“Well, these boots are made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do.”                                                                                                      -Nancy Sinatra, from her 1966 hit song, These Boots Are Made For Walking (written by Lee Hazlewood)

A little over a month ago, I strolled through unseasonal Pacific Northwest sunshine amidst the tall canyons of downtown Seattle. I could have sworn my faithful foot companions clutched my feet tighter when we entered the REI mothership store and passed ranks of stiff, new hiking boots. While those boots were awaiting to be chosen for the trials of the trail, my old Vasque Sundowners have tromped, scuffled, leaped, slogged, crept, climbed and waded well over a thousand miles.

 When my feet slide into the snug foot-formed stable of Vasque, I am one with them.  Donning them usually signals an adventure.

 My beloved Vasques moved into my house about eighteen years ago. Their maiden voyage was a “courting” backpacking trip with Miss Nancy in Ontario’s Pukaskwa National Park on the true north shore of Lake Superior.

I have just picked up the boots from the top of the kitchen woodburning stove. Like a dog curled next to the warmth, the pair of worn and scruffed boots were heated to better absorb the mink oil that I was about to massage into the leather.

 I rubbed slowly, working the oil into the dry leather. I was careful around a small tear in the leather on the left foot. The tear has been patched for the time being with a glob of Shoe-Goo.


Repairs and maintenance are not foreign to my boots. Three years ago I mailed them off to a distant cobbler’s bench where a new pair of Vibram soles replaced the old ones. The originals were worn nearly as smooth as a creek’s stone. The boot doc told me that this would be the last pair of soles my boots could handle. Like a desert elder, my boots’ skin is showing its years in the accumulation of tiny cracks and wrinkles. And yes, I have been a steadfast applicator of mink oil. The leather uppers can only go so many miles before they tear or open up and release the sole.

I leaned into the stove’s warmth and kneaded the boots like a sinner worrying rosary beads. I reflected on previous adventures that we three old pals have had together. 

Did they form perfectly to my feet after being soaked in the icy rush of Skookum Creek in the Yukon Territory? Wearing wet boots until they dry allows them to  mold perfectly to my feet.

Or was it the frequent post-holing of my feet in deep snow patches on summer Yukon summits with names like Goat, Tally-Ho, Twin, Perkins, White, Caribou or Needle that soaked and stretched the foot wear’s hide to form so well on me?

If the frequent soaking was the Yang, then the parched heat of desert was the Yin. These boots navigated through slickrock speckled with sage, cacti and juniper in Utah’s Canyonlands. Here the boots became dulled with sandy dust. This country is conducive to cracks in boots and grander ones in the land.

Then there was the dizzying, eleven-mile hike along Kauai’s lush Napali coastline where sticky red mud clogged the lugged soles.  

The boots even made a pilgrimage to the old country in arctic Norway. I strolled among enormous boulders called erratics. Left behind after the last glacial sheets melted thousands of years ago, these massive markers lie like giant dice in the midst of a craps game and invoked a welcome humility.


The Sundowners have been bloodied. After taking a fall on top of Needle Mountain, I broke a metatarsal in my left hand and my gashed right leg spilled blood down into my boot. It should be noted that both feet, firmly protected in my snug Vasque shells were fine, allowing me to take take the long descent down the mountain.  The blood of several whitetail bucks have spilled onto my boots as I field dressed the animals in northern Minnesota. 

I rubbed my boots and stared through the stove glass at the pulsing embers. I wonder who first tried tying some semblance of a shoe or protector on their foot. The earliest evidence can be found in the15,000 year old cave paintings in Spain and France. The illustration shows what appears to be animal skins bound to the feet.

Fast forward to the 20th century and most mountaineers were wearing boots with small nails sticking through the bottom. These hobnail boots provided better gripping in icy and slippery conditions.

In 1935, Italian alpinist Vitali Bramani lost six of his friends to exposure in the Alps when they could not get off the mountain due to severe weather conditions. The tragedy inspired him to develop a new lugged sole made from vulcanized rubber. It left an imprint like a waffle iron and gripped well in wet and dry conditions. Named after merging the first few letters in his birth name and surname, the patented sole was christened Vibram (pronounced VEEB-rum). 

When I retire these excellent boots, I’ll find another similar pair and introduce them to wild places and frequent massages. These are ingredients that assure a long partnership.


wading the little missouri