With age often comes a touch (or more) of arthritis. Even for those of us lucky enough to not have major problems, it can still add a level of difficulty to everyday tasks. Add in the fact that it’s consistently worse when it’s cold and/or wet, and it becomes obvious that one of those problem areas will be lacing up winter boots. The boots themselves are typically stiffer than summer boots due to the insulation layers, the laces are thin and hard to grasp, and the fact that the boots are usually higher means that you have to pull the laces even harder to snug them around your feet and ankles so that you don’t slide around in them. Truly, an unpleasant trifecta!
There are solutions, of course. Slip-on boots or Velcro straps make life easy; the problem is that if you’re trying to hike in serious backcountry conditions, they simply don’t provide the kind of support and control that are needed. I had resigned myself to limiting my hiking, particularly when the weather is transition between seasons (deep snow is actually easier to walk in than a few inches on top of slippery leaves!). Not an ideal situation, but safety trumps fun.
It was early November of last year when son David arrived at our house and handed me a pair of L.L. Bean’s Tuckerman’s Multisport Boots ($129). With a thick layer of very wet leaves topped by a couple of inches of wet snow on the ground, the going in our woods was extremely slippery, and on steep slopes (which we have in abundance) the footing was often downright treacherous. In other words, exactly the conditions that I’d decided to avoid. In spite of that I spent two days traversing the woods without slipping even once! The traction of these boots was amazing: the sole lugs appear to have their bottoms composed of a soft-but-tough material similar to that on the outside of really top-notch snow tires (a word of caution, however: no footwear is non-slip under all conditions. On ice and hard-packed frozen snow, for instance, nothing short of real traction aids like creepers or, in worst case, crampons will give you non-slip traction. Just be aware that even these boots have limitations, and act accordingly).
But…what about these boots made it possible for me to take advantage of the traction? It comes down to a lacing system called “Boa”. The lacings themselves are what appears to be a thin but sturdy plastic cable of some sort, but in fact are twisted bundles of impossibly thin stainless steel! These are connected to a dial about the size of a fifty-cent piece, located at the top front of the boot. Simply insert your foot into the boot and push the dial in toward your shin, whereupon it will engage with an audible click. Then start turning the dial clockwise. You will hear a clicking or racheting sound, and the laces will quickly tighten. How much the dial is turned determines how tight the lacing will be, and you can make it as tight or as loose as you wish. To remove the boot, just pull the dial out away from the shin, and the lacing immediately opens up. Pull the dial and tongue outward a little farther and presto!, your foot will easily come out of the boot. For anyone who, like me, has problems lacing up boots, the ease and simplicity of this system is a godsend.
That was the beginning of my love affair with these boots, which I’ve affectionately dubbed “Superboots.” Beyond the ease of lacing and the superior traction, these boots have a plethora of other sterling virtues. Let’s see, where to begin? We can start with the extremely light weight – 34 ounces, or, if you prefer, two pounds and two ounces. That’s in the weight range of my summer hiking boots! They are also extremely comfortable, at least on my feet; a happy side effect of the lacing system is that the boot snugs down with very consistent pressure all over my foot. Next comes the waterproof quality of these boots. They’ve got a nylon composite outer that doesn’t look as if it would stay dry for long; however, I’ve worn them in wet snow, slush, and several inches of water, and my feet have stayed dry. Then there is the matter of warmth. My feet get cold very easily and quickly (with age comes limited circulation!), so I’ve been astonished at how warm my feet have been in these boots. Traveling in wet snow, at temperatures just about freezing, my feet stayed warm. Then, at the Winterfest, I hiked in snow for several hours in the morning (yes, the sole is designed to work with snowshoes), with the temperature about 20 degrees, and my feet…warm again. But, that wasn’t all; I spent most of that afternoon standing around in the snow watching Tim and David put on an amazing seminar on winter camping gear and techniques, and only near the end of a long afternoon did my feet begin to get cold.
I also tried the boots on an ice fishing expedition.In preparation for that, I removed the inner soles from the boots and substituted Little Hotties inner soles. These have a little hollow that holds one of Hotties’ foot warmers – those little gizmos that warm up when removed from their package and stay warm for nearly six hours. Those worked very well, although, with the temperature about 20 degrees, it was difficult to tell how much the Hotties extended the lower range of comfort for the boots.Obviously, these lightweight boots have limitations as far as hyper-cold temperatures are concerned. I haven’t tried them at temperatures much below 20 degrees, and even with Hotties inner soles I ‘m skeptical that they’d be comfortable, at least on my feet, at temperatures approaching zero during long periods of standing around. Still, considering their light weight, these boots are amazingly warm.
Added to all this, the boots are sufficiently good looking that I’ve even worn them to meetings in our State House. Admittedly, the Vermont legislature, as a concession to Vermont’s harsh winters, is probably more relaxed about winter footwear than are its counterparts in the Banana Belt; still, it’s formal enough so that ties and jackets are more or less de rigeur for men. As a matter of fact, I’ve worn these boots everywhere outside the house this winter. It used to be that my feet were generally cold when driving my car in winter, even with the heater working well. Now, I’m happy to say, my feet have been warm while driving all winter.
If you’ve been looking for a winter boot solution that’s got great traction, support, warmth, waterproofness, and ease of use, you owe it to yourself to give these a try. With Bean’s legendary guarantee, you can’t go wrong…and you may just find yourself spending a lot more time outside in the winter!