Monday, July 13, 2009

Good Footwear

I was answering to a post at Glocktalk the other day and was reminded again of the importance of good footwear.
I brought the issue up because a certain survival expert, supposedly giving advice on surviving hell and various disasters recommended going around barefoot so as to have a better connection with mother Earth.
Not wanting to go much into connections with mother earth and such, I do want to mention how important it is to have adequate, or even more than adequate footwear.
I wont insult you guys by explaining the importance of actually HAVING footwear to begin with, and what a terrible idea it is to go barefoot both in the wild and in the city.
Many backpackers consider your boots to be the single most important part of your equipment and I can’t disagree with that.
Even during wars generals at various times during history have considered trench feet the hardest enemy they had to fight.
Some of the poorest people in my country that live in the northern provinces, whenever they get the chance to ask for something on TV, they usually ask for two things the most, clothing and shoes for the children and themselves. Then yes, powdered milk, flour, rice, sugar, and other supplies if the crops where bad or they were hit by floods, but usually shoes is right there in the top three.
Guess those Collas and other real native Americans don’t appreciate the connection with mother earth.
Now, when everything works great you can get away with trendy super slim line footwear that provides no protection at all, but that’s not the best alternative in my opinion.
The survival minded person is someone that can think of possible worst cases scenarios without going nuts, just making it part of the decisions he makes.
I’ve always liked trekking shoes, and light trail shoes for urban use.
At least around here sidewalks are often broken and in need of repair, so you do step on less than ideal ground very often.
In nice cities in USA and Spain this isn’t common. Sidewalks are usually clean and well taken care of.
Here they’re not and as silly as it may sound it can cause accidents if you’re not used to it. Sounds silly but it does happen. You get used to walking in better kept surfaces and I suppose you don’t lift your feet as much as you should.
This happened to my mother a few years ago walking down Florida, the nice commercial street in the down town capital district.
We were talking about something and suddenly she disappeared!
I looked down and there she was. She had fallen because of a broken and raised tile in the sidewalk. She hit it with one of those chunks of wood that are supposed to be shoes, wooden sandals that I guess were fashionable back then.
She had been living in Spain for many years already so I guess she was used to those perfectly cared for sidewalks.
Anyway I helped her up and her face was leaking blood from mouth, nose and a couple cuts here and there. What a mess for such a silly accident.
We went into a coffee shop nearby and the waiter helped us, gave her some ice. Do you know what he said? That it happens all the time. People fall in that same spot and get hurt. He even knew of people sewing the city for the poorly kept sidewalk, so I guess it wasn’t that much of a freak accident.
Back to the importance of good shoes.
Just think about natural or man made disasters, think about climbing through rubble and debris, stepping on mud, chunks of concrete and broken glass. Maybe you never though of that but that will turn regular dressing footwear into shreds in no time. Most women footwear don’t provide any protection at all.
I had a little revelation once while traveling in the sardine can known as the Roca train during rush hour. Its’ simply impossible to avoid dozen of people stepping on your toes. That’s when I started looking for trekking shoes that included industrial protection steel toes.
I ended up with ankle high Ombu boots. They are made of black leather and have a very thick working sole, along with steel toe protection and electric hazard sole. They also look very much like regular trekking boots.
Here they are.

Ombu Neon
IN USA and Europe you have much more alternatives. I’ve seen some nice ones made by Timberland and Caterpillar that look great.

Caterpillar Men's Diffuse Hiker Steel Toe Oxford

Preferably get something in leather that protects your feet from glass, rocks and debris.
One of the things that happen fairly often here is that trains and subs break for whatever reason, mostly poor maintenance.
People have to get out and walk on the train tracks to the next station. These are full of trash, broken bottles and of course the rocks themselves that can be found in the tracks.
The subway tunnels have the additional treat of having cat sized rats running around, carrying a potpourri of diseases, including Hantavirus.
If you are forced to walk through one of these tunnels back to the station, adequate footwear and a flashlight are a true blessing.
Even though they usually open by themselves, a small prybar or tough multitool could be needed to open the doors if they get stuck.



Anonymous said...

For those of you in northern climates, you should also get yourself a good pair of snow boots. If it's 0 out, you're not getting anywhere without adequate clothing and footwear.

