Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Choose Gear Carefully (pt1) Winter boots

When you are homesteading on a dime, you try and avoid making any financial mistakes. Choosing your gear is a very important part of your life. Likewise not letting the opportunity to purchase additional or backups, to your inventory. When the deal comes along you better grab it while you and your wallet can.
You will gravitate to what works best for you in terms of boots, clothing, etc. Bear in mind that you will be using your gear much harder and under more extreme conditions than most. So you won't really be able to apply the standards you did back in town.
For this particular article, I have chosen the much lofted bunny boot and mickey mouse boot for the topic. 
Back when I was in the Military, we did our annual winter/arctic training every winter. Part of our arctic issue was the white, rubber, much coveted bunny boot. While they had their issues, I generally found them acceptable. They were indeed warm, though they really did not offer much in the area of ankle support. They also tended to be a bit heavy.
That being said I never had to actually use these boots for more than 30 days at a stretch (our typical deployment duration).. Once out of the military I returned to the customary pac boot that I grew up with. Back then Sorel was the only way to go. I recall buying a pair of sorel pacs at Fleet Farm for a grand total of $20. I used these boots exclusively (actually I had two pair) though out the Minnesota winters. Eventually after moving to Alaska I felt the need to upgrade to a true arctic boot and made the leap to a pair of black, mickey mouse boots.
Now as I mentioned, you will not be going from the house, to the car, to the office/shop, then putting on safety shoes, or penny loafers, or whatever. You will (provided you homestead in a northern clime) be in your winter boots much of the time.
Remember... you are homesteading with meager income and resources. If your boots or other gear fail... you may be in a tough spot. And you can not afford to put your money into worthless gear.
During my second winter with these boots I noticed something about my groovy winter boots that I had not noticed before. They had split at the seams. In many places the individual parts had parted ways, leaving gaps. No biggie as I was a bonified homesteader. Being prepared, I simply placed bicycle patches over the split seams. This held for awhile, but eventually (within weeks), the splits appeared beyond the patches. The boots still worked fairly well, and I continued to use them until it became apparent that they just would not go any further. I then switched back to my well worn Sorel pacs. Now these boots were purchased in the mid 80's. The soles didn't have the drip they once had and the leather uppers were no longer bright green. However they functioned as they always had.
After spring sprung and I returned to work, in order to get ready for next winter, I retired the black boots. Undaunted I bought a pair of white bunny boots... much cooler anyhow. I also decided to retire my faithful and loyal sorrel's (still had one pair). I had worn them every winter for twenty years. All I had to do was replace the pacs once in all that time. Replacement pacs are readily available by the way. Not a bad run for $20. The black mickey's had lasted two seasons before retirement.. Not as stellar.
To make the story short, I am on my second season with the white boots. The seams have already begun to split and the right boot is letting in moisture. Not good in an arctic situation.
In the above photo you will see the split in the seam. Note that MUCH of your daily movements during the day will be in a kneeling, squatting or other position. Rarely will you be standing up straight and imMobile. Perhaps I am a bit rough on my gear, compared to folks who live in a more conventional environment, but it gets to be a sore issue with me when my equipment fails in what I feel is a short period of time. I simply do not have the funds to waste on items that so not perform.
The above photo shows a split developing in the side of the left boot. This, in my opinion is totally unacceptable in the relatively short period of time they have been in use.
If I could find an acceptable way of repairing them I would be a bit more forgiving perhaps.

As I mentioned earlier, I am always on the lookout for more gear. I would never have just a single pair of boots, nor snowshoes or any other important piece of equipment, unless I had absolutely no choice. Every estate sale I come across I scout for replacement gear for future use. As long as it is in decent shape I make an offer and take it home. I currently have four extra pair of pac type boots on hand.
Unfortunately, I will have to eliminate the military vapor barrier boot from my list of choices, and focus primarily on pac boots, which have served me quite well in fifty plus years of living in northern climates.
I am going to look into purchasing a pair of Steger Mukluks, which have come highly recommended. If I can make the purchase this winter, I will test them and give a report. I also plan on fabricating my own primitive mukluks out of reindeer hide (domestic caribou), and black bear, for field testing.

You may find that the military VB boot to your liking. I hope your experiences are better than mine. However, if you do plan on using them in a remote setting be sure to have an additional pair of winter boots available.
Just in case...