Gear Review: Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX Backpacking Boots
Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX
$250, 2 lbs. 7 oz. (men’s Euro 42/US 9)
Sizes: men’s Euro 37-48/US 5-14, women’s Euro 37-42, US 6-10
What are your expectations of your boots? That’s a good question to consider when shopping for a new pair. On a 39-mile backpacking trip in mid-September in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, I put Scarpa’s Zodiac Plus GTX through the gamut of mountain terrain and conditions. We hiked consecutive, 13-mile days on trails ranging from packed dirt to rock and mud—the kind of backpacking for which I might normally wear a lightweight, low-cut shoe for comfort and breathability. But we also traversed a five-mile stretch off-trail over snow, steep and loose scree, talus, and a 12,000-foot pass, including some dicey third-class scrambling. We walked through shallow streams, puddles, boggy ground, wet vegetation overhanging the path, thunderstorms and heavy rain. By all measures, the Zodiac Plus GTX passed every test. Here’s why.
Choosing the right boots begins and ends with a comfortable fit, and the medium-volume Zodiac Plus GTX held my heel and midfoot securely in place, with no slippage that can cause friction and blisters, while giving my toes wiggle room. (I wore lightweight socks, which take up less boot volume than heavier socks.) Scarpa’s Sock-Fit construction features a tongue made of stretchy fabric sewn into the uppers that facilitates a wrap-like fit—complementing the way the leather uppers conform to your feet. The nicely padded, flexible collar moved with my ankles while protecting and supporting them.
They hit a middle point between lightweight boots—which they definitely do not feel like—and a burlier, stiffer, heavier boot. That’s primarily because the midsole blends triple-density EVA with polyurethane in the heel to balance durability and the support and comfort needed for carrying a heavy pack, while keeping the boots under two-and-a-half pounds per pair (for the men’s Euro 42/US 9). Asymetric lacing that reaches to the toe box, with three pairs of lace hooks at the top, allow you to “mold” the uppers to the contours of your feet, and make micro-adjustments for, say, traveling downhill versus uphill—all of which can improve comfort and helps prevent foot slippage.
The boot flexes moderately at the forefoot, for comfort when cruising longer days on trail; and yet, they have abundant torsional rigidity—you can’t grab these boots and wring or twist them as you can with lighter (usually synthetic) mid-cut boots, which indicates substantial support for feet and ankles in difficult, very uneven terrain.
Whether hiking in thunderstorms and rain showers (wearing low gaiters), slopping through mud and boggy areas off-trail, or even standing in shallow streams to test the boots, no moisture ever penetrated the Gore-Tex membrane and water-resistant Perwanger suede uppers. My socks only got slightly damp with sweat in temperatures that hovered mostly in the 40s and 50s, perhaps reaching 60 under the warm, high-elevation sun; that’s decent breathability for waterproof, over-the-ankle boots with leather uppers, and that’s aided by the breathable tongue fabric.
The rubber toe rand wraps around to the midfoot, providing a sturdy bumper for high-wear areas in the toes and sidewalls—especially valuable on rocky trails or hiking off-trail. The Vibram Drumlin outsole, with deep, widely spaced lugs, a pronounced heel for downhill braking, and a smoother tread under the toes for stickiness on rock, delivered solid traction and grip in snow, mud, dry dirt, scree, and when I was picking my way carefully through truck-size talus on the off-trail ascent to Knapsack Col at roughly 12,200 feet.
They’re overkill for lightweight backpacking in warm, dry conditions; and some people may want to take a hike or two to break them in before a long trip. But for someone who needs a supportive, realiably waterproof boot for backpacking on and off-trail, scrambling peaks, or even dayhiking in typically rugged and wet conditions, Scarpa’s Zodiac Plus GTX bridges a wide range of situations.
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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 my gear reviews at The Big Outside.
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