I haven’t written a gear review on The Peaklander before and there are a few reasons why:
- I’m not popular enough for brands to care about my opinion, so they don’t send free things my way to review.
- I don’t want to buy one of everything that Cotswold Outdoor stock just so I can review it, because the chances are I won’t need one of everything when I go to the Peaks for a walk.
- I tend to buy kit that’s been reviewed by people whose opinions I respect and whose opinions have far more weight than my own. You may as well read their reviews rather than reading mine.
And yet, here we are. I’m doing a gear review. Why? Well, nearly a year ago I went and bought myself some fancy boots for walking in and wanted to report back. I’ve also noticed that most of the people I follow in the outdoors world post their ‘unbiased and honest opinion’ about kit they’ve been sent to review by manufacturers. I’m not saying their reviews are biased or dishonest in any way, but I suspect you’re more likely to be favourable to a manufacturer when they’re sending you free stuff. Say nice things, along comes more free stuff. More reviews equals more followers, equals more free stuff, equals the heady heights of that pinnacle of modern society, Social Media Stardom.
Back when I started hillwalking, I did what I expect most sensible people do: I went to Mountain Warehouse and bought the bare minimum of the most basic kit I needed to complete a walk, just in case I did it once and decided it wasn’t for me. Turns out that I liked hillwalking and after a while I needed kit that would last longer and weather more storms, so I upgraded my kit to the more practical mid-range. This is where the Craghoppers of the world live; it’s not the most expensive kit on the shelf, but it’s where you get the most bang for your buck. Never have I been let down by Craghoppers. It’s excellent.
Occasionally, I’ve been sucked in by a bargain and you’ll sometimes see me in the more aspirational walking gear. I have a Mountain Equipment soft-shell. I have some Mammut bits ‘n’ bobs. You can tell these items are a little more refined than your more middlin’ gear, but I’ve rarely been glad to have spent the extra. When it comes to British weather, Craghoppers, Rab, and similar brands are all you need. You don’t need alpine kit to walk the British hills because – unless this has escaped your attention – we’re not in the Alps. By all means, go and buy all the logos and feel good about it, but you really don’t need to.
I’ll always remember heading to the trig point on Shutlingsloe in the winter a couple of years ago where my mate proudly pulled a Mountain Equipment down jacket out of his bag to combat the chill. He’d spent a fortune on the thing and it was back in the bag within minutes – turns out it gets a lot colder at the summit of actual mountains than it does on our green and pleasant hills. While you undoubtedly look cool in your big-logo-designed-for-real-mountains down jacket, you also get a bit sweaty if you put it on ‘to take the chill off’ on a not-quite-a-proper-mountain hill. Being sweaty on a hill in a blizzard while you’re not actually moving is an experience you don’t need.
My history of walking boots is fairly short. I’ve always bought three-season boots and relied on lighter approach shoes when the weather was too hot for boots. My first pair of walking boots cost £30 and came in that initial Mountain Warehouse haul. My second pair were Merrell’s. I loved those boots, they lasted for ages and they were as comfortable as boots can be. They were also around the £120 mark. Certainly not cheap, but also not the most lavish purchase. And that, dear readers, brings me onto my latest pair of walking boots – I splashed out on some Scarpa R-Evolution GTX a year ago.
I figured I’d been doing this long enough that I deserved some nice boots, especially with the Pennine Way planned for next year. The R-Evolutions looked perfect. They were lightweight, had a GTX liner, Vibram soles and Scarpa describe them as “a modern hybrid that combines a rugged backpacking boot with a nimble trail shoe”. Just what I was after. They even called them ‘R-Evolution’. You don’t put ‘revolution’ and ‘evolution’ in your boot name unless you’ve made something special.
Scarpa were founded back in 1938 and are still owned and operated by the same people in the same region of Italy where it started. There’s a lot to be said for that – only brands who know what they’re doing and do it with integrity stand the test of time in the outdoors clothing market. Us outdoorsy folk don’t tend to be inclined to seasonal fashions and I suspect it wouldn’t be an entrepreneurs first choice demographic to turn a quick buck. Scarpa are great; they’re trusted, respected and they make excellent kit.
