It’s that time of year again—mud, rain, snow, and freezing rain. When you’re outdoors (or walking the city streets) in the next few weeks, keep your feet dry and happy. Here are a few trail-tested options we like to help keep our dogs from barking:
Bean Boots: L.L. Bean makes a classic rubber-bottomed boot with a flexible and comfortable leather top stitched on. Bean boots are the official boot of Maine and popular with college students and seasoned outdoorsmen alike (Scott loves the original 12" "Maine Hunting Shoe" version). They’re versatile enough to use hunting, canoeing, fishing, or around town. One thing to note: If you hike steep muddy trails, consider another boot option; Bean Boots do not provide great traction on slippery hills. Also, Bean Boots are not completely waterproof. Sooner or later, they'll leak around the stitching or right through the leather if completely soaked.
UPDATE: I've had my Maine Hunting Shoes for five years now and have subjected them to heavy use through Fall, Winter, and Spring, and still love them! They are not insulated, but with a liner sock and and good pair of thick wool socks, they're quite comfy for active Winter wear in moderately cold temps. I wear them around town as much as I do in the woods. The stitching holding the uppers to the rubber sole is their Achilles heel, both in terms of keeping water out and durability. My stitching completely wore through, and I'm happy to report that L.L. Bean's warranty is as good as promised. I mailed the boots back in, and they sent them back restitched and with new laces and insoles.
XtraTufs: Famous throughout Alaska, the "Sitka Slippers" go head-to-head with the cold, muddy, and wet conditions of Alaska and have proven victorious. Super comfortable with their soft neoprene makeup, the XtraTufs’ firm sole is designed to grip the wet decks of commercial fishing boats, providing incredible traction. Completely waterproof, XtraTufs can be trusted in the wettest conditions—from fishing, to hunting, to canoeing, to hiking, and everything in-between (Scott has used these for wilderness whitewater canoe trips and has been happy with the results). Even if you do get your XtraTufs wet inside, the removable liner dries out quickly.
UPDATE: After years of hard use, my XtraTufs are still going strong! I've used them on three different week-long whitewater canoe trips with cold water and rough portages, and I have been very happy with their performance. There are insulated models of XtraTufs, and one of my friends, a biologist in Alaska, says she uses them most of the Winter, switching to Bunny Boots for "real cold" days, Winter trips to the North Slope, or for times when she'll be stationary. I learned about Bama Sokkets from a ranger in Ely, MN last winter. I noticed he was wearing his XtraTufs during a -35F weekend. He said they kept him warm during active use and pull the moisture away from his feet and socks. I bought a pair of Sokkets last Winter, but have only had limited use with them. The biggest news with XtraTufs is that they are no longer made in the U.S.A. This has created quite a ruckus among fans, and many are saying that the quality has really tanked since they've moved manufacturing to China. I don't know if this is true or if it's an emotional reaction to the relocation, but recent reviews don't sound good. Hopefully quality will come back up and/or the production will be brought back to their original location. We did recently talk with a fisherman at Pike Place Market in Seattle who said he's in them all day, everyday. He said they're great with insoles, but that he goes through a pair in about three months.
Tingleys Rubber Overboots: As the name indicates, Tingleys are made of thin, stretchy rubber designed to be worn over your hiking boots or shoes. They’re light, completely waterproof, can be rolled up to conserve space in your pack, and are comparatively inexpensive. You can also count on your Tingleys to help keep you vertical while portaging or fishing the riverbanks—their tough, but soft rubber soles really grip wet rocks. Tingleys are champs throughout the year; with felt insoles and liners they are warm, light, and comfortable—perfect for wet snow conditions. We think every outdoorsman should have a pair of 17" Tingleys (for back-up, if nothing else)!
UPDATE: The Tingleys overboots continue to function as the Swiss Army knife of a woodsman's footwear! Unfortunately, more bad production news. It seems that Tingleys is no longer making the 17" boot; however, I've seen some on the shelves of the local Fleet Farm and also on Amazon. Get 'em while they last! They do still make shorter options, and I bought a pair of the overshoes to slip over my mukluks--Calvin Rutstrum style--but they don't offer the protection of the 17 inchers. Bull Moose Patrol is considering starting a mail campaign to Tingleys and Servus (manufacturer of XtraTufs) to bring back their great sloppy weather boots!
For the more fashion conscious outdoors(wo)man, Linda is currently field testing her latest pair of Hunter boots. Stay tuned.