Six months ago I received a call from a friend in the outerwear industry. He let me know that Scarpa had sold 3,000 of their Kailash GTX to the Army, with the bulk going to Rangers and SF guys, and asked if I was interested in reviewing a pair. Not a hard question for me to answer, I was more than a little interested.
I set the parameters for this review to cover a few different things. They needed to be comfortable under heavy loads, while crossing streams, in the snow, in sand under long hikes and while being worn for extended periods. Unlike boots that people pick up to look good, those of us who live and fight in boots have a different appreciation for footwear. With that in mind, the review got started. We also wore this boot while doing lots of shooting, it wouldn't be much of a Military Times review if we left that out.
Click the picture for our 6 month review, and of course, lots of pictures.
I'll start with the basics. The Scarpa Kailash GTX is listed as a medium weight boot built for abuse while offering maximum comfort according to the Scarpa website. Materials are listed as:
- Upper: Suede
- Lining: Gore-Tex – Performance Comfort
- Insole: Comfort-Flex
- Midsole: PU/EVA
- Sole: Vibram Hi-Trail Lite
- Last: BX
- Sizes: 38 - 47, 48 (half sizes)
- Weight: 630g; 1lbs 6oz
- Color Pepper/Stone, Smoke/Anthracite
Straight out of the box, there were no loose seams, extra thread, extra adhesives or areas that showed obvious defect. I twisted and pulled on the boot from various angles to see if there would be any popping or ripping noises, but the boots appeared unimpressed with my efforts. I ran my hands through the inside of the boots to check for any sharp spots or areas of excess material that would create pressure points, but found that to be clean as well. After 6 months of use, the insides are still the same and no pressure points have developed.
Starting at the toe, the rand covers the front nicely and is a textured black material which has decent grip. While these boots might not be designed for rock climbing, they show the heritage of Scarpa as these work well enough for climbing with toe hooks. The Vibram sole wraps up the front to give added protection to the boot when you are kicking into rocks, concrete, and other things that skulk about in the dark. At the 6 month mark, the toes are a little scratched up from some class 4 climbs, but you have to look for the wear. This has held up nicely.
Moving up we find the eyelets riveted securely into the suede, with a backing on the inside so the rivet isn't creating pressure or cold points against your foot. The laces are round and the eyelet layout allows for securely locking your foot into place, without causing undue pressure or stress against the foot or ankle. The top two eyelets are "hooked" to allow quicker lacing and unlacing, while the rest are fully enclosed as you would expect. The third eyelet from the top is nylon, and pulls from back farther along the ankle, which aids in ankle support. I've had rivets and speed laces break and rip out on other boots, but at this point, they look the same as when they came out of the box, nor problems at all, and these appear to be both securely in the boot, and highly durable.
The side of the Scarpa Kailash GTX are suede, appear to be treated with a water repellent, and initially shed water quickly in rain or walking through wet vegetation. However, the outer suede isn't what is designed to keep your feet dry, which is a good thing as eventually they darken up and absorb water. The inner Gore-Tex liner extends all the way up to the eyelet second from the top. The tongue comes all the way up to this point as well, so standing in 4 or 5 inches of water isn't going to get your feet wet. This far into our testing, the boot is still waterproof, and breaths nicely. You pay more for a Gore-Tex boot, but its well worth it when conditions turn ugly and you aren't going to be getting into fresh boots or socks for a long time. One thing I've heard hikers say is that leather tends to stay wet longer than its manmade counterparts. I don't doubt this is true, but I feel the increased abrasion resistance is worth it, especially when you've got a Gore-Tex liner that is keeping your feet dry anyway.
The back of the Kailash GTX is covered with the same brushed black material that envelops the toe rand. This works nicely for heel hooks which may or may not be something you do on a regular basis. The back of the boot in the upper section is flexible, so anyone working with an Achilles tendon injury should be happy. For those of us who do not have that injury, its still a welcome feature as boots that ride up too high in back end up getting unused. The stabbing pain on a long hike is no joy, and I've had a few boots that should have been built this way.
Under the boot you are walking on Vibram soles. The inner sole is "comfort-flex" and the mid sole is "PU/EVA". PU (polyurethane) and EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate) are both types of foam which give cushion when your feet impact the ground. The PU is more dense, while the EVA is lighter. Using both materials allows Scarpa the ability is tailor the product for its intended user. As your feet impact the ground, the PU/EVA is providing cushion for not only your feet, but your knees, hips and lower back. Think of how your feet feel if you are standing on concrete all day versus how they feel if you are walking on grass or something else cushioned. Six months of wear was not enough to show any break down or wear on these parts. The Vibram sole functioned well in mud, dust and fine sand, coarse sand and gravel, dirt, rocks and even snow. While crossing streams and on algae and mossy rocks, they weren't magic, but did as well as any other boot sole I've used.
