Review: the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX hiking boots are mountain specialists
On stone and snow, these boots outshine them all.
Just a few weeks ago, I was standing on a rock ridge at 10,000 feet above sea level known as Camp Muir, the high camp for summit attempts on Mt. Rainier’s 14,410-foot peak. Camp Muir is a collection of rudimentary plywood mountain huts and privies and a stone built ranger hut that looks like it could easily find a home in the mountains of Afghanistan. That night, we had an exceptionally clear night and could see the Milky Way in full display, which was amazing considering the many wildfires burning in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. As the sun sank below the horizon, I admired the many constellations that came into view. Constellations look different at 10,000 feet: With less atmosphere above and less light pollution around, the heavens appear brighter and closer than they do back home. It’s a gift to see them this way. Between occasional shooting stars, I picked out the Big Dipper, the W-shaped Cassiopeia, and the fish-hook-shaped member of the Zodiac, Scorpio. It seemed fitting that I had a pair of boots to test that week named after this collection of constellations.
Editor’s note: the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX hiking boots also made Task & Purpose’s guide to the best hiking boots of the year.
My editor sent me a pair of the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX hiking boots about a month and a half ahead of my trip to the Cascades. I’ve been familiar with and impressed by SCARPA products for more than 25 years and have owned several pairs of their climbing and mountaineering boots. SCARPA has a reputation for building high-performing, quality boots at a premium price point and I found the Zodiac Plus Gore-Tex boots lived up to that legacy of excellence. Priced at around $270 on Amazon, these are high-end boots designed to provide outstanding stability and precision traction for people who spend a considerable amount of time in the alpine moving over stone.
The Zodiac Plus GTX arrived in an attractively decorated cardboard box with green and sepia topographic maps with SCARPA’s motto — nessun luogo e lontano, or ‘no place is too far’ — emblazoned on the box. I immediately appreciated the simplicity and efficiency of the packaging and the absence of single-use plastics. SCARPA isn’t as well-known in the United States as they are in Europe, but they’ve been making excellent climbing, hiking, and mountaineering shoes and boots in the foothills of the Dolomite Mountains in Italy since 1938. It’s superbly designed and well-built boots have stood on the tops of the highest mountains in the world.
The first thing I noticed about the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX hiking boots was how light they were for a full-sized boot and wondered how they would stack up to my current favorite lightweight mountain boot, the LaSportiva Trango TRK Gore-Tex. I also noticed the low profile of the boot and the Gore-Tex tag indicating the boots were both waterproof and breathable. Unlike a normal hiking boot, the Zodiac Plus GTX’s one-inch-wide rubber rand around the toe and reinforced heel were early indicators the designers intended for these boots to be used in the mountains. When I flipped the boots over and inspected the soles, my hypothesis was confirmed by the Vibram outsole and flat climbing zone under the toes for edging on rock.
I also dug the 1.8mm grey Suede Perwanger uppers and bright orange and yellow accents. More than just Italian flair, these colored areas in the boots’ soles indicated its four-density midsole. The grey in the heel is made from HD Polyurethane. The yellow in the heel is the LD EVA heel insert. The orange in the midfoot is MD EVA. And the yellow under the tow is HD EVA. If you don’t know, EVA is ethylene vinyl acetate, an elastomeric polymer material that is rubber-like in softness and flexibility. It is lighter than traditional leather and rubber boot construction without sacrificing support or cushioning. This is one of the reasons why the boots are so dang light.
I liked how the boot’s tongue was integrated into the upper. Designers do this to prevent material bunching and hot spots. The collar and tongue felt a bit light on padding, and the lace design has an asymmetric five-eyelet and three-lace hook design to ensure a dialed-in fit. Lastly, I appreciated the loops sewn into the boots’ heels. This is a seemingly minor detail, but these loops are great for securing boots to backpacks with lightweight carabiners when the trek requires multiple types of footwear. Believe me, one of the last things you’d ever want to see is one or both of your boots sliding down a big face and over a cliff. Not fun.
With all that said, I was eager to test these lightweight backpacking and trekking boots in the mountains to see if their claims of premium performance could live up to their premium price tag.
