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Mar 18 2013

Review: Scarpa Freedom SL

 

Scarpa’s Freedom SL • ~4 lbs./boot. • $769

For a heavy weight boot from a backcountry focused company Scarpa’s new AT boot, the Freedom, delivers much of the performance you would expect from a traditional alpine boot, but without much weight. If that sounds contradictory, let me explain. True, it does weigh in at an ounce over four pounds per boot (1.85 kg) but in the alpine world where everything is laden with extra material an eight pound pair of boots is actually rather light. From a backcountry perspective it is on the heavy side, but only if you’re using it for a week long traverse or a rando race.

There are several things that contribute to the Freedom’s breadth of up and downhill performance. Let’s start with the shell.

The mode switch is simple and solid. You can also adjust the 14° forward lean position ±4°.

Both the Freedom and SL versions use Carbon Core Technology, where the plastic is molded around a carbon fiber frame. The plastic of the SL is Pebax Renew, resulting in a 125 flex index, and the plain Freedom uses a proprietary version of polyurethane called Primary HP yielding a flex index of 120. Compared to other brands, those are accurate numbers with the caveat that there is no independent rating system. The result is the flex of the Freedom feels like an alpine boot, but without adding any excess blubber. With classic overlap construction the lower shell bows slightly, giving a springiness to the forward limit imposed by the metal spine up the Achilles. The Intuition® liner adds to the smooth, progressive engagement of power from your lower leg with a rigid foam above the ankle. When turning it was hard to distinguish the power difference between a Lange XT on one foot, Scarpa’s Freedom on the other.

Forward lean angle comes from the factory set to 14°. You can adjust that 4° more or less to suit your own taste.

The Freedom delivers what its name implies, a huge cuff ROM – ~18°

When touring the Freedom simply leaves the competition in the dust with an amazing 18° of backward cuff movement. That’s better than 80% of other AT boots that claim to be on par with alpine boots for dealing with the crud, moguls, ruts and speed sluts under the lifts.

Like Maestrale the Freedom has a rather acceptable range of motion just by flipping up the walk mode switch. If you’re heading up a short pitch or are making a Wasatch track, that range of motion is plenty. If you’re going for more than a few minutes it is certainly worth taking the time to loosen the buckles, maybe even reset the hook on the touring tooth. Maybe.

One of the few things that bothers me with the Freedom are the cuff buckles and power strap. They work, and the cuff buckles even have touring teeth to maximize cuff range of motion but compared to Garmont’s Easy Lock buckles, or Dalbello’s retention system, separate touring teeth take an annoying amount of time to implement. It is easier to simply open the buckles and hope the wires stay in the teeth which, to Scarpa’s credit does tend to happen, preventing them from just flopping around.

T-nuts hold the sole blocks to the shell firmly.

Those with a pair of alpine bindings in their quiver will appreciate that the sole blocks can be switched between a Dynafit compatible sole and a DIN sole. Swappable soles suffer from not being as rigid as a dedicated sole so Scarpa uses T-nuts to hold the sole blocks to the lower shell. The two toe nuts are permanently molded into the shell. The result is a tighter connection, less distinguishable from a solid sole. I suppose it’s true but that degree of distinction is simply lost on this freeheeler’s senses. Isn’t fixing the heel enough? At the least I do concur it makes the connection more reliable. Though possible, Scarpa has also reduced the need to swap soles, by making the Mountain Plus soles (lugged w/Dynafit inserts) work with any AT binding – sans switching! It isn’t legally compatible with a classic alpine binding, but does anyone actually consult with lawyers before clicking in?

Tongued Intuition® liner uses stiffer foam around the lower leg and under the foot, with easily molded foam around the lower foot.

Regarding the fit, Scarpa claims the width is a beamy 101mm. My foot prefers less, but I didn’t feel like I was swimming inside a mondo 27 shell when a 26 is my normal prescription for Scarpa. Part of that owes to Scarpa sticking to their tried and true path of making the instep buckle provide a lot of adjustment range, giving enough room for an above average instep while also being able to hold a low instep secure (like my pancaked flipper). The liner is premolded to the shell, so many will be able to get a custom-enough fit by merely heating the liner in the shell with a good stack heater. If you need to expand room for your toes, don’t be afraid to bake the whole liner, and get a good boot fitter to help with that.

