Gear Review: La Sportiva Thunder III GTX Boots

La Sportiva Thunder III GTX
La Sportiva Thunder III GTX

La Sportiva Thunder III GTX
$195, 2 lbs. 15 oz. (men’s US 9/Euro 42)
Sizes: Euro men’s 38-47.5, women’s 36-43

Very few backpacking trips put boots to the test like a multi-day hike in the Grand Canyon. On a three-day backpacking trip with my 10-year-old daughter in the Grand Canyon, carrying up to 50 pounds—including, at one point, 17 pounds of water—down and up very steep, rugged trails, the Thunder III GTX boots delivered an impressive combination of support and protection balanced with a surprisingly nimble feel.

Any hike down into the Big Ditch is hard, but the New Hance Trail has a well-earned reputation as one of the toughest coming off the South Rim. We descended a brutal 5,000 feet in five miles the first day en route to a campsite beside the Colorado River. Then, over the next two days, we climbed steadily up to Horseshoe Mesa and ascended the steep Grandview Trail. In terrain like that, you want boots that protect your feet from the pounding of endless descents and all the rocks—but that also deliver adequate ankle support and don’t feel big and clumsy.

The Thunder’s dual-density, compression-molded EVA midsole acts like a fat cushion, while a half TPU shank inside allows the forefoot only slight flex, which translates to the boot, rather than your foot, absorbing much of the abuse of the trail. But thanks to a close fit and narrow platform—unlike with some boots, the outsole is not significantly wider than the uppers—that stiffness was counterbalanced by sensitivity more typical of a lighter boot. That combination resulted in much-appreciated stability when walking down a steep trail carpeted with baseball-size rocks and loose gravel, or when stepping from one large rock to another with a heavy pack. The over-the-ankle collar helped catch me several times when I started to roll an ankle. The widely spaced, moderately deep outsole lugs gripped well in loose gravel and sand.

The leather uppers are well-armored, with a rubber toe bumper, metal hardwear, and tough, nylon mesh in the tongue and around the lace eyelets; after that very abusive hike, the boots show only a few tiny nicks in the leather and the outer edge of the midsole. The Gore-Tex membrane made my feet a little sweaty on afternoons that got up to 60°F, but my socks never got very wet. All in all, this is a well-priced, solid boot for carrying a heavy pack in rugged terrain when you want burly-boot support without the burly-boot feel.

See my reviews of other favorite, heavy-duty backpacking boots, including the Vasque St. Elias GTX, Aku SL Sintesi Mid GTX, and Scarpa Tech Ascent GTX.



NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

—Michael Lanza


Photo Gallery: Trekking Europe’s Best-Kept Secret, Spain’s Aitana Mountains

Gear Review: Sierra Designs Flash 3 Tent


Leave a Comment

12 thoughts on “Gear Review: La Sportiva Thunder III GTX Boots”

  1. I bought these boots and they have been the worst boots I have ever bought. They didn’t last 6 months. Real sloppy ankle support, horrible lace up system that chews laces every 2 months and lugs that pop out. I couldn’t get them replaced had to send them in for repair and it’s been 2 months, still no boots. Don’t buy these boots if you value your safety on the trail. Not nice having a blow out on the side of a mountain.

    • Hi Nicolai, I’m surprised to hear that, to be quite honest. I’ve been testing boots and other hiking and backpacking gear for 20 years and have a pretty good sense of what’s high quality and what’s not. I suspect your experience was not typical. I hope your next boots work out better for you.

  2. Michael: So many boots to compare! It’s overwhelming. I am looking for a boot to fill many niches. I want something with all day comfort to wear to the office, But I also I conduct field assessments of streams and wetlands and need a protective waterproof boot with ankle support due to years of cross county and track. I also want a stiffer boot, not something too flexible like a trail runner. I have narrowed my search to the Vasque Breeze 2.0 GTX, Salomon Comet 3D, La Sportiva Thunder III, Zamberlan 230 SH Crosser GTX RR, and Mammut T Aenergy. Any advice would be appreiciated.

