Take Care of Your Feet – They’re Your Moneymakers!
First, don’t wait until the last minute. Buy your boots as soon as you can so that you can break them in properly.
Second, be sure to invest in some good quality socks as well. Smartwool socks, in my opinion, have set the standard. They last forever. They’re comfortable. They breathe well. And they’re reasonably priced. The Smartwool Mountaineer Sock is a good sock to take a look at.
I would wear two pairs of socks when on the fireline. I didn’t do that when I started. I thought it was ludicrous when I heard about it. You wear two pairs of socks in the winter. When lakes are frozen and snow is on the ground. Not when the temperature is in the triple digits and the forest you’re hiking through is literally on fire. But I came around to the idea. I would wear a very light liner sock, and then a thick wool sock over it. Using this method, I was able to minimize blistering.
Best in Class
- White’s Boots. The Smokejumper model is a classic. I wore this boot for two years and I swear by them. When I started HotshotFitness.com back in 2007, one of the first interviews that I did was with Rob Smith of White’s Boots. I’m 100% biased and believe that they make a great product and recommend them whenever I can.
- Hawthornes are a product line of White’s Boots. They’re easier on the wallet though.
- Red Wings. My first year in fire, I bought a pair of Red Wing Boots for $150 or so. At that time in my life, it was almost double the amount of money that I had ever paid for a pair of shoes. I thought I had purchased the Bentley of Boots. The Ferrari of Footwear. The Mercedes of…well, you get the point. Once I got to the station, and learned how much other crew members had paid for their boots, I was astounded. And couldn’t fathom that there was that much of a difference. But there. My Red Wings were a great first year boot. They did the job. But they were smoked by the end of the season, and I needed to get a new pair of boots. They’re definitely not as comfortable as some of the other boots mentioned, but if you’re tight on cash, they’ll get you through a season, absolutely, and maybe half way through the next one.
In order to be permitted on the fireline, you’ll need to have a pair of leather boots that match the following specifications:
- 8” Upper
- Leather construction
- Vibram Sole
What to Avoid:
Many people think that military style boots will work. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. While the mesh venting is nice in the desert, and helps reduce the weight of the boot, if you were to be walking on a fireline, and accidentally punch through a hole where a tree’s root used to be, but is now just a smoldering mini-replica of hell, you’re going to wish you had an all-leather boot. For reasons like that, all-Leather boots are required.
Also, be sure to avoid steel-tipped boots. Why? Because imagine again if you stepped into that ash pit with a ring of metal around your cute little toes. It would not be pleasant.
You’re fine to keep your factory laces. Most folks do. However, leather laces eventually dry out, crack, and snap. This never happens at the station. Only on the fireline. Usually during a gnarly initial attack. In a pinch, you can use your p-cord for temporary laces. It’ll get you through the roll, and even through the season.
I’ll never forget the first time I burned through a pair of laces. We were on day three or four of mop up, and my saw partner and I were taking down hazard trees. Trees that had been damaged so badly by the fire that one wrong look by a firefighter or a stiff gust of wind could send them toppling over. While taking one down, I suddenly felt my feet getting incredibly hot. I looked down and realized I was standing in white ash. The tree’s root system was still on fire, smoldering below the surface, and I was standing right over it. But I was halfway through the cut, and I couldn’t abandon the tree at this critical time. I started hot footing it, lifting one foot up, then the other, like a cartoon character dancing the Irish Jig with a chainsaw in hands. All the while augering my saw into the tree as hard as I could to finish the cut. The instant the holding wood gave way, and I knew it was on its way down I sprinted to the fireline. As I ran, I saw our line EMT, and I shouted for him. “Zev, I think I burned my feet!” He started running over to me, and when I sat down, I looked down, and to my horror, saw that my laces had burned off. The metal eyelets had heated up and burned through the laces. My feet, meanwhile, felt like they were trapped in an oven. I feared for the worst. I ripped off my boots, stripped away my socks, and looked at my feet – and they were just fine. I breathed a sigh of relief. I received a good bit of hazing for a few days after that though. Anyways, if you want to avoid that situation, do two things. First, before you start cutting down a tree, always look down at where you’ll be standing, and avoid white ash. Second, there’s a new product on the market called Rhino Laces. They’re sharp looking, colorful, and apparently as close to indestructible as something can be. Check’em out by visiting rhinolaces.com or you can buy them on Amazon. The company was started by two wildland firefighters, Adam and Justin, and it’s nice to support entrepreneurs from the wildland firefighting community..