Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hiking Boots: Change is Good for the Resole

Gouge in hiking bootWe live in a throwaway society. Most purchases come with an expectation of ephemerality, regardless of whether it is a small novelty item or a durable good, like a car or refrigerator. When these manufactured goods meet our low expectations, we toss them in the trash and buy new ones. At least this is the norm for those with disposable income, a term that reinforces our throwaway thinking. The outdoor community has no immunity to this mindset, where gear is often retired well before its time because of small signs of wear and tear.

However, it is often justifiable to retire gear that is showing its age. Exploring the remote Adirondacks requires subjecting outdoor equipment to an excessive amount of backcountry abuse. Outdoor products are typically well-made, with durable materials, but eventually the constant maltreatment reduces their usefulness. At that point, replacement is inevitable to reduce the chance of a disastrous failure, miles from anywhere.

Of all backcountry gear, hiking boots are by far the most crucial. Without boots, one can expect sore and bloody feet, as well as stubbed toes, twisted ankles and generally a nasty and painful experience; that is, after all, why most of us wear them. So, when hiking boots fail, it is a complete disaster, rivaling only a backpack ripping apart and spilling its contents in the backcountry.

Recently, the throwaway society mindset, my emotional attachment to my gear and the backcountry abuse collided with my favorite hiking boots, leaving me with a terrible dilemma.

Separating sole on inner left bootThis dilemma started earlier this year when my favorite bushwhacking boots failed. Not in a spectacular fashion, pieces flying off my feet as I ran from the middle of the backcountry a la Forrest Gump, but rather in a slow disintegration over a couple of different trips. Nonetheless, this left me with a terrible decision to make. Either abandon my emotional attachment and replace them as our throwaway culture dictates, or do something so totally drastic that it requires I flirt dangerously with becoming a societal pariah.

I chose the flirtation and the pariah. Instead of retiring the boots, or worse, throwing them in the trash, I got them resoled. And it hardly cost me anything.

The events leading up to the resoling occurred rather quickly during this past spring, when my Asolo TPS 520 GTX hiking boots took a real beating and after a couple trips finally gave up the ghost. It started during a rather disappointing Birdathon in the Pepperbox Wilderness, when I returned home to find a deep gouge in the side of the heel of the left boot. As far as gouges go, this one reminded me the rock crevasses in the High Peaks that still have ice in them during the middle summer. That is, it was deep, so deep I nearly needed a flashlight to see bottom.

Not being able to abandon my bushwhacking boots, I repaired them with a little Shoe-Goo and headed out a week or so later for another adventure, divided between the Pepperbox and Five Ponds Wilderness Areas. Unfortunately, my feeble repair job did not take, as not only did the Shoe-Goo plug fall out, but the entire inside of the left sole flapped freely from the rest of the boot by the time I arrived back at the trailhead.

If there was ever a boot in need of resoling, this was one.

These hiking boots were possibly the most comfortable pair of boots I ever owned, so the thought of tossing them in the trash made me sick to my stomach. There was no way I would give them up without a fight. The uppers were still in terrific condition, even though the boots were many years old. Unfortunately, their advanced age made it all but certain that I would need to shoulder the full burden of the cost of any resoling.

Old left hiking boot soleOriginally, I planned on having them resoled locally. This changed after I discussed the whole issue with a co-worker, who initially called me a lunatic for not throwing them out and buying a new pair, and suggested contacting the manufacturer. That seemed like a grand idea, even though I doubted the old boots were still under warranty. At the very least, the company might at least point me to a few reputable cobblers, which would probably be more specialized than any I could find myself locally.

Contacting Asolo was easy enough through their website, and after being ping-ponged from their headquarters in Italy to the United States office, I finally got in touch with the right person. This was when they finally dropped the bomb on me. If I could find the receipt, and the boots were less than 10 years old, they would offer a one-time courtesy resole, or if the condition of the boots did not allow repair, a discounted upgrade. Otherwise, I would have to foot the bill completely. This sent me into a flurry of activity, culminating in a mad search for a single slip of paper many years old.

The search for the receipt was a chaotic one. Being a minor hoarder by nature, I was positive there was a good chance that I still had it; finding it was another matter completely. The search took me into several shoeboxes, each filled to the brim with receipts, product information and other assorted refuse, some for products I no longer owned, others that I wished I never did own.

Finally, as I reached the last box where it possibly might be located, when I almost gave up in despair, I found a faded receipt from Eastern Mountain Sports dated April 29, 2005 at the very bottom. That made the boots 9 years and 2 months old, give or take a few days, which made me eligible for the one-time courtesy resole.

A luckier soul, I could not be.

