Monday, December 18, 2017

Scarpa Zodiac Tech GTX: a review

Summer scrambling
I was asked to review these boots for UKC back in early summer. Happy family reasons meant I spent little time in the mountains this summer and, despite hiking and scrambling in them in the Peak District, I held off writing up my review until recently as I wanted to use them in the mountains and with crampons. By the time I submitted my copy, Scarpa UK had just removed them from their website as they are not selling them next year. It real shame as they are cracking boots, but I thought I'd park the review here for archive purposes. Some UK shops still have the Zodiac Techs in stock and they are still on Scarpa's international website as well as for sale from many webshops across Europe. So I hope that this review is of help to any random googlers who find it when researching the boots.

The Scarpa Zodiac Tech GTX are an impressively light pair of mountaineering boots. The first version of Zodiacs that Scarpa made were stout approach shoes, not even boots, let alone crampon compatible boots - but that is exactly what the Zodiac Techs are.

Winter scrambles

I imagine Scarpa designed them primarily as a summer alpine boot, particularly well suited for routes where you need to cross glaciers or snowfields on the approach but then carry the boots in a pack when doing technical climbing, but I’ve found them to make an excellent scrambling and hiking boot for UK conditions too. I have used them in UK winter conditions now, including for a simple climb on ice up one of Kinder’s cloughs, and have traversed Crib Goch in marginal winter conditions (scrambling on snow covered rocks, but I didn’t need to use the crampons that were in my pack), and don’t doubt that they will work well for fast moving days of winter hillwalking and easy winter climbs. They have so far proven to be very weather resistant; the GTX bit of their full name is an obvious nod to their suitability to the wet and muddy hills of Britain. I have heavier, warmer and stiffer boots for days of pitched ice or mixed climbing, midwinter, but will happily use the Zodiac Techs for winter ridge scrambles or easy snow gullies where I would be either soloing, or just pitching occasionally. With a decent pair of gaiters, they kept my feet warm for a hike through deep snow and a climb up soggy early season ice. Indeed they seem particularly well suited for England and Wales with their more marginal winter conditions, but I would imagine they could also be fantastic for those special alpine-like days at the end of the Scottish winter as well as the big summer scrambles like Tower Ridge or the Cullin.


The most obvious feature of these boots is their weight, or lack thereof. Scarpa says 1240 grams for a pair at size 42. This makes them marginally lighter than the Rebel Lites at 1280 grams and the Scarpa Charmoz at 1440 grams. Only Scarpa’s new super high-tech sort-of-trainer-sort-of-mountain-boot, the Ribelle, is lighter - but only by 20 grams and at almost double the price. The Zodiac Techs, except for their stiffness, feel like a pair of lightweight summer hiking boots. This is great whether they are on your feet or being carried. They are made of a tough suede and have a high rand that gives lots of protection to the lower boot. The cuff of the boots is snug with elastic and this keeps most sand and grit out of the boot if you aren’t using a gaiter of some type. This works well and will increase the longevity of the goretex liner to the boot.
The Zodiac Techs are definitely a boot compared to original approach shoe version, but the ankle isn’t particularly high or supportive - back in the early summer I went over on my ankle (my dodgy ankles, not the fault of the boots) while wearing them walking down from Kinder. I sat with my ankle in a cold stream for some time, envisaging a sunny Derbyshire version of Touching the Void and Simpson’s lonely crawl down the glacier, but eventually got the boot back on and hobbled back down to my car relying on my walking poles. Some argue that the idea that ankle support from any boots is more imagined than real for all boots, but with these boots in particular the ankle is both relatively low and soft. Nevertheless, the plus side of this is when you climb in the Zodiacs you have good ankle mobility.

The Zodiac Techs are clearly boots designed for climbing in. On scrambles they have worked superbly. The classic Vibram sole grips as well as any on even wet and green rock and the boots’ rigidity make standing on small holds feel secure. I recently used them descending Y Gribin from the col between Lliwedd and Snowdon. I was below the snowline but the wind was screaming and the ridge was getting covered in sleet and wind-driven hail; far from perfect scrambling conditions. Standing on little nicks on otherwise lichenous slabs in the Zodiacs, as I picked my way down towards Glaslyn, felt like standing on front points on a slab of ice - confidence inspiring considering the tricky conditions. Most recently I have used the Zodiacs with semi-automatic “C2” crampons and it felt secure standing on the front points in them, on easier angled ice at least. Nevertheless, despite this underfoot stiffness when climbing in them, they are not uncomfortable boots to hike in. I’ve never got a blister from them, even when wearing them for 20 km days when they were brand new.


Overall I’ve been very impressed with the Zodiac Tech GTX. They show no real signs of wear after plenty of use over the last seven months, and if your ambitions don’t go beyond scrambles and easy winter climbs, these remarkably light boots may be all you need for the British mountains as well as being clearly well suited to summer alpine and sub-alpine peaks.



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