I write this as an avid outdoorsman and a weekend
adventurer. I am not a pro athlete and I am not “sponsored” by any companies. I
do not have clothing or gear endorsements; I am just a regular guy and my wife
is a regular gal. We just happen to live in one of the most challenging places
on Earth for outdoor gear, equipment and clothing. We live in Juneau
Alaska, smack in the middle of the Tongass National Forest.
Fish Creek Trail
The Tongass is a temperate rainforest, with rain and cool
temperatures likely most of the year. Average rainfall ranges from 26” in Skagway to 225” in Little Port Walter on Baranof
Island. Summer temperatures average in the 50’s and 60’s. The
combination of cool temperatures and wet conditions make hypothermia a risk
even in the summer.
The terrain in the Tongass simply put is rugged. The trails
are known as the “Bermuda Triangle” as it is common for hikers to just vanish. Public
lands on the Tongass consist of glimmering rain forests, glaciers and icefields,
mountains, waterways, and thousands of islands separated by straits and
channels. We live on a tidal island called Douglas.
We are separated from the mainland by the Gastineau Channel. So we have the channel
on one side and mountains behind us. Across the channel is the Mendenhall
glacier and more mountains. Directly behind those mountains is the Juneau Ice
Field 1500 square miles of ice, all the way to the Canadian border. If you
could cross the mountains behind us we would end up in the North
Now that you have an idea of what weather and terrain we
recreate in you might have a bit more understanding of what we need for gear,
equipment and clothing. For many years now, the outdoor manufactures all have
promoted their waterproof breathable technologies as being the end all be all
for the outdoor enthusiast. For those who do not know what waterproof
breathable technologies are you are probably are more familiar with the most
popular bard name Gore-Tex.
Gore-Tex and technologies like it advertise themselves as
light weight and waterproof. They evaporate your sweat off your body and that
moisture magically makes its way to the outside air while the fabric lets NO
water penetrate. These fabrics are lightweight and they do evaporate moisture
away from the body but waterproof, I think not. Maybe water resistant at best.
We’ll talk about boots today. We have 11 pair of Gore-Tex
lined boots from 4 different manufacturers in our home. I can say with
certainty it is hit or miss whether our “waterproof” boots will keep the water
out. In most parts of the country, your waterproof boots will do just fine;
here in SE Alaska to be waterproof a boot
would need to be able to stay submerged in a bathtub of water for a year. If
you then can take it out of the tub and there is no water in the boot, you can
claim it is waterproof. I dare to say, any boot on the market (unless they are
all rubber) would fail that test.
Today we went for a 5 mile hike that took us through muskeg
(a thick deposit of decayed organic matter with the consistency of very wet
mud), sand, sea grass, forest floor, snow, ice, ocean water and fresh water
streams. I was wearing a fairly new 9 inch tall snow boot I had never hiked in
before (we had 6 inches of snow fall the last 2 days). Yesterday I found out my
favorite waterproof snow boots had a hole in them (the North Pacific was
rushing in my boot), while we were on a 3 mile hike. These new boots have a
carbon rubber outsole with the same carbon rubber scuff guard on top of a
waterproof suede upper. Halfway through our hike I discovered more of the North
Pacific and a few fresh water streams in my boot. It was a wet hike back to the
house. The boots I had on the day before were a 10” tall winter boot that I
have worn for about 10 years, they held up to their waterproof claim until
yesterday when I found the hole in them.
Checking out the Gastineau Channel
I got my first pair of real boots around 1974 or 75. My
parents bought me a pair of Sorrell Caribou’s for winter. Those boots are still
in production today. The other pair was a pair of Danner’s. I wasn’t “in to”
backpacking or hiking gear at the time, if I remember correctly the Danner’s
were a pair of 7” tall, all leather, hunting boot with Thinsulate. I wore those
boots for everything, camping, hiking, backpacking, deer hunting, bird hunting
and even to school. In the mid 70’s Thinsulate was new, prior to that we kept
our feet warm by wearing multiple pairs of socks, in fact even with the
Thinsulate we still wore two and three pairs of socks just to make sure our
feet would stay warm.
Waterproof boots back then were only made of rubber and
those were just cold, no insulation (except my Sorrell’s), just a rubber boot
and as many socks as you could put on to keep your feet warm. Leather boots
back then didn’t have gusseted tongues so no matter what, if the water was over
a couple inches deep, your feet were getting wet. Since waterproof technology
had not been mass marketed yet we purchased products like snow seal. It was (and
still is) a great product. We would heat our leather boot up a bit, we used
hair dryers, sit the boots by the fireplace or next to a heat vent, and
sometimes I would even put them in the oven. Once the leather was warm simply
wipe the snow seal all over the boot and put extra on the stitching. The cream
would liquefy from the heat of the boot and soak in to the boot like magic.
