Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Love Affair with Hiking Boots


It was a frosty New England winter night when I pulled into the parking lot of the Auburn Mall. I was working a delivery route that took me 250 miles through small towns in western Massachusetts. My job was basically to be a mail man for small banks. Come rain or shine, come snow or high water, the checks must be delivered. That year the weather had been particularly frigid. The dented gray Hyundai hatchback work car had a moderate heater at best. The January squelch was bleeding into my sad summer sneakers, my feet were freezing. It was time for new shoes.

All my life I had been a sucker for low rise runners, preferably Nike or Reebok. However my needs were changing as was part of my identity. I scanned the shelves at Famous Footwear to discover a pair of black & gray Columbia hiking boots. They were 50% off and they looked warm. Most importantly, they were my size. I snatched them up like a greedy miner who had just unearthed gold.


I didn't even wait to get back to my car. I sat on a bench in the mall, slid my feet into these comfy new boots and threw away my old, sodden sneakers. These Columbia boots were snug, they hugged my feet and shielded my ankles. They were waterproof, had great traction and only weighed 200 grams. I was in love. I wouldn't wear sneakers again for 3 years. That shouldn't be a surprise considering that Columbia has a 70 year history of making high quality products for the most rugged terrains. No wonder they won me over.

My Columbia's became my everything shoes. As my activities required more protection, they assisted me along that path. I started mountain biking and hiking wearing these boots. They were on my feet through my first season on the XC race circuit around New England. They ascended Mount Monadnock and descended Mount Killington. They got me through the rocky mud of Pat's Peak and some arid summer days at Highland Mountain Bike Park. I even wore them during my first season of BMX racing.


After five years of use and abuse, my Columbia's have taken a serious beating. My boots made me feel tougher, so I braved more than ever before. Structurally they are still firm but there are only so many times you can pull them out of a wretched swamp or stomp through the puddles of Florida's tropical storms. They smell pretty bad and I've had to replace the insole about five times. Truthfully, I still haven't thrown them away. Instead, I tried to replace them.

My wife bought me a pair of tan Merrell's from the Kittery Trading post in Maine. They were light, fit a little loose but they were airy and had a decent appearance. I didn't subject them to the same rigors and thank god I didn't because they were not very tough. Within a year they had started to tear open. I made a pathetic attempt to sew the hole. The rubber grip was fading fast, the interior seating widened to the point that I was afraid of rolling an ankle. Keep in mind I'm not slamming them as a company, I have a pair of their low top summer shoes that are just brilliant. Merrell has been on a mission since 1981 and has built up a fantastic selection but most of their products are way outside my price range.


My old boots were close to death and my new boots were practically useless. On many occasions I made an effort to find another pair of Columbias. I searched the stores, looked for online sales and even checked Ebay. Either the price was too high or they didn't have my size. I looked into other companies that claim to have the same quality but ran into the same problems. I was heartbroken.

In February of 2014 fate stepped in to give me a hand. All through the winter I had been entering every online Mountain Bike related contest that I could in hopes of getting lucky. Somehow it had worked! A new website called MTBparks.com was running a survey to determine the best Mountain Bike parks in America. I'd been to six such parks so I gave them my input. Two months later I got an e-mail saying that I won a prize - a new pair of Teva shoes. I wrote back and asked, can I get boots instead? The answer was yes!


 I searched their website for something similar to my beloved Columbia's. It turns out that Teva make a boot called the Riva Winter Mid. It has the same Thinsulate insulation and waterproof membrane that I had come to love plus a shock pad in the heel and a plush insole. Most importantly, they made them in my size. The people from Teva gave me a code so I ordered a pair immediately and they arrived in just shy of a week. I knew this company from the Mountain Biking world. Teva makes shoes specific to my sport and they even sponsor competitions. These investments mean a lot to savvy consumers like me. I want a company to care about what they are making and have a reason to do so.

Some might think I'm crazy for falling in love with hiking boots but it's not so strange. If you really think about it, we depend on our shoes more than any other piece of clothing. They get us where we need to go. If they are well made, they get us there in comfort and with confidence. Don't believe me? Go take a hike in the mountains wearing everything except your boots. See how far you get.


I have only just received my new Teva's but so far they are living up to expectations. They are solid, strong, black and beautiful. I'm not in love yet but my feet are feeling warm and fuzzy just the way they are supposed to. I think my heart just skipped a beat.

Disclaimer:  No one hired, suggested or influenced me to write this story. The thoughts, affections and ideas are my own. I just happen to love hiking boots, deal with it.


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