La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX Backpacking Boots Review


La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX Backpacking Boot Review

The La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX boots are hybrid leather and textile backpacking boots that weigh less than many mid hiking boots but have deep lugs, a large toe kick, and a reinforced midsole that offers better foot protection. The boots have plenty of arch support and a lacing system designed for enhanced ankle flexibility that’s perfect for nuanced hiking footwork, giving the boots a sporty feel despite their leather construction. They also have an amazingly grippy Vibram sole, a characteristic of all Sportiva boots and trail runners, that provides extra assurance when peakbagging and scrambling over rock ledges. Wide sizes are also available.

Specs at a Glance

  • Best Use: Backpacking, peakbagging
  • Weight per pair: 2 lb 1 oz / 936 g
  • Gender: Men’s, Women’s
  • Waterproof: Gore-Tex Surround
  • Upper: Nubuck leather and softshell in high flex areas
  • Footwear Height: Over the ankle
  • Footwear Closure: Lace up
  • Midsole: Compression-molded EVA
  • Support: 2.5 mm Polypropylene Stiffener
  • Outsole: Vibram Nano XS-Trek rubber compound
  • Can Be Resoled: Yes
  • Wide Sizes: Yes

I never thought I’d be wearing leather hiking boots again for three-season hiking but nagging metatarsal pain (See Hikers Guide to Metatarsal Pain) has forced me out of trail runners and back into stiffer hiking boots with better forefoot and midsole protection. Enter the La Sportiva the Nucleo High II GTX backpacking boot, which is as lightweight as many mid hiking boots, with the sticky soles and agility that La Sportiva is known for.

While the Nucleo High II GTX is available in wide sizes for men and women, the regular width boots are much more nimble and narrow than other backpacking or mid boots from the likes of Lowa, Oboz, Salomon, Asolo, or Vasque. La Sportiva is known for its approach shoes, which combine the characteristics of climbing shoes and hiking boots, and you can see that DNA shining through in the Nucleo High II GTX boots.

Leather and Textile uppers

While the Nucleo High II GTX is made with a combination of softer nubuck leather and a ballistic textile, it’s important to break them in before you use them on an extended trip. This took me 10 miles, which is much less than the 50 miles normally recommended for an all-leather leather backpacking boot like an Asolo or a Danner. While the Nucleo’s leather is soft out of the box, the break-in process helps loosen the ankles and upper half of the boots, so they’re more flexible and comfortable to wear on uneven and rocky terrain.


The tongue is gusseted to prevent water from entering the boot
The tongue is gusseted to prevent water from entering the boot

While the uppers are in part leather, the gusseted tongue, side panels, and ankle areas are covered with textile, allowing the boots to dry surprisingly fast if they wet get inside. I had occasion to test this over the weekend when I stepped on a wobbly river rock while fly fishing/backpacking and landed on my ass in the river with my boots completely submerged. Much to my surprise the inside and exterior of my boots were nearly dry the next morning, something that I attribute to the hybrid leather/textile construction of the boots. In comparison, this is a process that has taken days in other leather hiking boots that I’ve owned in the past, making hiking in them absolute hell.

Traction

The Nucleo High II GTX has a Vibram sole with aggressive legs and a mild rocker. There’s a heel counter to prevent pronation and an exaggerated toe kick to protect your toes which is important if you hike in mountainous terrain. The boots also feature La Sportiva’s impact brake system where the lugs are angled so more of them stay in contact with the ground for maximum impact absorption and braking power, especially on higher angle terrain. My La Sportiva Trail Runners (Ultra Raptors) use the same braking system, so I’m quite used to how they feel.


The boots have a sticky rubber Vibram insole that provides great traction.
The boots have a sticky rubber Vibram outsole that provides great traction.

The midsoles are compression-molded EVA with a polypropylene stiffener built on what La Sportiva calls their Tempo last. This is wider than the last they use in their trail runners, resulting in a more stable platform that helps spread out impact forces. The result is firm arch and heel protection with very moderate forefoot flex, providing a rather substantial reduction in the amount of metatarsal pain I feel when hiking.

Laces and Footbed

The laces that come with the Nucleo High II GTX suck. They’re thin, slip easily, and are prone to breaking. I replaced mine with some Oboz laces I had lying around but plan to replace them with Technora Toughlaces when I get a chance. I use them on my winter hiking boots and they are indestructible.

The Ortholite footbeds that come in all La Sportiva footwear also offer very little support and I replaced them with Oboz O Fit Plus footbeds, which have a high arch, an anti-pronation cup in the heal, and gel pads under the metatarsals and heel. These Oboz insoles are even stiffer than SuperFeet Green Insoles and provide much more cushioning and support, especially in the forefoot area. I always replace the insoles in all of my shoes with third-party insoles which are usually thicker and much more supportive than those that ship in boots, with the exception of Oboz boots and trail shoes.


The ankles are covered in softshell for enhanced flexibility
The ankles are covered in softshell for enhanced flexibility

Breathability/Waterproofing

La Sportiva chose Gore-Tex Surround waterproofing for the Nucleo High II GTX, which allows water vapor to escape through the sole, below the foot, working in conjunction with porous textiles in the uppers. The idea is to surround the foot with multiple avenues for moisture to escape in order to keep your feet and socks drier.

Admittedly, I’m a Gore-tex cynic, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the breathability of these boots. They’re not too hot to wear in warm weather and my wool socks stay dry, even when I’m wearing long pants that cover my lower legs and ankles.

As for waterproofing, no worries there. I’ve crossed shallow streams, hiked through mud and muck, and bushwhacked off-trail in these boots and stayed high and dry.

Comparison Table

Recommendation

If you’re looking for very supportive but lightweight hiking boots, I’d definitely recommend giving the La Sportiva Nucleo High II GTX  a try. Weightwise, they compare very favorably against the burlier class of mid hiking boots listed above, with stiffer midsoles and leather uppers, despite having a slightly higher ankle cuff. If you need a hiking boot that offers more midsole protection and stability and that is optimized for mountainous terrain, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better or lighter weight boot than the La Sportive Nucleo High II GTX. These boots can also be resoled, which I consider a big win, from a sustainability standpoint, and because I hate shopping for new boots and shoes.

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Last updated: 2021-08-01 19:03:42

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