How we tested the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX hiking boots
My partner in crime, Kate, and I recently spent 10 days in the Pacific Northwest hiking in the Northern Cascades National Park and climbing Mt. Rainier (14,410 feet). Prior to the trip, I wore the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX and Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX boots on several mid-distance training hikes with and without a 40-pound backpack, and I took them out West along with the Salomon Quest 4D GTX boots to test on several hikes above and below the treeline in the Northern Cascades and on Mt. Rainier. I tested them on dirt, rock, snow, and ice carrying 25- to 45-pound loads over rugged terrain and evaluated them based on the following criteria:
- Fit, comfort, and support
- Water resistance
Fit, comfort, and support. Upon putting on and lacing up the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX, I noticed that they ran true to size. My feet felt secure through the midfoot and I had enough room to wiggle my toes. When I kicked the toes of the boots on the ground, my feet didn’t move or slam into the inside of the toe box. This is essential for preventing canyon toe. What’s canyon toe? I’m glad you asked. Canyon toe is the term wilderness medicine folks use to describe the awful injury sustained from ill-fitting boots that allow one’s big toes to repeatedly bump the front of the boots’ toe boxes over long downhill miles. I’ve seen many instances where an excruciating blackened blood blister forms under the victim’s large toe nail which later has to be drilled or punctured to relieve the pressure, resulting in a pretty cool mini geyser of blood and instantaneous relief. Well, it’s cool to watch if it’s not you. The bottom line is that you want your boots to fit properly to avoid unnecessary injuries.
SCARPA prides itself on their sock fit design, and they dialed in out-of-the-box comfort on the Zodiac Plus GTX. The sock fit incorporates stretch fabric into the tongue of the boot and provides wrapping and support to enhance the fit. I did notice the rockered soles to be considerably stiffer and less flexible than the other boots I tested recently. Don’t mistake this stiffness for a liability. In fact, it’s highly desirable when climbing and moving vertically, but can be somewhat more fatiguing or less comfortable over long horizontal distances. Properly laced, my feet felt snug and my ankles felt secure in the Zodiac Plus GTX boots while moving over rugged terrain, and the ankle cuffs did an adequate job of keeping out debris. I appreciated the cushioning of the EVA midsole on steep hill descents and the reinforcement on the toe box when my feet struck rocks and tree roots. While the Zodiac Plus GTX weren’t the most comfortable boots I’ve recently tested, they were comfortable and provided outstanding stability.
Weight. One of the first things I noticed after lacing up the Zodiac Plus GTX boots was how damn light they were. This is important and I’ve written before on how one pound taken off the feet equals about five pounds taken off of your back. When I tossed the pair of Zodiac Plus GTX boots on the kitchen scale, they weighed in at 1410 grams (3.1 pounds) which is 68 grams (.14 pounds) lighter than my current trekking boots, the LaSportiva Trango TRK GTX. Not only did the Zodiacs come in light on the scale, they felt light on the trail — enjoyably so. While not the lightest boot out there for its purpose, it does deliver great performance for the weight.
Traction. The Zodiac Plus GTX boots are built with a Vibram Drumlin Mont outsole, which was specifically designed for mountaineering and trekking to provide superior traction on difficult terrain at low temperatures. The Zodiac’s outsoles made me feel like I had magnets sticking my feet to the rock on low and higher angle slabs and kept me safe on slippery river rock crossings. The stiffness of the outsole greatly assisted me in kicking steps into snow and finding purchase on steep dirt, and the boot didn’t roll off small edges when climbing on rock. Out of all the boots I tested recently, I felt the most secure in the Zodiac Plus GTX — and this is very important when moving along steep, exposed routes.
Water resistance. To test the water-resistance of the boot, I stood in ankle-deep water in cold, glacier-fed mountain streams. The Gore-Tex Performance Comfort lining kept my feet dry provided I took care not to allow water to broach the boots’ 6.25-inch flood line. Where others were tip-toeing around, I was able to confidently splash on through and continue hiking with the comfort of dry feet. The 1.8 mm Perwanger suede shed water well, and the Gore-Tex lining allowed my feet to breathe while wearing lightweight hiking socks in 70 to 80F weather.
