Scarpa Spark Review

Last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing the Scarpa Pursuit, a rugged 12+ ounce trail shoe built in more traditional trail shoe style. This winter Scarpa released their first shoe encompassing what they term the “mountain minimal” concept, the Scarpa Spark ($115). To quote Spark designer Mark Matthews:

To us, mountain minimal is where minimalism meets reality, and strikes a balance between traditional running shoe construction and a “barefoot” design philosophy. Our mountain minimal products are light and agile, but still manage to deliver on the critical performance areas of traction, protection and cushioning. We spend a lot of time on technical trails here in the Rockies and elsewhere, and in our opinion, some of the “barefoot” and minimal products in the market just don’t deliver in these areas.

A completely different animal than the Pursuit, the Spark weighs in just under 10 ounces for my size US men’s 9.5 and, with a 6mm heel drop, encompasses that middle ground between minimalism and a durable training shoe.

Scarpa Spark

The SCARPA spark.

Scarpa Spark Upper

Trail runners love fit comparisons, but I’m usually loathe to make them due to each runner having their own preferences and feel for shoes. But if I had to compare the fit of the Spark to other shoes I would say that it fits like the Brooks Cascadia 7 (review) with a bit of Saucony Peregrine (review) thrown in. What I mean is that the Scarpa retains a wide fit throughout much of the upper ending in a nice wide toe box. I don’t consider myself to have wide feet and the Spark felt like an old lazy boy; pleasantly comfortable and maybe a tiny bit sloppy on the burly downhill terrain. Runners with wide or full-volume feet will really appreciate this upper.

Scarpa Spark lateral upper

The Scarpa Spark's lateral upper.

A rugged dual-density mesh is supported by seven V-shaped overlays which offer plenty of support throughout the upper. The rand is reinforced throughout the shoe by a synthetic overlay which extends just under the heel collar on both sides, which lends some lateral support on cambered trails. A very well padded tongue and heel collar lies underneath the best laces I’ve ever used.  I know….c’mon. Laces? Yes, these laces are thin, oval shaped, slightly textured, and these puppies stay tied over the long haul.

Scarpa Spark Midsole

Every runner has their sweet spot for heel drop. The true minimalists love 0-4mm, the traditionalists love 10-12mm, and this year several shoes debuted with a 6mm drop (Asics Fuji Racer and the Spark). I think it is a nice middle-of-the-road drop that doesn’t seem to be too so substantial that it gets in the way, but isn’t so low as to leave your calves screaming.

Scarpa Spark - medial upper

The Scarpa Spark's medial upper showing the midsole.

The 6mm drop of the Spark is complimented by a nicely cushioned, molded-EVA midsole which is firm enough that it feels supportive, but soft enough that road running doesn’t feel awkward. Within the forefoot lies a thin High Tensile Fabric Plate, which is protective and flexible. I didn’t have any problems barreling over sharp rocks in the Spark, and the visible rock plate doesn’t seem to have sustained any damage. Complimented by a little extra cushion in the insole and you have a pretty plush ride for under 10 ounces.

Scarpa Spark Outsole

Triangle-shaped lugs with biohazard shaped nubs protrude from the bottom of the Spark just a few millimeters. Sticky carbon rubber is used throughout the lateral sides of the foot and midfoot, while a stickier, but very durable rubber, is used on the forefoot and heel in the center of the outsole. Scarpa calls this their Speed lite Outsole, which isn’t anything you haven’t seen before. However, it is very effective on varied terrain and the low lug height seems to allow the Spark to shed mud quite easily.

Scarpa Spark outsole

The Scarpa Spark's outsole.

Last weekend, I headed out on technical trail that heads up a creek into a ravine for several miles with seven creek crossings. The Spark got muddy, sandy, and wet repeatedly. The outsole gripped well on slick rocks and logs over creek crossings. My only complaint was that the thickness of the upper made drainage a bit of an issue and my feet continued to be soaked long after my last creek crossing. After letting them air out overnight the Sparks were ready to go the next morning.

