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La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX Review

These high-ankle hiking boots are a great option for excellent waterproof protection in a relatively lightweight package
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La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX Review (The Nucleo High II GTX is a rugged leather boot with excellent water protection.)
The Nucleo High II GTX is a rugged leather boot with excellent water protection.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch
Price:  $239 List
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Manufacturer:   La Sportiva
By Ben Applebaum-Bauch ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 10, 2022
72
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#8 of 17
  • Comfort - 25% 6.0
  • Support - 25% 7.0
  • Traction - 15% 8.0
  • Water Resistance - 15% 9.0
  • Weight - 10% 6.6
  • Durability - 10% 7.0

Our Verdict

The La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX is the hiking boot you need during the spring thaw or when rain is in the forecast. These breathable but lightweight boots will protect your feet at water crossings, in the rain, and through the mud. They have an ample and well-protected toebox, and on the underside, we appreciate the traction and grip they offer on various surfaces. They aren't the burliest of the bunch, and we take issue with a couple of design details, but we think that hikers who prioritize a forgiving midsole and excellent waterproofing should look long and hard at this pair. To see how it ranks next to its rivals, see our full best men's hiking boots review.
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent waterproofing
Deep lugs for solid traction
Heel brake in outsole
REASONS TO AVOID
Average stability
Difficult to lace up

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Bottom Line A top pair for their waterproof yet breathable construction and great tractionThis high-top boot is one of the most stable we tested, and with plush cushioning is perfect for big backcountry missionsThis flagship hiking boot is our first recommendation for a hiking and backpacking boot, achieving remarkable performance in all terrain types and conditionsThis is a high-performance boot that eats up demanding off-trail terrain thanks to its above-average stability and tractionThis inexpensive boot is super comfortable and is a great all-around option
Rating Categories La Sportiva Nucleo... Hoka Kaha 2 GTX Salomon Quest 4 Gor... La Sportiva Ultra R... Merrell Moab 3 Mid...
Comfort (25%)
6.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
Support (25%)
7.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
Traction (15%)
8.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
6.0
Water Resistance (15%)
9.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Weight (10%)
6.6
6.0
4.5
8.0
6.8
Durability (10%)
7.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Specs La Sportiva Nucleo... Hoka Kaha 2 GTX Salomon Quest 4 Gor... La Sportiva Ultra R... Merrell Moab 3 Mid...
Measured Weight (per pair, size 11) 2.41 lbs 2.54 lbs 2.90 lbs 2.08 lbs 2.36 lbs
Upper Nubuck leather Waterproof nubuck leather Leather and nylon AirMesh, microfiber, TPU Pigskin leather, mesh
Width Options Regular, wide Regular Regular Regular, wide Regular, wide
Waterproof Lining Gore-Tex Surround Gore-Tex Gore-Tex Gore-Tex extended comfort Waterproof membrane
Boot Type Midweight hiker/backpacking boot Midweight hiker/backpacking boot Midweight hiker/backpacking boot Lightweight hiker/day hiker Midweight hiker/backpacking boot
Last Board/Shank Tempo Not specified 4D Chassis Nylon molded flex TPU Molded nylon
Midsole Compression molded EVA 2-density CMEVA (rubberized EVA) EnergyCell Injection-molded MEMlex Super Rebound Compound
Sole Vibram Nano XS-Trek rubber compound Vibram Megagrip rubber Contagrip TD FriXion XF 2.0 Vibram TC5+

Our Analysis and Test Results

With an understated combination of traditional style and modern footwear technology, these boots are made for stream-filled outings that require thorough waterproofness and traction. The nubuck leather upper is durable and abrasion-resistant, and the deep lugs create a reliable grip on trail surfaces. All-in-all, this model is a good option for those with narrower feet looking for a solid general-use boot.

Performance Comparison


la sportiva nucleo high ii gtx - the nucleo high ii gtx does well through waterways and is breathable...
The Nucleo High II GTX does well through waterways and is breathable enough to wear through the heat of the summer.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Comfort


These boots are comfortable for sure, just not the top of the pack. The compression-molded EVA midsole and thick, forgiving outsole provide comfort underfoot — it's a soft ride, but not so soft that it compromises support. They are also breathable with mesh-like panels on the inside and outside of the boot. We found that they lean toward accommodating a narrower foot, but they do come in wide sizes as well.


Though there is some nice padding around the ankle bone to protect from direct impact with sharp rocks, overall, the Nucleo don't have as much cushioning in the upper as other models, which was especially noticeable at the end of a long day on the trail. One of the most puzzling features of this shoe is the upper lace hooks. They are unnecessarily difficult to use, requiring a high degree of dexterity to loop the laces through. Our sense is that they are designed to stay laced up, but that didn't save us much time putting them on and taking them off. This boot is also less cushy than heavier-duty models, and the interior fabric at the ankle can be abrasive if your socks aren't high enough.

la sportiva nucleo high ii gtx - the black teardrop of padding at the ankle is a nice addition for...
The black teardrop of padding at the ankle is a nice addition for protecting against knocks on rocks.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Support


These boots have reliable stability with a few caveats. With a rigid guard at the back, we were pleased to discover that our heels stayed solidly in place with minimal slippage. These boots have a base width that is slightly narrower than most. However, the tread at the fore and heel of the outsole extends laterally beyond the wearer's foot, meaning that the side-to-side support is still excellent. This means fewer opportunities for ankle rolls and better balance.


