Scarpa Atom Review

After reading through the offerings at this summer’s Outdoor Retailer show, I couldn’t help but chuckle about some of the comments which followed Bryon’s very thorough, and always anticipated, introduction to the trail shoe offerings to come in 2017. Many readers commented on how built up, heavy, and foam-laden these new trail shoes have become, and the pendulum certainly does seem to have swung to an extreme. Shoes weighing under 10 ounces almost seem to be a thing of the past for most brands, and sub-9 ounce shoes….. forget about it!

SCARPA Atom

The SCARPA Atom.

Now, the point here is not to denigrate any new trail shoes on the market, but rather to highlight a shoe that feels like a bit of a throwback to me. The SCARPA Atom ($119) feels, to me, like a shoe that could have come on the market in 2012 and been heralded as a favorite for the minimalists out there. It is lightweight and has great proprioception, a simple and unobtrusive upper, and a simple and durable Vibram outsole. This shoe is as simple and functional as they come, and thats why I feel it deserves a review and a nod to SCARPA’s straightforward design. So, lets imagine back to a simpler time…. A time before maximalism, trucker hats, beards (okay, just one beard), and fancy socks. To a time when most runners were looking for racing flats that they could wear on trails with just enough protection to elicit yelps when stepping on sharp rocks.

Upper

At 8.8 ounces, the Atom keeps things pretty simple throughout the upper. A breathable dual-density mesh is used throughout the upper with a narrow rand that is connected to a webbing of welded on thick overlays throughout the midfoot area of the shoe. This overlay material is different, and sturdier than a lot of the laminated overlays out there on newer trail shoes. What I’ve found with the laminated overlays is that they either come unglued during the life of the shoe or don’t provide much in terms of structural support. SCARPA uses a synthetic leather type of overlay which seems to be holding up nicely, and it holds the foot well on technical terrain. A rubberized toecap also provides minimal, yet effective, protection.

SCARPA Atom - lateral upper

The SCARPA Atom’s lateral upper.

These overlays are aided by a simple yet well designed lacing system. The Atom has very thin oval shaped laces which stay tied as well as decreasing bulk and surface area for mud and debris to build up. A gusseted tongue also decreases sand and dirt from sneaking in around the foot. There is also a lace garage to tuck the laces into (a la Salomon), which makes me wonder why most other companies don’t pick up on this simple, yet brilliant, technology.

I find the fit to be accommodating with a well padded heel collar, a sinch-able midfoot, and a fairly wide forefoot. Some wearers may disagree with me due to the fact that the toe box is tapered, but the toe box width at the base of the metatarsals is actually fairly wide. The overall fit of the upper of the Atom also contributes to the overall flexibility of the shoe which feels lightweight and unrestrictive to the foot.

Midsole

The feel of the Atom is semi-firm, with dual density midsole foam sitting somewhere between the firmness of the current Salomon S-Lab shoes and Nike’s Phylon foam used on the Terra Kiger. While the Atom doesn’t have a rock plate, there were only a handful of occasions where I felt like I was sacrificing my metatarsals to the gods of minimalism. Again, the flexibility of this shoe reigns supreme for those liking a lot of ground feel and the sensation of having your foot do the work for you. In fact, the combination of the firm midsole feel with this level of flexibility is a bit of an anomaly, and likely facilitated by the lack of a rock plate.

SCARPA Atom - medial upper

The SCARPA Atom’s medial upper.

Outsole

This simply lugged Vibram outsole is one of the absolute gems of this shoe. With chevron-shaped lugs facing both forward and backward, and with plenty of space between to shed mud, the Atom’s outsole is truly all terrain. The ride is comfortable on dirt roads and smooth singletrack, as well as technical sloppy conditions. The Vibram rubber grips rock equally well shows very little wear after 200 miles on my pair.

SCARPA Atom - outsole

The SCARPA Atom’s outsole.

Overall Impressions

Its nice to see a niche company, especially one like SCARPA with such a long and storied history of making shoes for mountaineering and climbing, design such a simple shoe. While I will be the first to advocate that trail running shoes are getting better, I sometimes long for the simplicity of less built up shoes. The SCARPA Atom is quintessentially that; a simple and well built shoe with a great fit, adequate cushioning, and a well built outsole. The SCARPA Atom is a great shoe for trail running enjoyment on a multitude of surfaces up to 50k.

It took me awhile to get to this conclusion, and for many months this spring and summer I only wore the Atom for short runs and hiking. However, after having a variety of foot soreness issues that surprisingly weren’t solved by additional cushioning, I turned to the Atom as a means to getting back to focusing on my form and foot strike in general. The resulting progress has been that I’ve been able to focus more on correcting inequities in my gait more than I could had I been wearing a more built up shoe. While I’m no longer a champion for all out minimalism, I do think that less built up shoes have a place in every trail runners arsenal.

[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a shoe brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]

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 18 comments

  1. JimC

    I’m guessing most shoes don’t have “lace garages” as they’re completely unnecessary – just tuck the bow bit of your laces in to the rest of them. Still, nice looking shoes though.

    1. Scott

      Lace garages aren’t necessary but they are really nice feature once you’ve had them. I never knew I would give a damn about a lace garage until I got my LaSportiva Mutants and found the garage to be amazing at keeping my laces nice and tidy and reduced the number of times I had to stop and fiddle with my lacing tightness or whatever.

