User Review: Scarpa Men's SL M3
Materials: Sherpa Leather
Use: Winter survival camping, spring and fall bushwhacking, summer camping and thrutrips
Break-in Period: 2-3 weeks
Price Paid: $210
I was unsure of purchasing a boot over the internet in part due to the old adage of "try it before you buy it." Unfortunately I live in an area where the only 'hiking boots' available are Wal-Mart brand (shudder).
So after months (literally) of web shopping, I narrowed down my choice to the Asolo TPS and the Scarpa SL M3. Loving the Sherpa leather and European sizes (you can literally chose among centimeters), I went with Scarpa. After three returns to get the perfect size (toes don't hit the front, no heel play, etc), I settled on a 44.5 and couldn't be happier.
BREAKING IN/FIRST THOUGHTS
Initially the sole, being nice stiff Vibram, gave me a little heel lift during the break-in process. I was concerned I might have bought a $200 blister maker but after a week or so the sole was worked in and no more play is evident. The leather-lined tongue and cuff prevent abrasion (like the older version fabric-lined ones did - I know because one of my returns was one) though they do promote sweating a bit more.
The full leather outer was beautiful to say the least. I always loathed those Gore-tex/tennis shoe hybrids with fabric patches left and right. I also knew the more stitches under the cuff meant more places for water penetration. I'm not the kind of guy to take a bridge when there is a perfectly good sandbar to wade across so waterproofness was key.
I took the liberty of purchasing Nixwax spray-on waterproofing at the time of my boot purchase, just because the Scarpa L M3 does not have a waterproof rating due to lack of Gore-Tex (since when did Gore-tex become the gold standard?).
A good rule of thumb for ankle support is to take the boot and try to bend the cuff left and right; good support resists the bend, poor support moves freely. Now, although I wanted sufficient ankle support for extended trips with a heavy pack, the 'articulated ankle support' design fails in this respect. If the 2.9mm leather outer extended to the cuff instead of breaking into what it is, the boot would've been perfect. As it is, it offered a little too much play. HOWEVER, after getting used to it and extensively devoting my pack to a minimalist practice, the articulated cuff is actually a godsend. :)
TRIALS AND TESTING
I made numerous day trips to the top of a 3,000' "mountain" which entailed sandy two tracks, stream crossings, rocky ascents/descents, and rough inclined trails with plenty of trail obstacles. I've done the same trip in tennis shoes and by the time I get back to the vehicle the soles of my feet would be screaming.
The Vibram sole of the Scarpas certainly fixed this problem. They also resisted water penetration during the stream crossings and bushwhacking. I didn't carry a pack on these trips so ankle support was negligible. With the closing of the fall season, it was time for some winter tests. I wore these boots every day to classes (a 15 min hike to campus) in snow, sleet and rain... eventually in ice and salted roads... and never did my feet grow cold or wet.
Eventually I got into winter survival camping and which boot did I grab? The Scarpa. Numerous day trips snowshoeing into the bush with just a wool blanket, titanium pot, and belt knife would've given me some painfully frozen feet if the Scarpas were not as bombproof as they were. I never (NEVER) had water penetration through the boot body nor snow infiltration through the cuff (great form fit).
I wore two layers of wool socks and my feet never got cold during the day or throughout the night. They also did not 'freeze up' when I took them off at night, overnight, and put them on the next morning. This shows the leather did not absorb any water enough to freeze or cause stiffness. Let me emphasize that it was at least 3 months of daily use since I last applied the Nixwax so the Sherpa leather is bombproof.
The boots are heavier than most, yes, but they are underrated even by their maker. They are listed as three-season (I have experience to prove they are four, down to -20F), they are not listed as waterproof (I have stood on the crest of a waterfall collecting water for 20 minutes and the water still beads), and they are toted as 1.8kg when after you get used to them, you barely notice and certainly don't feel like you're wearing hiking boots.
They are the most comfortable hiking boots I have ever owned and I've only received one hotspot during the break-in period. So long as you get the right size and take time to break them in, they are as comfortable as your favorite running shoes.