Quite honestly, unless you really are going long, Scarpa’s Freedom is light enough (with a tech binding) for a five or six-K day, and solid enough for just a single lap out of bounds after 30k of lift assisted turning. The walk mode is an absolute delight and the only thing you might not like is the fit, though I doubt it, but the only way you’ll know for sure is to try one on next fall.

Scarpa

Good Bad
Progressive fwd. flex Not very stiff
Excellent cuff ROM Fiddly cuff buckles
Secure, easy mode switch  
Comfortable Intuition® liner Tongued Intuition® liner
Solid sole block connection  
   

Freedom SL
MSRP: $769
Weight/boot (sz 27.0): 4 lbs., 1 oz. (1.85 kg)
Sizes available (mondo): 23.5 – 31

Freedom
MSRP: $629
Weight/boot (sz 27.0): 4 lbs., 6 oz. (2.0 kg)
Sizes available (mondo): 23.5 – 31

© 2013

  • http://www.facebook.com/marcel.f.almeida Marcel Furtado Almeida

    Any thoughts on how it compares to Vulcan/Mercury on stiffness and tour? I can see this as a one does it all boot, but if you really are not interested in using the same boot for alpine bindings lift served skiing , do you see reason to go for the freedom instead of say maestrale or vulcan/mercury? Is the freedom much stiffer than those?

  • Dostie

    All the boots you’re looking to compare are built with an external tongue. As such, the way they flex is different than boots with overlap construction, like Scarpa’s Freedom or most alpine boots. The Vulcan is definitely stiffer, and the Mercury and Maestrale very similar to each other, and about as stiff as the Freedom, but in a more one dimensional way. The stiffness of the Freedom is similar to the Maestrale, perhaps a bit more, but smoother. With the Maestrale or Vulcan, you hit a limit. You hit a similar limit to forward flex with the Freedom, but it approaches that limit progressively, or with a sort of cushion built in. It doesn’t feel like you hit a brick wall, but progressively approach a limit. Hope that make sense.

  • John

    How does the cuff range rearward and size/fit compare to the Maestale RS?

  • Dostie

    If you look at the Maestrale review on this site (Gear > Boots > AT Boots) you’ll see the Maestrale has a smidge more cuff ROM to the rear – maybe 2 degrees more. Comfortwise the Freedom is roomier and cushier than the Maestrale. Maestrale is predisposed to a low volume foot, Freedom more for an “average” sized foot.

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  • Ross Collins

    I had the use of these boots both on our Shasta tour and yesterday down south off Tioga Pass. I have had some old Lasers, so this was a quantum leap forward in the sense that I have not had recent exposure to modern AT boots. I do however, run three pairs of high performance alpine boots for resort skiing and this is where I do the majority of my skiing. I was most impressed with the walk/climb mode of these boots. What really struck me was how easily they went into this mode and how the transition provided an easy forward flex. This characteristic improved my forward balance by making it easier to get over the foot with my hips, because of an increased forward shin angle allowed by the easy forward travel of the boots upper cuff. It might seam like such a little thing to rave over, but when you are tired or gripped crossing a log over a rushing river after a long tour it is really nice to be able to keep your balance. Also, leaving the boot buckled and just flipping the walk mode for a quick scramble over rock was really cool. And to find these characteristics in a boot that is very capable going downhill, with adequate forward stiffness and good lateral power transfer is what is really amazing to me.. I was skiing an older pair of Salomon AK Rockets, a pretty stiff ski by AT standards, with conventional camber and sidecut, and an 88mm waist. This boot was very well matched to the ski and I was able to carve and power through the corn up high and the manky slush below with ease. Because I would not be using this boot as an all rounder and I ski other boots on lift serviced terrain I will probably be looking hard at the Mistraele RS as well for purchase, it will be a tough decision between the two. I guess there are worse problems to have.