Scarpa’s Zodiac Plus GTX is a fully supportive yet exceptionally lightweight boot ideal for handling high mileage days with a heavy load. This midweight hiker is designed to shine in environments when a mountaineering boot is overkill but a low-top approach shoe is not enough. To put it to the test, we took the Zodiac Plus GTX to Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash, donned heavy packs containing ten days worth of supplies, and subjected the boot to everything the trail—or lack thereof—had to offer. Below is our take on its support, traction, protection, waterproofing, durability, fit, and more (spoiler alert: it excelled in just about every category). To see how the Zodiac Plus GTX stacks up to the competition, see our article on the best hiking boots.
The Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX offers a really nice combination of support and comfort. In tough terrain, it provides the stiffness needed to side-hill or descend loose slopes while wearing a heavy pack, yet is soft enough to allow your foot to flex when climbing up steep trail. This boot extends above the ankle for added support, and the Sock-Fit allows it to be laced tightly without creating bulk or constriction. In fact, the Zodiac Plus was so comfortable that I barely felt it around my ankle, but the support became obvious when a misstep occurred. I’m convinced that if I’d worn a lighter hiker instead, I would have sprained each ankle numerous times and possibly even tumbled down one of the many steep slopes along the trail.
Underfoot, Scarpa has departed from the design of the more mountaineering-focused Zodiac Tech GTX and made the Plus without a shank. Rather, they have combined EVA and PU for a unique midsole blend. It’s not often that these two materials are used together, but in this case, a nice balance is struck between the stiffness, shock-absorption, and durability of PU, and the light and cushion-y feeling of EVA (of which Scarpa incorporates three layers for added support). This construction, along with many other features of the boot, allowed me the support I need when carrying a very heavy load, yet the comfort to do so mile after mile.
Alpine-centric Scarpa is no stranger to footwear designed to hold its ground. The Vibram Drumlin soles on the Zodiac Plus GTX provide excellent traction, even on the edges, allowing agility on sketchy scrambling routes and boulders. I subjected this boot to almost every possible walking surface—from slimy rocks and roots in the Pacific Northwest, to the granite, snow, loose dust, sand, and scree of the Peruvian Andes. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have never relied upon a footwear’s traction as much as I did when descending straight down 3,000 feet of loose slope on fatigued legs, and I cannot recall a single time in which I slipped. Furthermore, the widely spaced lugs help keep mud—or the ubiquitous donkey manure in the Andes—from getting stuck in the tread, so the boot maintains traction even in gloppy, clay-like terrain.
With its tough suede leather uppers, high-top design, and host of features, the Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX truly is a robust boot. A rubber rand around the toe box provides extra protection for the forefoot, and the heel box is encased to protect the uppers from abrasion. More, the Sock-Fit technology helps to keep rocks, snow, and dirt from entering around the ankle. Lastly, the EVA and PU midsole described above provides more than adequate protection from uneven ground underfoot, including sharp and pointy rocks. If you’re looking for more protection than most traditional hiking boots provide, the Zodiac is a great option.
Our trek in Peru took us across streams and through many bogs, providing ample tests for the water resistant suede upper and Gore-Tex liner. Both passed with flying colors. The Perwanger suede was exceptionally water resistant, and I was shocked the first time I watched water quickly bead and roll off. As for the GTX liner, it lives up to its brand reputation, providing an excellent barrier against water (as long, of course, as you don’t submerge your boot past the ankle). This waterproofing also makes the Zodiac Plus GTX an option for snowshoeing or other light winter travel.
Although both materials offer some breathability, the combination of leather and Gore-Tex is known to make feet swim in sweat. The use of suede for the upper, however—rather than thicker leather—allows the Zodiac Plus GTX far more breathability. Many of our days on the trail involved long ascents with no shade. Never once did my feet feel noticeably sweaty and my socks were never more than mildly damp at the end of the day. Most importantly, I suffered none of the hotspots or blisters that I tend to associate with clammy feet.
Scarpa takes pride in their craftsmanship and the fact that most of their footwear (including the Zodiac Plus GTX) is still made in Italy. One look at this boot and you’ll notice the premium build quality right away. And it’s clear that Scarpa puts a great deal of thought into the many features on the Zodiac Plus, such as their one-piece tongue and collar technology, patch of memory foam along the back of the heel, and ergonomic flexibility that surrounds the ankle and top of the foot. These features help eliminate pressure points and form fit the boot to the ankle and heel—the areas on my feet most prone to blisters.
Additionally, the Zodiac Plus GTX will keep going mile after mile. As mentioned above, the uppers are constructed of durable Perwanger Suede and reinforced with a rubber rand and rigid rubber heel box. Furthermore, given that the midsole is constructed with three layers of EVA and the more long-lasting PU, we think this boot should stand the test of time, maintaining its support, protection, and comfort even after hundreds of miles on the trail.
That said, after wearing the Zodiac Plus GTXs for ten solid days, I have to be honest: they look used. The suede upper has absorbed dust and grime, and the boots appear as though they been through an exciting adventure or two. The wear and tear is purely cosmetic: all stitching is intact, the rubber rand is holding solid, the metal eyelets and hooks used for the lacing system are secure, and the outsoles show only minor wear to the lugs. But this is one factor to consider and a potential downside of the suede.
At 2 pounds 6.4 ounces for the men's pair, the Zodiac Plus GTX is lighter than most of its midweight competition, yet still offers impressive support for high mileage days, heavy loads, and technical terrain (all the while staying impermeable to water). Per ounce, the amount of support, protection, and comfort packed into the Zodiac is outstanding. When Scarpa thinned out the midsole by replacing the shank of the Zodiac Tech with PU and three densities of lightweight EVA, they created a boot with a similar amount of support at a much lighter weight—a difference of almost 3 ounces per boot.