Overall Impressions

It is refreshing at times to not have any preconceived notions of a shoe or what market it is aiming for. My initial impressions of the Spark were that the shoe fits well with a nice full volume forefoot and durable upper. My first forays on the trail consisted of pretty mellow single track and some crushed gravel path. I noticed that the fit seemed very dialed in and the cushioning was just enough to be protective, but not get in the way. The next weekend I wore the Spark on a run/hike up and down a steep and technical trail with lots of sharp rocks. It seemed like the rockplate did a great job of being protective, but flexible. A long run the next weekend with a little bit of everything on the trail left me noticing that my legs weren’t very beat up and the Sparks performed wonderfully. So, needless to say, the Spark has grown on me as a great utility trail shoe.

A lot of us probably overlooked the Spark when it was first released this winter which was likely a mistake as it bridges the gap nicely between minimal trail shoes and heavier traditional models. The absolute best part of the Spark and Scarpa’s manufacturing practices with the Spark advertised at being made of 30-40% recycled materials:

  • 40% recycled synthetic leather and 29% recycled polyester mesh upper;
  • 50% polyester recycled lining;
  • Lace and webbing is 100% Ecosensor recycled polyester;
  • Midsole has ECOPure EVA additive to promote degradation in landfill conditions; and
  • 25% recycled rubber outsole.

What a great reason to give the Spark a try, a shoe that is quickly becoming one of my favorites of 2012.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • If you’ve run in Spark, what did you think?
  • If you’ve run in other Scarpa shoes, what did you think of the quality?
  • If you have any questions about the Spark, ask away!
Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 28 comments

  1. pjb86

    I like your reviews they're always well rounded and informative. The title "Minimalist Gear Editor" does make me chuckle though.

  2. Tom Caughlan

    Very rich company history of almost 75 years. Kind of the mountain version of Puma/ Adidas rivalry is the Scarpa/ Asolo rivalry for alpine climbing boots as I understand it.

  3. Kim Neill

    Thanks for the review Tom. I got a pair of these about a month ago but have only worn them a few times. Still have mixed feelings about them: love the cushioning (not too soft, not too firm); love to 6mm drop; the flex seems a little stiff for me, and the fit is a little sloppy, though very comfy (they are almost seem wider in the midfoot than the toe box, but I don't have a high volume foot so that may be why. I plan to take them out for some longer outings to see how they do.

    1. Tom Caughlan

      Kim,

      You're right about the midfoot, pretty wide. I usually wear very thin socks and with these I wore a heavier merino sock which seemed to fill up the volume in the midfoot a bit. I didn't ever feel like I was shifting around too much in the midfoot as to get blisters or feel unstable. Give us the update after you've ran in them more!

  4. John Arnold

    I purchased these a few weeks ago and have done a few runs with them. Longest being a 18 mile trail run down and up the grand canyon. My first couple of runs I thought they seemed on the hot side. But it was warm in the GC and I did not notice my feet getting too hot. No blisters. I was concerned the rock plate would be too thin as many of the trails are rough I run. However the protection on the bottom has proved great. How they do this in such a lite shoe is amazing. While I do agree the fit is overall roomy I again am pleasantly surprised I still feel in control. Laces tend to come undone so I double knot them. Overall love the shoe and weight . My favorite trail shoe yet.

  5. Kim Neill

    Update to above comment:

    I just got back from wearing the Sparks for a Grand Cyn R2R2R and they performed superbly (rough trail, water bars, rocks, sand and a long day). With a thicker Drymax Trail sock, these fit well, leaving room for foot swelling w/o being so sloppy that my foot from slipped around inside the shoe (I'm a woman wearing a men's 10.5, just for reference). I was in these shoes around 20 hours in very hot temps and got my feet wet multiple times during creek crossings. After GC, I spent a few days running and hiking in Sedona, on slick rock, crumbly rock and very hard bed rock. The Sparks gripped the slick rock very nice and also provided a nice platform for all the rock hopping and uneven trail. They were also very forgiving to my sore feet in the days after GC. I've decided I really like these shoes for technical, rocky trails where some cushioning is nice.

  6. Mike W

    Just got mine in the mail today. My first impressions are VERY positive. The fit in the forefoot is reminds me of my MT110s, which is the gold standard for fit on my foot. Love the upper too. They feel very balanced and, though I'm used to less drop than 6mm, they feel great and the differential doesn't seem like it will get in the way of a more natural stride.

    Got 18 on some gnarly trails in the morning. Gonna put them through their paces! Can't wait.

