Is Zamberlan’s Epic Women range of female-specific boots just another marketing ploy, or is there really something revolutionary about the Marie?
Material Upper Hydrobloc Full Grain Waxed Leather Lining Gore-Tex Performance Comfort
Outsole Vibram Lite Wolf
Sizes 36-43 (including half sizes)
Weight 1215g (pair, size 40)
When Zamberlan announced its new ‘Epic Women’ range – totally designed and tested for the needs of the feminine fit, weight, performance and aesthetics, by an almost all-female team – my initial reaction was surprise. It made me wonder whether, until now, women’s gear hadn’t been made with actual women in mind after all.
When it comes to gear, though, it’s often a case of you don’t know what you’re missing. I remember a time many years ago when I used to walk in a baggy cotton T-shirt, a hand-me-down men’s rucksack, and a pair of cheap and cheerful walking boots. But now I’m spoiled with female-fit wicking base layers, a short-backed women-specific rucksack and custom-fit boots…
The female-fit debate
When the most technical boot in the Epic Women range – the Zamberlan 330 Marie – arrived for testing, it sparked an intense and somewhat heated debate in the office about women’s gear. The question that remained at the end of it all was: are women sufficiently different to need specially-designed boots? We decided the answer was, in a lot of cases, yes. So, according to Zamberlan, what is it that I’ve been missing out on with its new women-specific range of boots?
First Zamberlan carried out detailed research on the needs of today’s female mountain, hill and nature lovers. Then rather than tweaking an existing men’s model, it designed a range of boots built to specifically accommodate the foot, fit and posture of women. Finally, it wanted to capture the spirit of pioneering female climbers and mountaineers. So how do these concepts translate into the 330 Marie boot?
On the foot, the Marie is immediately and very noticeably more comfortable than most boots suitable for 3-season high mountain terrain. This seems to be down to a combination of a really nice cushioned footbed, a soft collar and padding around the ankle, and a robust but flexible sole. The shape of the boot appears to be slightly narrower at the ankle and wider at the toe, which suits the shape of my foot perfectly and is a common requirement for the female foot.
While some boots lack good support for the foot, this was not a problem with the Marie. Even without fitting my beloved custom footbeds, my foot felt well supported and I was treated to a nice straight footfall with no inward rolling. Fit is a very personal thing though, and all female feet are, of course, not the same, so having your boots professionally fitted will still always be best.
To look at, the Marie is clearly a quality boot, made in Italy and incorporating full-grain Tuscan leather, a Gore-Tex liner and rubber protection at the toe and heel which protects the necessary parts from abrasion. They feel very light compared to other full-leather boots, which was welcome when my legs got tired. I wasn’t initially sold on the peacock green leather, but they’re also available in camel – which still makes a change from the traditional brown leather boot we’re all used to seeing, albeit less of a ‘statement’.
On test in Snowdonia, the sole gripped superbly on all terrain, from sodden grass to the slippery rock of Tryfan, and protected the foot well. Durability is yet to be tested over time, especially as the sole rubber is slightly softer than some, but they are re-soleable if required. The lack of stitching is also likely to aid longevity so long as the leather is cared for.
Zamberlan has chosen to name each boot model in the Epic Women range after pioneering female mountaineers. But while the intention is clearly a celebration of women in the outdoors, I can’t decide if I find it a touch patronising – ‘Epic Men’ anyone? That said, given it wasn’t that long ago that mountains were places few women dared to venture, perhaps us women need a reminder that we can indeed be epic too. And to commemorate female pioneers – like the Marie boot’s namesake Marie Paradis, who was the first woman to reach the summit of Mont Blanc way back in 1808 – surely can’t be a bad thing.
The Marie is a supremely comfortable, quality boot, and one which will stay in regular use for my 3-season walking.
In use 5/5
Value for money 4/5
OVERALL SCORE 92%
Chubby-soled and you’re saying the brand name wrong – but here’s why Hoka one one’s ultralight kahas are need-to-know boots in 2019.
Upper full-grain leather, eVent waterproof lining
Outsole Vibram Megagrip
Weight 483g (size UK7 men’s)
Hoka One One is a brand you’re going to need to know about sooner or later. They’re a disruptor of conventional wisdom, and in spite of their almost wilful oddity (French company, Californian-owned, Maori-named, pronounced ‘Hoka oh-nay oh-nay’) it’s working: Hoka is the fastest-growing running shoe maker in the world. But their big ideas, they say, apply at least as well to walking as to running, as they launch their Sky range of boots – the scrambling-focused Sky Arkali (£170), speedy-hiker Sky Toa (£150) and the full-leather, waterproof Sky Kaha we’re focusing on here.
