Scarpa Epic Lite
$135, 1 lb. 14 oz. (men’s Euro 42/US 9)
Sizes: men’s Euro 39-47/US 6-13, women’s Euro 36-42/US 5-10
The hardest footpath to the top of the highest peak east of the Mississippi, North Carolina’s 6,684-foot Mount Mitchell, runs you through a gauntlet of character-building trail conditions lurking in those rough Appalachian Mountains. Hiking the Black Mountain Crest Trail entails climbing a cumulative 3,500 vertical feet over 12 miles on an earthen rollercoaster that traverses 13 summits above 6,000 feet, over ground littered with wet, slick leaves, while hopping the occasional small pond of mud and carefully treading over slippery roots and granite slabs. I could hardly have thought up a better place to try out Scarpa’s new Epic Lites. And I’ve worn very few models of shoes over the years that handle all kinds of terrain as nimbly as these.
I also tested out the Epic Lite on other dayhikes in the mountains of western North Carolina, while carrying a pack filled with at least 30 pounds of climbing gear, water, and food at Idaho’s Castle Rocks State Park, and on many gym workouts. Among low-cut hiking-approach shoes, they stand out for design features that depart from traditional approach shoes—stepping out ahead in a recent trend toward lighter, more breathable and comfortable designs that makes this category of shoes more practical for everyday hikers.
In the Epic Lites, that begins with board-lasted construction—fairly unique among lightweight shoes, which usually have a less-supportive strobel last or a slip last. Board-lasted shoes are made with a firm board that provides a platform, boosting underfoot support and protection. And yet, the Epic Lite’s forefoot has plenty of flex for easy, fast striding, so they don’t feel stiff, and they’re as light as many low-cut shoes that don’t offer as much support.
Scarpa’s proprietary Sock-Fit DV construction uses a stretchy, soft-shell material in the tongue, creating a close fit that wraps around the top of your foot, while delivering better breathability than leather or synthetic nylon and reducing bulk. Even on the sweatiest gym workouts, my feet stayed dry; but they also never felt cold even in chilly October temps and nearly constant, strong wind on the Black Mountain Crest Trail. Mesh uppers help make them more breathable, while synthetic leather along the side walls and wrapping the heel, a stout rubber toe bumper, and welded TPU reinforcements over the mesh ensure against these shoes getting shredded when you venture off trail.
The medium-volume fit gave me enough wiggle room for toes without my heel or midfoot ever slipping, while the shoe’s heel provides abundant support and cushion for long miles in rugged terrain, thanks in part to the rubber rand wrapping completely around it. Likewise, the EVA midsole felt soft carrying upwards of 20 pounds (about half of it photography gear) throughout my multi-hour outing on the Black Mountain Crest Trail.
The Vibram MegaGrip outsole—with a smooth “climbing” tread under the toes, widely spaced, moderately deep lugs, and a pronounced heel brake—gripped well on all of the Black Mountain Crest Trail’s terrain. As with other shoes in this category, lacing extends to the toes to let you fine tune the fit as needed over the course of a long day.
Scarpa describes the Epic Lite as a crossover hiking-approach shoe with a running influence; I’d say it performs best for hiking and scrambling, and I’d run short distances at any easy pace in them, but I wouldn’t recommend them primarily for running.
They’re not designed for hiking in persistently wet, cold conditions, or for hikers who need the greater support of mid-cut boots with a little more rigidity. But whether you like scrambling off-trail to rocky summits on days that involve a lot of miles and vertical feet on and off-trail, or you’re a hiker who rarely ventures very far off trail, or even an ultralight backpacker seeking shoes that are highly breathable, the Epic Lite shoes excel for their excellent traction, breathability, and durability.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.
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