Ski Boot Review: Scarpa F3 and Scarpa Spirit 4
With the recent epic snowfalls combo'd with surprisingly consistent sunny skis so far this winter, it just may THE winter for backcountry shredding. Backcountry regular Lee Lau gave two popular Scarpa boots a run for their money, and here's what he has to say about them. Words & photos by Lee Lau, unless otherwise indicated. Enjoy.
Scarpa is an Italian company with considerable experience with ski boots, both in alpine touring and in telemark. I was given two new entries to their boot lineup to review. The Scarpa Spirit 4 is a four buckle alpine touring boot biased to downhill performance while the Scarpa F3 is a three buckle alpine touring boot biased towards uphill and touring performance.
As an initial comment, the design philosophies of these boots are evolutionary but yield a bias towards increasing weight in boots. The Spirit 4 (1870g per boot) is a four buckle version of the Scarpa Spirit 3 (1760g). In contrast, the F3 (1470g per boot) builds on the Scarpa F1 (1345g), a very light, mature design of Scarpa that was originally intended as a specialty product for the randonee race/light and fast crowd but which has also been used by finesse skiers to scale and ski significant technical objectives.
Interior of the Scarpa F3. Note the exposed rivets and the lack of a hard stop in the shell interior
As in my previous review of the Dynafit Zzero 4 carbon boot I will provide impressions of the boot's skiing and touring ability by comparing these two boots against other boots that I have recently used; the Garmont Mega-Ride (1650g), and the Dynafit Zzero 4 carbon boot with thermofit liner (1585g). The Garmont MegaRide in particular is a four-buckle Dynafit compatible boot veteran now into its fourth year and serves as an adequate baseline for subjective impressions.
I will not review the technical features of the boots or boot-fitting in detail. I intend to concentrate more on the subjective feel aspect as opposed to quantitative measures.
I skied the Scarpa Spirit 4 with Salomon Pocket Rockets 185cms mounted with Dynafit Verticals and the Scarpa F3s with Movement Red Apples 177 cms mounted with Dynafit TLTs. Both boots were used over a period of 4 days of ski touring in a variety of conditions including inbounds groomers, cut-up powder and spring slush on a ski-hill. They were also used in spring corn conditions and in dense wet heavy snow ski-touring. Unfortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to try the boots in powder snow.
Intuition liner are OE with the Scarpa F3. Note the ribbed soles (for grip). These are slightly lower then the Scarpa Spirit 4 liner and are of similar construction to Intuition's "Alpine" liner.
I have ski-toured for about 12 years, starting out on leather telemark boots and three-pin bindings and have since migrated/evolved towards alpine touring setups consisting of Fritschi Diarmir Freerides and Dynafits with a variety of skis. My touring time mostly consists of day-trips, weekend multi-day trips and two or three multi-day traverses during a season.
I weigh 160 lbs and ski mainly in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia in the Vancouver/Whistler/Squamish area. Local mid-winter snow is usually of the higher water - content variety therefor necessitating bigger skis and bigger boots. Because of this, for almost all the tours I do, I would trade downhill performance for uphill performance.
Now that I have my biases out of the way, on to the review.
Side profiles of (from left to right): Garmont Mega Ride, Scarpa Spirit 4, Dynafit Zzero4 Carbon
Both the Scarpas have traditional alpine touring boot construction. They have overlapping cuffs, a tongue and a vibram-covered rockered sole with an articulated walk mode in the heel. Both are made of Pebax plastic with the Spirit 4 using a dual-density plastic construction. Both boots have a dual forward lean mechanism, the Spirit 4 having +19 and + 23 degree forward leans while the F3's forward lean is taller befitting its touring bias (+15 and + 20 degree forward lean).
The Scarpa F3 has the more traditional flipped lever to engage walk or ski mode. The Spirit 4s have a rotating lever to accomplish the same task. Both levers are easy to operate with gloved hands. Both levers didn't engage inadvertently when booting around in snow.
The Spirit 4 has a remarkably astute concession to the "frankenboot" crowd who, for a long time, have resorted to various modifications to tune alpine boots to their own taste. It comes with two different tongues - the green softer tongue is very soft and is meant to be used when touring comfort is the priority and when a little more ankle flex is appreciated. The black stiff tongue is very stiff and stiffens up the boot's forward lean substantially. The tongues can be swapped without using tools.
Another nice feature from Scarpa is the use of allen bolts in the Spirit 4s buckle mounting hardware. There's now no need to use drills to remove riveted buckles. The F3 has the more traditional riveted mounting hardware used by almost all other boots.