Then when it dried, you had a very waterproof boot. Just don’t let the water
line go above where the tongue was stitched.
The muskeg in the Gastineau Channel at low tide
Since I do not have the confidence in waterproof
technologies holding up to the riggers of SE Alaska,
I think I may start getting a stockpile of snow seal and waterproof all my
boots myself. Today’s waterproof boots have gusseted tongues so that part of
the equation is solved. I know adding snow seal or products like it to the boot
will stop the breathability of the boot but I truly believe that it is better
to have a damp foot from sweat than a foot that is wet because you have a boot
full of water. You will never get away from the high cost of waterproof
breathable technologies in a boot, if you want a boot with a gusseted tongue.
If you buy a boot with that type of tongue it will be labeled waterproof, if it
is labeled waterproof, it will come with waterproof breathable technology
(unless it is a rubber boot).
I personally think the price asked by retailers and
manufacturers for Gore-Tex and products like it are way out of line so don’t
think waterproofing a boot at home is going to save you money. What it will
save you is from having wet feet.
Fish Creek Trail
I know people are going to want to know the brands of boots
that are waterproof and ones that are not. I normally do not like to bad mouth
any gear we use or review but I will make an exception in this case. Remember
though, the ones I wore today that didn’t keep my feet dry will be made
waterproof shortly by a home remedy of snow seal.
The boot that failed today was the Hi-Tec Capri 200 WP. To
be fair to Hi-Tec, I have worn Hi-Tec boots for close to 20 years and LOVE
them. I have 4 pair of Hi-Tec boots in various styles. After a home
waterproofing session, the Capri’s will be
back out on the trail.
For winter boots that have held up very well to the elements
here. My wife has a pair of Columbia Sportswear Bugaboot Plus XTM w/ Omni Heat.
The XTM version of the Bugaboot has a taller collar. My boot that had on
yesterday that had a hole in it after 10 or so years was an earlier version of
the Bugaboot Plus XTM. I believe it was called the Icebreaker. Both boots are
rated at -65 F. They not only kept us dry, but warm in any weather. I would
recommend this boot highly to anyone looking for a great winter boot.
Columbia Sportswear Bugaboot XTM
hole in my Columbia Sportswear Icebreaker after 10 years
We have a few Danner boots that just arrived that we are in
process of reviewing:
The men’s and women’s Danner Crater Rim. This is a Hand
crafted boot made in Portland Oregon the Crater Rim features a durable
waterproof nubuc leather upper, a 360˚ abrasion resistant Vibram® rubber rand,
lace-to-toe design for a secure fit, a proven waterproof and breathable
GORE-TEX® liner and a Vibram® Bifida outsole which provides superior traction
in rugged ascending and descending terrain. The boot is 6” in height which is
needed in the terrain in and around Juneau.
Our ankles need all the support they can get.
Danner Crater Rim
I am also testing out the Danner Full Curl GTX hunting boot. It is
a 9” tall boot designed for use in mountainous terrain, the Full Curl is built
on our Dynamic Response System that provides optimal stability underfoot in
cold weather environments and is packed with a variety of options including a
1200 Denier nylon upper, a GORE-TEX® extended comfort liner, a 360 degree
abrasion resistant rubber rand and comes available with 400G Thinsulate™ Ultra
Danner Full Curl GTX
Other Danner Boots that we wear:
The Talus GTX, Danner no longer makes this model but it is
similar to the new Crater Rims. I have worn this boot hear in Alaska on several hikes and it performs very
well. It has kept my feet dry and at 6.5 inches it gives my ankles great
support on very steep uneven terrain.
Danner Talus GTX
Danner Mountain Light II, this boot is by far my favorite
looking boot I own. It also one of two of my all time favorite hiking boots,
the other is the Vasque Sundowner. The Mountain Light is classic old school
hiking. Full grain, one piece leather upper on a Vibram Kletterlift outsole,
recraftable, 5 inch boot that looks as tough as it looks good. The Mountain
Light and the Vasque Sundowner were the two boots that every hiker and
backpacker wanted to be wearing in the 1970’s.
Danner Mountain Light II
If you should ever take the trip up the inside passage, make
sure and get off the cruise ship and stay a while. For the outdoors lover Southeast Alaska has more adventures to offer than you
can imagine, Just make sure to pack some waterproof boots.