The Absolute Must-have!

(to get to the top of that next hill)

If I had to pick one item I could not do without when I spent time in the rough outdoors, it would be my boots. I’m wearing them today as I write and scoop snow from the 2-foot dump we got.  My feet are warm and dry.

Here’s why I think you are smart to invest in boots. 

Here’s what you won’t do:

  • You won’t wake up in a ravine from that slide downhill.
  • You won’t leave a bloody foot track from the cacti that attacked you while wearing your crocs.
  • You won’t have to dig your crutches out of the closet because you twisted your ankle on uneven ground.
Standing on a foothold on China Wall in good boots.

The nearly vertical rock face of China Wall affords few footholds, but good boots make the difference. Red Wing Irish Setter boots are a good choice for hiking — especially if conditions are wet since these boots are good at repelling water.

I’ve had my share of miserable boots that held more water than they repelled. They seemed built to provide top-speed slipping and sliding downhill. 

I think they were designed to help podiatrists make money from sore feet.

So, finally, about 25 years ago, I bit the bullet and bought high-quality hiking boots. They cost a bit more than the $19.00 boots at Walmart.

And since then, I have kept up with the best boots I can find.

Good boots made all the difference.  I had no idea the difference they would make!

Tips for Boot Selection

If you are ready to buy a good boot to explore the Badlands, pick one that will prevent cacti and thorns from penetrating.

That’s why cloth shoes and sandals are not good. And when the weather turns to fall hunting and winter sports, you’re going to need very good boots.

So, pick the pair that supports you on cold hard, or icy and uneven terrain.

That means:

  1. The boot has a good grip, and
  2. The boot supports your ankles.  

Vasquevasque hiking boot

I’ll tell ya right up front, I love my Vasque boots. And Vasque is not paying me to write this. 

(Hey, Vasque, if you’re reading this, I don’t mind a shout-out!)

After trying several brands and styles, I’ve settled on Vasque.  The other day in the doctor’s office I noticed he wears Vasque, all day. 

And my sons who grew up in the tradition of outdoor recreation, they too on their own buy Vasque. 

Oh, and in the interest of equal time, ad bad guy on a Longmire TV episode wore Vasque. Sheriff Longmire tracked him.

I’ve hiked in everything from cowboy boots to tennis shoes, steel-toed work boots to rubber waders. 

For the last 20 years, I’ve hiked in only Vasque (with an occasional trek in Red Wing Irish Setter boots. Let’s go there for a moment.)

Red Wing Irish Setter

I’ve never hiked barefoot, but if I did, I don’t think it would feel any more lightweight than my Red Wing Irish Setters. They surprised me because I thought my Vasque boots were as light as any hiking boot could get.  Then, I shopped at the Red Wing Outlet Store in Red Wing, MN.  I settled on a pair of tall Irish Setter 3-season boots.

They’re good for Fall, Winter, and Spring.  Insulated and waterproof. And very lightweight.

I tried them on one long hot hike this summer and even though they are comfortable and hold the trail very well, they are too warm in the summer.  

So now, based on my academic and experiential lessons on hiking footwear, here are my guidelines.

Here’s what to look for in boot selection. 

red wing Irish setter boots

Red Wing Irish Setter 3-season boots for fall, winter, spring

  1. Solid Construction. The seams won’t come apart or wear out. Soles that will not detach. Eyelets and hooks will not break.
  2. Ankle protection,  Much of the hiking I do is back-country trailblazing in the Badlands of North Dakota.  The terrain is very uneven and slippery.  I’ve never twisted an ankle because I always use above-the-ankle boots that strap me in tight and firm.
  3. I like a pliable tread because it holds me on rock faces, even the south-facing slope of a bluff or butte. I like a boot whose lugs are solid yet soft, and the material of the sole is flexible for uneven ground.
    red wing boot tread

    A “sticky” or pliable soft sole is essential for gripping the trail in the Badlands

  4. Leather, not cloth. Where I hike, cacti, thorns, and sharp underbrush are thick.  Their needles do not penetrate leather boots.  I can’t imagine hiking in sandals or canvas shoes.  Ouch!
  5. I wear my Vasque boots because they provide year-round comfort.  With the right combination of socks, my feet stay warm and dry even in snowy or wet conditions. 
  6. Again, the right combination of socks makes a difference. In the summer, my hiking boots need to breathe enough to keep my feet cool. Never get a soggy blister wearing them.
  7. When they are brand new, clean, and unmarked by nature, the boots I choose have to be classy enough out here in farm and ranch country, or even in a college town to wear any time – meetings, conferences, sales calls.  (So, as I write this, I have to admit, it’s about time to get a new pair, for those occasions. My #1 pair has lost that clean new look.  But when new, they are perfect for the public outings I attend.)
  8. Customer service. Did you know there are shoe stores that want to make sure the shoes you buy do exactly what you want?

Remember When?

If you’re old enough to remember your parents taking you to an authentic shoe store for new back-to-school shoes, you recall the rig-a-ma-roll of sizing and selecting.  You remember sitting in that Naugahyde chair with the steel armrests, the little slanted platform on the salesman’s stool, and the sliding measuring tool to get the right length and width of the shoe.

Red Wing shoe stores are like that. I always buy my Vasque boots from a Red Wing dealer. The salesman suggests laces, insoles, and treatments to make the boot last and give me the best service. (By the way, any time they need new laces or cleaning for that first year, Red Wing does it. Free.)

They last for years

vasque hiking boots

Vasque boots in the last 10 years have changed very little. Left to right is the oldest pair I own to the newest pair.

I literally have 3 pairs of Vasque boots sitting by the door.  My #1 pair are the ones that I keep treated with silicone, clean and ready for adventure. 

My #2 pair used to be my #1 pair of boots, but that was 6 years ago. They’re nearly treadless, so I just wear them when mowing the lawn, or putzing around the house. 

Then, there is #3. They’re shot. Completely useless for anything except going out to the mailbox, or the garage for a moment’s errand. They don’t lace up anymore. I just slip them on and off and leave them by the back door. They’re about 10 years old.

And my #1 pair, I wear to town, to church, to meetings. They’re classy looking when they are clean and new.

I’ll admit, the Vasque boots I wear take a chunk out of my bank account, but they are comparably priced with other boots of the same quality. In fact, they can be considered economical because they are tough enough to wear for several years. So, they turn out to be a bargain.

We’re out hiking, walking, strolling, and camping in the Badlands nearly every week. If you’re ready for a tough trail with your new boots, try the  Achenbach trail in the North Unit, or head into the backcountry along the Maah Daah Hey Trail.

Pick a butte to climb, or a hill to get a big view. Good quality boots like Vasque or Redwing will make sure you get to the top.

Your boots will make all the difference.  Whether you choose Vasque or another brand, make sure they fit well, protect your feet, and have good tread.  Don’t slip.

Other Tips

Vasque Boots

What to wear in the Badlands

Where to go on your backcountry hike in the National Park

Share this with Santa Claus and see what shows up a Christmas.

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