Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Some thoughts on woods roaming footwear....

I want a boot that allows for quiet walking and doesn’t scar up the ground with tracks.  I’ve seen too many trails widened and deepened when plodded upon by those wearing shoes or boots with heavy treads.  It seems that nowadays shoe manufacturers are determined to outdo each other with more and more radical tread designs.  I figure that most of the people who make those outdoor boots aren’t woods roamers themselves.  I recognize that on rocky hillsides or in mountainous terrain one needs a certain degree of tread in order to maintain proper footing.  But in most brushland or desert country that is not a requirement.  A boot or shoe needs only be lightweight and comfortable.  It should also protect the wearer from thorns or spines.  Step on a mesquite thorn and you’ll know what I mean.

Since the 1960s I’ve worn chukka boots more than anything else.  The crepe soles make for extremely quiet walking and they don’t mess up the ground with tracks.  These days there are all sorts of chukka boots but most of them are made for “looking cool” in the city and aren’t worth a flip out in the wilds.  My favorite chukkas are made by the English company Clarks.  But they too have started making boots that I wouldn’t use in the brushlands or deserts.  It’s important to get the original style (I think those are still made in England; at least I hope so) and not the cheaper boots made in Asia.  The originals have crepe soles; the cheaper boots have a hard rubber sole that is not very comfortable in prolonged hiking.  Also, the original design is better made.  It’s a bit more expensive but worth it.

When the herbaceous shrubs and grasses are lush in the early spring I usually switch to 10-inch leather boots with neoprene or crepe soles.  There’s a tendency for boot makers to make boots with high heels.  But they put too much stress on your lower back and will likewise hurt your knees.  So the first thing I do is take the boots to the shoe repair shop and have them cut off the heel and give the boot more of a chukka heel profile.  I suggest you do the same.  Years ago I took a guy out walking and he showed up wearing some Roy Rogers/Hopalong Cassidy boots.  You know the kind drugstore cowboys and assorted dandies strut around wearing—narrow pointy toes and dainty high heels.  The poor fellow just about crippled himself after a couple of miles.  He was too proud to say anything but when I decided we’d go a few miles more he sat down, took off his boots, and then asked if I wouldn’t mind going back to the house and getting the pickup.

I consider the following important.  I don’t wear snake boots.  And I very seldom wear snake leggings.  If I’m in an area that has thick grass then I might don a pair of snake leggings for a few minutes.  But the moment I’m out of the grass I’ll remove the leggings.  Here’s why.

In hot weather, snake boots or snake leggings (especially the heavy plastic type) will dehydrate you severely.  A friend of mine made some snake leggings out of heavy leather but said those too were horrible.  He started feeling dizzy and when he removed the leather leggings he found his pants soaked from sweat.  That has been my experience as well.  The key to walking in snake country is to learn how to negotiate the trail and keep a lookout at the same time.  You look down and study the ground in front of you.  Only then do you move on.  But don’t go far without stopping and carefully studying the ground around you.  Then move on once more.
Now this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear snake boots.  If you are inexperienced in walking in the brushlands or in any venomous snake country then perhaps they are a good idea.  I see people wearing them and I know they are from the city.  They just need to know that snake boots or leggings can lead to profound dehydration.  And just because you’re wearing them doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep an eye out for las viboras peligrosas.

                                        A pair of well-worn chukkas

                                        Note the way I flattened out the heel

I’d say this young ranch hand is properly dressed for sun protection.  Note the wide-brimmed hat, the bandana around her neck and also dangling from behind her hat.  Long-sleeved shirt and jeans.  But the snake boots were draining her strength because they were too hot so she went back to wearing walking shoes.