Backpacking boots are specialized footwear developed for the heavy loads, harsh environmental conditions and rugged terrain experienced by explorers, forestry workers, front line soldiers, rescue personnel, big game hunters and off trail backpackers. They are functional in more pedestrian activity, providing you accept the heat and weight penalty incurred during universal outdoor application.
The boots are distinguished by their durability and rigidity. Their support takes the strain off joints and ligaments in th foot. They provide stability where our feet are unbalanced. If the boot sole has partial contact with the ground it will not twist or fold; our feet remain flat on uneven surfaces. The boot soles incorporate metal shanks to attain this characteristic. A wide sole with an aggressive thread provides grip on grass, mud, wet rock and gravel. Fashion and work boots like Timberland, Redwing and Caterpillar may look appropriately rugged but they are not designed for backpacking. The soles have too much flex.
A rigid sole is only a third of the puzzle, the upper must also resist twisting and folding to prevent rolling our ankle when we slip or place our weight in concealed depressions. Boot uppers are constructed from a single piece of heavy leather up to 2.5 mm thick. Additional sections of leather may be sewn over the contiguous upper, to connect eyelets or padding around the ankle. The collar of the upper must cover the ankle to support it, which equates to a height of 6". The additional height of 10" leather combat boots is often an inconvenience. Sno-lock gaiters will protect against heather, ticks and snow ingress.
Stitched down uppers or 'Norwegian welts' are superior to cheaper adhesive construction. If a glued sole fails it will
do so catastrophically, stitched soles may be inspected, repaired and replaced. Leather lining is the most durable.
There is a lot of product out there but selecting a
backpacking boot is relatively straightforward. It must have a Vibram sole with metal shank, stitched down full
grain leather upper and should not have a Gore-Tex lining. This criteria will exclude 95% of available boots. The
Italian made Alico Summit boots meet all of our previous requirements. They are extremely durable and fit true to
size. Break them in and treat with Sno Seal before tackling the back country. The Summits available from STP
are seconds but most imperfections are purely cosmetic.
Why exclude Gore-Tex lined boots? Unfortunately, Gore-Tex (GTX) boots are just a marketing gimmick, particularly for heavy duty leather boots, which already offer good protection when treated with bees' wax. GTX boots give us the worst of all worlds, boots that don't breath and in all likelihood will fail to keep water out. GTX has a theoretical advantage in river crossings but because the material is so delicate, it is quite likely that grit or small stones will have entered the boot through the collar and punctured the lining. It's also likely that river water gain entry by exceeding the 6" height of the boot collar.
GTX boots can take 3 times longer to dry, if soaked by high river waters spilling over the collar or entry through damaged liners. A better approach is to use full grain leather boots treated with to keep snow and rain out. Use a pair of hiking sandals for river crossings if you want dry boots. Using waders or trash bags can be lethal if we slip in the river; they fill with water and act as ballast, prevent us getting up.
If you want a waterproof boot liner, then waterproof socks are they way to go. They can be removed for warm
weather and replaced if punctured. They should deliver several
years of service if you treat them with care. Wear merino wool liner socks underneath, to wick sweat from the
feet. Hand wash and air dry, exposing both sides several times.
Most people prefer cooler, better breathing and quicker drying footwear for the warmer seasons. Some take it to extremes and hike with sandals or go barefoot. The Danner RAT boot is a contemporary interpretation of the canvas desert and jungle boots developed in the 1960's. Those original designs are still available; unfortunately, manufacture has moved to China, the quality has subsequently declined to unsatisfactory levels.
Danner make their boots in Oregon, with superlative quality and excellent customer service. The price may be a little more but it's worth every cent, considering the comfort and the option to have them resoled. The RAT boot is probably the best summer hiking and hunting boot on the market. Constructed from leather and 1000 Denier nylon, they feel as cool as a pair or sneakers but still provide good ankle support for aggressive terrain and heavy loads. The nylon portion of the boot replaces the cotton in the 1960 era boots. It is more resistant to abrasion, absorbs less water and dries quicker.
The hot weather boots have no Gore-Tex liner, which helps vapour breathing and subsequently evaporative cooling. A Gore-Tex (GTX) variant is available but I don't recommend it. If you want protection from water and snow then wear waterproof socks over wool hiker socks. The waterproof socks are replaceable if punctured or clogged. They are over-socks not stand alone socks. The wool socks are required to wick sweat. Swiftwick nylon compression socks, boost circulation, resist slippage, prevent swelling, wick moisture and ultimately prevent blisters. The RAT is lined with Dri-Lex, a polyester based fabric manufactured by Faytex that wicks perspiration away from the foot to where it can evaporate. Wicking sweat from the feat helps prevent fungal infections and blisters. It stops the boots rotting too.
Water drains from two grommets on the inner arch of each boot, when soaked from river crossings or monsoons. Wool hiker socks are critical to foot comfort too. They stop the foot moving around in the boot, preventing blisters and wick moisture from the feet to the Dri-Lex lining. The merino wool won't itch and contains Lanolin a natural anti-bacterial oil secreted by sheep. These socks can be worn for days when aired at night. Cotton socks trap sweat and are not recommended.
At 35 oz each, the RATs are slightly heavier than some alternatives but that extra weight will pay dividends after
long days of hiking or hunting. Assault boots may be lighter but I have found these sneaker/boot hybrids don't match
the RAT's durability. The RAT boot could be classified as a ruggedized assault boot, due to its sneaker-like comfort
and mobility. The boots come with a high traction Vibram sole but with a fiberglass shank to keep the weight down.
At 8" the boots are a little taller than most commercial designs but the rear tang and speed lacing make getting them
on and off a snap. Their 8" height means a short gaiter isn't needed to keep grit and scree out.
Questions & Feedback.
Well, that's about it guys. I hope you found this guide useful. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to contact me through the welcome page.
Ian ST John.
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