The big idea is that for too long, boots have been too heavy, too unforgiving underfoot, and too clumpy and stop-start in the gait they enforce. From the moment you set off in the Kahas you get the idea. At 481g per boot (men’s size 7) they’re fully 20% lighter than equivalent conventional boots, and they feel trivially lightweight. A bit like that momentary feeling of weightlessness you get after taking off your pack at the end of a day’s walk.
The spring in your step is consolidated by the shape of the sole, which has a heel-to-toe arc which gently urges forward motion in favour of standing still. But what strikes you most of all as you power off along stony, rooty or rubbly trails is the absorption provided by the Kaha’s gateau-like sole. Where before you could expect to deflect off roots, pivot over the top of sharp stones and have to plan each step with the avoidance of discomfort and the search for a stable foot placement upmost in mind, now you don’t. The Kaha’s soles – comprised of three generous layers of different density rubbers, in which your foot is comfortably cradled – act like balloon tyres, absorbing intrusions and establishing grip and stability quickly and carelessly. It’s liberating – and particularly advantageous going downhill toward the walk’s end, when instead of nursing tired feet and knees, you can stomp on down with abandon. The extra width of the oversized sole makes going over on your ankle almost impossible to do too.
Part of what makes the Hokas look unconventional is the absence of a heel breast – the step separating heel from instep and forefoot, which from time immemorial has been a boot-sole hallmark. Hoka’s instep instead is filled with lugs – more than enough extra surfaces perpendicular to the direction of travel to perform the heel breast’s ‘handbrake’ function says Hoka – while being formed out of softer rubber, meaning the instep is still there when you need it, like when you’re stood across the crest of a sharp boulder and need that anchored feeling.
Hoka says in its early days ‘we knew people were laughing’ when they saw their running shoes, but that scepticism never survived a road test. Its Sky Kahas – styled to be less alienating than its earlier offerings, yet still unmistakably different – face a lower hurdle, perhaps, but a hurdle still. Don’t dismiss them. They might look like anti-gravity boots from the future, but in some ways they really are. And they’re certainly the most stable, untiring, and lightest full-leather boots you can buy today.
+ ultraLight, grippy, stable and they leave your feet remarkably untired and untender.
– Hoka’s ‘bucket seat’ design achieves stability without a stiff upper, so the boot hasn’t got that ‘armoured’ feeling you may like in a leather boot.
Graphene is the strongest material ever tested, but does its infusion into the rubber sole of Inov-8’s Roclite 345 GTX make this boot ideal for hillgoers?
Upper Synthetic mesh, synthetic overlays, Gore-Tex waterproof lining
Sole Graphene-enhanced G-Grip
Weight 802g (size 11)
Inov-8 transformed lightweight footwear in 2007 when it released its first super-light boot, the Roclite 390 GTX, which set new standards in how light and yet functional a hillwalking boot could be. Fast-forward to winter 2018 and the brand is the first to unveil a hiking boot using graphene, the strongest material ever tested, and so revolutionary that Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010 for groundbreaking experiments using the material.
Graphene has many properties. Aside from its unprecedented strength, it conducts heat and electricity efficiently and is nearly transparent. It also shows a greater ability to distribute force from an impact than any known material, but despite its strength, graphene is also relatively brittle, like ceramic materials, so it needs to be used correctly to make the most of its benefits.
To date, graphene’s main benefits of being a transparent and flexible conductor has allowed it to be used in solar cells, light-emitting diodes (LED), touch panels and smartphone screens. There is also
on-going research to see how it can be used to replace lithium-ion batteries.
But outdoor footwear brand Inov-8 is looking to graphene’s strength, hardness and elasticity to improve the performance of sole units fitted to its range of super-light running and fast hiking footwear.
Until now, outdoor brands have had to choose between a sole rubber that was sticky and grippy but wears down quickly, or a sole rubber that was hard wearing but not very sticky or grippy. According to testing carried out by Inov-8 with the National Graphene Institute at The University of Manchester the use of graphene can mean we can have the best of both worlds. Inov-8 claims the infusion of graphene into its rubber soles increases strength, wear and elasticity by 50% and this is how its sole units display improved wear, as well as improved grip.
Inov-8 has incorporated graphene into three running shoe designs and three light hiking boot designs, with the Roclite 345 GTX featured here being intended for those who want a lightweight boot for fast and light hiking or trekking.
