First test: Zamberlan 330 Marie GTX boots reviewed (2019)

Is Zamberlan’s Epic Women range of female-specific boots just another marketing ploy, or is there really something revolutionary about the Marie?

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  • Price £230

  • 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? 

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Instant comfort

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. 

Italian design

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’. 

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Great grip

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.  

Verdict

The Marie is a supremely comfortable, quality boot, and one which will stay in regular use for my 3-season walking. 

  • Features 4/5

  • Fit 5/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 92%

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First test: Hoka One One Kaha walking boots reviewed (2019)

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.

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  • Upper full-grain leather, eVent waterproof lining

  • Outsole Vibram Megagrip

  • Men’s 7-14

  • Women’s 5-11

  • Weight 483g (size UK7 men’s)

  • Price £180

  • More info

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Verdict

+     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.


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