I'm doing a winter hill skills course soon and have found some cheap, original (I think?) Scarpa Mantas which seem in decent condition other than some wear on the sole. Would these be a good choice, or are newer models so much better it's worth spending more on them?
Newer models are way lighter and more comfortable. The OGs will do a job though, and if you can get them for <£50 then why not.
Are they the full suede ones? They're bomber but brick heavy. If you do end up getting them, I'd recommend getting the Nikwax 'Waterproofing Wax for Leather'. It will ruin the nice suedey finish forever though.
Both very capable. I've found them both warm in the alps (around -5 ish and on the move a lot). Crampons stay on no issue. Plenty stiff enough for anything up to 45 degrees (steeper if you're careful).
My only issue with my old pair is they wrecked my achilleas tendon. For some reason, and I never figured out why, they dug in and bruised my tendon which took ages to recover.
I think the newer ones have a more forgiving/flexible upper and I've been fine with them. They are also generally more comfortable (at least for me).
So whatever you do, get some use with them as they may break you before you can break them in.
I doubt they are "original" because Scarpa have made a model called Manta since before I started climbing seriously, so over 30 years ago. Those early 90s ones had the "Attack" sole unit which didn't have a square cut heel and didn't have a heel lip so could only be used with full strap walking crampons. People did try easy climbing with them but they were quite bendy. By the end of the 90s as people moved away from plastic boots for climbing, Scarpa updated the Manta to make it more crampon focused. My mate still uses his 20 yr old ones with newmatic style crampons - basket front heel clip back - but older boots can soften and bend more with age so be a bit weary.
If they are the original mantas - they'd need to be pretty old though (I own a pair myself) they are blooming good traditional walking boots. They can take many (not all) flexible strap on crampons and have a good chunky sole unit. They came in a choice of leather with the suede/nubuck side out - most popular in Europe, and one with the harder side outer - more popular in UK (which I own) A bit on the heavy side! But my other boots of that era were Asolo AFS101 which made everything else feel light
The original mantas with yeti gaiters would be good winter walking boots, but I'd want something stiffer and more modern for anything more than the easiest gully or any amount of front pointing.
I remember trekking around Annapurna in a pair of Scarpa Manta's in 1977. And I'm not sure even those were the "original" version. I didn't take them above the snowline - I think I had plastic Koflachs for that. They would have been rather too bendy for anything serious.
They both feel the same to me and I'm not sure if I could pick them out in a blindfold test. Both are easily stiff enough for my uses (winter walking and any steep bits when doing that) and fine with Newmatics. The soles on the older ones seem chunkier, if that means anything, and they don't have a Gore-Tex lining, so as a result are possibly more waterproof. Not much more to say. Great boots if they fit you. If I were buying again I'd get a 2nd-hand pair from Vinted etc, where they can be found cheap.
As others have said, Mantas have been around for a long time and through some very different iterations. I have an oldish pair (just before the current 'tech' style with the soft ankle sections) which are fine for winter hill walking and easy climbs/winter scrambles. When I did the tourist route on Mt. Blanc back in the late 80s, one of the people in the group used Mantas for that.
If they are in good condition, fit you and are comfortable they would be fine for the type of ground you would encounter on a winter skills course and, if your ambitions are then for independent winter hill walking and classic grade 1 or 2 ridges and gullys they would be fine for that too. As an aside, people with small feet and light weight will experience less flex with a given pair of boots so might find them acceptable for steeper ground than I would.
But, you'll be limited in choice of crampons (I use mine with Grivel G10 New Classic), lighter and warmer options are available and if you see this as a stepping stone to steeper climbing, it might be better to bite the bullet and get something more technical from the start but that comes at a price and a decent pair of stiffish hillwalking boots (at the right price) is always good to have.