Once humans realized adding cushion and protection to the soles of their feet saved them the punctures and tears that often lead to illness and death they were quick to adopt shoes of varying styles. Indeed, shoes were probably amongst the earliest innovations implemented by humans as they evolved. And while there are parts of the world where people do not wear shoes this is more an outcome of poverty or the inability to obtain them than choice. Present them with shoes and they will wear them with glee. Albeit, the shoe industry has become a model of capitalism, and styles often have nothing to do with anything related to safety or comfort. Witness the high-heeled, pointy-toed horrors worn by some people, i.e., the drugstore cowboy, the fashion-conscience lady, the trend-slave etc.
One of the earliest places to adopt shoes was in the deserts and brushlands. Take a man’s shoes away and you have crippled him. I posted an article about South Texas thorns recently and a quick read of that piece will tell the whole story. A two or three inch puncture wound via mesquite thorn or lotebush, junco, brasil, devil’s cactus or horse crippler requires prompt attention sometimes in the form of a tetanus shot or some other sort of first aid.
But is there a perfect desert or brushland boot? Well, there are some slight differences between classic brushland and classic desert. Both places are dry and hot and covered with cacti and low-growing, thorny hardwoods. Of the two I suppose that brushland is the more nefarious when it comes to potential puncture wounds and other sorts of feet injuries. Ideally, I suppose a good brushland boot will have a bit stiffer sole to prevent long thorns from piercing into the skin. Deserts have thorns too but not in the varieties and most certainly not in the densities of the brushlands. Nonetheless, I have worn desert boots (sometimes called chukka boots) for nearly 50 years.
I started wearing the crepe soled, all-leather boots back in the 1960s when they were popular. But I was never that concerned about what was “in” or “out.” I saw the advantage of having a shoe that was lightweight, quiet and comfortable and left nary a track. For a young fellow who was already a committed woods roamer by the age of 14 desert boots were the ideal footwear. I owned chukkas made by Hush Puppies and Clark’s and in later years by companies that appeared then disappeared. Not long ago I bought two pair at Target with the brand name, Merona. The best desert boots have genuine crepe soles that make for nearly silent walking. The leather can be suede or full-grain. I’ve used both but have found the full-grain lasts a bit longer.
Desert boots require very little breaking in but some people may want to add a better arch support insert and I always switch out the flimsy boot laces for something more substantial. My youngest son is a desert boot fan and he uses leather laces on his shoes.
Desert boots were worn by British forces in places like North Africa during World War II and I think they had the right idea. The desert boot is cool (this is where the suede leather seems to have an advantage) and because of its light weight it is less tiring than heavier “military” type boots seen today. Not long ago I ran into a couple of Border Patrol who were searching for long-distance-travelers and they seemed a bit lost themselves. They were both wearing heavy black combat boots which I guess are all the rage these days in law-enforcement circles but I could tell they were cumbersome and hot and those two boys looked worn out. They eyed me and I eyed them and I figured they were harmless and I guess they figured the same about me and so we talked for a minute and drank some water and one of them looked at my boots and said, “Now those look comfortable.” “Very,” I replied. But now and then I’ll spot their distinct boot tracks so I figure though they admired my boots they weren’t willing to actually give them a try. I guess their heavy, black jobs are more in line with a uniform look although it can’t be said that a British soldier wasn’t a dashing figure decked out in his khakis, bucket hat, swagger stick and desert boots. But don’t try wearing desert boots in rocky terrain or where there is ice on the ground. The crepe soles, though nearly perfect for the eolian sands of the desert or brushlands, offer no traction on rocks or ice. You will slip. Just ask the old Woods Roamer.
Perhaps if there were no thorns I might opt for some sort of sandal I made myself. That would be in keeping with the philosophy of self-sufficiency. One could perhaps make a moccasin comparable to a desert boot and maybe I’ll try that somewhere down the line. Back in the 1960s desert boots sold for under $30.00 and sometimes closer to twenty-bucks. Nowadays they are much too expensive for what you’re actually getting. Some desert boots sell in the $120.00 range and if you know anything about cost accounting you’ll also know that the profit range is substantial. In addition most desert boots are made in places like China and, in fact, the last two pairs of Clark’s “original” desert boots I purchased were made in Vietnam. That should make every Brit out there sad, or so I would think. The quality is still quite good but outsourcing everything makes one a great “job creator” not for here but for over there. Six one way and half-a-dozen another, I guess.