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, it 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.
The North Face Safien GTX Review
Cons: Durability, below average traction
Manufacturer: The North Face
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.
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 ultra-cushioned. 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.
The Safien GTX is one of the lightest models in our review, with only a couple of featherweight competitors besting it. The lightweight feel is evident when these shoes are on your feet; it's easy to forget that they are even there!
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 or as protective as one with a thicker sole. 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 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 well. Wet and slippery surfaces also challenge the Safien, so we recommend it most to hikers who will be sticking mostly to on-trail adventures.
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.
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 there are better options out there.
The upper material of Safien GTX uses TPU-coated mesh upper with synthetic collar overlay. This coated mesh is 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 Safien GTX is a reasonable value considering its weight and inclusion of top tier materials like a Gore-Tex waterproof lining.
The North Face jumped into the comfortable, running shoe-inspired hiking shoe category with the Safien GTX. 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