Hands-on Gear Review

Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX Review

Top Pick Award
Price:  $250 List | $187.36 at Amazon
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Best choice for rock and snow travel, durable, breathes well
Cons:  Wider fit, not the best lace locking system
Bottom line:  For rock scrambling, alpine approaches and moderate snow travel, the Zodiac GTX is a light weight mountain boot disguised as a hiking boot.
Editors' Rating:   
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Weight per Pair (size 11):  2.66 lbs
Boot Type:  Midweight Hiker/Backpacking Boot
Waterproof Lining:  Gore-Tex
Manufacturer:   Scarpa

Our Verdict

The Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX is part of a new line up in Scarpa's catalog this year, including the Zodiac Tech GTX. The Zodiac Plus excels in mountain terrain where excellent traction and stability are essential to keep you safe and secure. Less than an actual mountain boot, this mid-weight hiking boot will handle trail miles with ease, whether on day hikes or extended distance backpacking trips. It also has the chops to venture off trail onto demanding technical terrain no matter the weather conditions.

We found this boot to be the best combination of attributes for off-trail scrambling. Other models such as the Adidas Terrex Scope High GTX or the Las Sportiva TRK GTX have stickier rubber compounds and perform slightly better in the vertical realm, but fall short in other key metrics. We recommend this model without reservations as a durable and capable boot for mountain travel.


RELATED REVIEW: Best Hiking Boots for Men of 2018


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Ryan Huetter

Last Updated:
Monday
October 16, 2017

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The Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX wins our Top Pick Award for those venturing off the trail into mountain terrain where they might find rock scrambling, moderate snow travel, or technical terrain where excellent traction and stability are required. Costing $250, the second highest priced boot in our review, you will get long-term durability and high performance in terrain where you don't want to settle for anything less.

Performance Comparison


When hiking through 2nd-4th class terrain  the Zodiac kept impressing us with its performance
When hiking through 2nd-4th class terrain, the Zodiac kept impressing us with its performance

Comfort


The Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX boot is a practical boot that is designed to excel in off trail and mountain travel. Able to be taken on long hikes entirely on trail, the Zodiac performs when taken into terrain where edging ability and stability are a priority over all day hiking comfort.


We docked this model a few points, awarding it a score of 7, behind incredibly comfortable models like the Salomon Quest 4D 2. This lower score was a result of its stiffness in general hiking terrain, leaving our feet rather sore at the end of a long day on the trail. We feel that you pay a reasonable price to get the performance where it counts.

Approaching the climbs at Washington Pass  the Zodiac is at home
Approaching the climbs at Washington Pass, the Zodiac is at home

The Zodiac Plus GTX has a trim, performance fit that likely will fit those with slightly wider feet better, especially if you are looking to fit on the snugger side, which is what we would recommend for a boot of this type. The ankle collar is built with soft foamy material that hugs the ankle tightly without biting in like the Terrex Scope High. The outer is made from 1.8mm thick suede Perwanger leather, which is more supple than the full grain leather outer used on the Asolo Power Matic 200, but it was difficult to draw the material tightly around the forefoot for those with narrower feet or those preferring a thinner sock system.

Stability


The Zodiac scored a 9 out of 10 in this metric, alongside the heavyweight contender Asolo Power Matic and high cut Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX.


While these other two models did quite well overall in stability, we preferred the narrow, technical fit of the Scarpa boot anytime we traveled on terrain exceeding 2nd class. The performance fit of the Zodiac allows for confident edging on rock or kicking steps in snow or firm dirt without letting the user feeling like the sole will roll.

The perfect terrain for the Scarpa to shine in
The perfect terrain for the Scarpa to shine in

This model has the highest torsional stability for its weight, a quality often only found in heavier mountaineering boots. Thus, the torsional stability is a result of using a polyurethane and 3D EVA midsole that provides a similar amount of stiffness as a shank design but without the weight. The only place we found the Zodiac Plus to falter was in extended travel through terrain requiring smearing, as the stiff sole felt clunky for slabby moves. For this type of terrain, we favored the La Sportiva TRK GTX as its rockered sole allows for more forefoot flex.

Traction


This boot tied for highest traction with the Adidas Terrex Scope High GTX. We found the Adidas model uses a much stickier rubber compound called Stealth, which makes it more useful as an approach shoe in more vertical terrain.


