Bug-Out Boots Buyer’s Guide

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Video best boots for survival

Bug-out this, bug-out that. There’s no shortage of products and preparation for all sorts of potential calamities, from the cataclysmic to transitory, from widespread societal breakdown to temporary disruptions due to natural or man-made disasters. Hold this magazine aside for one moment and look down — see those appendages at the ends of your legs you so often take for granted? One constant for all of these types of situations is that you’re likely to spend a lot of time on your own two feet.

It’s more than worthwhile to spend some time thinking about your needs in this regard, checking out some options, and then investing some of your hard-earned moolah. As they say, buy once, cry once. Read on for help on how to think about your needs, things to consider, and examples of the different types of shoes and boots you can choose from.

Foot Fetish

Mankind has not always had the benefit of different modes of transportation, extending our range and keeping our feet off the ground. There are cave drawings from tens of thousands of years ago depicting furs or animal skins wrapped around peoples’ feet. Spend all day walking around barefoot, whether in the city or in the country, and it’s not hard to figure out why. Natural and man-made terrain alike pose significant obstacles that footwear is designed to alleviate.

Advances in materials and manufacturing processes have moved beyond naturally occurring cloths, skins, and woods to incorporate synthetic and waterproof materials to achieve various desired characteristics. Rubbers, polymers, foams, and synthetic fabrics (along with the always-versatile leather) are widely utilized to provide comfort, cushioning, support, protection, and durability. Breathable waterproof membranes, such as Gore-Tex, provide a barrier from the elements with pores so small that water droplets can’t penetrate, but big enough to allow water vapor to escape (see OFFGRID Issue 7 for a more detailed explanation of this technology in the rain jackets article).

As always, different intended applications and desired features dictate different design and material choices. So you first need to carefully consider your particular situation.

Assessing Your Needs

Surrounding terrain: Do you live in a large metropolitan concrete urban labyrinth, a suburban sprawl, a rural expanse of flatlands, endless desert, rugged mountains, or a swamp? Do you expect a lot of walking, such as slow and steady hiking across potentially treacherous terrain, or might you require the ability to be stealthy and quick, darting and sprinting around an urban landscape? The type of terrain you expect to most commonly encounter and the challenges posed by each will affect the type of footwear that you select.

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Climate: How much heat or cold do you expect to see? How much and what type of precipitation? How much variation and what sort of extremes might you anticipate? Different types of footwear will lend themselves better to different climates. Generally speaking, for bug-out purposes, given the choice we’re fans of opting for waterproof linings to block out the elements.

Daily routines: You may have a lot of warning before an event or none at all. What is your daily routine? Do you typically have ready access to your vehicle and supplies stashed there? Do you utilize public transit to and from work, thus only having access to what’s on your person during the day? If you exclude sleeping, people typically spend at least half of their remaining time working. Do you have a job with a dress code or can you wear what you want? You might be required to wear shoes for one-third of your life that are not at all appropriate for bug-out situations. Think of all those office denizens in New York who hoofed it out of Manhattan in their fancy Prada dress shoes during the electrical blackout in 2003.

Special considerations: Make sure to think about whether you have any unique circumstances. For instance, do you expect to spend a lot of time on a watercraft or in extremely wet conditions? Waterproof footwear is great to keep out the elements, but if there’s so much water in your environment that it gets inside your boots no matter what, you’ll just end up with a waterproof boot that’s full of water.

Most importantly, fit and comfort are absolutely critical. If your footwear doesn’t fit properly, you may experience chafing and discomfort, and movement of your foot inside the shoe can cause injuries or painful blisters that may lead to infections. At best, this will slow down your movement as well as that of your companions. At worst, you may become a liability to the group or end up alone and unable to move. When all else fails, you can always count on yourself as a source of mobility, so stack the odds in your favor — take care of your feet.

The Right Tool for the Job

We’ve highlighted several different types of footwear in this article:

Boots: Compared to shoes, boots and their more substantive construction with tougher and thicker materials tend to sacrifice mobility and weight for stability, durability, and protection. Higher-cut boots provide ankle support on uneven terrain as well as protection against weather, brush, and debris. The heftier midsoles, outsoles, and tread patterns supply cushioning for heavy loads and enhanced traction. As a primary footwear choice for TEOTWAWKI, or if you can only choose one, it’s hard to beat boots.

