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Hands-on Gear Review
Scarpa Zen Review
Cons: Not a great climber, takes a little while to break in
The Scarpa Zen is one of the best approach shoe we tested, IF your focus is hiking comfort with the durability to handle rough, rocky abuse. We found this shoe great for hiking, whether on smooth trail or rough terrain, and with or without a heavy pack. Many climbers will seek an approach shoe that delivers a better balance of climbing ability and hiking peformance. Our award winning approach shoes strike a better balance. For example, the Five Ten Guide Tennie, our Editors' Choice winner, climbs technical rock very well and is still a good hiker.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Climbing Approach Shoes for Men Review
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Scarpa Zen earned the highest scores we awarded for hiking comfort and support. While the design focuses more on hiking performance in rough terrain than on climbing ability, this shoe edges well if fitted tightly. One of the more durable products we tested in this review, it is significantly more durable than most hiking shoes.
While the Zen edges fairly well, it was not one of the better performers in our climbing ability tests. We should note — the Zen would climb better if we down-sized our test model. But this is a shoe that hikes so well, we recommend sizing it with enough room to hike comfortably for long distances.
The Vibram Spyder used on this model, and shared with its little brother the Scarpa Mojitio, has a great edging platform up front. We found this model great for standing on large edges, but it lacks the sensitivity for small ones.
While this sticky rubber sole sticks well to slabby rock when hiking, it is not one of the better shoes for technical smearing. On the plus side, we found this sole better than most for sticking to wet rock slabs. This sole design is another with lots of small, round voids - and has the bad habit of picking up and holding onto small pebbles - a definite downside in areas with decomposed granite like Joshua Tree.
If you need to do some jamming in the Zen, it has the stiffness to do it comfortably in large cracks.
The Scarpa Zen earned the highest score we awarded for comfort. This relatively low volume shoe feels great on the foot and the synthetic tongue material is a nod towards creating a little breathability in this burly leather shoe. If Scarpa gusseted the tongue we'd like it even more (as the design is now, debris can get inside). Short of slippery mud and loose sand, we found this shoe provides great traction on a variety of on and off trail surfaces. Nine lacing eyelets extend close to the toe for customizing the forefoot fit.
The Five Ten Camp Four also earned high hiking comfort scores. If you are deciding between the two, the Zen will fit narrow or low-volume feet better and has a more casual look.
The Zen provides a good compromise between support and forefoot flexibility. We found it substantial enough to keep our feet happy when carrying a heavy pack. The Salewa Mountain Trainer is the most supportive approach shoe we tested, and the Zen is just a little more flexible than the Camp Four and La Sportiva Boulder X.
Weight & Packability
Our size 46 test model weighed in at 2 pounds and 6 ounces for the pair, the third heaviest of the products we tested. Support and durability come with a trade-off: extra ounces on the scale.
This is one of the most durable products we evaluated in this review; it is respected as a long-lasting shoe. The suede leather upper is well-protected for scree scrambling by the toe rand, an abrasion-resistant synthetic overlay that wraps the sides and back of the upper, and the unique, tall portion of the Spyder sole at the flex point of the forefoot. Many folks find this shoe stands up to years of wear.
The Scarpa Zen is a perfect shoe if your hiking and climbing adventures cover lots of miles, but rarely demand technical climbing performance. One of the most durable products we tested, it can serve you well for years getting to and from cragging areas and boulder fields.
Whether you're doing snow-free ridge scrambles in the Rockies, or scampering around the base of the cliffs in the Gunks to find a free route, the Zen is a great choice - and looks great when out to dinner afterward.
While this is durable, long-lasting approach shoe, at $150, we feel most climbers will find better value in a more versatile shoe elsewhere. Considered as a sticky, super-durable hiking shoe, it's a great deal.
The Scarpa Zen is an excellent approach/hiking shoe hybrid. Very comfortable for hiking, supportive enough for carrying heavy loads, and durable; this is an excellent choice for the anyone that covers lots of miles over a variety of non-technical, rocky terrain.
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