Among Scarpa’s impressive and diverse lineup of ski boots, the Maestrale RS alpine touring model is a standout. A stiffer version of their popular Maestrale, the RS is designed to be light on the skin track and extra powerful on the descent. The previous RS was my alpine touring boot of choice for multiple seasons, so I understandably was eager to try out the latest model through a season in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia and Washington state. Below I break down the Maestrale RS’s touring and downhill performance. To see how it stacks up, see our article on the best backcountry ski boots.
Editor’s note: This test was done on the 2017-2018 version of the Maestrale RS, and there have been some light tweaks to the design in the meantime. For the 2020-2021 season, the current Maestrale RS features a RECCO reflector built into the power strap and some revised graphics and colorways. Where applicable, we’ve made note of the changes in the write-up below.
Table of Contents
- Uphill Performance
- Downhill Performance
- Key Features
- Build Quality and Durability
- Fit, Sizing, and Comfort
- What We Like/What We Don't
- Comparison Table
- The Competition
With a high degree of flexibility, lightweight build, and easy-to-transition buckle system, the Scarpa Maestrale RS excels on the uphill. When climbing, I release the single toe buckle, ankle buckle, and Velcro strap but keep the heel-retention buckle snug. This allows my calf and ankle to flex without my heel moving around. The total flex (forward and backward) of the RS is 60 degrees, a huge increase from the previous model’s 37 degrees (and this degree of movement actually exceeds my ankle’s range of motion). In the Mount Baker backcountry, I found myself on a skin track that pushed the limits of my climbing skins—and my Achilles tendons—yet the boots handled it with ease. For comparison, another boot I was testing, the Salomon S/Lab MTN, has a 47-degree flex and felt much more restrictive.
The Maestrale RS is extremely comfortable while bootpacking too—the Vibram Cayman PRO sole provides excellent traction on everything from rocks to snow and ice. Further, the boot is crampon-compatible with most automatic or semi-automatic models. And to tie it all together, the RS is noticeably light on the feet, which is a huge benefit on long arduous climbs while skinning or kicking steps.
I’m no lightweight at 225 pounds nor do I have the grace of a ballerina, so I’m confident in saying I’ve been putting the RS through its paces. For how light it is, the Maestrale is remarkable on the downhill. The stiff Grilamid shell feels rigid and responsive when locked down, and the boot does an admirable job of keeping my backcountry skis in line and under control. Listed at 125, the RS has a nice progressive flex to it and is capable of being driven pretty hard without feeling like a lightweight touring boot. The current model is noticeably stiffer than the previous version, and I find this change to be most perceptible when skiing on harder, chundery surfaces.
The Maestrale RS is both AT and TLT binding-compatible, and I’ve been using the boot with both the G3 Ion 12 and Salomon MTN bindings on skis ranging from 106 to 124 millimeters in width. The RS was my boot of choice for an outing to Mount Baker when the forecast was calling for several 12-inch days of snowfall. Because avalanche risks were through the roof, we chose to play it safe and lift ski, and I was surprised at how well the RS drove my DPS Lotus 124 both on choppy, skied out lines and deep, light powder. It truly is built to match the downhill prowess of a much heavier, stiffer boot.
Weighing in at 6 pounds 3.4 ounces for the pair (the current model is listed at 6 lbs. 6 oz.), the Scarpa Maestrale RS is on the lighter side of 3-4 buckle alpine touring boots. For comparison, alternatives like the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 130 (6 lbs. 5 oz.), Dynafit Hoji Free (6 lbs. 13 oz.), and Salomon S/Lab MTN (6 lbs. 15 oz.) are all roughly in the same ballpark. The Maestrale’s carbon fiber-infused Grilamid shell helps sheds ounces, and the simple Wave Closure System over the top of the foot keeps weight low by combining the function of two buckles into one (more on this system below). It’s worth noting you can save significant weight with a ski mountaineering-style boot like the Dynafit TLT8 (5 lbs.), but you’ll get far less downhill prowess. Considering the well-balanced performance of the Maestrale RS, we have nothing to complain about in terms of weight.