However, when we did slip, we weren't quite as impressed with the ankle coverage of the upper as we were with some sturdier models. The nubuck leather is supple, and though the ankle bones themselves are protected with cushioning, the upper isn't especially rigid, meaning it is less supportive.

la sportiva nucleo high ii gtx - a reasonably stiff upper and heel guard did a nice job of keeping...
A reasonably stiff upper and heel guard did a nice job of keeping our feet in place when hiking in La Sportiva's Nucleo High II GTX.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Traction


With deep tread and a proprietary heel design, the traction on the Nucleo is excellent. The lugs running down the center of the shoe are deep, giving them a strong grip force on rocks and roots. They are also recessed slightly into the sole, making them functionally longer and allowing for traction at steep and unusual angles. We found that even if our ankles rolled in odd directions, the lugs still had a 'bite' on the trail surface that helped us recover.


In addition, the 'impact braking system' makes it easier to brace the foot and maintain balance on descents. This feature is an angled portion of the outsole heel, which allows hikers to use the back of the boot almost like a brake on a pair of rollerblades by flexing the foot until it is perpendicular to the ground.

la sportiva nucleo high ii gtx - the deep lugs and 'impact brake system' of the nucleo high ii gtx...
The deep lugs and 'impact brake system' of the Nucleo High II GTX provide reliable traction across a variety of terrains and ground conditions.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Water Resistance


The value of keeping your feet dry in the backcountry almost cannot be overstated. There's not much else to say here about the Nucleo other than their waterproofing is excellent. With Gore-Tex Surround lining, we were very impressed with how these performed through waterways. We even stood in moving water on several occasions (for 60 seconds at a time) to see if any moisture would find its way through, but our feet stayed dry throughout. The bellows tongue creates an added element of protection as well.


The breathable paneling on either side of the midfoot also does a nice job of releasing sweat or condensation that settles through the top of the boot overnight. This model does have a dip in the back, but even so, the flood height stands at a respectable 6.75 inches.

la sportiva nucleo high ii gtx - stream crossings were absolutely no problem with the la sportiva...
Stream crossings were absolutely no problem with the La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX. We even made a point of standing still in the running water to see how our feet fared and they stayed dry every time.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Weight


The Nucleo High II GTX is lighter than most other contenders in the category. Coming in at 2.4 pounds for the pair, it punches above its weight class. Though it isn't the top performer in stability or durability — a couple of metrics we typically associate with a heavier total weight — it performs better than expected.


This below-average weight, combined with thoughtful stability and waterproofness discussed more below, produces above-average performance. It's a light(er)weight boot with heavyweight features.

la sportiva nucleo high ii gtx - the nucleo high ii gtx is slightly lower than average for weight.
The Nucleo High II GTX is slightly lower than average for weight.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Durability


We expect these boots to last. The nubuck leather upper is tear-resistant, and the Vibram Nano XS-Trek tread is as rugged as any of the competition. Though some people report having issues with waterproofing, this was definitely not our experience. However, it is an area that we will keep an eye on as we add more miles to the odometer.


In addition, we are also curious to see if the proprietary heel brake system wears faster than the rest of the sole. The laces are also quite stiff and on the thinner side, so it seems likely that they would need to be replaced well before a more substantial part of the boot wears out.

la sportiva nucleo high ii gtx - we are interested to see how the lace hooks and eyelets hold up. one...
We are interested to see how the lace hooks and eyelets hold up. One frustration we have with the Nucleo High II GTX is that the hooks are very difficult to get the laces into.
Credit: Ben Applebaum-Bauch

Should You Buy the La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX?


These boots are made for those who need waterproof footwear and solid traction. They have a comfortable insole with just the right amount of give. Though the upper can't claim quite the same degree of comfort, we appreciate the balance this boot offers between heavy-duty support and lighter weight. Though we found some features are less slick than La Sportiva wants them to be, for hikers who need a waterproof pair, these are worth a look.

What Other Hiking Boots Should You Consider?


The Nucleo High II GTX run narrow and aren't especially technical but are great for general use. If you were drawn to this pair because of its standout features, there are a few others we can recommend in your search. If keeping your feet dry is your top priority in a hiking boot, you can't go wrong with the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid, the Salomon Quest 4 Gore-Tex, or the Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX, which also shares a top spot for traction along with the La Sportiva Trango Tech GTX.

Ben Applebaum-Bauch