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The Perfect Pair

It's no secret among hunters that the right pair of boots can be the difference between a good day and a lump of miserable hours strung together, each worse than the one before it. And it's no secret that few people truly appreciate a good pair of boots in the same way that hunters, soldiers and farmers do. I was out of college the first time my feet told me I needed to shop for new footwear. This was due more to age than education, a fact supported by the reluctance of most children to wear any shoes at all when given a choice. But as a get a little older, I become more and more aware of a very special relationship.

When a caveman figured out that he could strap a piece of bark or a strip of animal hide to his feet and extend his daily activities by several hours, he was indeed on to something. Thank goodness the technology has progressed somewhat since that day, as I can't see bark or animal hide being comfortable, convenient, or durable. But the feeling of something, anything, between bare skin and dirt must have been a revelation. There are hundreds of boot brands and styles available today, each different from the next in material, cut, style, protection, sole pattern and a few other variables, and each one looking for the perfect foot.

Personally, I've developed an affinity for the convenience of a pull-on boot, the style some call a 'Wellington'. Sure, lace-up boots fit more snugly and do a better job of keeping the pebbles and twigs out, but the ease of sliding on that boot and going is hard to beat. About seven years ago, I saw an advertisement in a magazine for a pair of these pull-ons branded by Field & Stream. I never figured out whether this was the same trademark as the magazine, but when they started to wear and I was unable to find the advertisement in current periodicals, a lot of sleuthing took me to the manufacturer. To my great disappointment, they no longer made the style I had or any pull-on for that matter.

These boots were as comfortable as a pair of bedroom slippers, lightweight with just the right amount of cushion in the step. Covered in Cordura and slightly insulated, they were waterproofed with a lining of Sympatex, a material I've come to learn is much more common in golf shoes than hunting boots, but nevertheless worked wonderfully for the first few years. Wear and tear takes its toll on everything, though, and eventually I felt damp corners in my socks on heavy dew mornings. Wet feet are no picnic, and it's my opinion that any good pair of boots should have some sort of waterproofing. Whether Gore-tex or Sno-seal, some barrier to moisture is legions better than none at all. Wet feet are for walking on the beach.

These boots had just the right amount of room, not enough to pinch or cramp and not so much that the boot flopped around. Most hunters have owned boots that rubbed blisters, pinched the big toe or bent the little toe inward. When this happens, you know you've gotten a bad pair and nine times out of ten, its better to just start over. I dropped a pair like this at the Salvation Army last week. Some boots feel fine when you try them on and then mysteriously develop these aggressive tendencies after a few hours in the field. I haven't figured this phenomenon out yet. I'm guessing that it's less likely with custom boots tailored precisely to the personality of your foot, but have no experience in that arena. I've heard that Russell makes a fine set of custom hunting boots and from first person reviews of their production models, I'd imagine this is the case. One day I'll probably give them a try. In the meantime I'll keep spinning the off-the-shelf roulette wheel.

Certain things willingly accept efforts to prolong their useable life. Houses, tools and tractors can be patched and reconditioned many times over, limited truly by how much a person is willing to spend. The same for boots, to a degree. I've had the soles on my Field & Streams glued back on twice, and knock on wood they still have a lot of wear left in them. I put in a set of Dr. Scholl's inserts a few years ago in what could be considered a slight upgrade. About the only thing I haven't been able to fix is the waterproofing, but I'm willing to tolerate a slight leak for a good boot, especially one that is eight years old. These old goats won't last forever, though, and that's where my dilemma begins.

I've exhausted the route of replacing them with a new version of the same style, so now I start all over, armed only with a better knowledge of what makes my feet happiest. Pull-on is preferable to lace-up, waterproofing is better than none, fit is paramount, and longevity is key. Kangaroo, tanned leather, Cordura, steel toe, Gore-tex, Vibram, it all runs together. Arch support, ankle support, and insulation are all relative. Snakeproof? Nice option but not a necessity in these parts. Camo? No thanks. Should be easy, right? Right. As easy as finding a perfect diamond. In the meantime, I may just put another 100,000 miles on these Field & Streams.

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