Scarpa, one of the world’s best hiking boot brands, have so far not had much success breaking into the Australian trail running market so when Dan Slater got the opportunity to test out their top model, the Atom, he was intrigued as to whether they deserved a fair go.
*NOTE: this one’s for international readers or those looking to get a feel for Scarpa trail shoes in general, as this particular model is not available in AU unless you’re an online shopper with a mate in Euroland or the US. But it’s sibling, the Proton, is and will be reviewed soon by TRM.*
With a 4mm drop and base weight of 249g per shoe (size 42), the Atoms are a different beast entirely to my current chunky runners, but with those guys finally falling to shreds and a big race on the horizon, I snatched up the offer and launched into testing like Hermes knocking off the Mt. Olympus Sky Run.
I’m not sure if the name is a nod to their minimalism hut I was immediately impressed with the weight, or lack of it, especially since I would be carrying them in a backpack for a few weeks before the race. Being built around a European-style last (the Scarpa TRM) means they aren’t the widest-fitting footwear ever, duck-hoofed flappers might need to look elsewhere, but they suited my European foot well enough.
I liked the little lace pocket in the tongue, reminiscent of the classic Salomon design but for real laces, of which the Atoms came with a spare pair (I never needed them). It took my pampered pods a few kilometres to get used to the lower drop but soon I was comfortably training in the 20km range. The few miles of tarmac on the way to the dirt, however, convinced me that I’d be better off strapping frying pans on my feet and stomping around Lake Eyrie than using them on roads. The 1.4 to 1.8 cm compression moulded EVA midsole just isn’t adequate for metalled surfaces, nor is it intended to be.
The next level of testing involved a training run through The Labyrinth on Tasmania’s Overland Track. The Vibram Genesis Lite sole’s space invader-shaped lugs gripped the mud, roots and rocks just fine and the lightweight polyester mesh fabric precluded overheating. Also, a good splash about in the mud produced no ill effects. However, that same thin fabric soon began to show signs of wear. Being a clumsy clodhopper I trip up a fair amount so the toes take a beating, and after less than 100km total run time I could see the garish upper colours beneath the thin black TPU of the toe bumper, plus the gel Scarpa branding was being knocked off letter by letter. However, they were still comfortable.
Satisfied with their performance during training I decided to trust the Atoms on the NUTR, or Nui Ultra Trail Run, a 68km course around the coastline of Rapa Nui (Easter Island). It was a fantastic event but I learned that as great as lightweight minimalist shoes are on an even dirt track, the rigours of bounding over rubble strewn volcanic grasslands require slightly more supportiveness. Over the course of the day I kicked, skidded, skated and hoofed rock after porous lava rock, tripping hundreds of times and falling flat on my face on several occasions. By the finish line the uppers of both shoes were wearing through at the crease points and my plantar fascias were sore and stretched, but I was still upright and blister-free. And hell, I even won!
So, with roughly half a million trail shoes on the market to choose from, do Scarpas deserve consideration for your next shoe purchase? Absolutely. Here’s the thing – the Atoms aren’t currently available in Australia. What? I’ve just wasted five minutes of your precious time? Well, not quite. Given the choice now I would probably plump for the new Scarpa Proton anyway. It’s similar in many ways (welded upper, lace pocket, polyester mesh) but sits a little further along the weight/durability scale, and while the Atom is a good minimalist choice for even distances, the Proton boasts a fat 10mm drop and a full Vibram Genesis sole with more cushioning and deeper lugs. The weight compromise is almost 100g but let’s face it – unless you are going to carry them on your back for several weeks, that’s not a huge issue. I’ll personally be sticking to a bigger drop on longer runs from now on.
Great for: mid- to long-distance even trails; running travellers/travelling runners
Not-so-great for: rubble strewn south pacific volcanoes; tarmac
Test Conditions: Centennial Park circuit; The Overland Track; Easter Island; 263km total
Tester: Dan Slater, organiser, sole runner and reigning champion of the NUTR
Tester Mechanics: slight pronator; heel striker; narrow foot
VITALS: Scarpa Proton – $259.95/$229.95 Gore/Non-Gore