The Scarpa Zodiac Plus has a more versatile usefulness in a variety of conditions that require high traction capabilities.

The durable sole and leather upper make this our top choice for rock scrambling
The durable sole and leather upper make this our top choice for rock scrambling

Scarpa uses the Vibram Drumlin rubber compound for this boot, which is sticky, but not as much as the slightly softer Vibram Mulaz compound (which the La Sportiva TRK GTX uses). Scarpa does make a higher end version of this boot called the Zodiac Tech GTX that uses the Mulaz sole. We used this Top Pick winner in firm snow and found it to be the most effective in kicking steps. We achieved the best fit when we paired this model with a strap-on crampon, a frequent need on early season thru hikes when microspikes just don't cut it. Heavy lugs cut through mud, and we had no issues crossing streams on top of water-worn river rock.

Weight


Weighing in at 2.66 pounds in size 11 US, the Scarpa Zodiac is not the lightest in the review, a designation that easily went to the fastpacker friendly Hoka ONE ONE Tor Ultra Mid, but the performance that you get is well worth the extra weight.


Previously, 3 season mountaineering models like the Scarpa Charmoz or La Sportiva Trango Evo S were the best option in this category, though they weighed at least a full pound more.

En route to climb the ridge on Thor Peak in the Scarpa GTX boots
En route to climb the ridge on Thor Peak in the Scarpa GTX boots

Water Resistance


On this boot, Scarpa has used a 1.8mm thick suede Perwanger full leather outer, along with a Gore-Tex Performance Comfort footwear lining.


Right out of the box, the boots shed water like a duck while walking through fast-moving snowmelt streams. The Gore-Tex lining performed effectively and allowed our feet to breathe well despite wearing medium thickness socks in above average temperatures.

The high flood height and one piece suede leather outer kept the water from getting inside the boot.
The high flood height and one piece suede leather outer kept the water from getting inside the boot.

Users will note that without aftermarket treatment, however, that the suede leather will begin to wear and will wick water, rendering the Gore-Tex liner less useful. Read up on the proper care of full leather boots in our Buying Advice Article so that you get the most use out of your investment and keep your feet dry for longer.

Durability


The Zodiac Plus GTX is made with suede leather. With proper treatment, this award winner should last for years of use.


Lots of exposure to rough granite rock, getting jammed into cracks, and kicking steps into firm dirt will obviously reduce the longevity; but, like most tools, when used correctly, they will last a long time. High-quality Italian craftsmanship is evident in this boot, and we experienced no abnormal wear, lace breakage, or sole/rand delamination.

The one issue with durability is the soft suede. Jam these boots into enough cracks and you might see wear along the sides like this.
The one issue with durability is the soft suede. Jam these boots into enough cracks and you might see wear along the sides like this.

Best Applications


The Sierra High Route. The Haute Route. The Bailey Range Traverse. Mount Whitney's Mountaineer's Route. These iconic and popular treks involve lots of on trail travel and off trail boulder hopping, scree slogging, snow walking, and rock scrambling. These types of terrain are where the Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX shines brighter than any other boot in our review. If you need the stability and traction of a mountain boot, with the weight of a mid-weight hiking shoe, then this model is for you.

Value


At $250, the Zodiac Plus GTX is the second most expensive boot in our review, behind the Asolo Power Matic 200. We feel that it is worth it to pay this premium price for the high performance and durability you will get in return. The next best model in this category, the La Sportiva TRK GTX costs $30 less, but is notably less durable or water resistant.

Conclusion


For those adventurous hikers going off the beaten path to scramble peaks or traverse ranges, our testing determined that the Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX cannot be beaten for its combination of durability, stability, and traction that is often only otherwise found in a much heavier mountain boot.

This is a really comfortable boot for walking with moderate loads on trails as well as on scrambles.
This is a really comfortable boot for walking with moderate loads on trails as well as on scrambles.
Ryan Huetter

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: December 12, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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 (2.0)

0% of 1 reviewers recommend it
 
Rating Distribution
2 Total Ratings
5 star: 0%  (0)
4 star: 50%  (1)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 50%  (1)
1 star: 0%  (0)
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   Dec 12, 2017 - 08:43pm
J.E. · Other · Olympic Peninsula
Update - 12-17-2017 = downgraded from 5 to 2 stars

The boots have already started to fail. I went for a 6 mile hike with a small section of scrambling in the rain and when I got home, I noticed the sole of the boots have chunks of the rubber missing. It is also starting to crack in various locations and the toes are already several millimeters shaved down and starting to foam up.

