These days when it comes to purchasing a new pair of off-road running shoes you’re generally looking in the region of £90 to £120 for a decent pair. As such when a good deal crops up it’s always worth taking note… and at just £35 a pair (in men’s and women’s) these certainly constitute a good deal!
First off, I should start by saying that, in a running context, I used the the Scarpa Spark as full-on fell shoe and this isn’t technically what it is designed for: Scarpa define the Spark as an ‘Alpine Trail’ shoe, which suggests its principal market is the off-road, but not off-track contingent. However, when it comes to measuring a product’s assets and limitations (particularly within a short space of time), I find that testing at the edge of a given design brief provides a good idea of how accurate the manufacturers original product specs are (providing of course the tester takes this into account). I also briefly assessed its suitability as an approach shoe in and around the Lakes.
So to the Spark. For out-of-the-box comfort and instant usability this shoe cannot be faulted. The heel area is solid and well fitting, holding the foot in place impeccably with a quality speed-lacing set-up. This is coupled with a more roomy toe box, not entirely dissimilar from the original Inov8 Mudroc 280, keeping your piggies firmly positioned, uncramped and well ventilated. The upper is a reinforced polyester mesh, which breathes well and equally importantly discharges water quickly and effectively if the shoe is submerged in a bog or the like. In completely off-trail scenarios the mesh of the forefoot may take some hammer after prolonged use, due to the protective rand not coming up particularly far over the toe box. That said this would be of no consequence if you were sticking to bridleways, trails or paths. Despite it’s claimed 6mm heel-to-toe ‘drop’ the Spark seemed to offer a relatively low ride compared to many non-UK designed off-road shoes and was stable, offering good control on ascent and flat ground across a range of terrains. As you might imagine, when it came to rapid unfettered descents on steep or vegetated ground the shoe is less stable, and the 2.5mm lugs (tread) simply didn’t offer the kind of traction required for “cutting loose’. Having said that, if you’re happy to cruise at a more sedate pace the shoe would still perform adequately in this arena. On rock the proprietary, in-house Scarpa Speedlite rubber sole was reasonable but did not quite provide the sort of grip you’d expect from an Inov8, FriXion or Vibram (sticky rubber) sole, but in this reagrd I’m being hypocritical and it was far from the worst compound I’ve ever used and more than serviceable in many outdoor scenarios. The overall fit, as alluded to above, is narrower with a lower volume around the heel and central section, whilst the front of the shoe is wider with significantly more volume around the toe box.
In summary, this seems a very good trail shoe and reasonable “training style” fell shoe, it also makes for a highly competent crag approach shoe, providing there isn’t too much lying water underfoot. In fact, the fit and sole tread is particularly good when compared to many other approach specific shoes available. The general build quality seems up to that which we have come to expect from Italian footwear maestros Scarpa and at this sort of price you can’t really go wrong.
NB: Please be aware that this review is based on a couple of (high intensity) outings and as such I’ve steered clear of making any definitive claims regarding longevity or durability.