Tuesday, July 12, 2011

In Defense of Boots

This post is a good follow-up to the last one about location, as where you are at can have a lot to do with how you dress.  One very important article of clothing, especially if you are going to be hiking long distances out in nature, are shoes.  For obvious reasons, you don't want to have flip-flops on if you are going on a winter hike in the Alps.  Nor would having a pair of fur boots on while you are hiking in the summertime through Death Valley.  

As I have noted in other posts, I often go deep into the woods, where there are no roads or even trails, other than the occasional, faint, animal path.  Here in Sweden (and other woodsy places), sometimes there are big patches of nice, soft moss to walk through--but other times there are long stretches of pretty rough terrain, like jagged rocks and fallen trees.  Often lots of nasty surprises are difficult or impossible to see coming, like a bed of sharp stones hidden under moss or a pointed stick waiting under leaves and brush.  

My choice of off-the-beaten-path style of camping/hiking does come at a price, but I am more than happy to pay it with the end result of experiencing more unspoiled woods.  Included in this price is not only that I nearly always have a map and compass with me, but also to put up with rougher terrain.  What is in contact the most with rough terrain, and also has to deal with the weight of my body and gear, are my feet of course.  So after having sore feet and stepping on a fair share of sharp rocks and pointy sticks, I learned to have proper footwear, and in this case I speak naturally about boots.

Here are my two favorite pairs, which as you can see, have had quite a lot of use:

On the left are a newer version of standard issue military boots for warm weather, and on the right are vintage (and authentic I might add) standard issue military boots during the Vietnam War, often called Jungle Boots.  Despite both being for warm weather, they are still pretty warm as far as shoes go, and I wear both in the spring and fall as well.  Many ultra-light hikers/campers would never be caught dead in these boots...I think each boot weighs over a pound each.  But then again, many ultra-light hikers stick to established hiking trails and roads, which don't have as many of the hazards I mentioned earlier.  Something happened recently which made me appreciate hardy shoes like boots for hiking out in the wild, and substantiate my argument in favor of wearing boots on rugged hikes like the ones I usually go on.

I just got back from a wonderful vacation in Spain.  Great company, great food, great wine, great weather, all around good times.  In planning and packing for the trip, I didn't think I would be doing any hiking at all, let alone trek through mountains or go camping and such.  My plans, and everyone I was with (mostly family) confirmed that we would be spending most of our time at the beach.  You know.  Swimming, sunbathing, and lots of nice, soft sand to walk and lay on.  So I only packed one pair of flip-flops and one pair of comfy sneakers (Vans slip-ons).

Little did I know that a friend of mine from the town I would be staying at had a surprise for me.  He, like all my close family and friends, know I am absolutely crazy about the outdoors.  So he surprised me with a great plan to go hiking then camp out in some nearby cliffs and hills that overlook the sea.  Of course I can't pass up on this, and in no time I am able to improvise a set of gear--a garbage bag as a ground cover, a roll-up beach mattress as my sleeping mat, and with temperatures of 35 during the day and 20-25 at night there was no need for a blanket or sleeping bag, just a thin sweater I brought with me for the airport/airplane.

I bet you can guess where this is going, huh?  Long story short, it was an amazing experience that I don't regret at all and we had a fantastic time.  We slept in an old, stone watchtower that was primarily used to spot pirates I was told.  We enjoyed some of the most beautiful views that I have ever seen--and I have seen quite a lot of beautiful views--with neon blue yet crystal clear water, sea caves, crashing waves, isolated beaches...and of course the cliffs and hills.  Yes the kilometer after kilometer of rocky paths, jagged cliffs, rugged stone hills, and every now and then a tiny patch of sandy beach as we followed the coastline.

I don't have the pictures from our hike just yet--my friend acted as the photographer and he is going to send them to me soon.  But I did take some pictures in the town we were staying at.  Here is one with my son and I, and note the rocky shore behind us and the cliff in the distance:

Now mind you I am a very careful hiker, and don't even remember when it happened or how, but sometime on our first stretch of hiking out to our campsite my foot began to really hurt.  I had enough to distract me from the pain, as I just detailed, so I knuckled down and kept on hiking.  We hiked about 12km and I felt every step of it.  After I got back I went to the doctor to check out my foot, which was still in pain a week after the camping trip, and the doctor confirmed what I already guessed: a stress fracture.  I got x-rays to find out the extent of damage, but it not that big a deal.  I can still walk, but with a slight limp.

Boy did I miss my boots while I was out roughing it with my thin little sneakers climbing up prickly boulders under the hot Spanish sun.

So it goes to show that there is a shoe for every occasion, and some are better than others given certain variables.  For most hikers/campers, you can get away with sneakers on cleared trails, and actually I agree with the idea in theory of having light weight shoes if you are only sticking to easier terrain.  But for other more challenging terrain, a nice pair of boots is a good thing to have, and they should not be dismissed by hikers/campers that seek to experience the tougher (perhaps more beautiful?) paths less traveled.  If there is a path at all, that is.

Even with an annoying minor injury, it was still worth it.  More pictures to come soon!