I am also a little annoyed that OGL didn't mention that their own boots in the review are missing small chunks of rubber and have cracks forming in the tread. If you zoom in on the picture of the sole of the used pair of boots, it can be seen. The climbing zone on the front is missing chunks as well as other lugs. While not as bad as what I have experienced, it seems like a gross oversight to not mention this. I purchased these boots based heavily on their positive review.

I did some researching and found that others have had the same issue. It could be just a bad batch of Vibram, but I can't verify if this is just the way the boots are or if it is a defect. At the rate they are falling apart in the rubber, I would be lucky to get 100 miles before needing a resole. This may also explain why they are going on sale right now for as low as $170.00.



Original Review Below.


The Zodiac Plus has some features that are only found in boots weighing much more. The soles are very stiff and resist flexing in every direction, even out to the toes. The waterproofing is superb and goes very high up to nearly the top of the ankle. The fit is better for people with wide feet than many other Scarpa shoes and boots. The tread design underneath is excellent for mud and kick-stepping up steep and loose hillsides. Wet traction can be excellent on rocks with rough surfaces, but will slide easily on smooth wet slabs. The leather is rubber coated on the inside and can take some time to break in and reshape.


Comfort

For a boot that doesn't have thick padding, it sure is remarkably comfortable along the whole upper part of the foot. As long as your foot shape isn't too far off from the last (foot mold) they use, it's going to fit great after a couple of miles of breaking them in. Mine came in the mail and were a little cold from sitting outside. When I initially put them on, they felt very tight around the ball of my foot. But once the warmed up and I walked around my house for a few minutes, they formed into a snug fit. Not too loose and not too tight. Perfecto.

Compared to the Scarpa shoes I have tried before, the Zodiac has a narrower heel and wider forefoot. I have slightly narrow heels and slightly wider at the ball, so their shoes were always torture on the front half of my feet, while my heels swam around like fish in a large bowl. I find that the Zodiac fits more like a Salewa boot than any other Scarpa I have used.

For people who don't have strong feet with good padding underfoot, the Zodiac might seem a little on the hard side in terms of cushioning. For those of us who have strong foot pads, the Zodiac's sole stiffness is plenty fine. And when hauling along over jagged rocks, the stiffness provides a near perfect barrier to feeling like your feet are being speared on sharp points. This is crucial for going fast through rough gullies and talus.

The lacing system also does a great job of distributing the pressure when they are tied down for technical footwork. It take s a bit of practice, but once you figure it out the lacing can be pulled really tight all the way down to the toes. I also like to pull the ankle locking eyelet tight on all of my boots and find the Zodiac doesn't give me the feeling of my foot being in a poor set of snowboard boots and tight bindings like other boots out there.

I also find that the Zodiac has a nicer toe box than even the Quest 4D, which is often praised for good toe room. It's just wide enough, as has plenty of vertical space to not crush the tops of the toes.


Stability

Once again, if you have strong feet and ankles, then the Zodiac is plenty stable on flatter trails. It has just enough lateral control over the boot for the ankles to be steady when traversing a hillside, but at the same time they don't limit the range of motion as much as the Quest 4D. There is still enough ankle freedom to get your body into some technical scrambling positions.

The Quest 4D has more stability on smooth and flat ground, especially for those with weak or injured ankles. But much of that stability is lost when they get into uneven terrain and when traversing hillsides. If you only go hiking a limited number of times a year and don't work your feet and ankles on a weekly basis, then it would be smarter to go with something with plenty of ankle stiffness, which the Quest has in spades. On the other hand, boots like the Quest will keep your ankles from ever getting stronger by working them harder. I could feel my ankles lose a bit of strength just from several months of wearing the Quest boots for my weight training. If you really want to hike more often and get your ankles into great strength, then I feel the Zodiac would be a great choice. Just make sure to start with short hikes and work your way up to more miles when gaining ankle and foot strength. Rolling an ankle and injuring it can be a huge detriment to a workout regimen.

