Shoe Review: North Face Hedgehog GTX XCR

hedgehogsideAs you can see from the shot on the left, these are great looking trail shoes, which only lack a bit of leather and possibly some studs in order to become the most macho footwear imaginable. From those tough, grippy soles to the Gore-Tex lined uppers, they scream outdoor performance in the most manly way imaginable. So why, North Face, why, oh why, oh why…did you call them after one of nature’s cutest and most helpless creatures? It makes no sense at all. Even if the side profile is a bit on the ‘spiky’ side.

But I digress. What, after all, is in a name? So lets cut to the chase and look at the technical aspects of the Hedgehog GTX XCRs.

The Tech Spec

hedgehoggaiterAs a long time fan of all things Gore-Tex, the most instantly appealing feature of the Hedgehog GTX XCRs, apart from their rugged good looks, is the tag telling you that these things are waterproof as well as breathable. Because if you’re as fond of muddy trail runs as I am, you really appreciate a shoe that can keep the great outdoors outside where it belongs, without reducing your feet to sweaty, wrinkled slush puppies.

The technical design also features a gaitered tongue to help keep mud and stones out, an ‘ergonomic footbed’, ‘Northotic™’ insoles with a fairly prominent ridge running down the centre, and of course, the obligatory (for this kind of light trail shoe anyway) Vibram sole.

There’s also a lot of abrasion-resistant protection for your toes and heels, as well as plenty of cushioning in the heel area, ensuring that when you first strap these things on, and mess around with the laces to get a closer fit out of what is quite an accommodating shoe, they feel pretty much like carpet slippers.

Hitting the Open Road

As is my wont with trail shoes, I like to see what they can do on the road as well as the trail. So I lined them up for a very wet 10-miler incorporating 3 miles of road and 7 miles of combined beach, sand dune and mud track. But first,  I really had to load some suitable sounds onto my iPhone.

Fortunately, t’internet soon yielded up a song about hedgehogs, with 19 verses, and just as many choruses, so the blurb said. And so, tuned up and wearing the sexiest trail shoes on earth, I headed out to see if the Hedgehogs would come to life on the open road, or simply die on it.

Well, the good news for hikers and road runners is that the ‘Northotic™’ insoles with Vibram underfoot make these things a very happy place for your feet to be on unyielding surfaces. While the Hedgehogs offer less forefoot flex and lightness than, say, Salomon XTs for example, they gave a pretty light and very comfortable ride for the couple of miles it would take me to reach the dune section of my run.

In fact, the only discomfort came from the fact that I had failed to listen to ‘The Hedgehog Song’ before loading it into my iPhone. Incredibly, it turned out to have nothing to do with the works of Beatrix Potter, but instead seemed to be some sort of tribute to the works of Terry Pratchett.

In fact, the lyrics were far from wholesome, the general thrust of which (if you’ll pardon the expression) being that while many creatures may find your romantic overtures hard to resist, hedgehogs’ unique physiologies mean that they can’t be persuaded to succumb to your sweet nothings quite so easily. But hey, I’d started by this point, and so felt obliged to continue regardless.

Hitting the Trail with the Hedgehogs

hedgehogsoleOnce I left the concrete of the sea wall, I ploughed into the steepest set of dunes this side of the Sahara, where the spiky Hedgehog soles dug right in and the soles offered sufficient flex to make short work of the soft sand. Just as importantly, whether I was running up or down the steep inclines, my feet felt fully supported, with my heels and toes experiencing no discomfort whatsoever.

(Any mild discomfort I was feeling came from The Hedgehog Song, which at this point, appropriately, was discussing, if I’m not mistaken, the ‘humping’ of the camel.)

Leaving the dunes behind, I then took to the mud and moss of the ‘Velvet Trail’ which was appropriately slippy underfoot, though the Hedgehogs managed to find plenty of grip, and gave me sufficient agility to leap the occasional fallen tree and dodge the frequent rabbit holes (which again, tragically, found a mention in the song lyrics at this juncture).

cleansockOnce I reached the blessed relief of the turnaround point, putting the wind at my back and several miles of hard sand in front of me, I was able to really enjoy the comfort offered up by the Hedgehogs. The ‘Northotic™’ insoles with Vibram soles really are supremely comfortable on a longish run, and even though I was by this stage splashing through the shallows of the Irish Sea, my feet stayed completely dry, all the way home, as you can see.

Even wading though several inches of really soft mud on the way back to the road didn’t compromise that situation, though the spiky soles did clog up a little bit.

The Big Self-Important Verdict

muddyhedgehogsWhether you’re heading out for a hike or a serious trail run, I simply can’t recommend the North Face Hedgehog GTX XCRs highly enough. While at a little North of £70, they’re not cheap, they seem like immense value for money when you factor in the Gore-Tex lining and awesomely comfortable ride.

In fact, apart from the slightly daft name, I can’t find a single thing I dislike about these shoes. I’m certainly going to be wearing them for all my wet weather trail runs this winter. (Similarly, having been slightly brainwashed by listening to The Hedgehog Song repeatedly for well over an hour, I find myself full of praise for the eponymous creatures who inspired these shoes, and their disinclination to give in to needless promiscuity under any circumstances.)

5 jelly baby ratingAnd so, before heading off to make a small donation to my nearest hedgehog rescue centre, I have no hesitation at all in giving the North Face Hedgehog GTX XCRs not one, but a resounding 5 Jelly Babies.

Specification

  • Waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex® XCR® membrane
  • Abrasion-resistant, bomber synthetic nubuck and breathable sandwich-mesh upper
  • Gusseted tongue
  • Northotic™ ergonomic footbed
  • Lightweight, compression-molded EVA midsole
  • Heel X-2 O2™ air pod
  • Injection-molded TPU shank plate
  • Exclusive, lightweight Vibram® rubber outsole
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