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Hiking/trekking/backpacking boots: A great all-around choice, hiking, trekking, or backpacking boots are designed to combine comfort and support for long miles and days spent on your feet in more challenging terrain. Boots designated for trekking and backpacking typically have stouter construction and stiffer midsoles for heavy loads. More flexible boots are more comfortable for walking around, but stiffer is actually better when it comes to providing support for load carriage and rough terrain. Some are optimized for warmer temperatures, and some offer insulation to keep your feet warm.

Hunting boots: Boots intended for the rigors of being in the field in harsh conditions while hunting lend themselves quite well to survival use. They often are waterproof with higher cuts for weather resistance and protection, and can typically be had with camouflage patterns. Insulated variants are also available for cold climates.

Military boots: The military is no stranger to deploying troops on foot in adverse conditions. So military-style boots are another natural choice for bug-out situations. They typically prioritize protection, stability, and load capacity, but these days there are more variations than ever.

Safety boots: Are you worried about potential safety hazards? Perhaps you live in a concrete jungle prone to earthquakes and are concerned about jagged, twisted metal and other threats to your precious feet. Safety boots feature armored toes and shanks to keep them safe. Heavy steel-toed boots have been supplemented by lighter composite-based armor that still offers robust protection.

Water boots: Some boots are intended specifically for extremely wet conditions — they aren’t waterproof at all, but rather are designed to drain water out as quickly as possible.

Trail shoes: This hybrid footwear type is very versatile, striking a balance between the mobility and weight of athletic shoes with the durability and stability of boots. They sacrifice ankle support and protection, but are available with waterproofing and tread patterns to accommodate off-road use. They’re great choices for flatter terrain with more moderate precipitation.

Cross trainers: Trainers are basically jack-of-all-trades athletic shoes, providing cushioning for running, lateral support, grip, and supreme comfort. But as athletic shoes first and foremost, they typically feature well-ventilated mesh uppers and are not nearly as sturdy and protective as the other footwear featured in this guide. However, they can be very useful for situations where speed and stealth are important, particularly in urban environments. Additionally, their size and light weight make them great choices as comfortable secondary footwear and as an emergency change of shoes for those who must wear other types of shoes for work.

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Sandals: While not the best choice for primary bug-out footwear, sandals are handy to have on hand for water use or just plain relaxation from time to time. They’ll air out your feet while providing some protection.

Check out the examples of the various types of footwear on the following pages. These products just scratch the surface, as there are tons of choices on the market in each category. Hopefully, we’ve helped you determine the criteria that are important to you. Once you’ve narrowed down your search, get out there and try them on so you can find the right fit.

No matter what you choose, take the time to break in your footwear. Synthetic and suede materials tend to need the least amount of break in and full-grain leather the most. Work your way up with longer and longer sessions — you’ll be glad you did.

The Anatomy of a Boot

As part of our ongoing Department of Cool Things, we bring you a look inside a Salewa boot with Gore-Tex Surround technology:

1. Gore-Tex Membrane: Windproof and waterproof membrane that’s breathable and used in footwear and outerwear.

2. Gore-Tex Surround Spacer: Part of the Gore-Tex Surround system, the open structure of this spacer allows moisture and warmth to pass from below the foot through the spacer and out of the shoe through side vents in the boot.

3. Insole: The thin material at the bottom of the shoe’s interior where your foot rests; in this case it’s ventilated.

4. Midsole: The layer (usually a type of foam rubber, ethyl vinyl acetate shown here) between the insole and the outsole that is arguably the most important part of footwear, as it determines cushioning and shock absorption; sometimes it has stability-control features built in.

5. Outsole: The part that makes contact with the terrain, providing traction and durability; more commonly referred to as just the “sole” of a shoe, boot, or sandal. The one shown here is a Vibram Hike Approach rubber outsole.

6. Rand: A strip of material (usually rubber) that wraps around the shoe where the midsole and upper meet; provides additional protection on tough terrain.

7. Shank: Stiff material that sits between the insole and midsole to provide support and stability. The shank here is made of nylon poly.

8. Upper: The largest portion of a shoe or boot that holds your foot down to the insole.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>