As far as the midsole is concerned, the Zodiac has vastly superior stability and resistance to twisting and bending. Considering how light the boots are, this is a remarkable achievement by the Scarpa designers. For standing on small footholds, the Zodiac is a total champ.


Traction

One of the main benefits of the tread design is how well the stiff lugs dig into steep and loose surfaces. They also shed out mud better than probably any boot I have used before. Overall, they are very consistent over most types of surfaces and terrain, especially in dry weather. The only hiccup is their poor performance on wet, smooth rocks and slabs. The harder rubber and lack of surface area makes them slip easily. It's manageable, but takes extra care to not eat it hard. Keep this in mind if doing a long traverse like those found in the Olympic Mountains where damp rock may be encountered any time of year. Compared to the gold-standard of performance on wet slimy rock slabs held by the Five Ten Impact High boots,the Zodiac scores a "D" at best. I've used Five Ten shoes and boots with S1 rubber for over ten years and the Impact model allows one to stroll up slick slabs like wearing suction cups underfoot. They even put the Camp Four boots/shoes to shame in this regard. If OGL had tested the Zodiac Plus in my area during non-dry weather, there's no chance the boots would have scored more than a 7 for traction.


Weight

While there are lighter boots out there, there literally isn't anything that comes close to the Zodiac in terms of burliness to weight ratio. My Salewa MS Firetail EVO mid boots are a bit lighter, but they don't have anywhere close to the structure of the Zodiacs. In order to get into a boot that matches the Zodiac, you'll have to go up a half pound or more in weight to achieve it.

The thing I love to do with these boots is increase my pace over boulders and tricky terrain. The reduced weight really allows my tall, skinny legs to move my feet around quick enough to allow the fast precision necessary for delicate footwork. My Salewa boots have the same advantage, but they also do not have the underfoot protection of the Zodiacs, which let me really hammer my feet into anything no matter how pointy.


Water Resistance

I was a little worried when I first ordered the Zodiacs. It did not appear that the gore-tex lining covered the tongue of the boot. The color of the fabric changes from the sides of the boot to the top, which threw me off because most boots use the light gray lining where the gore-tex is placed. The Zodiacs have a black lining under the tongue, but upon closer inspection, there is indeed gore-tex lined under the tongue.

Even after some use, the initial DWR coating on the boots is very effective in shedding off water, so that the gore-tex doen't have to act like a first line of defense like it does in most other boots.

Now, the most impressive part of the waterproofing, is the fact that the flood height goes very far up the tongue and isn't cut low like other boots. I can dunk them pretty deep and not worry about water coming in, even though the water is still not close to the top of the ankles. The only downside to this is that the instep of the boot is much tighter than the Quest 4D. So if you have a massive instep, getting in and out of the Zodiac might be a chore compared to other brands and models.


Durability

These sure are pretty boots, but they don't stay pretty for long. The uppers scuff up rather easily when scrambling or bushwhacking. I will have to put a couple hundred miles on them before I feel confident giving any feedback to their durability overall. One thing is for absolute certain though, the lower lace eyelets are vastly superior to those found on the Quest 4D boots. The Zodiac has holes directly in the leather where as the Quest has plastic eyelets that are riveted on. In my general experience, the direct holes in the leather are vastly superior against breaking loose and ruining a good pair of boots.


Lacing System

I'm not quite sure why OGL rates the lacing system of the Quest 4D better than the Zodiac. I think both work equally well. The locking ankle hook works just as well on both, in my experience. The Zodiac is designed to work with thinner laces, while the Quest uses thicker laces. Both are about equal in ease of use, with maybe a slight edge to the Zodiac for making it easier to get the first lace hooks set in. The laces on my size 11 Zodiacs are also much longer than the ones that came with my size 10.5 Quests. This allows for more lacing options for those who know how to use lacing trickery to get the fit exactly how they wish. The Quest boots didn't have much extra lace to work with, let alone double tie the knots. I find both systems need a double knot to keep from coming loose when hammering through steep terrain. The only thing I can think of is maybe my copy of the Zodiac boots are a later batch than the ones tested by OGL, and maybe Scarpa modified them a little in a subsequent batch? Who knows.