I took the Roclite 345 GTX into the fells of the Lake District to see how it performs. The boot weighs just 802g (size 11 pair), so on the foot it is instantly light and comfortable, like all Inov-8 footwear. Underfoot the new G-Grip sole features the graphene, but on first appearance it looks a lot like other Inov-8 sole units, as it carries a good selection of deep and well-spaced lugs or studs. Head onto the hills and the grip is great. How the boot will wear down over time has yet to be put to the test by users, but according to Inov-8 they should last longer than other shoes.
Equally important is the construction and features of the rest of the sole. So there is some good stiffness, so you can stand on jagged rocks without too much pressure on the foot, but you also get a nice toe flex to allow a natural fast stride action across the terrain. There is also good cushioning in the sole, to limit the pounding from harder surfaces.
The upper is reasonably supportive around the ankle and heel areas for this type of fast-moving shoe while the forefoot upper is more flexible to allow this area to move as needed with the foot when moving fast.
To protect the feet you get a Gore-Tex waterproof lining on the inside and this is protected by lightweight open mesh at the forefoot with layers of synthetic materials in other areas to resist abrasion. The toe box is very soft though, and that mesh upper will, of course, be less durable than some other materials.
Overall this is a promising development for anyone whose priority is for low weight and fast hiking. I will definitely be using the Roclite 345 GTX for speeding up my local Lakeland fells on shorter trips. They will also be great for trekking abroad in warmer weather on paths and trails that are well maintained. I will be sticking with heavier boots for general bigger and rockier mountain and Munro trips though, due to the extra support and protection they provide.
Only time will tell how durable this sole unit will be, but I am expecting them to outlast previous Inov-8 footwear due to the well-researched benefits of graphene, probably one of the most exciting new materials to step into the outdoors.
Inov-8 has revolutionised lightweight footwear since 2007 and today it is once again taking the outdoors a step away from conventional thinking with its inclusion of graphene into the sole units of its footwear. Only time will tell how durable the new sole rubber will be, but the Roclite 345 GTX is an exciting radical new boot for anyone looking to travel fast and light across the hills.
In use 4/5
Value for money 4/5
OVERALL SCORE 84%
Is the striking design of the outer matched by a striking performance when this Lite version from the Scarpa Ribelle family hits the hills?
Upper Tech Fabric and Microtech (synthetic), Outdry waterproof lining
Sole Vibram Pentax Precision III
Crampon compatibility C2
Weight 1548g (size 46 pair)
The norms of mountaineering boot design were kicked off the cliff edge in 2017 when Scarpa released the Ribelle Mountain Tech OD. This stiff 4-season, B2-rated boot featured a striking design with an internal Sock-Fit integrated gaiter for fast and lightweight alpine use. Having shaken up the market, Scarpa has now released the Ribelle Lite, with a slightly more conventional ankle cuff and a softer sole flex but still sporting many of the benefits of its Ribelle stablemate.
You cannot talk about this boot without first talking about the style, as this is no ordinary blue, grey or brown mountain boot. This is a stunning orange boot that will turn heads on the hill. The striking upper is made from synthetic materials with an impressively high tech sounding ‘Exoskeleton, TPU Micro-Film, ergonomic welded cage’, which is enough to send you searching for a dictionary and a microscope. But the important bit is that the upper is smooth, without too many seams, and there is a TPU rand as well to improve abrasion-resistance further. Inside you get an Outdry waterproof breathable laminate which is bonded directly to the inside of the upper materials, meaning there is no need for seam sealing. The result is that water cannot gather in the gap between the outer and the waterproof lining, as there is no gap, so this whole construction method improves breathability, keeps weight down and improves drying times. The only question perhaps is will this construction be as durable as a heavier leather design?
Underfoot the Vibram sole unit has deep, well-spaced lugs, and is well stiffened. Scarpa says this can be used with C2-rated crampons but it also says it has a softer flex than other B2/C2-rated boots, so it is rated as something like a B1+ or B1.5, being a softer flex than most 4-season boots and is stiffer than most 3-4 season boots. Scarpa describes the Ribelle Lite OD as ideal for technical trekking, via ferrata and alpinism. So it should be ideal for scrambling and walking over rockier British mountains from autumn through to spring when there can be a mix of snow and ice, rock and scree, or mud and grass underfoot.
