Scarpa Zanskar GTX
$259, 3 lbs. 3 oz. (men’s Euro 42/US 9)
Sizes: men’s Euro 40-47, 48
I’m a big fan of lightweight gear, including footwear. But sometimes you need boots that can handle anything: steady rain, mud, snow, scree, rocky trail, and the abuse of off-trail scrambling, plus deliver the support and protection for any circumstance, carrying any amount of weight. The best heavy-duty boots do all these things without actually feeling heavy or clunky. On an early-summer backpacking trip in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains and nine days of trekking hut-to-hut on the rugged Alta Via 2 through Italy’s Dolomites in July, the Zanskar GTX did all of that for me.
The all-leather uppers, padded ankles and tongue, memory foam, and flexible collar gave me out-of-the-box comfort on my first trip in them, in the Sawtooths. That convinced me to take them to the Dolomites, where I knew we’d encounter a lot of snow and steep, rocky trail. The fit was perfect for my medium-volume feet: cradling my heel and midfoot to prevent slipping and giving my toes enough wiggle room. The over-the-ankle height saved me countless times from rolling an ankle. With a partial, plastic shank and dual-density, polyurethane midsole, the Zanskar offers a super stable, cushioned platform that left my feet feeling fresh even after seven-hour days of hammering up and down steep Dolomite paths and Sawtooths trails, where I carried about 35 pounds (including food and gear for my son). I’m sure these boots have the support for carrying 50 pounds or more. Yet, the boot’s narrow platform—the outsole is flush with the upper—and moderate forefoot flex lend it a nimble, agile feel when rock hopping or scrambling.
A one-piece, nubuck leather upper and Gore-Tex membrane allowed me to splash through shallow streams, puddles, and mud, and kick steps in wet, summer snow for hours without a drop of moisture penetrating the boots. Try doing that with many lightweight, synthetic boots and you will have wet feet. Those models are great for relatively dry trails and occasional mud and water; but in my experience, only high-quality leather construction with few seams—as you get with the Zanskar—gives virtually infallible waterproofing. As is common with leather and Gore-Tex construction, my feet got hot on sunny afternoons that pushed 70° F.
A rubber bumper wraps around the toe for protection against rocks. Micro-pulleys make for silky smooth lacing, and the locking eyelets at midfoot never slipped, so I could fine-tune the forefoot fit independent of lacing the upper boot. The outsole, with its in-cut boot heel and deep, widely spaced lugs, gave me excellent traction in every conceivable condition: mud, wet snow, trail littered with loose rocks, scree, side-hilling on steep, off-trail terrain—even on dry and rain-slicked slabs, thanks to a patch of smoother rubber under the toes. The boot’s heft let me stomp out a firm track for my family to follow on steep snow traverses.
The Zanskar GTX is not for lightweight backpackers. But if your tick list includes carrying a heavy pack in hard terrain or very sloppy conditions, and you want a heavy-duty boot that doesn’t feel heavy, try on a pair of these beautifully constructed Scarpas. Bonus: They will deliver years of top comfort and performance.
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.