Zamberlan 491 Trackmaster GTX RR
$220, 2 lbs. 8 oz. (men’s US 9/Euro 43)
Sizes: men’s 8-13, women’s 6-11
For some backpacking trips, lightweight, mid-cut boots or low-cut shoes don’t cut it. With plans for a six-day hike of over 90 miles on the Continental Divide Trail through Glacier National Park in September—where snow had fallen just a week before—I saw the trip as an opportunity to put Zamberlan’s premier leather backpacking boot, the 491 Trackmaster GTX RR, to a real test. On that hike, I found they measure up as a top boot in this category, although I had one minor complaint. Here’s why you should consider them.
Most conspicuously, these boots are constructed with the highest degree of Italian craftsmanship you’ll find in backpacking boots. The uppers are made of Italian Perwanger split leather treated with Hydrobloc to shed water and resist abrasion, and have few seams, thus minimizing the number of places that can suffer damage or where water might penetrate more easily. Leather boots of this quality will outlive lightweight hiking shoes by several years and hundreds of trail miles—and the harder you use both types of footwear, the greater the advantage in durability of high-quality leather boots over lightweight shoes or boots.
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The Gore-Tex membrane proved absolutely waterproof the numerous times I stood for minutes in ankle-deep creeks to test the boots. As expected, breathability was moderate—predictably, my feet got warm on sunny, mild afternoons, but never very sweaty. Like any midweight leathers, these boots are best for cooler temps and wet conditions.
I found them comfortable on the first day of backpacking, without wearing them much at all before the trip. The fit cradled my medium-volume feet nicely, with good lateral and arch support and adequate toe space. I experienced no slipping or hot spots, but hikers with narrow heels might find the Trackmaster a little too roomy there. The EVA midsole offers more cushion than found in leather boots that blend PU and EVA, while the forefoot flexes more than some comparable midweight leather boots, making for a brief break-in period. The soft, cushioned foam collar and tongue, which have a Microtex lining to wick moisture, protect ankles while providing comfort on steep ascents when you’re flexing aggressively.
The exclusive Zamberlan Vibram Starlite outsole has deep, widely spaced, multi-directional lugs under the midfoot and heel that easily slough off mud and snow; a pronounced braking edge in the heel that gave me a confident sense of control when descending rocky, gravelly trails under the weight of a backpack; and horizontal ridges under the toes and rear heel for precise grip on smooth rock.
At two-and-a-half pounds per pair (US men’s size 9), the 491 Trackmaster hit a sweet spot of providing excellent support and performance without weighing down your feet too much.
One minor complaint: The three pairs of metal lace hooks on the upper part of each boot are slightly small, so if a lace loosens up while hiking, it can slip off one of the hooks. It’s slightly annoying, but happens infrequently.
For carrying moderate to heavy loads in cooler temps and potentially wet conditions, few classic leather backpacking boots are constructed with the fit, performance, and quality of the Zamberlan 491 Trackmaster GTX RR.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase the men’s Zamberlan 491 Trackmaster GTX RR at rei.com or campsaver.com, or the women’s at rei.com or campsaver.com.
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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.