    • Hi Tom, I’ll try to help. You might find this helpful: I wouldn’t pick a heavy-duty boot for all-day comfort in an office, but that depends on your expectations. If you want a stiffer boot, the Thunder III GTX fits the bill. You might also try some other boots I’ve reviewed at The Big Outside: the Salomon Conquest GTX, Vasque St. Elias GTX, Scarpa Tech Ascent, and Aku SL Sintesi Mid GTX. The Zamberlan 230 SH Crosser GTX RR is a very nice, lightweight boot, supportive for that category, but not comparable in stiffness to the heavier boots I’ve mentioned here (which will also be more durable). I haven’t tested the Vasque Breeze 2.0 GTX or Mammut T Aenergy, but they are comparable in weight to the Scarpa Tech Ascent. I would compare the prices of these models (if that’s a big factor for you) and try on as many of them as you can to see which feel the best on your feet. Hope that’s helpful.

      • Sorry for the delay responding. I just got back from an extended trip backpacking in the Red River Gorge in my old Tecnicas. Your suggestions were very helpful. I will try to find the Thunder III and the Zamberlan 230 SH Crosser GTX. They seem to fit the bill for day time use with a daypack, but could handle more if necessary. .As a point of reference, i tried the Salomon Ultra Mid GTX and it was too flexible and did not offer enough support for me. Really appreciate all you do! .

  3. Thanks Michael, this is a great, straight-forward review. I was just looking at these boots and I am strongly considering them based on your review. I am torn between these (Thunder III) and the Sportiva Hyper Mid GTX. Perhaps you can provide some insight or guidance based on your experience with both boots. My primary activity will be backpacking, carrying 30-40 lbs, 10 to 15 miles per day in south central Alaska. The terrain is just about as mixed as you can get; sharp rocks, sand, mud, roots, tundra, steep alpine, scree, creeks, etc, etc.

    I’m really leaning towards the Thunder III because it sounds like it has a thicker, more padded, midsole which should be better for moderate loads. Whereas, the Hyper seems to have a fairly thin midsole. I’m all for getting the lightest boot possible, but I’ll take a slightly heavier boot for added forefoot protection.

    I know there’s never a magic, single answer to advise seekers such as myself, but any advice or guidance you can provide will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    • Hi Kyle, good question. Besides weight, the major differences between La Sportiva’s Thunder III GTX and the Hyper Mid GTX is significantly more support, rigidity, and underfoot protection in the Thunders, while the Hyper Mids feel more nimble, including more forefoot flex. Some people who are accustomed to lightweight boots (including me) would carry 30-40 pounds in the Hyper Mids without a problem, especially on trails that aren’t as abusive on your feet. But I think your intuition is correct: For where you’re hiking, I would choose the Thunders–not least because beefier boots are also often more waterproof than lightweight boots, which I think is simply a matter of better construction. Good luck!

    • Michael:

      Quick follow-up on the Thunder III. How do you know if a boot will break in or if it is just too narrow? I get the sense from your review, and the boot on my foot as I type this, that the Thunder III runs narrow. Will the leather upper of this boot stretch and mold to my foot, like a high quality baseball glove, or is it more likely to create hot spots? Would you ever use oil or cream to help break in a boot, or is it best to just wear it? The build and materials in the Thunder III are definitely high quality and the leather is pretty stiff. By way of example, it took months and receiving hundreds of 75 MPH fastballs to break in my my high end catchers mitt, but now its awesome. It’s down to this and Salomon Quest 4D. Thanks again!

      • Hi Tom, if the boots feel too narrow for your feet in the store, don’t buy them. Leather uppers will mold to your feet somewhat, and loosen up a bit as they break in, but not enough to improve a bad fit. Oil or cream won’t make a bad fit a good fit; it’ll help preserve the leather and extend the life of the boots. As with a baseball glove, you want the boots to fit well from day one, and for the fit to become nicer with some use.