Tough Test For Scarpa's Top Approach Shoes
The Quest for the ultimate Cuillin Ridge footwear Is over (for me, at least).
Since about 2007 I've practically lived in Scarpa approach shoes, a journey that began with a pair of Quests and continued with various iterations of Cruxes and Zodiacs. Scarpa fit my feet and that is the single most important feature to me.
Scarpa UK sent me a pair of their top of the range Scarpa Mescalitos to test and review. Stephen Thompson arranged for the shoes (and a pair of Scarpa Marmalodas) and they arrived with the following missive;
"The Mescalito is our hero product now and frankly should be ideal for your adventures on the Ridge of the summer months so we would love to get you in a pair and get your thoughts."
After wearing them for the last 3 weeks, I feel fairly qualified to pass judgement on the Mescalitos. Three weeks might not sound long but they have been put through their paces. Their first outing was a traverse of the Cuillin Ridge in a day; this was a bit of a gamble with new footwear and not something I'd necessarily recommend, but i have worn so many pairs of Scarpa shoes that once I'd briefly worn them around the house, I was as sure as I could be that they'd be fine. I guess, in a way it was a sign of my confidence in Scarpa and their products.
Natural High. Ascending The Inaccessible Pinnacle
Two more ridge traverses followed, both with clients and over two days with a bivis up high. Each ridge is about 12 km of rugged walking and scrambling, pitches of climbing to Severe, several abseils, 22 summits including 11 Munros. The terrain is uncompromising with huge scree slopes, highly abrasive gabbro that shreds fingers, clothes and gear and each traverse includes lengthy walk ins/out that bring the total to about 19km. Each traverse also includes over 3000m of ascent so a bit of a torture test for new gear.
Additional outings have included the traverse of Clach Glas and Bla Bheinn, the Dubh Slabs/Ridge and a one to one photgraphy workshop on Sgurr na Stri. At a rough guess, the Mescalitos have covered about 100km and about 11,000m of ascent so that's what this review is based upon.
Scarpa's blurb says the Mescalitos are " a completely new suede shoe developed for technical approach routes....Mescalito is also the ideal choice for prolonged use by mountain guides and people who work in mountain.
Extremely lightweight thanks to the latest Vibram® LiteBase technology, Mescalito guarantees also a great grip thanks to the Vibram® Megagrip compound and the exclusive outsole design, with a climbing zone under the toe and the brake area on the heel. The sole ensures also an incomparable comfort given by a special EVA midsole with differentiated thickness and density areas. The upper’s materials and design ensure protection and safety during approach routes, climbing and in all mountain outdoor activities."
How do these superlatives translate into reality?
They have been worn for prolonged periods (ie 2 days carrying a reasonable sized pack with rack, rope, bivi gear etc) and work well both for simple walk ins, the sustained scrambling that typifies the Cuillin Ridge and the technical rock pitches.
Right from the word go they were comfortable and fitted like gloves, so to speak. Nimble and precise, they were ideal for the sustained Grade 3 scrambles and the technical pitches like the TD Gap.
The Vibram Megagrip certainly does the business and sticks like a certain brown stuff to blankets. The smooth "climbing zone" under the toe works well and makes for easy use of small holds and edging whilst the chunky tread provides good grip on soil, grass and the like ( a notorious failing of earlier Scarpa models like the Quests but glad to say the lesson has been learned and taken on board).
i think Scarpa have got the sole unit perfectly right with traction provided by both the grippy vibram rubber and the deep treads yet the "climbing zone" makes the shoe very suitable for technical climbing.
The overall design shows a lot of thought and nice little touches. There are very few seams visible, a thing I hate since the stitching is obviously vulnerable to being worn by the gabbro. In the past I have used superglue or Shoe Goo to plaster over stitch lines to prolong durability but can't see any need for this on the Mescalitos.
Also nice is the all encompassing, high rubber rand which not only protects vulnerable areas of the shoe but benefits by adding friction for climbing.
One small niggle with othe pairs of Scarpas has been the ease with which laces seem to self undo. Not sure if it is due to the cross sectional shape of the lace or something else but the Mescalito laces and lacing system gets top marks in my book. I might wear them relatively loose for the walk in and ascent to the ridge then tighten them up and know they will stay done up all day. Only a small thing but something that made me smile and applaud the designers.
Looking at them out of the box and reading the spec made me think these would be ideal for light and fast work, like the ridge in a day but I have to admit I was more dubious about how they'd be carrying larger loads.
Two multi day traverses later and I can confirm they are just as comfortable and supportive with a large pack for sustained periods. In fact, so much that I wore them to walk into Sgurr na Stri from Sligachan with a photography client who wanted to spend the night there for the sunset/rise. Not only did we have bivi and cooking gear, 3 litres of water, cameras and lenses but decent sized tripods with heavy heads since I used this opportunity to do some testing of the new Benro geared head. Again they were faultless with heavy loads.
The tongue system is well designed and has none of the tongue twisting round problems that earlier Scarpa approach shoes suffered from.
The big question must be how they are for durability. Considering they have done 100 km and 11,000 metres of ascent, I'd say they are holding up well but take a look at the photos taken this morning and judge for yourself. With minimal visible stitching, the high rubber rand and the overall design, these should last well (pun intended) and I look forward to much more mileage from them.
As to negatives.....well, they ain't cheap with a RRP of about £150 but there are deals around for circa £130 if you look. It's always hard to comment on value for money when you've been given something but I guess the price is fairly comparable to high end models from other manufacturers.
Footwear is probably one of the last things to scrimp on for the Cuillin Ridge and it's one of the subjects I get endless questions on. Until recently I've been recommending Scarpa Cruxes (my partner Bridgette is on her second pair and several clients in the last couple of weeks have bought them) but now I'd definitely suggest the Mescalitos. They may be a premium product but then the Cuillin Ridge is often referred to as Britain's best climb and it deserves the best.
You can look at is as a negative or a positive but the Mescalitos aren't goretex or other membrane lined so although the material is meant to be water resistant, you will get wet with muddy approaches or rain. I prefer the added breathabilty and see this as a benefit since hopefully I'll only be guiding the ridge in reasonably good weather. If things change and the forecast is wrong, it's more than likely I'll be heading down once the rock wets out.
Comfort and overall fit are great for me; your mileage may vary, as they say. But if your feet like the Scarpa design and last then these shoes should have your name on.
As to "hero product".....I'm the world's biggest coward and common sense and safety prevail but I must admit the bright colours are growing on me and I did feel a bit heroic when two guys needed help high in the Cuillin and asked "can you slow down, Adrian, so we can keep up with you. You are de Machine."
NB if bright lime green isn't your colour, they are available in Shark, a dark grey and orange.
Will be doing a review later of the Scarpa Marmolada Pro ODs and now the rain has arrived should get a chance to see how they fare under less clement weather.
Here's a link to Scarpa for all the specs etc;
Hi above Coire a Ghrunnda at the top of the TD Gap