I took the Scarpa Ribelle Lite OD to the Lake District for some scrambling between the popular lines, and made my own way off-path to the tops. Instantly I noticed how spacious the forefoot and toe box was, something not normally associated with via ferrata-orientated designs. But while the forefoot did feel spacious, the heel area was far closer fitting. There was also a gentle flex underfoot that allowed a fairly natural gait when walking for this type of boot.
The deep lugs clawed successfully at mud but importantly the sole flex was great when scrambling over rock. The sole seems to grip the rock well and it was easy to feel where my big toe was to allow a good degree of precision when looking for toe holds. The sole flex also allowed me to use the flat of the forefoot, rather than having to rely on an edge when scrambling. Of course this flex does mean that on more technical ground the toe will roll off smaller holds, but for general scrambling and walking on easier snow slopes the degree of flex feels great.
The ankle cuff will flex forward just enough to allow easy scrambling and walking, yet magically also has enough support to make scrambling and traversing slopes easy on the ankle muscles. Overall I felt the ankle cuff was ideal for the sort of terrain this boot would be used for by hill and mountain walkers in the UK when scrambling up a rocky ridge or tramping across a snow slope.
At 1548g (size 46) these are very light for the stiffness and performance, with most other boots in this category weighing between 1700g and 2100g for this size. The price is a little steeper than others though, with many being between £210 and £265, so you are paying for the low weight. Heavier boots may be more durable for really hard users, but only time will tell.
These are superb 3-4 season boots for the British mountains, with both weight and performance being ideal for those who want to mix easy scrambling over rock with walking over easier snow slopes in crampons. Bring on the hard winter!
With its combination of new standards of construction, design and performance, the Scarpa Ribelle Lite OD marks a step-change in mountain footwear that will be welcomed by anyone in search of snowy walks or rock scrambles to the tops.
In use 5/5
Value for money 3/5
OVERALL SCORE 88%
Designed to be lightweight and comfortable in the ankle cuff while maintaining support, could AKU’s new boot set a new standard for hillwalking?
Upper Air8000 synthetic fabric, suede leather, rubber rand, Gore-Tex waterproof lining
Sole Vibram Curcuma
Sizes 3-13 (unisex)
Weight 1364g (size 11 pair)
Year-on-year boots are getting lighter and more comfortable, and 2018 has seen a surge in development, with many brands sporting more flexible ankle cuff designs for increased comfort. But AKU’s Tengu Lite GTX has taken this trend a step further than most by not only increasing ankle cuff flexibility and comfort but by also building in the support and sole grip that is needed to make light work of walking over everything from moorland to mountain summits. Could this be one of the best boots for hillwalking this year?
Ever since people have walked the hills there has been a quest to make footwear lighter and more comfortable, while maintaining all the performance needed to remain safe. This has been a tough challenge, which at times has resulted in footwear that cannot keep a good grip, or that puts too much strain on the foot. Or heavy, stiff boots that restrict movement to such a degree that they take all the joy out of hillwalking. Between these extremes is a small band of boots that meet hillwalkers’ needs well, and the AKU’s Tengu Lite GTX could be the latest incumbent.
Firstly, AKU has designed the Tengu Lite GTX to be very lightweight, and at 1364g (size 11 pair) they are certainly that. This factor alone places these boots in a league above many typical boots designed for hillwalking. Secondly, the Gore-Tex lined elastic sock design means the tongue and ankle cuff are able to hug the foot comfortably, while also being flexible enough to allow plenty of freedom of movement. But the winning feature has to be the external fingers of stiffer material that wrap around the ankle cuff from the heel to provide support. The result is comfort in the ankle, with excellent forward flex and good lateral stability support for rockier ground.
However, there’s more to this boot than the ankle cuff, as you also get a very practical sole unit with deep, well-spaced lugs and a good heel breast so you can keep a solid grip on softer terrain. There is also very good stiffness both toe-to-heel and laterally, so the boot doesn’t buckle underfoot when you cross rockier ground. And if that isn’t enough, there’s also lots of cushioning in the sole, so walking over rocky paths is very comfortable even when the surface is rock hard. Finally AKU’s Elica Natural Stride System provides plenty of support, to ensure your foot is able to roll through each step in comfort.
I’ve been taking this boot over the rockier parts of the Lakeland Fells and have found it to be outstanding from the very first wear. It is the combination of features that sets this boot apart, as you get all that great ankle cuff comfort and support you need, plus all that sole performance. This adds up to being able to effortlessly and comfortably walk along roads and up stone-clad paths to the foot of the hills, but then cross scree and scramble up rocks with precision of foot placement and safety before traversing boggier ground later in the day.
