Scarpa R-Evolution GTX

Scarpa’s R-Evolution GTX boots don’t quite add up to the sum of their parts.

I haven’t written a gear review on The Peaklander before and there are a few reasons why:

  1. I’m not popular enough for brands to care about my opinion, so they don’t send free things my way to review.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

IMG_1772.jpg

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.

IMG_1774.jpg

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
  • Rocks
  • Water

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.

A Beginner’s Guide to Hill Walking

Hot on the heels of our moderately successful post ‘Hill Walking: A Manifesto for Londoners’, we’re proud to bring you ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Hill Walking’.

It all started the day you got off the bus one stop early and walked home. You felt good. You felt fit. You got some air in your lungs. This new you loves walking!

Now you walk to and from Tesco Express instead of getting in the car. You even went for a walk around the park on Saturday and quite liked it. Maybe all those people traipsing around the countryside at the weekend aren’t retired, boring and a little bit vegan. Maybe they’re like you: young, dynamic, full of beans and loving life.*

*Author’s note: Many of them are young, dynamic, full of beans and loving life. If you know me and you’re thinking “that doesn’t describe you at all, Mark, you’re in your mid-30s and really quite cynical”, then please don’t let one exception to the rule diminish your newfound enthusiasm.

If this all sounds a bit like you and you don’t know where to start, it’s been incredibly serendipitous that you’ve found this article.

Walking around the UK National Parks is my favourite thing to do. I’m particularly fond of the Peak District, but there are special places in my heart for the Brecon Beacons, Cotswolds, Lake District and basically anywhere in Scotland. You get to be outside, see some incredible scenery, spend some decent time with your mates away from a screen, and take in a lungful or two of fresh, country air. What’s more, it’s free! Actually, it’s not free. People keep saying it’s free, but everything below costs some money. But once you’ve spent that money, it’s mostly free!

Allow me to be your guide into the wonderful world of hill walking…

Walking Boots

These are the most important things you’re going to buy before you set off into the hills. There are so many boots available that it can be daunting, but you can quickly discard 80% of the options. Heading up Kinder Scout on the weekend? You’re not going to need ski boots or alpine boots. It gets rainy and boggy up there, so you can probably discard the lightweight approach shoes as well. This leaves you with proper walking boots to choose from. I tend to go for waterproof ones that cover and support my ankles, because history tells me I’ll mistake a 6-inch deep puddle of cow shit for solid terrain on every walk. Choose wisely.

Now you’ve picked a pair you want to try on, turn your attention to the weird ramp thing in the store that looks a little like someone built a zen garden bridge over a tiny shed roof. Put some boots on, pretend you’re in a playground made just for you – your own little miniature mountain range of felt – and have a good old go on it.

Your inclination at this point is going to be the same as when the hairdresser shows you the back of your head or when the waiter asks you to try the wine. You’ll go through the motions and nod like you understand why you came here in the first place, but it’s all a bit of a mystery. Let me be the one to let you in on the secret…

When you’re approaching the ramp and during your arduous ascent of Mount Felt, notice what your heel is doing inside the boot. There should be a little movement. Not much, but a little. A heel that doesn’t move beckons the Coming of Blisters and Misery. A heel that moves too much beckons your boot being left stuck in cow shit while you hop around a farm track trying to keep your balance. Nobody wants to end up hiking home in footwear accidentally made from wattle and daub. Summit the top of the ramp. Survey the view. Now, walk down it and concentrate on your toes. As you descend, you don’t want your toes to hit the front of the boots. Why? Well, why would you? It sounds like a terrible way to live.

Even if you’ve found a pair of boots that you love, be that annoying customer who wants to try on another two pairs by different brands. This is like speed dating with footwear. Choose the wrong ones and it’s going to cost you money and ruin your day. Get the right ones and you’ll love them until they’re old and baggy and you fancy something new. See? Just like dating, but with boots.

Waterproofs

If the Inuit apocryphally have 50 words for snow (they don’t), then the British must have at least 7 or 8 words for rain. When I first started walking, I skimped on waterproof jackets because they were expensive – I regretted it. More recently, I’ve upped my waterproof game to include ExPed dry sacks after I walked through a cloud for three hours. My waterproofs couldn’t cope with the deluge and my phone finally died a soggy death after being subjected to 360-degree rain and a waterfall going the wrong way.

The British weather can change in minutes and you can easily find yourself exposed to the elements with very few options for shelter. A good waterproof jacket, over-trousers and dry sacks will make sure you and your equipment get home safely. Dry sacks might seem like a luxury, but even if your rucksack has one of those integrated raincovers, you’ll soon discover that they’re universally crap. There’s no misery quite like being wet and cold while you’re walking, let alone on the drive home. Trust me on this – after you’ve bought boots, this is where you need to put your money.

Walking Poles

Some people love to use walking poles because they can really help with balance and spread impact, especially on slopes. Other people say that they make you look like a bit of a tit. Those people are judgemental. Get yourself some poles if that’s what you want to do.

Headlamps

I always take a headlamp walking with me in winter, just in case I don’t make it around the walk before the sun sets. I’m also a massive fan of night walks, which bring an entirely different, majestic, awe-inspiring peacefulness to hill walking that I don’t think enough walkers experience. I’ve had a few headlamps over the years, but I currently use a Petzl REACTIK which I love. At the very least take a torch with you if there’s a chance you’ll get caught out by nightfall, but the joy of shining a light from your forehead is one that can’t be described sufficiently with words.

If you do get a headlamp, remember this: all your life you’ve been taught to look at people when they talk to you. If you’re wearing a headlamp, don’t do that. Your forehead has 220 lumens beaming out of it. How much is 220 lumens? Enough that you won’t have any friends left if you keep looking at them with the thing turned on.

Navigation

Do you know how many times I’ve been 4 miles into a 9 mile walk, my phone battery has died and, all of a sudden, I’m without the ViewRanger route I’d been relying on to get me home? Never. Not once. I always carry a battery pack with me whenever I’m outdoors and I always carry a map and a compass. I haven’t needed to use a paper map to get me home safely in 5 years, but it goes into the bag with the same assurance as the waterproofs and headlamp. Maybe I’ll never need it, but it’ll be there if I do.

You don’t want to be the lone walker sat weeping into your Camelbak reservoir harvesting tears for when you’ll need them to stave off dehydration in 3 days time. Get a map and learn how to read it. I shan’t explain how to use a map and compass here because:

  1. It’s already a very long article, isn’t it?
  2. It would require me to draw diagrams and I’m just not that confident in my ability to do it justice. I’m much more adept at tracing.
  3. Ordnance Survey have done a bloody good job of explaining it here. They even sell compasses. Compi? Compasses/compi. Whatever. Get one.

And that is all you need to get started! All that’s left is for you to point yourself in the direction of one of our astonishingly beautiful National Parks, find a decent pub for the way home, and get outside!

I hope you love it as much as I do. You never know, next time it might be me you walk past in the Peak District as you raise your hand and say “Walker ahoy!” just as all walkers do when they pass each other.

Do they really say that?

Surely not.

But everything else in the article seemed so helpful…

Maybe you should practice it in front of a mirror just in case.

“Walker ahoy!”

Mark