  7. John Arnold

    Update to my May 5th post. I have logged 105 trail miles on these since purchasing them in April. So far, no wear evident on the sole or fabric. And I run on some pretty tech trails. The more I have used them, the better I have liked them. As I mentioned before, best trail shoe I have ever bought. They really feel light on the feet. At first I thought I had purchased maybe a size too big, but since then am convinced size spot on. I have laced them up tighter, so now they feel perfect. No toe jam/black toe, no hot spots or blisters (farthest run in these so far is 30 miles). At this point, don't have a bad thing to say about them. When these wear out, will be buying another pair. I will update again in the future to let you know how the wear and tear has been.

  8. David Matthews

    Overall, I really like my Sparks but there are some issues. First, the lace loops broke at the second rung on both shoes after pulling the laces tight (after maybe a week's use). So I had to get a shoe cobbler to put in eyelets. I'd suggest Scarpa do the same….use metal eyelets and forget the flimsy lace loops. These shoes feel light, but also really wide in the forefoot. I probably bought a 1/2 too big. Other than that, I love these babies, especially their light feel. The Tempo looks a bit more durable and no lace loops. So maybe next purchase wil be the Tempos.

  9. David

    It took a couple of runs, but I'm really liking the Sparks. They are a great in-between shoe (not too beefy and not too minimal). The rock protection is great, while still remaining semi-flexible. But, my favorite part of the shoe has to be the traction – it has been a long time since I've had a shoe that was so "sticky". I'm looking forward to further breaking these in.

  10. Bill B

    Just a short note to recommend these highly. Been using Fuji Racer and NB 110s (1010s did not work out for me) this year. The Spark has more cushioning and rock protection than the Fuji Racer and is only slightly heavier. I can see rotating these three shoes depending on the run – longer runs more rocky and rooty use the Spark. They look really durable as well. Took a chance having read reviews and used Scarpa tele boots for years, and glad I did. Long time La Sportiva user but they have kind of lost me in the last couple years with new designs.

  11. Dave Fulton

    Hi Tom,

    I would love to see a follow-up review about the Sparks. Do you still like them? How have they held up over the miles? That kind of info. If not a full follow-up review, then perhaps you could comment here.

    Thanks!

    Dave

  12. John Arnold

    I thought I posted a update but apparently never went through. Dave – I can give you a update. Since my last post, I recently completed my first 100 miler Ultra. On my second pair of Sparks. It has been the best trail shoe I have ever used. And frankly came through the 100 miler (Chimera 100 – 24,000 feet of elevation gain, sometimes tough terrain) without one blister 31 hours later. Not one. No hot spots. Have not had a breakdown of any sort on either pair. Sharp objects do not penetrate the sole. I think it provides the best weight/balance. My only complaint after the 100 miler was the bottom of my feet were sore. Where a messaging the foot was alomst the best feeling I have ever had. I don't know if that is just the way it is after 31 hours on the feet, or if it meant that going that long with the Spark means the Spark could use some more cushion. I do not know because this was my first 100 miler. I did all my training for it in the Sparks with plenty of 50K's leading up to the 100k. I have never had a blister. Nor did water prove to be a problem – we had some rain on the course. I saw pics of some other runners feet – trashed and thought to myself – I guess I may have had the perfect shoe. I did just buy the Inov-8 Trailroc 255 just to try something different. Sorry I did – to much slop in that shoe. Guess I am spoiled by the Spark and will buy it again when I wear out the Inov8's. I am a absolute fan of the Spark. 5 stars.

    1. Dave Fulton

      Hi John,

      Thank you for the reply. I do have one other question. How many miles did you put on the Sparks before you thought they needed to be replaced?

      Thanks.

      Dave

  13. Bill B

    I used the Sparks in the recent North Face 50 mile run in SF/Marin. Rain,mud, and standing water so my feet were wet the whole time. Not a single blister and they seemed to at least not hold water. Lots of slippery terrain, including rocks and muddy steps down and I didn't slip once. Before the run, I probably had 250 miles on them. I had done most of my long runs in Hoka Stinsons. After the thrashing, the Sparks were structurally great, but too trashed with grit, mud, etc. to ever use again. I would buy another pair if they come back in 2013. Excellent combination of protection and weight. A very sturdy shoe.

