“THE LAND ROVER DEFENDER OF BOOTS”
Scarpa have been making innovative, handmade footwear since they founded the company in Northern Italy in 1938. You would assume then, that by now they would know a thing or two about crafting a good boot. And you’d be right.

Scarpa footwear is known for legendary comfort and durability. The company has also been tireless in their pursuit of innovation, with a long list of pioneering achievements including developing the worlds first Gore-Tex boot.

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My SL’s on the summit of Frenchman’s Cap

Over the past 6 months I’ve been testing the Scarpa SL Activ, which is an updated version of the best selling SL M3. They’ve modernised it, including memory foam surrounding the heel, a one piece Sherpa leather upper and a Vibram biometric sole. These features, combined with Scarpa’s legendary performance, create the Land Rover Defender of Boots. The SL Activ will handle just about anything you can throw at it.

The first extended test of these boots was on the Frenchman’s Cap track, in South West Tasmania. As we set off, they were very comfortable (despite not really wearing them in for more than a few day & overnight trips beforehand) and incredibly reliable in the grip department. When we began the trip the weather was perfect. Little did we know, that over the next three days, we would experience 90 percent of the water that we were likely to see over the course of our entire lives.

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Walking through days of water in SW Tassie

Grip in the wet is phenomenal. Slippery rocks, mud, ice, snow, hail. Not once did I feel like I was going to lose my footing. By the beginning of day three, I had accepted that it was my lot in life to be constantly wet. Water found its way inside my rain jacket, my water proof pants, my mid and base layers. But never in the boots. Not one drop. (Paired with gaiters). They also breathe really well. My feet never felt too warm or cold, despite Tasmania’s single digit temperatures and excessive precipitation.

I’m a climber and I love approach shoes. Why? Because I love jumping around on rocks. I can’t help myself. But I dislike rock hopping in hiking boots, because that’s about as easy as trying to land a helicopter on the back of a greased dolphin. The SL Activ inspires confidence and one particularly awesome feature of these boots is the soft leather that surrounds your ankle bone. This allows you  o tightly lace the boots, but gives you more ankle flexibility without compromising support. So you can jump from rock to rock all day long. The sole unit is stiff & supportive, which had been very welcome when carrying a heavy pack for multiple days over rough uneven terrain. I’ve mentioned it before, but the quality of workmanship found in these boots is really quite impressive. The finish is immaculate and its very difficult to fault them.

Specs:
Upper: Sherpa HS12® leather
Lining: Cocona
Insole: Activ
Midsole: Dual density PU
Sole: Vibram® Biometric
Last: BD
Sizes: 41 – 47, 48, 49, 50 (half-sizes)
Weight: 860g; 1lb 14oz (1/2 pair size 42)

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Testing both the waterproofing & grip in Lamington National Park, QLD

Features:
The SL Activ is cut from a single piece of leather. This means there are no seams and that’s one less spot for water to infiltrate your boot. Scarpa also go above and beyond to insure that quality remains paramount. They select the very best section of leather from the hide. Then they impregnate it with a special silicone, that enhances its natural water resistant properties. There is no Gore-Tex or waterproof membrane in this boot, but that’s a good thing. Your feet can breathe and as a result of this they stay warm and dry. Scarpa recommends that you treat them with Sno Seal (or a similar product) straight out of the box. So I did and the results were tremendously successful. During 3 days of solid Tasmanian rain, not one drop found its way inside. We hiked to Frenchman’s Cap, which was very similar to hiking in a small cold river. The only time water managed to infiltrate the warm cocoon of Italian ingenuity that surrounded my feet, waswhen I had to completely submerge them in several feet of water. Even then, the discomfort was minimal and soon the lining of the boot soaked it up.

A Cocona lining takes care of any moisture (& smell) keeping you warm and dry. Memory foam surrounds the heel and sole, cushioning your feet from rugged terrain. These boots are very comfortable straight out of the box. A soft insert of black leather cradles your ankle bone, which allows you to tightly lace the boots without sacrificing ankle mobility and support. There’s wiggle room for your toes as well. The laces are guided through a micro pulley system and can be locked off with minimal effort.

To cap it off, under foot grip & support is taken care of by a Vibram Biometric sole, reinforced with a TPU plastic shank. The grip these boots have is phenomenal. Even in the wettest of conditions you never feel like you’re about to lose traction. They also perform admirably in the snow. And the mud. And walking to the shops. If you really want to get serious, they are also C1 Crampon compatible.

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Why jump over puddles when you can plow right through them? On the way to Frenchman’s Cap

Conclusion:
I really don’t have anything bad to say about these boots. When scuffed, the boots fade to a light burgundy colour. Some people may not like it, but I feel it helps the boots stand out in a boring world of dark brown. They retail around the $500 mark, which for some people may sound about as much fun as pushing a wardrobe up a fire escape. But you do get what you pay for. An Italian craftsman lovingly hand crafted these boots for you and if you take care of them, they’ll last you for years.

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REVIEW: SCARPA SL ACTIV
Fit & Size90%
Comfort95%
Grip90%
Support90%
Durability90%
Value80%
PROs
  • Comfortable & easy to wear in
  • Stiff supportive sole & very durable
  • Great at keeping your feet dry
CONs
  • The leather scuffs easily, might annoy some people?
  • Slightly warm in hot/humid environments
  • No womens SL Activ… yet
90%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (98 Votes)
17%

About The Author

Kai Pantano

Kai Pantano is seeker of adventure, with a background in rock climbing and hiking. He is passionate about exploration and maintains a borderline obsessive interest in outdoor gear. Kai has worked as a model for Patagonia, Sea To Summit, Arc’teryx and Scarpa, journeying throughout Australia, New Zealand and beyond, testing out the best gear he can get his hands on and enjoying the freedom of the wild.

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