Versatility. Some boots excel at climbing, others excel at providing all-day comfort and support over long horizontal miles, and the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX does well at both. The boots truly shine on rock and snow above the treeline where stability and traction are a must-have. While they wouldn’t be my first choice for long miles on the Appalachian Trail, they would be my first choice for moving over terrain involving a lot of climbing, boulder-hopping, or slogging up loose scree or snow with a heavy pack.
Durability. I haven’t owned the boots long enough to have formed an educated opinion on durability. I noticed no unusual wear or breakage during my evaluation. Of note, the Vibram Mont outsoles are also used on motorbike boots due to their reputation for extreme durability.
Value. At $269, the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX is considered a top-of-the-line boot. With that premium price tag, you do get premium performance in terms of lightweight stability, traction, and water resistance in return.
What we like about the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX hiking boots
There’s a lot to like about the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX. I truly enjoyed the lightweight stability and traction they provided me in the mountains. When moving along trails and ridges with significant drop offs, you very quickly learn to appreciate the solid footing the Zodiacs provide. I don’t recall slipping once while wearing the boots, and that’s unusual for me. With the Zodiac, SCARPA provides out-of-the-box comfort, great ankle support, and adequate cushioning. The soles provided excellent torsion control and I appreciated their rigidity on vertical surfaces. While stiff, the rocker sole design provides responsiveness and efficiency from heel strike to toe push off. The boots’ Gore-Tex Performance Comfort lining provides great waterproof protection and its breathability kept my socks dry despite warmer temperatures. Additionally, I liked the heel loops which allowed me to secure the Zodiacs to the outside of my pack with lightweight carabiners when I was wearing much heavier mountaineering boots.
What we don’t like about the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX hiking boots
SCARPA has been building great boots for decades, so it was tough for me to find fault. They weren’t as comfortable in terms of cushioning as the Salomon Quest 4D 3 Gore-Tex or Salomon X Ultra Mid Gore-Tex boots I tested, but they did perform better on rock and snow, and that’s the tradeoff between comfort and performance and sensitivity. While these boots were light, I’ll always welcome a lighter 2.0 version. Lastly, I noticed that, once wet, the Perwanger suede seemed to retain more dust and dirt than other boots I own. These are all minor critiques and don’t detract from the outstanding performance of the boots.
If you are going long distances over rocky terrain with heavy loads, this is the boot for you. Whether you are doing multi-day trekking or long approaches in the mountains, the SCARPA Zodiacs are one of the very best in the business for keeping your feet stuck on the mountain with exceptionally secure footing. You’ll pay a premium price but also receive top performance. The SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX’s are an enthusiastic hell yea.
FAQs about the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX hiking boots
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much do the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX hiking boots cost?
A. Sit down and take a deep breath. Now take another one and think of how much you love yourself. Ok, now check the price tag and you’ll see they cost $269 on Amazon. Now remember, you’re worth it.
Q. Where are the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX hiking boots made?
A. Italia, baby, Italia! SCARPA has been making mountaineering boots in the foothills of the Dolomite Mountains since 1938. SCARPA, which stands for Societa Calzaturiera Asolana Riunita Pedemontana Anomia (Associated Shoe Manufacturing Company of the Asolo Mountain Area), was founded by Luigi Parisotto as a project to assemble the best shoemakers in the Asolo region to produce the best climbing footwear available.
Q. What sizes do the SCARPA Zodiac Plus GTX hiking boots come in?
A. These boots come in EUR half sizes from 37 to 48 or US men’s size 5 and women’s size 6 to men’s size 14 and women’s size 15.
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Joe Plenzler is a Marine Corps veteran who served from 1995 to 2015. He is a backcountry expert, long-distance backpacker, rock climber, kayaker, cyclist, wannabe mountaineer, and the world’s OK-est guitar player. He is currently section-hiking the Appalachian Trail with his partner, Kate Germano. He supports his outdoor addiction by working as a human communication consultant, teaching at the College of Southern Maryland, and helping start-up companies with their public relations and marketing efforts.
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