For comparison, a similar option in both price and build is the Salewa Mountain Trainer Mid GTX, which weighs 2 pounds 12.4 ounces for the men's pair, or 6 ounces more than the Scarpa. Even the “lightweight” La Sportiva Trango TRK GTX comes in 2 pounds 8 ounces for the pair, as does the Scarpa Zodiac Tech GTX. All in all, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better combination of weight and performance for technical trails.
The Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX fits true to size. I consistently wear a women’s 8.5, and found that the 8.5 (European size 40) fit perfectly. There was no slippage in the heel, and despite some of the steepest descents I have ever encountered, I did not lose a toenail. The boot also is available in European half sizes, which creates smaller increments than U.S. half sizes.
It’s worth noting that the toe box of this boot is on the wider side of the spectrum, yet accommodates wide feet without feeling boxy or sloppy for narrower footed folks. Scarpa has employed an asymmetrical lacing system (more often associated with running shoes) to reduce pressure on the top of the foot and provide a more comfortable and precise fit. The locking hooks allow the lacing to be customized—I prefer to keep the laces loose on my lower foot and tighter around my ankle.
For a boot intended for high mileage and multi-day backpacking trips, comfort is a top priority. And the Zodiac Plus absolutely shines in this category. The boot was immediately comfortable out of the box and I suffered no hotspots or blisters, initially or after long periods of heavy use. While in the Cordillera Huayhuash, the Zodiac Plus was so comfortable that I was never in a hurry to remove it at the end of the day, despite the fact that I was also carrying trail runners. Even during the crowded and hot five-hour bus ride back to Huaraz following our trip, I didn’t think to change out of my boots. This in and of itself speaks volumes about their comfort.
What We Like
- Excellent combination of comfort and stability/protection.
- Despite the suede and Gore-Tex waterproof design, the boot breathes relatively well.
- Another shining example of the high quality craftsmanship we’ve come to expect from Scarpa.
- Very short break-in period.
What We Don’t
- The suede upper absorbs dust and grim quickly, making them look older than they really are.
- The EVA in the midsole may eventually wear out. But with PU being part of the construction as well, the boot should be relatively long lasting.
|Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX||$250||Light/midweight||2 lb. 6.4 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Suede leather|
|Scarpa Zodiac Tech GTX||$290||Midweight||2 lb. 11.8 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Suede leather|
|Salewa Mountain Trainer Mid||$239||Midweight||2 lb. 15 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Suede leather|
|La Sportiva Trango TRK GTX||$220||Light/midweight||2 lb. 8 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Polyester / TPU|
|Scarpa R-Evolution GTX||$239||Midweight||2 lb. 14 oz.||Yes (Gore-Tex)||Suede leather|
Landing on the hardcore end of Scarpa’s already serious backpacking boot line-up, the Zodiac Plus stands out from the soft and flexy designs that you’ll find on most maintained trails. This is a tough boot through and through, and was the ideal choice for our trek through Peru's Cordillera Huayhuash. As mentioned above, Scarpa does make another variation, the Zodiac Tech, which steps up from the Plus’ off-trail hiking to light mountaineering. The Tech has a shank underfoot for a stiffer feel while climbing, and its rubber rand provides protection all the way around the foot (the Plus only protects the toes and heel). Which one to choose will be based on where you’re headed—if you need a boot that can handle moderate glacier travel, the slightly heavier Zodiac Tech is the better selection. But backpackers and hikers that need a supportive option likely will prefer the more well-rounded Plus.
A proven alternative to the Zodiac Plus is Salewa’s Mountain Trainer Mid GTX. This is among the Italian company’s most popular offerings due to its burly materials, excellent protection, and sturdy feel. Stacked up to the Zodiac Plus, however, the Salewa does come across as a little dated. Despite having a similar suede upper and beefy traction, the Scarpa manages to undercut the Mountain Trainer in weight by nearly 9 ounces for the pair, making it the better choice for long-distance trekking. The Zodiac also is a little more forgiving and flexible for added trail comfort (on the other hand, the stiffer Salewa will do a little better on very long climbs). Overall, unless you need the Salewa’s extra protection or prefer its narrower fit, we give the edge to the Scarpa.
La Sportiva is another mountain-oriented brand with a collection of tough boots. Their competitor to the Zodiac Plus is the Trango TRK GTX, which we also took on our Peruvian adventure. Both boots handled the trip with relative ease and are nearly dead even in most respects: they are very comfortable, waterproof, and offer plenty of support and protection for remote trekking. The Trango does have a more plasticky upper material, which came home looking a little fresher than the suede on the Zodiac, and it’s also $30 cheaper than the Scarpa (for more information see our Trango TRK review). In truth, you can’t go wrong with either, and the decision should come down to fit. Those that want a snug, performance cut will like the La Sportiva, while the Scarpa has the roomier toe box.
The final option is another in-house design: Scarpa’s R-Evolution GTX. This boot is made with traditional backpacking in mind, with its thick protection underfoot, nearly 3-pound weight, and comfortable stance. It is, however, still a Scarpa product, so the R-Evolution prefers mountain use with a relatively stiff midsole and seriously tough construction. Compared with the Zodiac Plus, you only get standard EVA underfoot on the R-Evolution, and it’s a little less stiff for crossing into light mountaineering. But for the backpacker that wants a comfy and supportive boot, it’s the ticket. It’s when you move off trail or into technical hiking with a heavy pack that the Zodiac’s longer lasting, tougher midsole and wider-spaced lugs make it our preferred choice.