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Field Tested: La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX

In late 2015, I had the good fortune to visit Nepal and trek deep into the Khumbu Valley. Because I travel light, I only packed two pairs of footwear for the near month-long trip, both from La Sportiva. For rugged hiking days, I used Trango Cube boots. The rest of the trip, including the long 36-hour flight over, I wore the lightweight Snythesis Mid trail shoe. Both pairs went on to summit Mount Washington and ascended to over 16,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes.

With another foray into the high peaks of Peru approaching, I decided to streamline my footwear even further by melding the better attributes of my two favorite La Sportivas into one pair. Their new Nucleo High GTX fit the bill perfectly as they are slightly lighter than my Trango Cubes, but far more substantial than my Snythesis Mid shoes.

Like the Synthesis Mid, the Nucleo uses Gore-Tex Surround technology to maximize breathability, not just in the upper aspect of the foot, but throughout the footbed as well. The unique Nano-Cell mesh exterior is visible at the mid-foot with the rest of the boot covered in light and supple nubuck leather. The result is a boot with a near running shoe weight at just 476 grams, but with the full protection of a proper hiking boot.

As much as I love my Trango Cube boots, their climbing-inspired midsole is just stiff enough that they walk a little on the clunky side. I appreciate the protection a stiff sole provides delicate foot muscles and ligaments, but the Nucleo affords more flex and a more natural stride. For hauling a light pack on modestly technical trails, it feels more comfortable and efficient. Much of that walking comfort can be attributed to the low stack height of the mid and outsole package as well as the soft cushion of the EVA foam.

I trotted my Nucleo boots to 15,700 feet in Peru on the second hike. Never a blister or hot spot.

Over the last 20 years I’ve owned dozens of pairs of La Sportiva shoes and have come to love the fit and refinement. I was so confident in the Nucleo, I literally laced them up for the first time before an 8-hour hike into Huascaran National Park in the Andes. The padded cuff and soft nylon webbing lace points at the toe and ankle allowed for the boot to move with my foot perfectly with no break-in. Underfoot, La Sportiva’s proprietary lug pattern with a deep heel brake kept each step firmly planted.

I’ve been a longtime user of Superfeet insoles and their latest footbed is perfectly suited to hiking boots.

With the last weeks of summer quickly passing, I had another chance to put the Nucleo High GTX to the trail, this time with a 30-mile backpack trip through the Sierra Nevada Mountains outside of Tahoe, California. Under the weight of a 35-pound pack, and charging hard to get in big miles each day, the Nucleo maintained a swift trail shoe stride while providing hiking boot support. While others on my trip fussed with hotspots and pressure points, I didn’t even bother to change socks over the course of 4 days. My feet were perfectly comfortable the entire time.

I tend to be that person with either too much or too little boot for a given outing. Whether I’m out for a quick day hike, strolling through an airport, or lugging a fully loaded backpack, the Nucleo High GTX seems to be the perfect choice. I’m not prone to make superlative product declarations, but La Sportiva’s latest do-all boot is by far my favorite hiker of the last year. www.sportiva.com

Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.