Oct 30 2013
Summer footwear has been a thorn in my side for quite some time. The climate I live in is quite wet (lots of bogs and streams) and I’ve been experimenting with various ways of keeping my feet warm enough and protected even through this.
First a bit about the approaches of dealing with wetness in terms of footwear:
- Avoidance. This is what most modern people do. When it’s raining they stay in a shelter most of the time. Also completely practical in a drier climate when you’re living off the land, but here you’d practically never be able to get out and do the necessary hunting and fishing.
- Waterproof shoes. Definitely the most desirable option, but requires a lot of skill and time to make. In the rocky terrain here and since I walk a lot, I can’t see it paying off most of the time.
- No shoes. Works if it’s not very cold, very rocky or damp for very long times. However skin softens with dampness and you’re far more likely to cut yourself if walk around barefoot for extended times, especially carrying heavy loads.
- Wet shoes. Instead of avoiding wetness you embrace it. It has become my choice for summer footwear.
Since I’ve landed on using wet shoes, I’d like to expand more on that option. The shoes are known in recent times from at least Iceland, Scotland and Ireland, but Norway’s oldest shoe is of the same style and the oldest leather shoe in the world (from the Caucasians) is also made similarily. In Ireland they are commonly called pampooties and they are made out of rawhide. The stitching is crude and is usually also done with rawhide. It’s better to have a bit loose stitches, so that the shoe doesn’t become like a bucket when it gets wet.
The advantages of this approach are:
- Very quick to make. Requires no tanning and only very limited tailoring and sewing skills.
- Wears out a lot more slowly than buckskin in wet conditions, especially on rocks.
- Silent. Well fitted, these shoes are as silent as any buckskin moccasins. You have a very good feel of the ground.
- They require little to no maintainance.
- They are cold. During colder weather (like wet snow) your feet will quickly become numb. After some time getting used to it, your feet will become less cold. If you wear thick woolen socks inside that will help a lot as well, but the shoes must be specifically fitted for that. In phases of autumn or spring when the temperatures vary a lot from day to day (from +10C to -10C) you have to sleep with the shoes under your matrass or you will not get into them in the morning. Always carry dry weather winter shoes during this time in case the weather stabilizes cold. When the ground is frozen solid, you will not get wet anyway.
- Slippery. The shoes are at least as slippery as buckskin moccasins, especially after the hairs are worn off underneath. The good grip you get on the ground with your toes, somewhat helps to alleviate this.
- They can dry out. An advantage if you’re going to preserve them through a phase not using them (otherwise they’ll rot), but during very hot and dry summer days they can dry out during use and thus shrink and stiffen to the unbearable. Luckily, a quick dip in a lake or a stream will take care of it almost immidiately.
The next article will be on how to make them according to the way I currently do. I’ve experimented quite a bit to find a way that is the most durable and functional.
Two pictures of my former pair. They were already very worn at this stage and were starting to tear at the front.
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