Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Excellent grip, works as approach shoe, durable.
Cons: Thick sole, no ankle support.
Best Uses: Approaches, easy soloing.
Mendel would be all over this shoe. The Scarpa Zen is a hybrid of hybrids. A casual combination of a light hiking boot and an approach shoe, the Zen moves a bit farther along the shoe-to-boot spectrum. It fills a niche that doesn't really demand filling. Its a mediocre approach shoe, and a poor-to-middling light hiking boot. However, it does have a few redeeming qualities. Its durable as all hell. It endured abuse every day for months without any critical damage. It has better rubber than any hiking boot you'll find, and a comprehensive rand that makes it possible to jam and climb off-widths without shredding the shoe to pieces.
There are better options out there. If youre primarily interested in an approach shoe, heres our approach shoe review. If youre looking for something a bit more boot-ish, try the Merrell Moab Ventilator or Keen Targhee.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Because of its approach shoe influences, the Scarpa Zen had the best sole of the products tested. It has a band of climbing rubber along the front and a rand that goes well over the toe. In terms of durability, the Zen was one of the best tested. We really abused these shoes and the Zen held up in style. The Scarpa Zen was actually the shoe we wore the most because it was great as a lifestyle shoe. We could wear it to school, wear it to work, and then go soloing.
Likes when evaluated as an approach shoe for climbing
This is the most burly approach shoe we have tested. There are pros and cons to its durable and bomber construction. For starters, it just feels solid. A lot of other approach shoes feel like they need to be babied to keep a seam from blowing out. Not so with these. This shoe feels like it can take a beating and does. The toe rand and toe stitching are so strong, it actually became an issue when breaking these in. On my first day, I wore them up the East Ledges of El Capitan to get gear ready for Steve Wampler's big climb. The toe was so sturdy, it formed a crease two inches back from the tip (see photo) that bit into the top of my foot. Granted, this was probably not the best way to break in shoes, still I had never had this issue with approach shoes. Also, the back of the heel cut into my foot as well. This issue eventually went away but the point is that these shoes are much burlier than most approach shoes and need to be broken in around town. Even the laces are burly and are the coolest laces I have seen on an approach shoe (they look like quality 3mm accessory cord).
If durability is a key concern, these shoes are some of the best. For rocky terrain, you can count on sturdy footing and good toe protection. I doubt the seems will blow out anytime soon. They may become my go to big wall shoes. Even though the rubber is not as sticky as the Five Ten Camp Four, they are more durable and better at edging while giving better protection in the to rand area.
The Scarpa Zen seems on a misguided search for identity. Its stuck somewhere in between a hiking boot and an approach shoe. It is not really exceptional at either. It has a very thick sole and no ankle support, which makes it unsuited to talus approaches and root-choked trails, and the thick sole means that it doesnt have enough sensitivity to make it particularly good for climbing.
Dislikes when evaluated as an approach shoe for climbing
There are better approach shoes, and there are better light hiking boots. That said, the Scarpa Zen does a passable job at approaches (particularly long, flat-ish ones,) and hiking. We would not recommend it for backpacking.
As approach shoes go, these are pretty expensive. However, they are also one of the burliest and will last much longer than most approach shoes. They have great long-term value if you abuse your shoes.
— Atherton Phleger
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: February 3, 2014
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