I had read that these boots did not require a break in period, and after wearing them around the house to check proper size and fit, I figured I would find out if that were true or not. My initial trek with these boots was to Mount St. Helens. I started with the Ape Caves, which are lava tunnels . The lower section of the tunnels (lower cave) was done first, which is primarily walking on rock until you get to the end, which puts you crawling on your hands and knees, and then low crawling until you have had enough. The hike in is only 3/4 of a mile, and the walk back rounds it out to 1.5 miles. Moving into the upper cave there is a dramatic change in conditions. No more smooth even floor, now you are crawling and climbing up and over massive boulders.
I know that a lot of the guys reading this have gone into caves, both for fun and to hunt our nation's enemy. Caves and tunnels have a lot of loose debris, and there tends to be a lot of crawling over rock that can tear up boots pretty quickly. The Scarpa Kailash GTX protected my feet and ankles and were comfortable straight out of the box. Even walking on rock for a few miles (combining both trails), my feet felt fine. Following Ape Caves, I hit a few trails which were typical dirt and rock, and then moved up farther on the mountain. We started with no snow, but hit the snow line quickly. The angle of approach varied quite a bit as you would expect on a mountain. Regardless of whether I was moving up or down hill, my feet felt locked in place, and there was no sliding around in the boots. The Kailash GTX on my feet have a wide toe box, so although the boots lace up tight, they still feel comfortable.
After the above trip, I did a few different hikes around the mountains, with several of these coming through small streams. This gave me a chance to test out how waterproof the boots were in a field environment. Testing the boots in the kitchen sink is nice, but the tap water resistance test doesn't give us a picture of real world performance. The good news is that the Kailash GTX kept my feet dry at all times. Stream beds provide multiple types of terrain quickly. From large 20' boulders that needed to be climbed over, to smaller 2" and 3" sizes, the sides, toe and heel of the boots got a workout. The rivers obviously provide water, but gravel and powdery fine sand are also in abundance in some areas. For anyone who has ever been in Kuwait or southern Iraq, you know what fine sand is like. The powder gets into everything, and walking on it can be a pain. No blisters or rubbing while hiking in these conditions either. All of this was done while wearing the new Tactical Tailor "Extended Operator" pack, with some trips being light weight 20lbs loads, and others in the 50-60lbs range.
Later testing brought me up to Mount Rainier, and its heavy snow as you can see in some of the below images. Heavy snow may be an understatement as conditions went from clear to 20' visibility in short order on one trip. I did a little training and dug a snow shelter, and it was an overall good hike. The Kailash GTX not only kept my feet dry, but also surprisingly warm for an unisulated boot. I was wearing cold weather socks and staying mobile which provided some warmth and insulation. But, the work my feet were doing produced sweat, and wet feet get cold fast. So, the real reason my feet stayed warm was thanks to the Kalish's Gore-Tex membrane. It moved that sweat away from my foot before it had a chance to get my feet cold.
Most of what I did with these boots was not in heavy snow, but on at least on one day the snow was past my waist. Another visit took me into abandon mineshafts. The shafts went back and forth between slightly wet, and 4 or 5 inches of water. No problems noted in keeping my feet dry, even though the boots were spending time submerged.
I wore armor and shot while wearing these boots. They fit well, and even though I shot mainly in rain and snow, my feet stayed dry. Not having to worry about your feet is nice, and its something that I quickly grew accustomed to. Aside from the above, these boots did more mundane tasks like driving, shopping, and the other tasks we all do on a daily basis. While these are certainly less glamorous, they serve a purpose, and the boots were comfortable in this role as well.
The Scarpa Kailash GTX hug my feet without being too tight. They keep my feet dry and comfortable regardless of snow or water, and are comfortable in all conditions. They have held up to abusive conditions, and have come away unscathed. Its hard to make a call in footwear, because what is perfect for me might not be whats is going to fit your feet. However, I have no reservations about saying the Scarpa Kailash GTX are the best hiking type boots I've ever worn. If you got these issued to you, you already know what I mean. If not, the Kailash GTX are very worth checking, even if its for off duty wear.