Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gear for the Marginal Lands: Footwear on the Margin

© 2010 Joshua Stark

I am a big fan of buying American made products when I can. In the case of double-barrel shotguns, as seen by my recent post, I couldn't quite get there - and besides, I haven't seen a double trigger double-barrel side-by-side from our side of the pond in quite a while - but, in many other cases, I really look for American made.

When it comes to footwear, that means biting the bullet and paying a bit extra, but it also means guaranteeing quality. Many of the remaining American footwear manufacturers cater to specialty groups, in particular safety and military personnel, who often either require or highly recommend American products in their uniforms.

For years, I wore Hi-Tech brand boots, because they were cheap and pretty comfortable. However, a few years back, I slipped on a particularly wet step at work, and slammed my back on a wooden staircase. It was quite painful, but thankfully there were no broken bones or punctured organs.

At that point, I swore off cheap footwear, and began looking for something with a good sole, waterproof, and comfortable. For me, comfortable means well-balanced first, then lightweight. Other factors, like warmth and insole support, are usually so personal that I recommend tweaking them with aftermarket products (socks and inserts).

Believe me, before I settled on my boots, I tried on a ton of shoes. I also did a lot of research. It's silly, I know, but I have a hard time letting go of that much money without making sure it's a good decision. After a month or so of reading and fitting, I found the boot for me: Danner Acadias. Not only are they pretty, they are super comfortable, and nearly indestructible. They are lightweight, and only take a couple of days to settle in. My Danners came with hard inserts that were fairly comfortable, but squeaked when I walked, so I chucked them and bought some insoles (I'm still looking for good insoles, by the way). They are completely waterproof. I love them.

But boots aren't the be-all and end-all of footwear for the outdoors.

When I met my wife, I got a number of great and wonderful surprises, not the least of which is the fact that she is a kayak instructor. At the shop where she worked, she introduced me to Chaco sandals, and changed how I wade fish and hike most Summers.

I have a couple pair of waders, one breathable and one neoprene, and for years I'd pulled them on when fishing the Sierra Nevada streams during the Summer. No longer. I've worn Chacos for years now, and fish in either shorts or pants, and just get wet.

I was going to go into the great features of these sandals, but sadly, I've found out while writing this post that Chacos are no longer made in the U.S.A., nor are they even an independent company, having been purchased by Wolverine last year. If it's one thing I cannot stand, it is a company saying that it must move it's production overseas for costs, and then not lower the price of the product on the market. Chacos made in China are not worth $95, so I officially remove my endorsement.

My advice for footwear: Take the time to find a pair that fit your criteria and will last. And save up for quality, this one time. Six miles after a hike through the Sierra or desert, you won't even remember what you are wearing if you bought the right pair, and that would be great.

What do you all wear? Are you happy?


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Hey Josh

has this one been playing on my mind lately?

I have one foot bigger than the other - between quarter and half a size, apparently very common, and narrow heels that mean I wear through the heel cups before the rest of the boot is worn in.

In the UK there are a few custom boot makers, but all at eye watering prices! You're very lucky that the US still has a few choices of artisan boot makers, sure the top end ones are the best part of $500, but that's nothing to what they'd cost in euroland or blighty.

Yep it's handmade for me next time, just need to find someone who wants a super high end bathroom so I can pay for them.

Bpaul said...

I have the same problem as SB there, at least on the different foot size front. Up to 1/2 size, it's a big difference.

I wear Danner -- hell I can't even remember the name, the slip ons. I dig em.

Those are "in city dress shoes."

I also wear Vasque sundowners, and have for approx. 15 years, because they're one of the only serious, heavy hikers that fit my strange (flat, wide) feet well.

And Birkenstocks. Both sandals and the full-grain leather shoes. Those are actually my work shoes at the moment.

Not very U.S. made, but all high quality and leaving me feeling good at the end of the day.


Josh said...

SBW, in that case, I suggest looking for custom insoles as an interim step. (ooh, bad pun!)

BPaul, I've heard good things about Vasque, but they have jumped on the low road to China, and that bothers me. I'm a big fan of sustainable markets, and separating the demand side from the supply side makes for some serious instability. Also, so long as we are subsidizing carbon emissions, they will have an unfair advantage over alternative choices.

I wouldn't mind China nearly so much if it weren't a dictatorship and if it allowed for upward wage pressures from its workforce. Alas, there is much pressure to maintain their comparative advantage vis a vis labor.

But, I digress.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

All puns are good

PS this belief is a large part of why she is now the Ex Mrs SBW. Her Loss.