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Walking the dog in expedition boots

My winter trips have been shelved the last few years because my hiking/climbing partners, my sister and her husband, have been growing their business. I don’t think it’s safe to hike the NH Presidentials or Adirondack High Peaks solo in the winter, so i stick to local/mid-Atlantic winter day hikes and weather that are tame by comparison.

Still, when the mercury in Maryland dipped into the teens recently, i unearthed the Scarpa Invernos and Smartwool expedition socks to stand around for an hour while our dog ran around like a maniac on a local field with other dogs. 

They’re old school. Separately lacing up the inner and outer boot is a pain, they’re heavy and clunky for walking, and below -30f, i feel like they need an overboot for more insulation (i have an old pair of Mountain Hardwear absolute Zero over boots i have used on a few particularly cold days - really only useful with strap crampons, but fine for snowshoeing). On the other hand, they’re a lot less expensive and more durable than today’s high-end mountaineering boots made for extreme cold, which all have integrated fabric outers and lighter-grade soles to save weight.  

Overkill but super warm for hanging out with the dog!

My dog refuses to wear expedition boots.  She will barely tolerate dog booties when her feet are sore. 

Oh man, there is nothing more uncomfortable than a day spent in the Infernos! Those things feel like walking with cinder blocks on. Good on ya for tolerating them but I switched to Nepals as soon as my budget allowed!

Jake W said:

Oh man, there is nothing more uncomfortable than a day spent in the Infernos! Those things feel like walking with cinder blocks on. Good on ya for tolerating them but I switched to Nepals as soon as my budget allowed!

 The tongue takes some time to get used to and soften a little - you can bruise your shins in these when they're new, or when you're new to them. Also, they're best used on snowy trails, when you're already splashing around, with crampons or snowshoes. Not so good on snow-free trails. How well-insulated are those La Sportivas?

Jake W said:

Oh man, there is nothing more uncomfortable than a day spent in the Infernos! Those things feel like walking with cinder blocks on. Good on ya for tolerating them but I switched to Nepals as soon as my budget allowed!

 The tongue takes some time to get used to and soften a little - you can bruise your shins in these when they're new, or when you're new to them. Also, they're best used on snowy trails, when you're already splashing around, with crampons or snowshoes. Not so good on snow-free trails. How well-insulated are those La Sportivas?

That’s where something like Sorels or Baffins are nice, standing around in the cold without much activity. Though I know you already had the Scarpas, which for a few days per year is probably better than buying a pair specifically for cold dog park days. 

The lowest temp I remember wearing my Sorels in was -28F when I worked at the airport in Portland ME. There weren‘t many electrical outlets on the outside walls to plug in diesel equipment, and the ramp rats would just crank and crank and crank until either the engine started, the battery died, or the starter let the smoke out. So on those days we changed a lot of batteries and starters. Wearing a heavy base layer, hooded & insulated Carhartt jacket, insulated arctic coveralls, hat, and my Sorels, I was generally able to keep my fingers warm enough to work for 10-15 minutes before I had to warm them up. My feet and the rest of my body from the wrists up were toasty warm. 

I have a pair of sorels, you inspired me to dig them out. I wore them this morning, took the laces off, greased the leather. Plenty warm but reminded me why i dislike them - the fur on the top of the liner makes my socks bunch. I just ordered a new pair of liners with no fur. (The liners aren’t easy to find in stock/online. I think the pair i ordered may be too tall - i might have to cut them down and bind the top edge, we’ll see). The fit is pretty washy, fine for snowshoeing or standing still, not great for walking. I have a pair of Merrell winter boots, probably insulated with thinsulate. Not as warm but a lot easier to walk in. If i ever get back to winter hiking in real cold, i might consider replacing the scarpa boots, they’re really old. Maybe a pair of Spantiks if they fit.  

 

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Sorrels all day long.  The official footwear of Wyoming. 

My Sorel Conquests don’t have the removable liners and actually tighten down pretty well on my feet. You won’t think you’re wearing heat-molded plastic boots, but I’ve walked all day in these, up and down mountains, through the woods, on snowshoes and bare-booting it, and never had a blister or hot spot. (I‘m on my 2nd pair since winter 2005.) The Achilles strap is a big help - I got mine TIGHT, taped the tag ends to keep them from loosening, and just unclip the buckle (rarely) if I don’t need the support.

My favorite socks to wear with them are Darn Tough over-the-calf mountaineering socks, they‘re thick enough to fill in any space and WARM. Great at moisture wicking, too, after all day in them there’s no dampness in them. Yeah, it’s all in the boot lining but at home I have a shoe dryer and when camping I put them in my inside-out sleeping bag compression sack and put them in the bag with me. Sometimes I wear regular DT or SmartWool with a thin liner sock, but I just don’t like the feel of liner socks. Maybe it’s all in my head but they always feel like they’re bunching up. Or maybe it’s just the socks I have. 

Reviews are pretty polarized, with a lot mentioning cracking or separating where the leather and rubber join (like Chilcats) but I’m 2 for 2. I don’t take any special care with storing them, they’re on a shelf with all my other winter boots. 

so....it turns out Sorel Caribou liners aren't available. Anywhere. Nor were the liners I ordered instead. I confirmed their lack of availability via their website chat function. Unfortunately, reviews i read of current generation Sorel boots were very mixed, in particular regarding their warmth and quality, so I wasn't inclined to get into that. 

i ended up purchasing a pair of North Face Chilkat 400 ii boots. Interestingly, upon arrival, they felt like they were too short. I pondered a return but also probed the inside to check out the insoles. Turns out the insoles in this particular boot are 1) fairly thick foam and 2) were poorly inserted in both boots - the toe end of each insole was scrunched and lumpy. I removed both insoles and replaced them with a pair of half-length orthotics i wear with dress shoes. The orthotics are lower profile than the stock insoles and only extend just past the arch, so this freed up some volume in the front end, and voila, the boots fit. 

hopefully, we'll get enough cold weather for me to wear and review them before next winter. 

I've found the Nepals plenty warm when your moving. Definitely not going to be the best "around camp" or stationary type boot. I did wear them at the top of Mt.Washington and temps were nearing -60f...not out for long in those temps either!

May 22, 2022
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