Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Survival - Care and Feeding of Boots . . .


I’m sitting at the kitchen table this morning, watching the sunrise and getting my morning dose of Vitamin D. It’s chilly out – about 13F and the wind is rockin’ the trees/wood patch outside my sliding doors with gusts over 30mph. The past couple days snow – a dusting really of about 4 inches – is blowing past the doors – it’s seems Winter is determined to settle it.

This requires some “adjustments” – winter gear in both my Jeep and my wife’s van. The heavy leather flight jacket, lined workman’s gloves, Smartwool socks and a change if foot wear as well. I tried to stick with my Rockports yesterday . . . . time for “boots”.

I have three pairs of boots – the “holy crap is it cold and I’m going to be out in it on a campout for the weekend” pair, the “Hiking Boots” and the “Combat Boots”. I’m going to pass on the “holy crap” pair for this post – they may well need a post of their own. So let’s spend some time on the care and feeding of my “Hiking Boots” and my “Combat Boots”.

They have been my “Hiking Boots” since I first bought this particular pair. They are made by Monarch and are Gore-Tex lined. I purchased them – and a lady’s pair for my wife – in preparation for our “hike across Scotland”. We began in Inverness and ended 10 days later on the Isle of Skye. It sounds tougher than it was. We would travel to a region, stay in a bed and breakfast and then hike the local area. From city to peat bog to mountains to sea shore we covered around 70 miles. What a great trip, made better by good foot gear.

A hiking boot – one constructed especially to protect and support your foot and ankle during extended foot-travel needs to do a number of things. It needs to provide a solid foundation for your specific foot. This is done through a combination of a sturdy sole that can grip the expected terrain firmly, a snug (NOT tight) fit and with boot inserts that can further tailor the fit of the boot to your individual foot’s need.


It must protect your foot from the typical abrasions of foot travel – scrapes against rock, plant life and downed branches.

And, it must protect your ankle from the unexpected twist or fall.

It should be loose enough to allow some movement of a foot encased by a base sock of polypropylene that is covered by a good wool sock – I like Smartwool socks best.

If you are an all-season hiker – hot Hiking Boots (Medium)or cold, dry or wet – it should do its best to defend your foot from the elements as well.

There are endless types of boots but they basically break down into two major categories – composite/synthetic or leather. A composite boot has a synthetic sole and a synthetic upper that – for my purposes – would extend over the ankle and typically include additional support structure. These may or may not be Gore-Tex lined and can be waterproofed by any number of silicone sprays. I have never found a pair that truly fit my foot for the long haul and have not purchased a pair for over a decade – though I do have a remaining pair – the topic for the next boot-type.

A good leather boot essentially meshes with your foot – becomes “one with your foot”, all while providing comfort, a solid fit and good support. This is what I find with my Monarch’s. For me – distance hiking or just good support during crappy weather – is best handled by a good pair of leather boots. Period.

Their care and feeding is not much different from the care and feeding of my weapons or my knives or my other camping/trekking gear. My boots want to be clean, they want their laces updated periodically, they want the spaces between their cleats clean and they want to be “lubed”.

To clean my boot – especially if muddy – I let the mud dry and the brush off as much as I can with a fairly stiff brush. Once clean I’ll use some of my wife’s Kiwi Mink Oil (Medium)saddle soap to remove the remain dirt and again let them dry. Finally I apply a fairly thick layer of Mink Oil for waterproofing and to keep the leather supple. That is what I did this morning as I watched the snow blow by. I dug out my can of Mink Oil, the tooth brush I use as an applicator, and I worked it into each crack and crevice. I typically do this about 3 times a year. It’s a labor of love that I find very relaxing – and I enjoy the resulting warm, dry feet as well.

My second primary pair of boots are my “Combat Boots” because, well, I was introduced to them as I got my issued clothing when reaching my final base in Vietnam. Obviously, this particular pair is not my final pair of in-country boots. But they are virtually identical to those I wore 40+ years ago. They are my paddling boots.

When you prepare to take a long distance paddle – multi day, multi portage, let’s say 50-100 miles – foot care is vital. There is no help . . . you can’t dial 911 . . . twist an ankle, cut a foot, break a foot . . . you and your Combat Boots (Medium)travel companions must get you out. It’s important to find a boot to fully protect your foot.

Add to that the whole idea of whether you want to travel the day “wet footing” or “dry footing” and another parameter is added. To make it simple for me, I have long since decided I’m fine with “wet footing”. The typical combination of a polypropylene base sock covered by a Smartwool sock provides good cushion whether my foot is wet or dry. The design of the Vietnam era combat boot was a composite sole with a metal insert to protect the bottom of your foot, leather lower around your toe and heal and then a canvas upper with additional strapping for ankle support. It is the ideal paddle boot. It has a number of advantages for the “wet footer”. There are small ports built into the arch of the boot that allows your natural walking movement to pump water out of the boot. The canvas upper will dry fairly quickly and the boot “breaths” again allowing your foot to dry once you have stopped moving for the day. (Though I typically pack a pair of camp shoes of some type to allow the boot to fully dry overnight).

When not on a paddle, these boots are my yard-working boots. They are decades old, very comfy and honestly I do little maintenance on them as can be seen in the photo. They do exactly what they were designed to do – take the rigors of combat in a jungle environment, protect and support my foot – and require little or no maintenance in the meantime.

Boots are your travel base. If your feet blister, if your boot does not protect your foot from the terrain, if your boot does not protect your ankle against sprains . . . your journeys may be short and painful.

Find good boots, take care of them, wear them, enjoy them . . . they are one of the most important pieces of gear you own!


  1. For better waterproofing, try Sno-Seal instead. Mink oil and beeswax. Takes longer to soak in (unless you warm the leather a bit) but waterproofs better than mink oil, and keeps the leather as soft as mink oil.

    lasts a bit longer too

  2. Hey there B . . . I've used Sno-Seal in the past. I have a pair of Summit boots from the late 70s. Their leather is VERY stiff . . . VERY stiff, and Sno-Seal worked great on them. But the Monarch's leather is much softer and Mink Oil seemed to work better. Perhaps the formula for Sno-Seal has changed by now, may have to give it another try once my current tin is gone. thanks for the heads up!

  3. I recognize that bottom pair! :-) Good points, and damn good idea! This time of year

  4. I suspect you might find a pair or two laying around as well?? :)