Some Advice for Recognizing Durable Boots

durable boots

 

There are various styles of boots that can be considered for silviculture work. Some include:

  • Traditional leather work/logging boots
  • Leather hiking/climbing boots
  • Leather hunting boots
  • Vulcanized rubber boots
  • Combination vulcanized rubber and leather boots
  • Combination synthetics and leather boots

Because there are so many brands and styles in the market for these kinds of boots, from hand made to mass manufactured, along with plastics to rubber to leather and combinations of these, it is beyond the scope of this report to comment and evaluate each one. But there are certain criteria, particularly when it comes to durability, that should be considered in choosing boots better suited to the exceptional demands of silviculture bush work. Based on these considerations firms can undertake their own task analyses and recommend specific brands and models to their workers as meeting their minimum standards in compliance with the OH&S Regulation.

The first general rule is that there is usually trade off, in terms of durability, between the weight of a pair of boots and how long they are likely to last. Less weight comes from less material and less structure, which leads to a shorter life span for boots. It also may make the boots less safe by reducing their ability to provide sufficient support and protection to a worker’s soles and ankles. This general rule applies to all styles.

On that point the market for hiking boots has shifted towards offering increasingly lighter models to satisfy the demands of the large urban-based camping and recreation market. And these lighter boots, often with high-end brands on them, dominate the shelves of the stores catering to this market. It is less easy now for workers to find the superior technical climbing and expeditionary style of boots that can best measure up to silviculture work.

Any leather boots headed for the bush should be full grain leather. That is basically the hide from just below the animal’s hair. It is the strongest material. It is also the tightest grain and able to resist water better. Leather can also be sanded, sliced, buffed and so on. These treatments can produce a lighter material, but nicer looking. In some cases they improve the leather’s ability to absorb oils. Full grain leather comes in various weights as well. The heavier weight the stronger the material.

The strongest and most durable boot part of leather work, logging, or hiking boots, is going to be made primarily from one piece of full grain leather. This would include all the principal boot parts: the stack (upper), the vamp (the toe); the heel; and the bellows (the piece under the laces that keeps water and debris out of the boot by fully extending to the top of the upper).

The reason the fewer pieces of leather is better is that it means there is less seam work needed to hold the boot together. Seams are potential weak spots since their exposed threads can wear out under the abrasive assault that boots have to stand up to. Seams, of course, are no substitute for the natural integrity of a continuous piece of leather.

Seams can be single or up to quadruple threaded on most boots. The better boots are going to have the most threads in the seams and the least seams with a single thread doing all the work. The best threads will be polyester. The weakest boots will have fewer threads holding pieces together where there is continuous heavy wear. Boots with elaborate-looking, extended stitching patterns joining together numerous components will risk more chances of the seams failing somewhere. Less seams with more threads is best.

Another detail in looking at how boots are put together is how seams are lapped. Boots generally move forward through the slash so that from their perspective everything is coming at them. The best seams are going have the lap facing backwards wherever that is possible, particularly the vamp seam. That way the overlapping piece is not sewn so that it faces and catches incoming sticks and stones increasing the wear on the seam. Boots appropriately made this way for the bush are rare.

The outsoles or treads of boots needs to be made with either caulks or an aggressive, lugged rubber tread, the Vibram brand being a good example. Vulcanized rubber boots that come without caulks, need to have a sole thick enough to protect feet and provide traction. Although there are no specific guidelines on sole thickness for silviculture work, any light boots where you can twist the sole beyond some reasonable flex are probably not thick enough for support or protection.

The hiking and work boots that are bound to last will likely be built with a midsole often reinforced with a full or partial shank usually made of steel, plastic, or wood. The fuller the shank the more rigid the boot when it comes to longitudinal flex e.g., a mountaineering boot will have a fuller shank than a comparable hiking boot. Traditional leather work boots will have the midsole made usually from leather. Some work, hiking and hunting boots now have the outsole bonded to a layer of synthetic rubber, which forms the midsole providing cushioning, rigidity and protection.

Whether a boot can be resoled is not a perfect indicator of whether it is appropriate for bush work. Even running shoes can be resoled with caulks. But if hiking or work boots are constructed in such a way that they can’t be resoled, due to the way the sole is molded or glued to the boot, it is likely an indicator these boots are too light built for a silviculture application.

The exception to this advice on resoleability would be the styles of vulcanized rubber boots available for bush work, including rubber lace-up caulks, protective gumboot style with or without caulks, and combination rubber caulked bottoms sewn to leather uppers. Vulcanized rubber boots can work well for people whose feet fit the mold the boots are made from. But if a worker has to stuff their rubber boots with extra socks to get a fit the boots will be a problem. These rubber boots are pretty much set the way they come out of the mold and won’t adapt much to the shape of the wearer’s feet.

