Scarpa Zen Pro
$169, 2 lb. 1 oz. (men’s Euro 42/US 9)
Sizes: men’s Euro 38-47, 48
Even as shoes have gotten more technologically advanced, it’s still the rare breed that crosses over nimbly between comfort for hiking many miles and performance for steep, off-trail scrambling. But thanks to unique construction and materials, the Zen Pro proved itself that kind of unusual hybrid on dayhikes up to eight miles in Utah’s Canyonlands and Arches national parks and for approaching rock-climbing routes in Idaho’s Castle Rocks State Park.
The Zen Pro has that dual personality because, unlike many so-called “approach” or scrambling shoes, which have a narrow toe box (almost like a climbing shoe), the Zen Pro sports ample space up front, like a hiking shoe, so I could walk for miles in them without my piggies feeling like they’re jammed inside a sardine can. A surprising degree of torsional rigidity in the injected-EVA midsole delivers enough support for carrying a pack loaded with rock-climbing gear, and yet the forefoot has the flex of a lightweight shoe, for easy striding.
The sticky, Vibram Spyder2 outsole felt totally secure smearing on steep slabs, whether Castle Rocks granite or southern Utah sandstone, thanks to a flat tread under the toes that imitates a rock-climbing shoe, and to-the-toes lacing that gives the shoe a little more sensitivity. Yet wide lugs also bit into dirt and gravelly trails like a good hiking shoe. This made the shoe equally suited to dayhiking eight miles to Chesler Park in the Needles District of Utah’s Canyonlands, exploring off-trail to scale slabs in Devils Garden in Arches, and scrambling rugged terrain to reach the base of climbing routes in Castle Rocks.
Typical of Scarpa, the shoe’s construction is excellent—justifying the steeper price—evident in details that enhance durability, like suede leather uppers (which also grow more comfortable the more you wear them); a sturdy, rubber toe rand; over-injected TPU just above the midsole on the sides, which take a lot of abuse; and stitching built to sustain hard wear and tear. Besides the hiking-friendly fit, features improving comfort include a nicely padded, gusseted tongue (that keeps out dirt and small stones) made of Schoeller soft-shell fabric, and a Cocona lining to help wick moisture.
One tradeoff: The good toe space means the Zen Pro lacks the sensitivity for rock climbing anything harder than low fifth-class. But it’s an excellent choice for someone looking for a hiking shoe that makes a smooth transition from the trail to rugged, off-trail terrain.
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See all of my reviews of shoes for hiking, scrambling, trail running, and ultralight backpacking.
See also my stories:
“Tent Flap With a View: 25 Favorite Backcountry Campsites”
“My Top 10 Favorite Backpacking Trips”
“10 Tips For Getting a Hard-to-Get National Park Backcountry Permit”
“10 Tricks For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier”
“7 Pro Tips For Avoiding Blisters”
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.
Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by USA Today and others. I invite you to get email updates about new stories and gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box in the left sidebar, at the bottom of this post, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
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