A thing of beauty

Let’s get the bad out of the way first: These boots are heavy and stiff soled, and they take a long time to break in. But for the things they do well, I’ve never had a better pair of boots.

If you live in Western Washington and spend any time outside, “waterproof” is a highly relevant term. A few years ago, I got tired of having wet feet. As is my nature, I read reviews obsessively, determined to spend wisely and find a pair of boots that would make my feet happy for many adventures to come. Initially, I looked at the Danner Mountain Light, which I also subsequently purchased (and about which more later). We have a friend who, as a timber cruiser, swears by a custom pair of Vibergs. Although they’re a gorgeous boot, I just couldn’t stomach the price for something that would not be used to earn my living.

Since I knew I wanted an all-leather boot, that brought me eventually to the Scarpa SL M3. (Scarpa’s current version of this boot is the SL Activ.) After finding a pair at the 3 Vets store in Vancouver (an adventure in itself), I set out to break them in.

Three years and many miles later, the Scarpas have hit their stride.

These boots have exceptional traction. I’ve worn them on loose rock, down steep trails, through muddy streams, and over boulder fields, all without slipping or twisting an ankle. My boots don’t have the lace locks, but even without that feature the boots are easy to lace and the laces stay tight. And my feet stay dry: I wore them last weekend on an outing that started as a walk on a logging road and ended as a trudge through knee-deep snow, and I made it back to the car with completely dry feet.

It did take me a while to get used to the rigidity of the sole, which make the boots uncomfortable for non-trail purposes, such as the logging roads on which we spend so much time. To alleviate that–and to save the Scarpas for their intended purposes–I bought the Danner Mountain Lights, which have a more flexible sole but don’t offer nearly the stability, ankle support, or traction of the SL M3 boots (and for which I have paid the price in the ocasional stumble). The Danners are lower on my ankles, and I always have trouble getting them to stay tightly laced. I haven’t tried the SL M3 boots for backpacking, but my guess is that they’d perform even better with the added weight of a pack; they can also take crampons, should that be a necessity. I’m a bit concerned about re-soling the boots when it comes to that, as I’ve read mixed reviews.

Really, the only fail I’ve ever had with these boots was on our trip to Tofino last spring. The boardwalks were so slippery that the Scarpas couldn’t find purchase and their rigid soles skidded right off, taking me with them. But that was user error; next time I’ll take my Xtra Tufs.

The best gear gets out of the way so that you can get on with the business at hand, which is exactly what these boots do.


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