      Now that I’ve had one I can see why I would miss it.

      1. JimC

        Still not convinced that offers any real advantage to just tucking your bows under your laces, I really can’t think of the last time I had to stop to adjust my laces other than due to foot swelling on an ultra!

  2. Dan

    Thank you Scarpa for bucking the recent trend toward more built-up shoes. Once my stash of MT110’s runs out I’ll be looking for something similar to this.

    1. Randall

      I have yet to find a shoe that fits as well as the MT110. All time best shoe and I’m on my last pair. Like you, my first thought reading this review was “how does it compare to the MT110?”

      1. Joe Grant

        Having ran a lot in both models, here’s my quick take on how they compare:
        The 110 last is unique, curved with an aggressive cut out arch while the Atom is straighter making the fit a bit more universal. While the 110s fit my feet very well, I found the “banana shape” to exaggerate pronation too much- good for lateral precision (not rolling ankles), but problematic over long distances as the foot is forced into a slightly unnatural position. The straighter last of the Atoms makes them more neutral and in my opinion better over long distances for that reason.
        That being said, since the Atoms don’t have a TPU rock plate, they are less protective under foot when running over sharp rocks. The 110s are a lot firmer than the Atoms and remain that way over time because of the TPU plate, while the Atoms offer more ground sensitivity.
        I find both models quite similar in lateral stability on technical terrain (both excellent).
        The megagrip outsole on the Atoms is a lot stickier than the NB outsole in all conditions and is particularly good for scrambling on dry rock.

        1. JVK

          Joe, If you have any experience in the NB MT Zero V2, how does the Atom compare? I love the Zero V2 and can’t find a replacement that I like… I’m currently trying the Vazee Summit but find myself going back to my last two pairs of Zero V2’s that both have over 700 miles on. I don’t mind the Vazee Summit but I think the rock plate gets in the way of cushion and ground feel that you get in the Zero.
          I’m very interested in the Atom and will def give it a try!

          1. Joe Grant

            Hey JVK – I’ve tried them, but haven’t run much in them. Fit wise, I feel like the V2 tapers at the toe a little more than the Atom. The lugs are also a bit more aggressive, but the rubber isn’t as sticky. I think the zero v2 is closer to the Atom than the 110. If you’re not digging the rock plate in the Vazee then these might be spot on for you. The Atoms might feel firm on the first few runs, but then soften up nicely. I think you get a nice mix of ground feel and protection.

  3. Tom

    Dan and Randall-

    Comparing this to the MT110 is a little tough. The Atom doesn’t have as good of a midfoot hug and the toebox is also not as incredible as the MT110. What the Atom does have is better traction and overall underfoot protection. Even with the rockplate I never felt like the MT110 was that protective.
    I still have a pair of the Mt110 and I still think it really is the benchmark for minimalist. The last and upper are simply incredible. I hope NB goes back to using it. For the time being, here are my top picks for shoes with a similar feel:

    -Asics FujiLyte
    -Salomon Sense pro 2
    -Nike Kiger 3

    Thats about as close as it gets these days. There may be other shoes out there that I haven’t tried though.

  4. Brian

    Digging the review. Running in the NB Vazee Summit currently and living it. Seems like a similar shoe as Atom but with rock plate it f some sort. Could Atom be a more adequate shoe with a rock plate.

    1. Tom

      I’m a huge fan of the Vazee Summit and I logged most of my miles this summer in that shoe. The Summit is definitely more protective due to the rock plate.

      Scarpa is releasing the Spin model in February this year. Here was Bryon’s take on them from Outdoor Retailer. They look cool!

      Next spring, SCARPA will launch the SCARPA Spin, which it positions between its inline Neutron and Atom. Despite that, the shoe will weigh in as the lightest shoes in the SCARPA trail lineup at 8.9 ounces. Underfoot, it features a full Vibram MegaGrip outsole (with weight-saving cutouts) and rockplate with a 4-mm drop. The upper features a sock-like tongue and lace garage.

      http://www.irunfar.com/2016/08/best-new-trail-running-shoes-from-the-2016-summer-outdoor-retailer-show.html

  5. Bob

    Tom,
    Thanks for another informative review. I can guess the answer, but how does the toebox on these compare to Altra’s? Even when I hear wide or wide at the metatarsals, I am constantly disappointed by fit because my toes do not angle inwards the way all these shoes do. Even EE width New Balance are way too tapered and the only last that does not cut off either the medial side of my big toes or lateral side of my little toes are Altras. I like them (Superior 2 mainly on trails but LP neoshell in cold weather). I’d love something with more tread for some conditions, but nothing fits.

    1. Tom Caughlan

      Bob-
      You’re right. These definitely aren’t as accommodating as Altras, especially the Superior 2. They are wide at the metatarsal heads, but then things taper which sounds like it would be bad for you. While I love the Altra toe boxes I am also able to I think your best bet is to wait for the Superior 3s which have a more substantial outsole, or the King MT which looks pretty gnarly.

    2. Henning Karlsson

      When it comes to toebox i think Topo also has it figured out. Ive tried the magnifly and i think it locks down the middle foot and gives you plenty space for the toes.

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