With heat-retaining Intuition liners and numerous vents to balance sweat and airflow, the RS is a warm and comfortable ski boot. After suffering cold damage to my feet while testing the old Arc’teryx Procline, I’m more aware of foot warmth now than ever. I’ve spent multiple long, cold (sub-20 degrees Fahrenheit) days in the RS now without any concern of cold feet. Even when standing around, the Intuition liners retain heat. While moving, the vents allow the liners to breathe and keep sweat buildup to a minimum.
Perhaps most important of all, a proper boot fit goes a long way in keeping feet warm. Too much space can make it difficult for heat to stay trapped, but too little space can cut off circulation. The Intuition liner is roomy enough for high-volume feet like my own and can mold to the slim-footed. Plus, with the ability to add laces for a snugger fit, the liner has a great deal of versatility for a wide range of foot sizes.
The closure system on the Scarpa Maestrale RS features three easy-to-adjust and high-quality buckles and one power strap. The strap, upper buckle, and heel-retention buckle didn’t change much from the previous version, but the toe closure has been completely redesigned. Scarpa swapped the old dual buckles for a self-equalizing cable that attaches two points to a single buckle for a secure fit (called the Wave Closure System). I found that it can be slightly finicky to adjust with gloves on, but overall the design is well worth the hassle, both for the weight savings and extra control it provides across the front of the foot.
One of the biggest changes to the boot was the alteration of the ski/walk lever. The current Speedlock Plus is a friction-free mechanism, designed to swiftly release the boot into walk mode when raised and to lock the boot into ski mode when lowered. When in ski mode, a notch in the lever securely attaches to a small horizontal steel pin (similar to the lever on the Atomic Backlands). I find that this mechanism is prone to getting covered with snow or ice when in walk mode, which can make it difficult to lock for the downhill. That said, this hasn’t been a major issue for me, and can easily be remedied with a whack from a ski pole or a few taps against the boot (no different than clearing off iced-up bindings). Furthermore, I was initially concerned that the simple Speedlock mechanism could release while in ski mode, but this worry has been put to rest after dozens of incident-free descents.
Intuition has become synonymous in the boot liner market for excellent heat retention, comfort, and durability. After seasons of suffering through blisters, I became a believer six years ago and haven’t worn anything else since. The Cross Fit Pro Flex G in the Maestrale RS is another winner: it conformed to my feet quickly, even without heat molding, and has provided worry-free, consistent performance. In comparison with the older model, I found that the current liner feels a bit stiffer and sturdier. In addition, the Cross Fit Pro has a separate tongue and can be fitted with laces if you prefer an even snugger fit.
The RS is constructed with all the materials you expect to see in a modern, high-end backcountry design. Every detail on the boot has been attended to, from the carbon fiber-infused shell and Grilamid cuff to the innovative toe buckle and ski/walk lever. Both the cuff and lower boot have seen plenty of action and bear the scuffs and scratches to prove it, but their flaws are merely cosmetic. Further, the Intuition liner is still supple and has not packed out, and all the pivots, buckles, and straps on the shell are fully intact and are not showing any signs of loosening. Finally, the Vibram soles are holding up well, wearing at a reasonable rate without any rubber breaking off or feeling brittle.
As with my old RS, I ordered a size 28 in the current model and found it fits true (it even has the same 314mm sole length). Fit and comfort have been issues for me with every ski boot I’ve owned, but the Intuition liners and my practice of punching to increase the width of the toe box have made the RS a very comfortable boot. Even without punching, it has one of the wider toe boxes on the market (101mm), and thus accommodates a wide range of foot sizes. And as mentioned, the Intuition liner is top-quality, conforms to a range of foot shapes, and does not require a heat mold. In comparison with the previous model, the heel cup seems slightly roomier, and the midfoot is marginally slimmer.
Getting in and out of the boot, however, has gotten a little more difficult with the latest shell design. The RS has done away with the easy-to-use hinged tongue of the old model and moved to a more traditional split boot. I find the current system to be a bit of a pain, requiring extra pushing and pulling of the tongue for entry and exit. That said, if this is part of the compromise in improving downhill performance while keeping weight in check, I’m all for it.
Women’s-Specific Scarpa Gea and Other Versions of the Maestrale
The Maestrale RS is the men's or unisex version of this boot, but Scarpa also makes a women's-specific Gea RS. The design and features between the two are virtually identical, with the Gea RS having the same 101-millimeter last, a slightly softer 120 flex (but not by much), and different colorways (and not "traditional" purple or powder blue that many manufacturers go for). In addition, both the Maestrale and Gea are offered in a lightly detuned “standard” model, which features a lower flex (110 and 100 respectively) and a $100 drop in price. And specific to the Maestrale is the XT, which bumps the flex to 130+ for those tackling big-mountain and freeride lines.
