After retiring my battle-weary pair of Boulder X’s, I was hard-pressed finding suitable replacements. At the time, neither they nor the TX4’s were available in Brisbane stores. Even so, I try to support local businesses before ordering online, so I sought another option.
The Scarpa Zen Pros were recommended to me as a viable alternative, so I took a punt on them. After putting them through their paces, I have concluded that they are quite possibly the worst approach shoes on the market. I prefer wearing almost anything else on my feet, including but not limited to clogs, stillettos, ballet slippers, ski boots, and those thongs made out of old tyres that the Viet Cong wore.
All hyperbole aside, I believe that the Scarpa Zen Pro is an inferior product. Allow me to explain.
Despite approximately 4 months of wear, the Zen Pros are not particularly comfortable and never have been. Yes, the toe is narrow, but this is typical of Scarpa design. The toebox eventually widened to the contours of my feet, so this is not my chief complaint.
Rather, my problem is with the construction, which I would describe as spartan at best. The inner padding feels spare and insubstantial, especially around the ankle. The underfoot cushion is meagre, resulting in a stride that feels like driving a heavily corrugated track in a 1950’s Land Rover. A long day in the Zen Pros leaves my feet sore and weary.
The Zen Pros lack the ability to effectively support the foot in hiking scenarios, especially when load carriage is introduced. The inadequacy of the sole and liner results in greater reliance on the musculature of the foot. I found that my toes were sometimes fatigued for days after wearing the Zen Pros.
Perhaps those with Scarpa-optimised feet might experience better all-round fit, but I found the shoes to be alternately loose and tight in all the wrong places. One scrap of praise that I do reserve for the Zen Pros is that the laces are above reproach. Steal a pair of these and put them on a pair of Boulder X’s and you’ll have a perfect shoe!
So they don’t hike well, but can they climb? I’m sorry to say it, but that’s a big nope as well. Unlike the Boulder X’s, in which I was able to climb comfortably up to about 18/5.10a, I struggled on 15-16/5.8 in the Zen Pros. The tread pattern favours hiking contexts (even though the shoe fails in this regard also) and the rubber is hard and lacks the friction of other approach shoes.
A stark comparison was provided on the approach to Mt Barney’s Leaning Peak where a series of smooth slabs must be negotiated. 3 years ago, I waltzed up the steepest of these slabs in a pair of dilapidated TX4’s. This year, I needed to have a rope thrown to me when the smearing ability of the Zen Pros filled me with profound dread. An approach shoe which can’t climb slab is a bit like a condom with air holes.
The real litmus test came soon afterward when I ditched the Zen Pros in favour of a pair of Asics trail runners while guiding on Mt Barney. Although they are not strictly designed for such a task, the Asics outperformed the Zen Pros in almost every regard. They were poorer at edging, but made up for this shortfall with improved friction, comfort and support.
The Zen Pro is a very sturdy shoe with a suede leather upper which has some real staying power. Like many other approach shoes, the weakness lies in the synthetic inner, which showed signs of deterioration within a month. The liners are also problematic, having worn right through on both sides shortly thereafter. On the plus side, the gear loops at the back are bombproof, something that the TX4 cannot lay claim to.
At 480g, the Zen Pros are up there in the heavy-weight division. That’s 110g heavier than both the TX4’s and Guide Tennies for those playing at home.
Speaking of weight, your wallet is going to be a fair bit lighter if you choose to take a pair of Zen Pros home. At $279.95 AUD RRP, they’d want to be the best shoes on the market. The problem is, they aren’t.
After committing the Zen Pros to an early retirement, I am now the proud owner of the most expensive pair of shoelaces I’ve ever purchased.
More information and specifications can be found at the Scarpa Website. This is an independent review and I earn approximately 0% or less in commissions, not that I’d be selling many off the back of this write-up!
Ryan Siacci, Esq.