Date: Tue, 10 Jul 2007 12:18:59 -0700 (PDT)
From: John LeBlanc
Subject: Boots are like car tires

Boots Are Like Car Tires

Well, I have good news, bad news. First the bad.

My boots that I carefully selected in 2001 for use at Philmont in 2002 (see process below) have had a blow out. The other evening, I was doing some maintenance on all my boots and giving them their tender love and care Snow Seal wax job. I noticed that one of my PhilBoots had a small separation between the sole and boot. Back in the good old days, quality boots had either Norwegian or Goodyear welts which were sewn, nailed, glued and screwed on and they usually did not come loose but when they did they were easily repaired, a common fix for a common problem. They were heavy.

Todays boots are different. What makes them lighter makes them more vulnerable to catastrophic breakdown also. The boots I have are glued and vulcanized so repair is a bit difficult and not always successful..

You will find below my selection process that I went through along with my daughter Allison when buying the boots for our July 2002 PhilkTrek. Please note I bought them in January 2001 especially for use at Philmont in July 2002, a full 1-1/2 years allowed for breakin time. Good move on my part. I recommend you do the same thing.

These boots have served me well. They were perfect at Philmont, have carried me to the top of the highest mountain in Texas and literally hundreds of miles of hiking each year.

Let me expand on “perfect at Philmont”. The recent post stating that at Philmont all you needed was trail shoes, not heavy boots, because most of the trails were well maintained got my attention. Part of this is true. The rest of the story is that it only takes a few feet of rough trail and some shoes/boots without adequate support to wreck your ankle which in turn will wreck your day, your week and several months recuperation time. Ankle injuries heal slowly.

For example, there is about a 300 yard stretch of the “over the tooth trail” that defies the definition of “trail”. It is NOT a trail at all, at best it is “rock hopping”. And rock hopping with a backpack on. To be properly shod, you need sturdy backpacking boots. And that’ s not to mention the roughness of the recently posted Mt. Phillips trail. Case closed.

The worst thing is not loosing a good pair of boots which I think of as a good friend, but the time I will have to spend in breaking in a new pair.

Good boots are a lot like good tires on a car or truck. Sometimes you just have to discard them and get some new ones. The chance of something happening bad is just too great a risk to take.

Since I really liked them I thought about buying a new pair just like them if they were still available.

I called up and low and behold, they are still available. That is a good sign that the boots are good boots. Bad boots aren’t still on the market 6-1/2 years later.

Then I called REI to get my customer ID which I can never remember. In talking to the lady she told me “Mr. LeBlanc, all of our merchandise comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee and if you want those boots repaired or replaced we will do it at no cost to you.”

I almost could not believe what I heard her say. I mean 6-1/2 years old and lots of miles but no abuse or appreciable wear or damage to them except the soles just gave loose.

Problem is that these are almost perfect boots for me. They are comfortable, never create a hot spot much less a blister and have phenomenal ankle support. They are simply the best I’ve ever had for backpacking and heavy duty hiking.

All I have to do is take them back to the Houston REI store where I bought them and have them repaired OR get new ones OR get different boots with the credit applied that was equal to their original cost. The boots are still listed in the catalog at the same price I paid for them in 2001, $180.00.

Gore Tex boots are alkl the rage today. I do not like Gore Tex ion my hiking boots. It makes them too hot for me. To illustrate this, there are only two pair of backpacking boots listed in the REI catalog that are not Gore Tex. Mine are one of them.

Now I have a decision to make. Which avenue do I take? What a good feeling.

The reason I am passing this along to you is multifold.

First, choose good boots that meet the needs of the terrain you are hiking on..

Second, buy them from a reputable place that stands behind their merchandise. REI does that better than anybody and their prices are comparable or better than anyone else.

Third, take good care of them and inspect them regularly for signs of trouble.

Fourth, don’t even think of taking crocks or sandals for your second shoes at Philmont. Even the highest quality boots (like mine) can come apart on the trail and when they do it is really nice to have a pair of at least running shoe quality second shoes to finish the trek in.