Notable Features

There are several things unique about these boots that might be of interest. First of all, the backside of the leather is coated in a durable rubberized layer. It's most obvious under the laces where the leather overlaps with the tongue. Upon closer inspection and a little prying, it appears this rubberized layer may extend all the way down to the base of the boot. This could also explain why the leather seems a bit more stiff and why OGL found it hard to pull the boots tight for people with skinny feet. The boot really wants to hold its structure without folding and floppy around. For anyone who is having trouble with the fit of the boots, it may take a good number of miles before the upper change their form permanently. On the other hand, this rubberized layer may add a bit to their water resistance. I noticed OGL alluded to the leather soaking up water and letting it get to the gore-tex, but I am not so sure that is an accurate assumption. If anything, the wet leather may act as a cold-sink and cause excess moisture to condense on the inside from sweating. It will be interesting to see how this affects the boots next summer in higher temps as well.

Another neat piece of the design is how the gore-tex layer appears to wrap around the whole bottom of the boot under the footbed. Most boots I have owned have a sort of stiff felt below the foot, but no gore-tex until towards the edges of the footbed where it then goes into the uppers. The Zodiac boots have a full wrap around the entire foot. As the boots wear down and get older, this will hopefully reduce the chance of any water seeping in from the bottom when they have been exposed to water for a long duration.


Break-in Period

One thing that I am finding is that these boots are very elastic in the leather areas. This may also be in part due to the rubber layer laminated onto the back of the leather. When they are cold and new, they do not flex much at all, but once they warm up a little they loosen up and feel like they a re breaking in without any miles on them at all. Mine usually loosen up to where they need to be by less than half of a mile or a mile at most. When they are left over night, they seem to shrink back to their factory form after each day of use. This seems to happen less and less as they get up to around 30 miles of use or so. It may also depend on how much they need to conform to your feet.


Value

Yes, they are expensive. But on the other hand, they are also made in Italy by some people who clearly have a passion of making the best boots they can possibly make. Other brands made in China just never have such an attention to detail and precise fitment. Every cut of fabric and stitch is perfect down to the millimeter. Even compared to other Italian boot brands like Zamberlan, I think Scarpa does a much better job of making every boot as perfect as possible. I had a few pairs of Zamberlain boots that had very high quality parts, but the just weren't put together with much precision.

Compared to the Quest 4D, I think the Scarpa is a much better value even at $250 full retail. I get the impression that Salomon uses a different business model where they are a bit more lax on their quality control and push that burden onto the consumer. They charge more than a boot made in China should cost, but they may have also factored that into the price of the boot and figured a certain percentage of defective copies will be sent back for warranty replacement. Salomon can then afford to send you a voucher for a new pair of boots and still be making money in the long run. While this might work for some people, it better for others to have the peace of mind knowing that Scarpa weeds out the bad boots before they even hit shelves. A warranty doesn't help much when you are 30 miles from the car and your boot fails.

With all that said though, the Quest 4D boots are a great value when purchased on sale at $150 USD, just not quite as much at $230 USD.


The Competition

I also have experience with the La Sportiva Trango Trk, Salomon Ultra Mid II, and the Adidas Terrex Scope High. All of which are featured here on OGL.

The Trango is probably the closest competitor like-for-like to the Zodiac. It's lightweight and has a very grippy outsole that does great in technical terrain. On the downside, it is less durable, not as waterproof, and much much tighter around the front of the foot.

The Terrex isn't in the same category, but it does overlap a little. It's much skinnier than the Zodiac in both the fit and the outsole tread. It works better for more serious scrambling and even rock climbing over the Zodiac, but fails to deliver any sort of hiking comfort or traction in anything other than solid rock. In fact, it's technically more of a high-top approach shoe than it is a hiking boot. I would personally have this model in the approach shoe review section instead of the hiking boot section.

The Ultra II isn't even in the same realm in any area other than being lightweight. It's downright dangerous on any sort of rock scrambling, especially if wet out. It doesn't even do as good of a job hiking long distances with a pack, mostly due to the lack for underfoot protection from sharp rocks. As a day hiker on smooth trails, it's lighter and more cushy than the Zodiac and really shines for those with sensitive feet.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.


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