How a boot is attached to the sole is critical to the life of a pair of boots. Durable styles will have the boot stitched and/or nailed to the sole directly. The boot can also be attached to the sole with a leather, plastic or rubber welt around the perimeter of the outsole. Through a combination of stitching and glue the welt attaches the boot to the sole (the most common is known as a Goodyear welt after its inventor). Like stitched boots, welted boots can be resoled. Less durable boots will have the boot attached to the sole with glue or a vulcanizing process. Some boots may show stitching along the perimeter of the outsole to make it look like they are sewn together. These lighter styles are generally not resoleable.

Many hiking boots come now with a rubber rand covering portions of the boot, usually on the toe, or wrapping completely around the bottom of the boot. This construction can add life to the boot provided the rubber doesn’t delaminate, which may occur where the boot flexes, or on the toe where all the slash meets the rubber so to speak. On mountaineering boots a crampon connection on the toe of the sole may add life as well.

Boot Modification

Taking rubber soled hiking boots and converting them to caulk boots can be done on most models. The stiffer the boots, the better. Full shank mountaineering boots are great from a cobbler’s point of view. Their work lasts longer and has less chance of sole separation. The worker/customer can ask to have no caulks installed in the instep (arch) of the sole to allow for kicking a shovel. One proven outsole for caulked boots is a special rubber product known by the brand name TOPY. A good cobbler experienced with modifying boots for bush work i.e., planting, firefighting, survey work etc., will know this product, and be familiar with the best resoling process.

Tuff toe protection is a product that allows you to add protection to hard-wearing parts of the boot. It is a bit like icing a cake and can be easily spread before being left to cure. Besides reinforcing the toe it can be applied along seams, and rubber rands to resist wear and delamination. Basically it’s handy to have along in camp as a quick repair.

Freesole is a product experienced workers and cobblers recognize as a superior boot glue. It is easy to use and works well for gluing leather and rubber back together. It can be used for rubber patches and as a sealer on seams and other areas of the boot that may come apart in the field. Because it remains more flexible once it is cured it often provides a better bond than other similar boot glues.

A custom kick pad/plate can be added by experienced cobblers to the boot underneath the instep (arch) for protection when using a shovel. This protects the sole and the boot. A good cobbler will measure and custom-design them. They can be nailed onto most boots.

Padded tongue shawls are available from some manufacturers and cobblers. These pieces of padded leather fit underneath the laces above the bellows or tongue to take away lace bite caused by crimping when the boot flexes. They also can tighten the fit around the ankle. They work well on logging and work boots with a higher stack.

Adding insoles should be considered for support and comfort. They can address problems such as structural misalignment, plantar fasciitis, and foot roll (supination, over-pronation). They can improve fit to prevent heel slippage, foot elongation and low or collapsed arches.

Boot Care

Regular maintenance is critical to extending the life and function of a pair of boots. At the end of the work day boots should be inspected and aired out. The insoles need to be pulled so the boots can breathe. Moisture trapped beneath the insole and the boot liner leads to mold and rot. Dry boots, but don’t bake them. Glues and cements are heat sensitive, as is leather. If the boots are soaked they should be stuffed with paper to absorb moisture and left in a warm and dry place overnight. Special boot drying racks are available from manufacturers.

Boots with leather components need to be oiled regularly to last. If they look dry, they are dry. They can be kept looking almost like new (at least the stressed leather look) with regular treatment. These regular maintenance opportunities can be used to reapply any glues and covering treatments before you oil. At the end of the season boots need to be properly cleaned before being put away. Mud and dirt left on the boots over time will draw moisture out of the leather and lead to life-shortening cracks.

Socks

Socks needs to clean and changed often. Avoid cotton socks. The market is full of exotic combinations of wool and synthetic fabrics that wick, slide and breathe. The venerable Bama Sock is a recommended product as well. Wearing proper socks should be part of an individual worker’s personal foot hygiene to prevent cracked callouses, trench foot, blisters and other debilitating conditions caused by not looking after you feet.

Fitting and Breaking in Boots

First rule is don’t break in boots at work. New leather work boots should be soaked in water overnight, then worn for a day in socked feet wrapped in plastic. This investment will pay off in having boots that “fit like slippers.” Workers should get as much experienced and professional help as possible to ensure a proper fit when buying good quality boots.