Tools & Gear
Hunt With Your Boots On – Part 2
By Ron Spomer
Parts Are Parts
Much of part one above seems self-evident when one takes a few moments to seriously consider hiking needs. Not so obvious are the various parts that constitute a boot and make it function for better or worse. So let’s pour that foundation:
Outsole: The bottom of the boot. These days most common outsoles consist of synthetic rubbers of various density/hardness (high carbon content increases stiffness, hardness and wear resistance.) Vibram is the most common brand. It is not, as many think, just one type of sole — the hard rubber, deep-lugged sole of the common “hiking boot” — though it can be this classic.
Vibram soles come in a wide variety of shapes and materials, and other brands can look like and perform similar to Vibram. The harder and smoother any outsole material, the more easily it slips on hard, wet surfaces. Softer rubber that “gives” slightly and flexes resists slipping. Polyurethane slips more easily but is lighter in weight and more expensive.
PVC slips even more, but its inexpensive. Dual density polyurethane soles consist of a soft, cushioning inner layer and harder, more durable outer surface. The colder it gets, the harder and more slippery all soles become.
Tread patterns are important. Smooth bottoms don’t grip projections. Shallow treads slip easily on wet grass, snow and ice, but don’t pick up mud the way deeply lugged soles can. Wide, V-shaped lugs are designed to shed mud more easily than shallow, straight-walled lugs. Air bobs are rounded knobs that don’t cling to mud with a death grip, but stick well to everything else. Made of soft rubber with hollow centers, air bobs flex and grip beautifully, but can rip off on sharp rocks.
Many boot makers are advertising elaborate, multi-patterned treads that supposedly grip better going downhill or up or sideways or perhaps walking on the ceiling. Some use hard rubber sole material around the edges and a softer, gripping polyurethane or rubber in the center. Study these carefully to sift fact from hype.
Midsole: A protective or insulating (cushioning) layer sandwiched between the outsole and insole. Traditionally midsoles were cork or leather and as many as three might be added to a boot. Ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA), polyurethane (PU) and Thermoplastic Rubber (TPR) are most common today and are molded with variable thickness to provide cushioning and control pronation (walking on inside edge of foot) and supination (outside edge.) EVA tends to remain compressed after a few months use. PU and TPR are more durable but less cushioning.
Insole: The inside, bottom layer on which the foot rests. Usually removable. These were traditionally fine leather or cork, which absorbed perspiration, grew stinky bacteria, shrank and stiffened when dried. Synthetic fiberboards now cushion via deep heel padding. Some sport numerous small holes through which air is supposed to jet as you walk. Some compress and “spring back” to add lift and “energy” to your walk. Orthotic insoles of single density foam, usually urethane, are molded to provide arch support, lateral support and heel protection. You can add aftermarket insoles to reduce volume or increase comfort.
Shanks: These are inserts of spring steel, wood, nylon or plastic designed to add stiffness across the arch. Often molded into outsoles or sandwiched between outsole and midsole. Important for supporting heavy loads (backpacking.)
Upper: Everything above the soles, specifically the sidewalls, toe covering, ankle covering and tongue. Sometimes subdivided into vamp, the lower portion surrounding the foot below the ankle, and shaft, the tall section from ankle up. Usually leather but can be Cordura nylon, rubber or hard plastic (mountaineering boots). Uppers are built/formed around a “dummy” foot called a last.
Tongue/Gusset: The tongue is the strip of padding that protects your instep from laces. It is sewn to the boot at its bottom only. If it is sewn to the shaft up its entire length, it becomes a gusset. Gusseted tongues help keep out debris and resist sliding to either side. They also hold out water if they are waterproof. Gussets should be thin where they fold but padded in the center where they cushion laces.