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Review: Scarpa SL Activ boots

I love the whole process of getting new gear!

I love the research (“What do I want Product X to do? How much do I want to spend? What’s available that falls into that Venn diagram? What do people think about those options? Do I like it?”)

I enjoy the trying on/out of the various options.

I probably don’t enjoy the “handing over of the money” part if I’m honest, but I do like the “shiny new thing feeling” that comes just after that!

And then there’s the fun of finding out whether you’ve made the right choice, how Product X works in the field, and whether it does what you hoped it would.

However there is one area of acquisition that always makes me a bit more apprehensive and that’s buying footwear, particularly footwear for use on the hill and mountains. I find it very hard to know whether the tiny, tiny bit of heel lift I get when I’m walking up the little ramp in the shop will translate to hellish blisters on the hill. Is the toe box roomy enough? Is it too roomy? The staff always say to wear the boots around the house for a couple of weeks to let them break in, but does that really help you know what they’ll be like coming down a Munro in the snow after a ten hour day? And decent boots aren’t cheap, get it wrong and you’ll be hauling round an expensive uncomfortable mistake for years!

Well anyway, this particular bullet needed to be bit. So bite I did.

I was looking for new boots primarily for winter walking. I’ve by and large made the switch to trail shoes for my three season mountain activities. It’s so nice to have light feet! However for winter activities boots are still my preferred option. The soles on my Scarpa ZG10s were getting worn down, and a resole (+ p&p) would be close to £80. I made a sizing mistake when I bought these a few years back, so they’ve never been completely comfortable. Also, these boots won’t take a crampon and with a winter visit to Torridon coming up I thought that might be a useful feature to have. So with all that in mind I decided to relegate the ZG10s to the role of workboot, and start looking about for a replacement/upgrade pair.

My criteria then for new boots were the following:

A good fit!

Well made. I can’t afford to buy new boots every year or two, so I needed whatever I bought to be tough, strong but not insanely heavy.

Crampon compatible. Boots get graded on their ability to have a crampon fitted: B0 is “don’t even think about it”, then it ranges from B1 is “yep, good for winter walking, glacier crossing and easy winter climbing maybe” all the way to B3 “I’m just popping up Everest for the weekend”. B1 would be perfect for my requirements. The sole would be stiff enough for using with crampons, but not so stiff that walking would be uncomfortable.

A good price. Very important!

Not garish. Some very “striking” colour schemes on boots, I prefer a more low-key look to be honest.

So, to the internet! As you start going up the boot pyramid, your choice starts to narrow. Lower down its slopes, say at the budget walking trainer level, you could probably choose from 200+ brands/styles/colours. A few levels up, where I was looking there are far fewer options. At the top, Everest boots if you will, there might just be 3 or 4 choices. This made my search a bit more straightforward, only having a few boots to consider/discard. Quite quickly my eyes were drawn to the Scarpa SL Activ. They ticked most of the boxes I wanted ticking. The price seemed a little high, but factoring in the 15% discount I would get at Cotswold Outdoor with my Canoe England card, this could be made a bit more tolerable!

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