Both boots use a combination of standard notched buckles (the Spirit 4 having two lower notched buckles and the F3 one ankle notched buckle). Those notched buckles can be left loose and are slightly cammed so they don't flick open when booting around in soft snow. Both the Spirit 4 and the F3 have a feature that I wish other boot manufacturers would adopt i.e. a buckle that engages over one's ankle. Scarpa's forefoot buckle placement helps hold the heel down and .... well, feels right.
My only complaint is that Scarpa still continues to use ribbed buckles. These kinds of buckles offer the conveniance of more range of adjustment but the ribs tend to break down over time, so that the buckles slip. Having said that, in my old telemark boots, these buckles admittedly lasted over 100 days, so keep in mind that this is a minor gripe.
The Spirit 4 has a hard stop in the interior of the shell to limit forward flex. The F3 has no such hard stop.
Both boots have uncovered rivets in the boot shell. Do yourself a favour and put something over those rivets before using the boots in the field to help protect your liners. I use duct-tape but I'd like to see boot manufacturers covering up those rivets as a standard feature.
Both the Scarpa Spirit 4 and the Scarpa F3 use the remarkable Intuition liner as original equipment. I first used Intuition liners (stock Intuition "Alpine" liners) when the OE G-fit liners in my Garmont MegaRides packed out. I cannot say enough about the immediate improvement in fit, warmth and performance offered by the Intuition liners.
The Scarpa - specific Intuition liner has a few tweaks from stock Intuition liners. The Spirit 4 liners have slightly less foam on the sole so that they can be molded with footbeds and also have a velcro'ed pad attached to the rear of the liner which can presumably be removed to help customize fit. The F3 liners are a bit shorter then the stock Intuition liners. Both the Spirit 4 and the F3 liners have grip on the bottom of the soles - a concession to using liners as walk-around boots in huts.
My wide, flatfooted "Asian" feet have never been able to fit Scarpas without some serious boot modifications. Lasers, F1's, Denalis, all in the correct shell size, have all pinched my toes and forefoot. Much to my surprise, this was not the case with the Scarpa Spirit 4s and F3s. I didn't mold the liners but still managed to tour on them for a significant amount of time without getting hot spots. I would like to think that if I had molded the Intuition liners that this good fit would have become very good given my past experience with the exceptional moldability of Intuitions.
I am a big fan of the positioning of the third buckle around the ankle in what Scarpa calls the "heel retention system". I have very flat feet with almost no arch and it seems to help the foot lock down into the boot. As another data point, my wife who has very prominent arches prefers the more conventional buckles over forefoot as the ankle buckle places too much strain on her ankles.
Although I did not use that feature, note that both the Spirit 4 and F3 have cant adjustments for further custom-fitting.
Although not strictly a fit issue, note that the Spirit 4 and F3 have the Dynafit toe mounts slightly back from the tip of the toe - ostensibly to help create a more natural stride. The boot sole length on a Garmont Megaride was 310mm, on a Dynafit Zzero boot 307mm and on the Spirit 4 and F3 305mm (all 27.0 shell sizes). The adjustments on a Dynafit Comfort or Vertical heelpiece will accomodate these slight differences but the minimal adjustment on a TLT heelpiece might mean that bindings need to be remounted.
From left to right: Scarpa Spirit 4 Intuition liner, Dynafit Zzero4 TF multiformliner and stock Intuition "Alpine" liner
How do they ski?
Not very well ..... for me
I've got some bad habits and I know it - still use a little too much forefoot pressure, not quite centred on the ski, can get backseat in certain situations, have a tendency to drop the back hand, shoulders not always as square to the fall-line as I'd like ...... list goes on. I've seen too many good skiers knock off aggressive peaks in Scarpa F1s and other soft slippers to realize that often its the carpenter and not the tools. In my case, I'm the kind of skier who needs a relatively beefy boot when snow conditions are poor. On predictable snow (ie groomers - no chance to test the boots in powder) I am fine in the Scarpa F3's. When conditions are not quite as good (refrozen crud, breakable crust, sloppy spring snow), I get knocked around too and can't stay centred adequately to feel completely comfortable in Scarpa F3s. To recap, the F3 skied like a slightly beefier F1. It is softer then a Scarpa Laser, and softer then the three buckle Dynafit Zzero 3 and requires a balanced, centred stance.
