Review: The North Face Hedgehog GTX XCR

At long last, the perfect approach shoe?
The North Face

Just when I was beginning to lose hope that the perfect approach shoe actually existed, along came the Hedgehog GTX XCR. This North Face shoe strikes just the right balance between comfort and performance, but before I go forward, let’s go back a bit.

Until recently not a climbing trip went by where I didn’t have some sort of shoe-related complaint. Not my climbing shoes, mind you. I have no trouble packing in four pairs of shoes for four different routes, because each of my shoes has a specific purpose: I’ve got technical edgers, aggressive down-turned shoes for the steeps, flexible and comfy trad shoes. But approach shoes are different. You shouldn’t have to waste pack space on a shoe whose sole purpose is to get you to the cliff base comfortably in one piece. Needless to say, my standards are pretty high. Here’s what I look for in an approach shoe.

1.) “East Coast” Soles
My problem with “official” approach shoes, like the ones made by Five-Ten and La Sportiva, are that they are best-suited for rocky scrambles on desert sandstone and scree-surfing sessions along cliff bases. East Coast approaches aren’t really like that. Out here (Georgia) we’re usually hiking through dense deciduous forest, often situated on a steep slope. There is a lot of scrambling involved, especially around the base of the cliff, so Vibram rubber is key, but a deeper tread is also necessary for navigating narrow rhodo’ tunnels and steep (muddy, slippery) sloping forest trails.

2.) Waterproof
Scattered afternoon showers happen…a lot. Oftentimes the run-off from the top heads right down the descent gully, making for some wet and wild approaches, especially when there have been consecutive days of rain. There is something very liberating about sloshing straight through mud puddles three inches deep without a thought of tiptoeing around, because I know at the end of the day my socks will still be dry, if not the best-smelling.

3.) Lightweight
There are about a million different hiking boot options that have the above specs, but they are just that: hiking boots. They’re often big, bulky shoes, overbuilt for my approach needs. Sure, boots are fine in the winter when it’s cold and I want the high-top for warmth, but during the heat and humidity hell of July and August, the last thing my feet want are thick, bulky blocks.

Just three things. It doesn’t sound like too much to ask. All I want is a low-profile, sticky-rubbered shoe that allows my foot to breathe and stay dry. But the sticky-soled, waterproof shoes are too bulky. And all of the lightweight Vibram shoes are breathable but take on water like a sinking ship. Until, finally,I tried the Hedgehog. It’s not an approach shoe. It’s not a hiking boot. It’s a (drumroll, please) trail running shoe, and it’s the perfect balance between comfort and performance.

I’ve put probably close to 100 miles on them over the course of the past year, and aside from being slightly dingier in hue, they are no worse for the wear, and after trip after trip my feet remain cozy and dry. The wider forefoot and narrow heels on the Hedgehogs are perfect for my duck feet, and the ergonomically designed footbed keeps me comfy on the hike out after a day of cramming my tootsies into climbing shoes all day.

They aren’t cheap, but they are the only approach shoe I need to pack, year-round (aside from the few times a year I climb out west, where my Five Tennies still reign supreme). As a side note, my husband has a much narrower foot than me, and he’s been really happy with the Merrell Chameleon Ventilator GTX. So if you’re looking for a reliable, multi-purpose shoe for climbing approaches or hiking, try the Merrell.

Hits: Nails al three of the holy trinity: light, waterproof and breathable, with an aggressive, sticky tread to—ahem—boot.

Misses: Does “they get dirty over time” count?


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