Asolo hiking boots after being resoledBefore shipping off the boots, I cleaned them and removed the laces and insole. In about a month, they came back to me with not only new Vibram soles but with shiny, newly waterproofed uppers as well. Although the sole appears to be of different material than the original (darker, harder and completely black), with much more aggressive tread pattern, the construction looks as sturdy as if it just came off the shelf.

Even though the theme from the Six Million Dollar Man plays in my head every time I examine them, I have yet to take the resoled hiking shoes out for a spin on a trail. A test hike is imperative before even considering going on a multiple-day bushwhacking trip. My hope is that the new soles will not change the performance or the comfort of my favorite bushwhacking boots, but only time will tell.

The next time the sole starts falling off your favorite hiking boots try getting the manufacturer to resole them for free. If that fails, try contacting the cobblers Dave Page or Resole America and pay for the work yourself. It sure beats living in a throwaway society.

Photos: Gouge after Birdathon trip, separating sole after southwestern Five Ponds Wilderness, old sole of left hiking boot and resoled hiking boots by Dan Crane.


Dan Crane

Dan Crane writes regularly about bushwhacking and backcountry camping, including providing insights on equipment and his observations as a veteran backcountry explorer. He has been visiting the Adirondacks since childhood and actively exploring its backcountry for almost two decades. He is also life-long naturalist with a Master of Science in Ecology from SUNY ESF and 10+ seasons working as a field biologist, five inside the Blue Line.

Dan has hiked the Northville-Placid Trail twice and climbed all 46 High Peaks but currently spends his backpacking time exploring the northwestern portion of the Adirondacks. He is also the creator of the blog Bushwhacking Fool where he details his bushwhacking adventures.




11 Responses

  1. Charlie S says:

    I pay a lot for my boots Dan and I’ll be darned if they come with soles that are replaceable.They’re all glue-on soles so that when they go (the soles that is) the boots have to be tossed because of that.I recently bought a new pair of boots because the soles were worn on the old ones (3 yrs old maybe.) The boot material itself was in fine shape but the soles were very worn.Used to be we were able to get new soles…no more.Or am I missing something here? Your boots must have been old for the soles having been able to be replaced.

    • Dan Crane Dan Crane says:

      Charlie,

      The soles on my boots were also glued on, as most are these days. Cobblers can still remove an old sole and put on a new one, regardless of whether the sole is glued on or not. Don’t ask me how, that is something to ask a cobbler. I bet they won’t tell you though, like magicians, I bet they are very protective of their tricks.

  2. Paul says:

    At LL Bean they call it:

    “Reduce, Reuse, Resole.”

  3. Charlie S says:

    Thanks for sharing that Dan.I still have two of my old pairs of boots with their worn glue-on soles.Maybe i’ll try to find a cobbler and get new soles for them. Are cobblers local or are they all mail order?

  4. Katharine Preston says:

    Plattsburgh Shoe Hospital, 518-561-2580. The cobbler there is a rock climber. He knows more about boots than any of us……

  5. Hawthorn says:

    I find that by the time the sole is worn my boots are also suffering from numerous other problems: worn through in all sorts of places on the insides, tears in the stitching, if Goretex it is long gone, etc. From a pure financial perspective the best thing is to keep your eyes open for boots that fit in super-end-of-season sales, places like Goodwill, or in the discount rack at the store. I recently threw out an ancient pair of LLBean hiking boots that I picked up nearly brand new in Goodwill for I think $30. The soles came completely off, but as always the boots were suffering from numerous other maladies at their advanced age. They served out their final years as around-town hikers, which strangely can be just as hard or harder on the boots due to all the salt, oil, and other chemicals.

    • Hawthorn says:

      I should add that old boots never get thrown out until they literally fall apart. They live out their final years tarring the roof or driveway, doing yard work, as a spare trunk pair in the car, around the house work or paint boots, etc.

  6. Brian Truax says:

    Way to go Dan. One less item to end up in the landfill prior to it’s time.

  7. Antonio says:

    That new sole you have on is a Vibram Bifida, its a very good sole and its one of the cup soles used most used for resoling hiking boots that came with a molded sole.
    Unfortunately the materials used in our planned obsolescence times don’t last long. The midsole is often what gives up even if someone treats the boots very well, thats what happened to yours. You could even leave the boot in the box for a few years and the midsole will degrade even faster than if you were using it. Some brands (I live in that part of Italy where the major manufacturers have their headquarters… and most importantly factory outlet store) will stand behind their product and their service can be outstanding. All my mountain and hiking boots have been the plain classic looking, tough build and marginally more expensive kind but, at this point in life, they all have been resoled at least once and with a bit of maintenance they stay in great conditions. I haven’t suffered a single blister in ages and in the long run I saved a ton of money while still using top quality boots the whole time.

  8. Greg H says:

    Hey Dan.
    Would you mind giving me the info of the person you contacted? I have the same boots with the same issue and would like to get them resoled. Thanks for the info.
    Greg