There are drawbacks though, as these boots only come in a unisex design, so while they have a size range of 3 to 13, women may find gender-specific designs fit better. Also the upper is made of fabric and suede, so while well designed for rockier ground in terms of support, I would be surprised if this upper would be as durable as a single-piece leather design. That said, you do get a rubber rand at least and, of course, a leather boot would be heavier and also carry a higher price tag. The price itself is up there with the best 3-season boots, so it is not cheap, but it does sit quite comfortably alongside its competitors.
So for me this is a great boot that is at home on the British mountains. It would also be great for trekking and backpacking abroad in any situation when you want low weight, comfort and performance in one great boot... which surely means just about every hillwalk?
A great new boot that combines a more flexible ankle cuff with great comfort and all the support and grip you need for a wide range of typical hillwalking and trekking situations both at home and abroad.
In use 5/5
Value for money 3/5
OVERALL SCORE 88%
This eye-popping design blurs the boundaries between shoes and boots... but how does it perform on the hill?
As boots have become lighter and more flexible, while shoes have become stiffer and more supportive, it was inevitable that a collision of ideas was about to happen, and the result is the Salomon Outpath Pro GTX. This hybrid design takes the best of both worlds to create a shoe with a soft ankle cuff-gaiter, so it has the low weight and flexibility of a shoe with the ankle protection of a boot.
Salomon has designed the Outpath Pro GTX for ‘fast hiking’ and ‘outdoor multi-function’ use, so it’s clearly destined to compete with lightweight trail shoes rather than heavier boots. This is very apparent when you unzip the gaiter to expose what’s under the bonnet, as inside you’ll find a fairly conventional trail shoe with normal laces and a normal shoe design around the heel cup. The main difference in this area is the tongue, as this is extended up to the ankle area.
The ankle cuff-gaiter is welded to the shoe, so there are no seams to fray or leak, and it is made from a water-resistant stretch synthetic material which keeps out debris and light splashes. Everything below the black gaiter fabric is waterproof though, thanks to a Gore-Tex membrane, with welded seams to prevent fraying or leaking.
The ankle cuff on a boot provides support, and in the Outpath Pro GTX the ankle cuff-gaiter has some stiffening fabric attached to the inside and outside. Once laced up you do get a little more support than a shoe in this area, which feels pretty good on relatively easy terrain.
The gaiter closes with a water-resistant zip, while a chunky press-stud secures the closure. The ankle cuff-gaiter may look a little strange at first, but the stretchy design certainly makes these very comfortable shoes straight from the box.
I took the Outpath Pro GTX over the Langdale fells in the Lake District and found they performed well on grassy paths and mud. The sole unit’s well-spaced lugs bite easily into softer surfaces and the sole is also quite flexible, so again this is great on grass and mud.
When the slopes steepened my feet had to work harder, as the sole flexes and twists between the toe and heel quite easily, and also the ankle cuff is not as supportive as a boot. Some people won’t mind this flexibility of course, but it does mean your feet have to work harder than if you were wearing a stiffer shoe or boot.
As the ground gets rockier the flexibility of the sole becomes more apparent, with jagged rocks being felt quite easily through the sole compared to stiffer trail shoes and boots. But the heel cup is well-stiffened and there’s also some stiffening at the end of the toe box.
Value for money
The Outpath Pro GTX weighs 912g but you can get slightly stiffer and more supportive shoes around this weight, although they wouldn’t have the benefit of the gaiter. The price of £165 is similar to stiffer shoes of this quality but without the gaiter, so actually represents good value. You can get boots for this sort of price that are going to be more supportive and potentially more durable, but they will also be heavier and less responsive.
There are pros and cons to the Outpath Pro GTX. On the right terrain they have real advantages. I’d use them for easier path terrain, when I’d normally wear shoes but want to keep the debris out. The benefits reduce as the challenges of the terrain increase. I like the attached gaiter, but I’d like to see it fitted to a shoe that has a little more support in the sole. Don’t be surprised if that’s exactly what you see next on the shelves.
The ankle cuff-gaiter extends the use of this shoe, but the performance on rougher terrain is not as good as some trail shoes, as it’s quite flexible in the sole. These are best restricted to easier paths then, unless you don’t need support and just want the gaiter benefits for which this shoe is – currently – unique
- Features 4/5
- Fit 5/5
- Comfort 4/5
- In use 4/5
- Value for money 3/5
- OVERALL SCORE 80%