Often, tweener products are a bit of a letdown. Jack of all trades, master of none, and all that. Burly trail runners are often a chore to run in, but not tough enough for serious mountain duty. Lightweight boots can be more cumbersome than they need to be, while not offering the protection their size would suggest. Initially, I wondered if the Scarpa Zodiac Plus GTX, which is a bit of a mountaineering boot meets lightweight hiker, would feel like a middle-of-the-road, “meh,” offering.

Not even close.

This is a serious boot for serious duty that manages the difficult-to-achieve feat of being comfortable and pliable enough for undemanding day hikes while also being rigid enough for sketchy scrambles and bad terrain. It’s waterproofed with Gore-Tex and a water-shedding suede outer layer, boasts a midsole that’s stiffened with PU but also cushioned with EVA foam, and everything sits above the Spiderman-approved grip of Vibram outsoles with big, wide spaces between lugs that have a terrific bite.

These are boots meant for off-trail adventuring. Scrambling. Peakbagging. I’ve been using them locally to bash through and over broken granitic rock on the way to hard-to-reach creeks, and in the Sierra on loose rock trails, granite that’s slick as ice, and down chunder-y, steep slopes that would pose traction problems for every other boot I own. Even pucker-inducing dropoffs next a talus-covered trail were strode through with confidence. They’re also wrapped with a tough rubber strip around the toe box, offering great protection.

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Scarpa uses a sock-like tongue/liner that helps the boot wrap around your foot, and with laces winding nearly to your toes, the boots fit securely, while not feeling constrictive. They boast a fairly wide toebox and my slightly wider-than-average size 12 feet fit nicely in the boots without sliding around or being crushed. The ankle collar is comfy and soft while still maintaining loads of support.

Support, in fact, is the overwhelming theme of this boot. It’s a stable, secure, and very rigid boot, while being just flexible enough to not cause my any foot strain. The stiffer PU portion of the midsole is concentrated at the heel, so you will feel that rigidity and stiffness at the back of the boot, primarily. These definitely are not a cushy-soft hiker. But while scrambling up or down loose rock, you want the stiff, solid platform the Zodiacs build under your feet.

The waterproofing is about as good as it gets. Between the water-shedding suede uppers and the Gore-Tex liner, water doesn’t stand a chance. Which of course invites breathability concerns, but as opposed to a full-grain leather upper, the suede actually lets your feet dump a little heat. Even after long days in warm weather, I haven’t noticed excessive foot sweat, and haven’t developed anything close to a hot spot or blister. Right out of the box, they were ready for big mile days, too.

While they’d perform just fine, these aren’t the boots for short, uncomplicated day hikes. They feel like little Detroit Lockers for your feet (that’s some 4×4 humor). They’re some of the most confidence-inspiring boots I’ve laced up in quite some time. The boots look and feel very well put-together and I’ve little doubt they’ll still be in service many years from now. I’ve seen reviews that complained of poor rubber on some of the outsoles, but that hasn’t been an issue whatsoever with my testers after dozens of miles in a variety of terrain. The stiffness in the heel can take a little getting used to, but I’ve found the boots to have all-day comfort.

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If you’re looking for a tough boot that’s lightweight while still providing plenty of grip and stiffness, and don’t mind the rigidity of a boot meant for light mountaineering, this would be a great choice.

$187 • BUY

More tough but light options

The Salewa Mountain Trainer Mid GTX boasts the same approach shoe feel with backpacking chops as the Zodiacs, at a similar weight and price. $250

Asolo’s Fugitive GTX boots have been around in many iterations for years, with good reason. Tough, long-lasting, high-performing. $255

Salomon X Alp MTN GTX boot is a forgettable name, but a boot built for above-treeline adventures at the same sub-3 pound weight per pair as the Zodiacs. $224