Tools & Gear
Hunt With Your Boots On – Part 3
By Ron Spomer
Made In The Material
Materials and construction can make or break a boot. Full-grain leather is the full thickness of hide just as the cow made it, stiff, durable and heavy. Split-leather has been thinned, thus is lighter and more flexible. Suede is “roughed up” leather. It’s merely a “look,” but detractors think it more easily absorbs moisture than does smooth leather.
Cordura is a strong, tough, heavy weave of nylon thread. It’s cheaper and lighter than leather, but can only be waterproofed with a membrane liner. Dust and thorns easily penetrate it, and once a cut thread starts to unravel, there she blows. Nylon melts, so don’t try warming Cordura boots too close to the campfire. A boot with leather around the foot and Cordura up the leg is a good compromise between durability and weight.
Many outdoor boots combine Cordura panels with leather. This makes for a cheaper, light-weight boot, but beware extensive stitching. It’s the weak link. Stitching breaks, rots, unravels. The most durable boots consist of one slab of full-grain leather wrapped into shape and sewn together up the back where stitching is least likely to be abraded. Avoid stitches around the toe and low on the sides. You’ll puncture a Gore-Tex bootie if you try to re-sew loose stitching.
Sole attachment is a big concern. The Goodyear welt system used to be best, but these days cementing and vulcanizing may be better. Most of the top-grade mountain boots such as LOWA Hunter Extreme GTX have soles cemented or vulcanized on and I’ve seen them stick together until the leather uppers were demolished. The soles of these boots are so hard/durable that they often outlast the uppers.
A Stitch In Time Saves …
The final piece of the boot puzzle is care. Proper maintenance will help boots run for miles and years. Dirt, moisture and heat kill boots, breaking down leather and stitching. So keep them clean and dry. Ideally, after each day wipe or brush off mud and dust. Dry gradually, not with extreme heat. Stuff newspapers or towels inside to suck up moisture. Blow warm, never hot, air in and around them. Heat breaks down leather and many man-made fibers. Do not set boots next to the stove.
Now and then clean leather with saddle soap and restore with any leather conditioner (these prevent drying and cracking of fibers.) To hold dirt and water at bay, treat with silicone or a beeswax product like Sno-Seal. Some boot makers recommend NOT using animal fats like mink oil. There is conflicting advice about these products based on how leather was tanned. Ideally you should seek advice from your boot maker.
Gore-Tex liners can be compromised if you totally seal the leather. Gore-Tex is a film, not a fabric. It looks like a plastic bag and works by “breathing.” Body heat pushes sweat vapor through Gore-Tex. If there’s an impermeable material against the outside of the membrane, the vapor condenses to water that cannot escape. The Gore-Tex then quits breathing. On its website Gore itself does not “recommend the use of waterproofing waxes or greases as they can affect the footwear’s breathability. Apply only treatments, polishes, conditioners, and dressings recommended by the manufacturer.” This proves a Catch 22 because many boot manufacturers do recommend use of waterproofing waxes.
Silicone apparently does not interfere with Gore-Tex. A silicone-based product called Aquaseal advertises itself as “Safe on Gore-Tex footwear.” Its website contains a quote from Gore-Tex stating Gore-Tex is “not affected by shoe polish, silicone, oils, or leather conditioners.” Silicone repels water chemically (same-charged ions repel one another) rather than by physically plugging pores in leather. Silicone does not seem to last as long as wax under heavy use, however, so be prepared to treat boots often.
Personally, I resolve this issue by admitting that my feet sweat so much I can soak a pair of running shoes, and I can practically feel air blowing through those. So I don’t purchase Gore-Tex boots to prevent sweating, but to keep out water, and this they do admirably. I’ve been walking through soaked grass and ankle deep streams with my LOWA Hunter Extreme Gore-Tex boots for five years now and they’ve never leaked.