Note also that the bellows on the F3 mean that shims have to be installed on a ski in order to use the Scarpa F3 as the boot sole will actually bend as you pressure your foot into turns, possibly resulting in pre-releases from a binding. Installing the shim will give the bootsole a platform on which to rest as it bends. You will need a shim for every ski on which you use the F3 boot.
I am told by Scarpa that they now are providing a shim which can be installed on Dynafit binding crampon mounts without requiring one to drill holes in a ski. This will allow the boots to be used without requiring permanent installation of shims on the ski.
The F3 can only be used with Dynafit bindings.
Scarpa Spirit 4.
This is a confidence - inspiring boot to ski. I was surprised to not feel that much of a difference going downhill between the black stiff tongue and soft green touring tongue. Perhaps this is because the entire boot is fairly stiff, perhaps it's because the boot seems so balanced? Certainly I felt a lot of confidence descending slopes with Spirit 4s on my feet. Despite the presence of a hard stop in the shell interior, the boot has a smooth progressive flex. With the Spirit 4, Scarpa's designers seem to have achieved that oh-so-hard to quantify sweet spot in downhill performance.
To compare, the Spirit 4 with the either the green or black touring tongue felt at least as stiff and as comfortable in the downhills as a Garmont MegaRide modified with an Intution liner. However, neither boot has the lateral stiffness of the Dynafit ZZero 4 buckle carbon.
The Spirit 4 can be used with Dynafit, Fritschi, Naxo, Dukes, Silvrettas and other uni-compatible bindings.
How do they tour?
The F3 tours and bootpacks well as expected. It's light so this good performance should not be a surprise. I didn't find the bellows to perceptibly add efficiency to my stride in flats or slight uphills. I did find the bellows to help when bootpacking snow and scrambling rock. Unlike the Scarpa F1, the F3 doesn't have the free-floating cuff, which I found to add an appreciable length to a touring stride. Basically, even if you slacken off the powerstrap and loosen the top buckle the F3 doesn't seem to significantly add efficiency in skinning.
Scarpa Spirit 4
You wouldn't expect a boot this heavy or powerful to tour so well, yet it does. Scarpa used quite a bit of dual density plastic in the boot shell, which was meant to tune stiffness and softness in all the right places. I don't know whether it's their judicious use of dual density plastic, some magic in the walk mechanism or the softness in tongue or sole, but I didn't notice the Spirit 4's weight or heft on on the skin track.
I did not do much hiking in the Spirit 4 but what hiking on rocks I did showed that the Spirit 4 hiked about as well as a big, relatively stiff boot can be expected to hike.
The black stiff tongue and the green soft touring tongues come with the Spirit 4.
It's a trite observation that the Scarpa Spirit 4 and the F3 are different boots for different skiers for different conditions. Given my preferences and where I ski (heavy coastal snow), the Scarpa F3 doesn't fit my needs. Frankly if I wanted a boot for situations and tours where I knew snow would be light, downhills wouldn't be challenging and where I had a lot of flat approaches I would get the F1 over the F3. If I wanted a boot for technical downhills, I wouldn't get the F3. Given my particular biases and preferences, I wouldn't have the need for the F3.
Despite its weight, the sheer comfort of walking and touring in the Spirit 4 combined with its beautifully balanced downhill performance makes it an appealing one boot quiver. Scarpa has hit a home run with this boot in terms of the trade-off between uphill and downhill. Unless you're a big hard charger who straightlines Alaskan faces, this is plenty of boot.
* Relatively light
* Very comfortable touring and bootpacking boot
* Tremendous liner
* Matches up nicely with light skis in predictable snow
* Requires installing a shim on your skis (solved by new Scarpa shim coming Jan. 2008)
* Not as light as the lightest touring-biased boots (eg. Scarpa F1)
* Does not have the Scarpa F1 "touring cuff"
* Requires finesse and balanced stance for difficult conditions
Scarpa Spirit 4
* Superior tourability among the 4 buckle boot class
* Easily customizable
* Tremendous liner
* Will comfortably drive even big skis
* Relatively heavy
* Ribbed buckles are of questionable durability
* Clunky when hiking
Other useful links:
Scarpa North America (annoying flash pages do not allow direct links to Scarpa F3 and Scarpa Spirit - look at drop-down menus for the product descriptions)
Lou Dawson's review of the Scarpa Spirit 4
Tetongravity.com forums - AT Boot Flex Comparative List by Model
Tetongravity.com forums - AT Boot weights and other information
The boots in use
F3 on a bootpack in the Duffy Lake area ~picture by Pat Mulrooney
Spirit 4 on Kokanee Glacier