Many times each summer the TOTT has sent a pair of boots out on the trail for a hiker to finish the trek in. That is no fun to break in boots under a load on the trail but it beats the heck out of coming home and not finishing the trail because of a “flat tire” on your foot.

Now I will share the selection process that I used in 2001 to select these boots. I’ll probably go through the very same process to get replacements for them soon.

By the way, Allison still uses her on a weekly basis and they are still in good shape. I guess the $45.00 extra dollars hers cost above mine was worth it!

I just got off the phone with Dave Page, Cobbler from Seattle, Washington. I will be sending my boots to Dave for repair. Dave is a unique person and I'm glad I located him if for no other reason getting to read his short article about Mallory's boots found on his skeleton on Mount Everest last year where it have been since he disappeared many years ago on the mountain. Plus he does all the warranty work for Asolo and REI. You might want to read it at

John LeBlanc

January 10, 2001 , REI, Inc, Houston , Texas

Today's boot selection is much more complex than it was in 1959.

We (Allison and John) made the two hour trip to REI in Houston , Texas specifically to be fitted with new backpacking boots. Notice I did not say hiking boots. There is a difference. Hiking boots will work just fine on the PhilTrail, but I wanted the added ankle support and heavier inner soles. That is not available in lower priced trail hiking boots.

A nice discussion via email with Signe Rogers aka HikinMama on this list persuaded me to switch from my old tried and true sock combination of a thin polypro liner and thick ragg wool sock that I have been using for almost thirty years now to a more modern version.

We choose to use the new Smart Wool socks without a liner. A liner negates the advantage of the Smart Wool concept.

2007 update. We both are still using the expedition weight Smart Wool socks without liners and see no reason to change from that. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But we will remain open to new revelations in socks as they become available.

So with new socks in hand, we sat down to select new boots. The boot specialist there was a well informed young man. He knew his stock very well. He suggested and I agreed for him to bring every boot he had in our size that met the criteria and we would narrow it down step by step. We had all day. I looked at the price tags to see if I needed to up the max on my Visa card first and then we got after it. I told Allison to not look at the price tag during selection because that was not a criteria issue she needed to consider. I had already planned for that. In boots, you don't get what you don't pay for. You can however, pay for what you don't get, but not at REI. Case closed.

What he brought out was backpacking boots, not hiking boots. Five pair in Allison's size and four pair in my size. Some four hours later we each had selected our PhilBoots. It was pretty easy to cull out the first two pair. They just did not feel right, whatever right is. The differences between the last two pairs of boots was a different matter. That was not easy. I ended up taking notes. I wrote down the plusses and minuses of each which were about equal. In the end I went with the ones that simply felt more comfortable on my foot. Allison did the same.

Some of the boots were Gore Tex. Some were not. I am not totally against Gore Tex in boots, I own some, but I did not let that be a factor in the selection.

2007 update. Gore Tex has proven a good choice for Allison. Her feet tend to “run” a little cooler than mine and the Gore Tex has proven to be a good choice, she has worn then in the blistering heat of West Texas deserts in August and in January ice storms with equal comfort.

On the other hand, my feet get hot both winter and summer. Gore Tex ion a hiking boot would be a mistake for me. I have several pairs of Gore Tex boots both in work boots and hunting boots that serve a specific need well, but for hiking, I’ll take mine sans Gore Tex.

I ended up selecting a pair of Aslo AFX 535 V non Gore Tex ($180.00) and Allison selected a pair of Vasque Sundowner 7949 with Gore Tex ($225.00) . As is always the case, her boots cost $45.00 more than mine did. Children are just expensive, but well worth it. Anyway, she will live longer than me and might get full use from her boots. At fifty- seven years old, I'll never get to wear these new ones out. Good boots last that long.

2007 update. Now I am 62 and was proud of my well broken but also well cared for boots and took good care of them and they took good care of me. I took great pride in having the boots I needed when climbing the rough Pecos River rim rock country during hunting season each year. I think I’ll just go get another pair just like them.

Well, maybe I won't. Maybe I'll just have them "recapped" and see how that turns out. They are too good a friend to just throw away.

John LeBlanc

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