Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes
Check out our Best Trail Running Shoes article to learn about our current favorite trail running shoes!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!