Joseph said...

Here in south Texas it is popular, especially with women, to wear what are more or less shower shoes...little protection for the sole of the foot, no protection at all for the top. And they are walking on surfaces where people spit, leave broken glass, etc. Oh, and let's mention the wildlife too...found a scorpion in the apartment today. Protect your feet; you may be able to get around with an arm, hand or even an eye out of commission, but you need both your feet to get around.

Don said...

While I agree that having good solid shoes available is very sensible and smart, there is some sense in having strong feet as well. The most current evidence suggests that people might benefit from going barefoot more and from using less squishy, less supportive shoes regularly. Very strong supportive shoes may leave your feet weaker the way a cast does after you've broken a bone.

In my best world, I'd have both strong feet (to help avoid injury) and solid shoes at hand. I wonder then if it wouldn't make sense to have plenty of walking time in a shoe like the Nike Free, which is very flexible and is designed to help your feet develop their natural strength.

Yes, in a world of reduced resources and unhappy surfaces I might prefer solid boots. I don't live in that world yet; I'm just preparing for the possibility that I might someday. So it seems reasonable that today in my safe world I'd want to focus on strength and health while having proper tools (boots) in my closet, trunk, etc.

Joe said...

In climates where frostbite may be an issue stay away from boots with steel toes or shanks. Greatly increases the conductivity of cold.

Anonymous said...

Much of America gets deep freezes during the winter. Steel toed boots are therefore not such a great idea. If one is in a big city where one has to walk over broken sidewalks and such daily, steel toed boots are a necessity, unless it is extremely cold. Here in California most transportation is done by car, so a good 4x4 truck is needed to deal with poor roads. An annoying trend here is to lift up the truck's body by a foot or so for use as a "mud toy", which makes it impractical for survival driving. Many such mud toys are for sale, but they are not selling since they are so impractical. This means that buying new is a necessity.

FerFAL said...

Well made steel toe boots are much better than the cheaper versions used by most companies that only expect to comply with safety regulations. The more expensive ones are pretty warm even though the steel toe requires some getting used to.
If extreme cold weather is a problem in your area, I’d still get steel toe boots but get them a bit larger and use good thermal socks.
For skiing for example, I found that good socks make all the difference.


Don Williams said...

1) The US Army uses several types of boots ,for different environmental conditions. Leaving out specialty boots for extreme cold weather and ski mountaineering, they have a Temperate Weather boot for temperatures 65 deg F down to 15 deg F and a Hot Weather boot for temperatures of 50 deg F to 100+ def F. See http://acuboots.com/790series.htm and http://acuboots.com/390DES.htm

2) Some varients of the Hot Weather boot have drainholes (for tropical/swamp conditions) and steel toes.

3) The Temperate Weather boot is lined with Gore Tex in order to keep the feet dry even when walking through wet snow or freezing water. Keeping the feet dry is essential to avoiding frostbite. However, this makes the boot too hot to use in warm weather.

4) These boots were developed in the past few years. The Jungle boot from the Vietnam era fell apart in Afghanistan when subjected to rocky climbing conditions. Also, tan suede leather supposedly has a lower heat signature (on night vision goggles) than heat radiating black leather boots. The stopgap boot was an Air Force pilot boot but it was rather heavy (around 4 lbs) because the Air Force doesn't hike much. The new Army boots are tough but have been lightened (to around 2 lbs?).

BC said...

For steel toe boots in sub-zero weather, the chemical toe warmers work very well in addition to thermal or wool socks. When I worked outside (MI, USA and MN, USA) I would put a set of warmers in at the start of the day, and swap them at lunchtime.

Also, if you have those Cat shoes you show, you need some spare laces and a small rat-tail file. Some of the lace grommets are sharp on the inside and will cut the laces.

Crystal said...

It's possible that the survival expert was Cody Lundin, who has been living the primitive lifestyle and teaching survival classes in the American Southwest. He's gone barefoot for more than 20 years (he's on that show Dual Survival). I don't know if he is that person, since they recommended going barefoot, which I don't think Cody does. Even he's not a fool to go around completely barefoot in hazardous conditions (he'll put on socks or sandals). Going barefoot is part of his training to get his body used to producing heat.