For me, like most farmers and ranchers, function is more important than form when it comes to fashion. I need clothes that are durable and comfortable. While I often choose the least expensive option when it comes to pants and shirts, I never skimp on footwear! I’d rather pay more for durable boots that can be rebuilt than pay less for boots that will wear out in 6 months and need to be thrown away!
The first rule for comfortable feet, at least for me, is to wear comfortable socks. I’ve tried synthetics, but I always come back to wool (perhaps it’s because I’m a sheep rancher). Wool has some amazing properties that synthetic materials just can’t match. Wool is moisture-wicking and breathable, making wool socks comfortable year round. Wool can also absorb up to 30 percent of its weight in water and retain its insulating properties. Finally, wool has natural antibacterial properties – not that smelly feet is ever a problem for a farmer!
I’ve tried a number of different brands of wool socks. SmartWool socks, from New Zealand, are outstanding, as are US-made Wigwam socks (which use US wool!). Cabela’s has its own brand, which are very similar to SmartWool (and usually a bit cheaper). This year, I bought a pair of Darn Tough socks made by the Vermont Sock Company. They are more expensive (about $22 for the pair I bought), but they are made with US wool – and they come with a lifetime guarantee! If they wear out, Vermont Sock Company will send me a new pair – I even read the fine print and could not find a sheepherder exemption to the guarantee!
As for boots, I look at the type of work I need to accomplish and purchase them accordingly. When I’m working sheep in the corrals or working on flat ground, I like a pull-on boot with a low heel and a fairly non-aggressive tread design (non-aggressive tread makes it easier to scrape the sheep manure from my boots when I get home, which my family greatly appreciates). When I’m cutting firewood or building fence on steep, rugged ground, I need something that will provide better traction and ankle stability.
I also prefer boots that can be repaired by a cobbler. Boots with a sewn-on sole can be re-soled; boots with a molded or glued-on sole can’t be. Even better, I like a boot with an upper that can be repaired or rebuilt as it wears out. Finally, I prefer a boot that isn’t lined – or treated with a synthetic waterproofing (like GoreTex). I find that well-oiled leather boots with wool socks work in most conditions. When it’s really wet, I’ll switch to rubber boots!
|Drew's Linecutters (L), Redwing Pecos (M) and White's Ranch Packers (R) - all freshly oiled!|
For an off-the-shelf, American-made boot, I like Redwings. I have a pair of pull-on, smooth-soled Redwings that I use for sheep work and everyday wear. The soles can be replaced, and the uppers are unlined. My only complaint is that they have a cloth lining in the lower part of the boot. I also have a pair of lace-up logging boots that I found on the clearance rack at our local boot store. They don’t fit quite as well (I usually wear a 7-1/2 or 8 B, and these are a little wide), but they’re comfortable and durable. As a lace-up, they give me more stability, and the Vibram soles give me better traction than my pull-ons.
Because I have a small, narrow foot, I can’t always find off-the-shelf boots. I’ve tried two hand-made brands and like them about equally. I have a pair of White’s ranch-packers, an 8-inch lace-up boot with a high arch and a mini-Vibram sole (which cleans easier than a full Vibram sole). I also have a pair of custom-made Drew’s firefighter boots. Because these boots were made to my measurements, they are probably the most comfortable boot I’ve ever owned. They have high arches and full Vibram soles – they are my first choice when I’m working in steep, rugged country. I’ve had both of these pairs of boots re-soled, and I’ve had the White’s rebuilt once (Drew’s Boots in Klamath Falls will re-build a pair of boots at about 1/3 to ½ of the cost of a new pair of boots).
Not every brand of boot I’ve tried has been satisfactory. I have a pair of US-made Thorogood pull-on boots that wore out after 4 months. I tried Wolverine boots several years ago, but was disappointed when the lower liner disintegrated. I’ve had Justin boots in the past, but they recently stopped making work boots in narrow widths at my size.
Finally, I’ve found that keeping my boots clean and well-oiled is critical to their comfort and longevity. I use saddle soap to clean them, and I useNor-V-Gen Shoe Paste or Obenauf’s Heavy Duty LP boot oil to keep the leather in good condition. Looking on the Obenauf’s website, I think I’ll try their waterproofing next winter, too!
As a shepherd, I’m on my feet quite a bit. Several years ago, I used a pedometer to track how much walking was required to build a 2-acre paddock using electric fence – I ended up walking more than 1.5 miles! Spending a little extra on comfortable and durable footwear makes days like this much more enjoyable!