Scarpa Phantom Tech 2019 – First Look

The Phantom Tech was introduced in Spring 2016 as a replacement for the venerable and much-loved Phantom Guide. The Tech brought with it numerous welcome improvements, including lighter and warmer construction, as well as a wrap-around zipper that alleviated issues with the previous central zipper splitting. Over time, however, it also became apparent that some design choices created more issues than they solved (most notably the dual-density outsole, with many users experiencing considerably increased wear).

Now, for Fall 2019, there is a new version of the Phantom Tech. Remarkably, it is lighter still, while addressing the biggest issue with the previous generation: the outsole’s durability. And as a bonus, it’s slightly less expensive, putting an even bigger margin between Scarpa and its nearest competitors.

2016 version on the left, new-for-2019 on the right.

I’ve now had the opportunity to use the Tech’19 on ice, rock, and both rough and rocky, as well as wet and snowy, approaches. What follows are early impressions based on these outings so my brief comments regarding durability are just extrapolations based on previous experiences with other, similar, Scarpa boots.

First proper bit of ice climbing for me this season.
Image courtesy of Monte from Black Sheep Adventure Sports

First off, the fit. Compared to the Tech’16, these new boots feel a touch wider in the heel but about the same in forefoot volume. For me this translates into a slightly more comfortable and better-fitting boot. The change is small but noticeable, and I find these more comfortable to walk in, with perhaps slightly more flex for a more natural gait. Otherwise, it’s the same fit we’ve come to expect from Scarpa, a touch on the wider side, softly lined, with good arch support even with the stock insoles.

Another noticeable change is the height of the interior cuff: the new boot is a bit lower, about 2cm when comparing my two size 43.5 examples. At first I thought this would be a detriment as upon first impression it feels less supportive but that notion disappears as soon as you start climbing. The lower cuff feels less restrictive when flexed sideways, making the Tech’19 feel very light and nimble when climbing on rock, and doesn’t appear to have had any noticeable impact on calf support when front-pointing (this lines up with my impressions of the very-low Mammut Nordwand Light Mid which has a very low cuff but frontpoints just as well as much taller boots).

The new, lower, boot on the right.

So in terms of overall fit the Tech’19 seems to be an improvement.

Design wise, the front crampon welt sees a slight redesign and is now wider and more square in profile. This change especially suits the new, narrower, bail found on Petzl’s redesigned Dart, but it also works well with my BD Stinger and Grivel G20+ crampons. Crampon fit is very secure and the wider toe section prevents side-to-side shift of the crampons, especially when torquing hard.

More noticeable is the return of a straight zipper akin to the Phantom Guide, though the new zipper is considerably smaller and easier sliding, more flexible, and offset from centre — probably to prevent the zipper-splitting that plagued the Guide. It seems as waterproof as any other zip and I cannot report wet, or even damp, feet despite a few (intentional) dunkings in deeper creek pools.

Inside, the biggest and most welcome change are the — gasp! — regular laces. I’ve heard from countless people of broken lace tabs and myself have had to experiment with different lacing configurations to maintain proper lace tension in both the Guide and the Tech’16. The new laces are simple, easy to tension, and tie like regular footwear. I like simple, no-frills, designs and here the Tech’19 definitely delivers. My only concern is that should the laces ever wear out or any of the eyelets pop, replacement will be rather difficult due to the close-fitting gaiter, especially at the toe.

Still, overall, I’m calling this another win for the Tech’19.

Durability is much harder to assess. Though I haven’t had any issues with my Tech’16, due to injury I also haven’t used them as much as I would have liked to over the past three years. That said I’ve heard from many users that the lightweight outsole wore unnaturally quickly, especially on more rocky approaches. Those users will be pleased to learn that the Tech’19 returns to an outsole using Vibram/Scarpa’s proven Mont compound (the same as that used on the Phantom Guide, Mont Blanc, and other hard-wearing boots) as well as the return of deeper, beefier, lugs (the Tech’16 outsole always reminded me more of the lightweight and snow-focused Phantom 6000’s than an all-around mountain boots’.) The deeper lugs also seem to contribute slightly to increased warmth through the bottom of the boots, and I haven’t noticed any detriment to crampon fit.

Elsewhere, the Tech’19 drops the Tech’16’s Superfabric-reinforced instep in favour of a lighter stretch-fabric upper gaiter with a laminated rubber patch over the front 3/4 section of the boot. Honestly I am torn about this: I’ve jabbed my crampons into that Superfabric patch a few times and even that massively-reinforced section shows some marks. I am concerned that the new upper won’t be as resistant to crampon punctures and tears. Personally, I’d take the extra toughness and protection over a few grams’ weight-savings.

New boot on the right: note the much smaller reinforced area as compared to the Superfabric area on the 2016 version.

With that in mind, I’m calling durability a tie: I think the outsole will be much more durable, but now I’m worried the gaiter might get shredded more easily.

Finally, we come to warmth and weight. Scarpa claim the same warmth but in a lighter package. The new boot definitely weighs a bit less: the Tech’19 in 43.5 comes in at 836-grams as compared to 896-grams for the Tech’16 in the same size (not quite the 100-gram savings Scarpa claim, but still noticeable on your feet). It’s hard to judge and compare warmth but the new boots feel just as warm to me as the old ones, though I’ve yet to wear them in temps lower than -5C. What I do feel is noticeable is better breathability — after a day of dry tooling at just-over-0C, my feet are considerably less sweaty and damp than they would be in the Tech’16. Attribute this to the lower cuff, better waterproof-breathable membrane, less neoprene-like materials, I really don’t know, but I do know that my feet and socks are less sweaty at the end of the day and I really appreciate that.

And in a last bid for gaitered-single-boot supremacy, the Tech’19 retails for less than the previous version: $699 USD or $799 Canadian (us Canadians are getting a deal when you factor in the currency exchange). This undercuts most competitors by almost 25% which is a remarkable achievement for such a high-tech handmade Italian boot.

If you have the Tech’16 I honestly see no reason to upgrade. However, if you’re shopping around for a new ice boot for the 19/20 season, the Phantom Tech Fall-2019 should probably be near the top of your list. Stay tuned for a long-term review, specifically addressing durability, once I’ve had a winter’s use on these.

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