- The best all-around touring boot I’ve used. It manages to nail the difficult combination of being lightweight for the ascent yet powerful on the descent.
- Excellent range of motion while climbing.
- Intuition liners are heat-trapping, self-molding, and incredibly comfortable.
- The buckles are high quality and make it easy to adjust the fit.
What We Don’t
- The split boot design makes it a little more difficult to take the Maestrale RS on and off compared with the previous version.
- The ski/walk mode latch is a bit finicky, and sometimes I had to clear it of built-up ice.
|Scarpa Maestrale RS||$799||6 lbs. 6 oz.||101mm||125||60°||Grilamid, carbon|
|Salomon S/Lab MTN||$800||6 lbs. 15 oz.||98mm||120||47°||Grilamid, Custom Shell HD|
|Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 130||$800||6 lbs. 5 oz.||98mm||130||54°||Grilamid|
|Dynafit Hoji Free||$900||6 lbs. 13 oz.||102mm||130||55°||Grilamid|
|La Sportiva Vega||$679||6 lbs. 6 oz.||102.5mm||115||60°||Grilamid|
|Lange XT3 130 LV||$750||7 lbs. 15 oz.||97mm||130||53°||Polyurethane|
The backcountry ski boot market has ramped up a lot since the previous Maestrale RS was released in 2014, but in our eyes, Scarpa still is a class leader. The latest version of the boot accomplishes what they set out to do: optimize downhill performance without compromising weight and comfort. As I mentioned above, I also spent the season testing Salomon’s S/Lab MTN. Stacked up, the two boots offer similar levels of stiffness, but the Scarpa easily wins out in touring performance with superior range of motion (60 degrees vs. 47) and comfort on the climbs. You also save a decent amount of weight with the Maestrale (about 9 ounces), which gives it the clear edge to us.
Another boot we’ve put in a lot of time with is Atomic’s Hawx Ultra XTD. This popular design aims to strike a balance between touring and resort performance with a four-buckle layout, good range of motion, and a competitive weight of 6 pounds 5 ounces. The Atomic can’t match the Maestrale’s smooth operation on the uphill, and while it can drive wide skis a bit more effectively, it’s a little harsher and less comfortable (its narrow 98mm last is also somewhat limiting). If you plan to spend a fair amount of time at the resort, the Atomic’s more traditional downhill feel is hard to beat—it’s our top hybrid backcountry/resort boot for this winter—but the Scarpa is better in the backcountry.
For a step up in touring performance from the Hawx, we like Dynafit’s Hoji Free. Similar to the Maestrale, the Hoji has a natural feel and progressive flex on both the uphill and downhill, and Dynafit’s innovative Hoji Lock system is very effective at transitioning (for more, see our Hoji Free review). That said, the Scarpa wins out in a few key areas, including weight (the Hoji Free checks in at 6 lbs. 13 oz.), price (the Maestrale is $100 cheaper), and comfort with its proven and warm Intuition liner. Given these advantages, we think the Scarpa is the more well-rounded backcountry boot, but the Hoji Free isn’t too far behind.
For skiers that plan to spend a lot of time on the skin track, La Sportiva released the climbing-focused Vega for 2020-2021. The Vega matches the Maestrale RS in range of motion and smooth skinning and hiking performance, and manages to undercut it in price considerably at $679. That said, you do make compromises on the descent with a lower 115 flex rating, which makes it less desirable both for occasional resort use and heavier and more powerful riders. If you plan to ski inbounds or fall into the latter category, we’d stick with the Maestrale.
Last but not least is Lange’s XT3 130 LV, which—similar to the Hawx Ultra XTD above—is a nice match for those that split their time between inbounds and touring use. However, the Lange is the heaviest of the Maestrale’s competitors at 7 pounds 15 ounces per pair, which makes it less of an all-rounder and best suited for those looking for an alpine-centric feel on the downhill. To be fair, the Lange is a surprisingly good climber with a solid range of motion (53 degrees) and good all-around comfort, but it’s simply too heavy for long tours or pairing with an ultralight ski.
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