Okay holiday shoppers, time for a reality check. Just how stiff is the ZZeus? How light? How is the fit? And the question we always ask here at WildSnow HQ, can she ski?
Before getting into the details, let me fire off a PSA. Be it known that if you’re walking into a shop and spending a wad of Franklins on AT boots, YOU MUST evaluate fit by molding them to your feet if the boots have thermo liners (as the ZZeus does). If your shop does not do this as a matter of course, they’re demonstrating excretory negligence and you should go somewhere else. And if you’re too lazy to ask for sample molding to be done, you’ll not find out what boot REALLY feels and fits the best. So get those things on the blower for 10 minutes, then decide. And don’t believe any stories about how “molding ruins the boots for the next guy…” You’re the guy. You deserve the service.
(Edit for concerned retailers: The above should be expected by the customer within reason. I’m not saying a person can walk into a shop and expect you to mold liners for every boot they’re interested in. You’d do the sample molding after the choices are narrowed down, and at your discretion after you feel the person is a legit customer and not a tire kicker looking for what size boots they should buy online. And if you can sell boots without provisional liner molding, more power to you.)
Back to ZZeus fit and performance review…
First, let me say ZZeus skis great and flexes like a champ. I compared flex by wearing different brand/model boots side-by-side on my feet. ZZeus felt slightly stiffer in forward flex than the BD Factor, about the same lateral stiffness, and has a pleasant flex that’s not too bouncy but feels like you’ve actually got something in front of your shin to push against if necessary. And yep, I’ve skied in the ZZeus a number of times now and they’ve got all the power I’d ever need. Toured fine as well (they’re light in weight for a beef boot, with good cuff travel).
While ZZeus appears narrow when compared next to other AT shoes, they’re actually very similar in size to most boots. For example, much of the Black Diamond Factor’s wider look is the result of thicker plastic in certain areas, as well as different graphics. Nonetheless, the two shells do vary in width — but so little it would be of no concern unless you had extra wide or extra narrow feet, in which case you’d want to either up/down size your shell to compensate, or pick the boot with more/less room in your area of concern.
To be more specific. First thing with a boot brand fit comparison is to pick whatever shell sizes match your feet best — no matter what Mondo size they claim to be. After experimentation, I decided that the ZZeus 322 (28/28.5) is the correct shell for me in that brand, while the Factor 318 (27/27.5) was the right BD choice. Interesting the shell sole lengths are within 4 millimeters of each other in total length even though they’re specified for a full Mondo range difference (Mondo measures size in centimeters.)
I then made foam measurement casts of both boots, as well as measuring various dimensions that area easily accessed inside the boots. Results:
One important dimension is how wide the shell is at ball of foot. Not where your foot rests, but actually the widest part of the shell in that area, where bunions would press if you had those nefarious physicalities. ZZeus=105 Factor=102.
As an indicator of ankle area room, distance between the shell cuff rivets is a good indicator. ZZeus=86, Factor=88.
I also measure the width of the heel pocket at a standardized spot. ZZeus=76, Factor=71.
Another interesting measurement is the width of what some folks call the “footboard” or “bootboard,” meaning the surface the boot liner sits on (I prefer the term “footboard”). Using this as your only guideline can be misleading as your foot doesn’t rest on this surface, but is held some distance above it by your liner and footbed inside the liner. But shape of the footboard can clue you to overall fit trends.
Footboard of ZZeus has a snugger shape, with differences of around 6 millimeters in width. BUT, both brand’s liners are of the “strobble” type, meaning they have a somewhat fixed sole shape. I compared those and they’re amazingly similar. In fact, either liner can be used in either boot (after molding, of course).
Overall, I’d call the ZZeus overall fit to be slightly snugger than the Factor. What that means is both boots will work fine for average feet. Those with feet on the narrow side should look at ZZeus first, those with wider feet should look at the Factor (or for that matter, Method).
AND, don’t forget that the ultimate way to fit a performance boot is to keep the shell fit on the tighter side, punch any problem spots, and mold a custom liner. Either boot will work for that, with the edge to ZZeus because it’s made from PU plastic, which is very easy to heat work.
Now, a few words about touring performance.
I’m confident in stating ZZeus has the edge on the uphill over just about any beef boot we’ve seen. For a downhill oriented boot made with PU plastic it is super low in mass. For example, even with its 4 mm longer sole, ZZeus is lighter than our the Black Diamond Factor by 2.5 ounces per boot.
More importantly, by our measurements ZZeus has 25 degrees cuff travel (much of that in the rearward, more important direction). This is excellent cuff travel in comparison to any boot. Factor comes in at about half that with 12 degrees travel.
In summary, we continue to see ZZeus as a worthy player in the downhill performance arena. We’d classify them on the slightly lesser side of average volume, and are confident that with the correct shell size and molded liner these boots will fit just about anyone’s feet. And that cuff travel. Wow.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.