One of the headline features of this boot (and rightly so) is Sock-Fit construction, which is basically a single piece of elastic fabric that wraps around your foot, making its sensitivity similar to that of a rock shoe. The Scholler S-tech fabric links the ankle flex zone and collar with an elastic movement which feels like you’re wearing the world’s most rugged pair of socks.
That rugged feeling continues into the rest of the boot, having both a Vibram Fagus Lite sole for optimum shock absorption and a toe rand that will protect your feet when you’ve reached the point of the walk where you’re kicking rocks about because lifting your leg to step over them is just too hard. You also get a Gore-Tex lining in the R-Evolutions, so you can be sure that your feet will stay dry even if the British weather doesn’t.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? And yet the Scarpa R-Evolution doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts. When you slip these boots on and do them up, I challenge you to find a more comfortable pair of boots. They’re lovely. The toe box is pretty bloody cramped, but once you stop thinking about whether you should’ve gone a half size bigger than every other Scarpa boot you’ve ever bought, the snugness and fit is perfect.
The Gore-Tex is as dependable as ever – I’ve crossed chilly streams in these plenty of times and have felt neither cold nor damp – and they’re lightweight enough that you don’t feel the extra fatigue of lugging around a heavy pair of boots.
There’s only one reason I can’t recommend these boots and it’s a big one: the traction is appalling. Let me qualify that because it’s a broad statement. If you’re hiking in dry conditions on rocks, these boots will be great. If you’re hiking in fields in summer, these boots will be great. If your walk has two or more of these things in any combination, you’re going to be miserable in these boots:
Mud? Fine. Rocks? Fine. Water? Fine.
Mud near rocks? You’ll fall over. Water near rocks? You’ll fall over. Rocks near water? You’ll fall in. Water near mud? You’ll fall over.
In 8 years of walking in the Peaks, I’d never slipped. Not in rain, mud, water, snow or ice. I never once lost the ‘first person to fall in the ice buys the beer’ game. Then I bought these R-Evolutions and I’d slipped once near a waterfall and nearly went in. It put this down to me not paying attention. Then I slipped on rocks near a stream. Again, I put this down to me being careless. Then I slipped on dry rocks after walking through a field, then on damp rocks after some drizzle, then on stones in a muddy path. I started to feel like I wasn’t safe wearing the Scarpa R-Evolution GTX, like I was actively putting myself in danger, so I got in touch with Scarpa via their website to ask if something was awry.
Scarpa service didn’t let me down. They agreed that this didn’t sound like it should be happening, but they acknowledged that they’d heard of the problem on some of their cheaper boots that don’t use Vibram rubber – the compound of the sole is too dense and that leads to similar things to what I’d been experiencing. They sent me a packing label and asked me to ship my boots to them by courier for testing by the Aftersales Manager. A week later, I got in touch with them to find out what they’d discovered and… nothing. The rubber was fine, the boots were as intended and they’d be finding their way back to me in a few days.
Having spent the last few weeks while my Scarpas were being tested wearing my older boots and trail shoes, I’d started to remember why I enjoyed walking – I could spend the time immersing myself in the environment and looking around at views without worrying about whether a touch of semi-evaporated morning dew on a rock might send me plummeting to my death. With trepidation, I wore my newly returned Scarpa R-Evolutions on a walk this weekend. It was muddy, it was damp, and it was near water.
I slipped. I was miserable.
I’m not sure what it is about these boots. The lugs don’t clear out well at all, which would explain why everything becomes slippy after you’ve been near some mud, but it doesn’t explain why a wet rock would become akin to an ice rink in otherwise un-clogged boots.
I loved these boots when I tried them on in the store and broke them in around the local area, but that love affair ended once I got them out into the wild. I can’t recommend them. I definitely wouldn’t wear them if I was doing a walk solo… Mountain Rescue have it hard enough as it is.