping on these shoes, you think that you are slipping into a pair of sneakers. They are light and airy and have a TPU-coated mesh upper that is soft and forgiving on the top of your foot, making them feel like a running shoe. They have a soft cushion under your feet that allows you to hike on firm surfaces and absorb any sharp rocks on the trail.

We all liked the extra cushion in these hiking shoes, though they did not reach the same level of comfort found in models like the Hoka Sky Toa or the La Sportiva Spire GTX. We also felt that for low volume feet they would be perfect, but for those with higher volume feet the heel cup is too low and the collar felt short and bit into our foot.

Weight


The Safien GTX is one of the lightest models in our review, with only a couple of featherweight competitors like the Salomon OUTpath GTX besting it. The lightweight feel is evident when these shoes are on your feet; it's easy to forget that they are even there!


The lightweight Safien GTX feels more like a running shoe than a hiker.
The lightweight Safien GTX feels more like a running shoe than a hiker.

Support


We love to zip around on our local trails wearing The North Face Safien shoes, and they provide adequate support and stability for day hiking without heavy packs. However, their light and nimble nature also prevents them from being as stable as a wider pair like the Salomon X Ultra 3 GTX or as protective as the Garmont Dragontail GTX. Due to the feeling of being higher in the shoe, which may be due to a thick insole or due to our larger volume foot, we feel more likely to roll an ankle in these shoes than in others, which underscores the importance of getting a shoe that fully supports your ankle.

The Safien gives good support when carrying little to no weight on your back.
The Safien gives good support when carrying little to no weight on your back.

Traction


The North Face uses a proprietary rubber compound called EXTS. It features a shallow tread and no lugs along the outer edge of the sole. This tread patterned proves to work well on dry ground such as a dirt trail but does not bite into loose terrain as well as The North Face Ultra 110 GTX. Wet and slippery surfaces also challenge the Safien, so we recommend it most to hikers who will be sticking mostly to on-trail adventures.

The sole on the Safien allows it to get reasonable purchase on dry trails  but gets clogged up when in muddy terrain.
The sole on the Safien allows it to get reasonable purchase on dry trails, but gets clogged up when in muddy terrain.

Versatility


This might not be the top choice for a three-week backpacking trip, but it is super versatile. While we tend to recommend it most for day hikers or light on-trail backpacking trips, its low weight, cushioned comfort, and stylish looks make it ideal as a trail running shoe, a gym shoe, around town or even as a comfortable work shoe if you spend lots of time on hard surfaces.

We tried to take the Safien climbing  but it did its best work on flatter ground.
We tried to take the Safien climbing, but it did its best work on flatter ground.

Water Resistance


Using a Gore-Tex inner membrane, the Safien GTX is fully waterproof up to a height of three inches. You can confidently slosh through shallow puddles on your hike, but don't get carried away. The low overall height of this shoe does impact its water resistance even though the Gore-Tex liner kept water at bay in our test for a full five minutes with very minimal seepage, though if you want a hiking shoe with top waterproof performance, the La Sportiva Spire GTX was the best in our review.

The Safien keeps water out but beware the low flood height.
The Safien keeps water out but beware the low flood height.

Durability


The upper material of Safien GTX uses TPU-coated mesh upper with synthetic collar overlay. This coated mesh it what keeps the weight so low and makes it quite comfortable. In our tests, we did not see the mesh deteriorating at all, though we see this material as being the first thing to begin to show wear, especially if you use these shoes on rough trails.

The mesh upper got dirty  but did not show signs of wear during our test.
The mesh upper got dirty, but did not show signs of wear during our test.

Best Applications


The Safien hiking shoe is a perfect fit for a casual hiker who wants a comfortable, almost sneaker-like feel, and does not require the extra support and stability for carrying a big pack. This cushioned day hiker is great for mostly on-trail use in dry climates, though thanks to the Gore-Tex liner can handle shallow submersions without a worry.

Are those a pair of throwback Air Max '90s? Nope  these are the clean and casual North Face Safien GTX  and they are the most inconspicuous hiking shoe we have seen.
Are those a pair of throwback Air Max '90s? Nope, these are the clean and casual North Face Safien GTX, and they are the most inconspicuous hiking shoe we have seen.

Value


With a price of $140, the Safien GTX is a reasonable value considering its weight and inclusion of top tier materials like a Gore-Tex waterproof lining.

Conclusion


The North Face jumped into the comfortable, running shoe-inspired hiking shoe category with the Safien GTX, and is the closest competitor to a shoe like the Hoka Sky Toa. We increasingly are choosing these kinds of shoes for long hikes on trail, where a thick and cushioned sole helps deflect sharp objects and the low weight doesn't slow you down. Great for on trail and around town, the Safien is a plush ride.


Ryan Huetter