Winter footwear

Winter footwear is one of the most crucial parts of equipment. It’s difficult to imagine comfortable travel, hunting, or fishing without good, reliable footwear. In this article, I would like to summarize and share my experience with several footwear models and the criteria that have become important to me when choosing winter shoes.

My first experience was with “valenki” (felt shoes): I thought it was a great idea. I planned to use them only in severe cold; after freezing a couple of times, I believed there was no such thing as footwear that was too warm. However, on my first outing, I quickly realized that it wasn’t the case: despite being voluminous, soft, and extremely warm, even at -20 degrees Celsius, they were entirely uncomfortable for any substantial walking. The thick felt shafts forced me to walk with my feet turned out, making me resemble a duck. Additionally, they were very hot, and upon reaching my hunting spot, I had to change socks (thankfully, I brought spares). While sitting in the blind, my feet were fine, and I no longer thought about frozen toes.

From this experience, I concluded that “valenki” are suitable for stationary activities like sitting in a blind, standing in a hide, or riding a snowmobile. However, they are not ideal for extended walking.

Based on my accumulated experience, I formed a desire for the warm lining in the shoes to be separate from the boot itself. This led me to the “Sorel” shoes; the company positioned itself as a manufacturer of reliable work footwear, and the box featured images of happy miners. I also used these shoes in the city, appreciating the rubber sole, which was easy to clean and kept my feet dry and warm.

However, my optimistic dreams were shattered by harsh reality. The shoes didn’t breathe at all, and it felt like I had wrapped my feet in plastic bags; after an hour of walking, the insoles were completely wet. The outer rubber layer froze through, and there were times when I removed the insoles to find frost inside, meaning that sweat had penetrated the boot liners and froze within the galoshes. But that wasn’t the worst part; after a year, the upper part of the shoes started to detach from the rubber galoshes, not due to torn stitches, but the seams started peeling off like a postage stamp. Just after one season, I found myself looking like a homeless person wearing “Sorel” shoes salvaged from the trash. I never understood what miners were happy about when wearing them; perhaps they were glad to pass on this footwear to me.

Afterward, I managed with army shoes for some time; considering their reasonable price, they served their purpose, although leather required care, which was normal. However, my curiosity pushed me towards experimentation and comparison; I was intrigued by why people paid so much for various insulation technologies like Thinsulate and different waterproofing methods.

Soon, I had the opportunity to test the Rocky FQ 7460 shoes. They were extremely interesting – robust, heavy, and looked very reliable, with a powerful sole featuring a textured tread. In one word – impressive. The shoes were well-insulated and almost as warm as felt shoes, but what set them apart was their ability to dissipate excess heat, making them comfortable both during walking and long periods of waiting. So, they were comfortable whether I was on the move or sitting in a blind. However, as is often the case, there were downsides too: the shoes themselves were very stiff, making walking quite challenging, and driving a car in them was simply dangerous. Perhaps if you have a large vehicle like a Tahoe with spacious pedals and ample legroom, you might have some room to maneuver in these shoes, but in a small “Toyota,” you simply can’t fit, and if your foot slips under the pedal while driving, it’s a disaster – it becomes quite difficult to pull it back out. In summary, this experience taught me the importance of having different footwear for hunting and walking. Ultimately, the Rocky shoes completely replaced the felt shoes in my wardrobe.

Next, I decided to experiment with shoes from the company “Meriel.” The name of the company sounded somewhat feminine, and their catalog featured many models for women, but they also manufactured very rugged shoes for men. These shoes were equipped with all the modern technologies: insulation, rubber soles with galoshes, and so on. But the main thing was that they were quite comfortable and compact, and you could even drive a car in them, although it’s still better to change your footwear when driving. The shoes were warm and comfortable for extended wear, but they were more suited for city use. When standing still in freezing weather, my feet would start to freeze, and they were comfortable only up to -10 degrees Celsius when standing, but you could run in them in colder temperatures. A significant advantage was their aggressive tread, which became especially noticeable when the ground was not frozen and covered with snow. I used them several times for paintball on such terrain, and they had excellent traction, allowing me to confidently run and stop without worrying about slipping and falling. However, like all shoes, they had one common downside – they were short, which meant you had to put your trousers on top of them; otherwise, snow would get inside. Besides that, they took a long time to dry, and you couldn’t over-dry them or wash them, as both leather and membranes did not react well to washing. Additionally, all these shoes were quite heavy, and a weight of 1.2–1.6 kg per boot was considered normal, but I wished for something lighter for my outdoor activities.

This experience prompted me to embark on more experiments. However, this time, I decided to create a list of my requirements first, and here’s what I came up with:

  • Lightweight, weighing less than 1.2 kg per pair.
  • Higher than regular hunting shoes, but below knee-height. Winter suits often have the lining extending only to the middle of the shin, so I wanted the shoes to be of a similar height. If they were higher, they would stick out above the trouser line and look like galoshes.
  • Made of natural thick leather. I wanted to return to traditional footwear and experience its benefits.
  • Removable insulation lining. This way, I could wash the lining separately, keeping the shoes clean and neat.
  • Not intended for use in the shoulder seasons, so an aggressive tread was not necessary. However, the sole should be thick and warm, enabling me to stand on snow in freezing temperatures without getting cold feet.

I searched for a while and realized that finding a boot with all these criteria would not be easy, especially with a separate construction. While there were quite a few options available, they were mostly overshoes or bulky like felt shoes. I didn’t like rubber shoes with inserts either, as my previous experience with them was negative.

I won’t bore the reader with an exhaustive list of all the options considered, but in the end, I settled on “Ichigi” shoes from the Poskryakov company. Finding them was not easy, as they were not available in stores, so I had to order them online. They fulfilled all my requirements: weighing less than 1 kg per pair, higher than regular shoes with laces for adjusting the calf width, and an inner boot made of thick felt. The sole was three-layered, with thick leather sewn to the boot and two layers of rubber attached to it. But the most important thing was that they already had quite a few positive reviews on the internet, both for winter and summer use.

Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to fully test them yet, but I did take a few walks in them, and they were very comfortable, feeling like slippers. I plan to test them thoroughly this winter, and hopefully, I will have a well-formulated opinion on this unusual footwear for the 21st century.

In this article, I tried to combine all my experience of choosing and using winter footwear over the past two decades. If any readers feel inclined to share their experiences, please do so; I believe it will be interesting for everyone.

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