  14. John Arnold

    Dave – I changed out my first pair after probably 300 miles or so – I just have a habbit of changing that often with any shoe. I was assuming after changing them to a new pair, the new pair would feel more cushion, etc.. but to my surprise they did not really feel different than the used pair. So maybe that meant I could have put more miles on the old pair. I had probably 150 miles on the new pair heading into the Chimera 100. I am still really amazed i have never had a blister. Before the Sparks I had used Soloman XT Wings – terrible – heavy, and blisters on both feet, same spot on foot. I vowed never again to get a heavy shoe, and thus would/will never go with anything heavier than the Sparks. If I here the Sparks will be discontinued, I would be the first to go out and buy 3 more pairs so I could have some for future. And NO failure of shoe. Had also used Montrail Masochist – the tread was gone and shoe worn to bits after 300 miles – Sparks – tread held up great.

  15. Jude W

    Hey all wondering if someone has a fit comparison for the Spark compared to the Altra Lone Peak and Brooks Pure Grit, these are my go to for trails and am thinking of trying the Spark. I can't find anyone that carries them locally to try on. thanks for advice that can be offered.

    1. Kim neill

      Jude:

      I have run in Puregrit, but only tried on LP (sent them back). I've been running in Sparks for a year. The fit is wide from midfoot forward, but heel stays locked. I have an average foot. If you have a narrow foot, they might be sloppy. The cushioning is firmer than PG (I actually don't care much for the spongy feel of PG). The Spark is enough cushioning for longer ultras/adventures. I wore my first pair almost out of the box, for a Grand Cyn R2R2R (50 miles of rugged, rocky terrain on a super hot day, with stream crossings, and they were great.

      1. Jude W

        Kim, hey looks like from your earlier post you wear a mens 10.5 how did that translate for you to the euro size. I have scarpas as my ski and hikeng boots and am trying to gauge if I shy towards the 11 or the 10 . Thaks

        jude

        1. Kim Neill

          Jude: Mine are a 44, which is equivalent to a men's 10.5 (also consistent with La Sportiva euro sizing, for which I wear the Crosslite and the new Helios; just for reference). I wear my shoes with 1/2 inch of extra toe room, if that helps. The only other thing I'd add to my notes, is that if you are a supinator, this shoe might actually cause more supination, as it tends to have just a mild curve to the outside edge of the last. I have a normal, straight-ish shaped foot and these work very well. I hope they work for you.

  16. David Harrison

    To me, the Spark is similar to the fit and feel of the original Brooks Pure Grit, but the upper is more comfortable and the midsole is a bit cushier and less bouncy – and of course, the traction of the Spark outsole is vastly superior.

    I dont like the new True Grit 2 at all (too hot and too confining), so this is my new go-to shoe for twisty, turny up and down trail running.

    The only time I wear something else is when I am running primarily downhill fireroad or pavement, for which I prefer the Hoka Stinson.

    1. Kim Neill

      Just my opinion: Having worn both the Spark and the Grit, I find them entirely different shoes, including the fit. The Spark is much firmer and a better trail shoe with traction for more technical and rough trails. The Grit is squishy and very soft, with terrible traction for anything other than silky smooth trails or pavement.

  17. Jeff

    Just got these and the Tempo in the mail. Despite what others say, I find the toe box to be too narrow. I don't typically have a problem with width, so I would have to say they are narrower than most shoes. Other than that, they're great. I would encourage people to look at the Tempo, too. They are only 1/2 ounce heavier (size 10.5 men), but have a bit more structure. They also have eyelets instead of the lace loops. But still not a heavy shoe by any stretch. The Tempo, however, seems to run a bit narrower than the Spark, so they won't work for me.

  18. Dave

    I have been running in the Sparks since about mid-February. I have about 100 miles on them now, with my longest being 16 miles. I have run them in fresh snow, snow pack, ice, sloppy mud, bone dry, i.e., all conditions. All of my runs are on very technical terrain with steep ascents/descents. The Sparks have not let me down under any of these conditions.

    My feet are wide in the mid-foot, as well as the fore-foot. I use the alternate lacing method and wear my normal socks. No slop in the fit, and no blisters.

    I love these shoes!

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