Golden Age of Travel Birthday prequel — vintage hiking footwear

In our last blog post, we discussed what jackets would keep me warm and dry in the unpredictable UK climate. Now it’s time to look at footwear.

Possibly the most important piece of equipment to a hiker is footwear.   If your feet aren’t happy, you aren’t going very far.  So footwear is very important.

The true vintage enthusiast may be cross with me, but I won’t be searching for hiking boots from the 1930s for this trip.  Since I will be walking over 85 miles, it is essential that I have footwear that is both (A) reliable and (B) well broken-in.  I know that vintage footwear was probably better constructed than what we can buy today.  But I don’t have a lot of faith that I will be able to find vintage hiking boots that will both fit my normalish foot and my outsized ankles and calf, plus provide comfort for my broken former-dancer’s feet.  So forgive me, purists!  I’m usually as purist as they come, but not when I need to walk 85 miles!

That being said, I am NOT going to wear modern hiking boots and just pretend that they aren’t thoroughly modern looking!  No.  I will be wearing footwear that cuts the right profile as well as affording me comfort.

Luckily, the gods of vintage were smiling down on me.  See these wonderful boots to the left in this photo of a hiker from 1932?  I have a pair almost identical to those.  They are actually my favourite boots ever!  I bought them in 1994 before I went on a walking holiday to Ireland.  I traipsed across the Emerald Isle for three weeks in them.  I’ve climbed over prehistorical glacier falls and scrambled up cliffs in them.  I’ve stood in shin-high water wearing them without getting my feet wet.  I even got married in them (the boots lasted longer!).

My boots were made by Frye.  I don’t know if they make the same style anymore, but they are awfully close to http://www.zappos.com/frye-campus-lug-lace-walnut but in black and without the inside zip (no cheating here). I don’t recommend zip-up boots for hiking because of the tendency for the zipper to allow moisture to seep into the boot. Unless you have hiking boots with zippers that the manufacturers engineered to keep the water out, of course.

This style of lace-up knee-high boots seems to have been popular among men and women alike. The same styles are shown among riding and hiking wear in 1920s and 30s catalogs. Also worn were plain-shaft riding boots, mid-calf lace-up boots, and ankle boots. I don’t know how much early 20th century riding boots differed from modern riding boots, but modern show boots are very difficult to walk in because of the stiffness of the leg shaft. They are meant for riding and looking correct, not walking. But there is also a big difference between modern show boots and boots that non-horsey companies sell as “riding boots” (the style). If you have a pair of riding style boots that you know are hard-wearing and comfortable, they would be a good choice. But I do not recommend buying a brand new pair of show boots or field boots from Ariat or Devon-Aire and expect them to feel good when you’ve hiked a while. Also, riding boots tend to have a smooth sole, which isn’t the best for walking or hiking, especially if there may be mud. Ultimately, know your required comfort and know your boots.

 

Sometimes high socks were worn with a low boot or shoe. Fold-over tops bearing knitted patterns were a typical feature of 1920s hiking socks.  As you can see in the photo of the two ladies and gentleman at right, socks like this were pulled up over the kneebands of the knickerbockers so the decorative fold-overs could be seen.

Patterned socks (the most typical being Argyle or diamond shapes) are often seen paired with knickerbockers and short boots or shoes in catalogs of the 1920s and 30s. These were popular for wear when hiking as well as when golfing or even just picnicking.

RH1068If you’re wearing short boots, you might want to wear something more on your calves than just socks. Sometimes gaiters were worn (like our RH1068 1910s Gaiters or Spatterdashes) to protect the calves.

 

Next time… Fashion (and protection) for your head!

While you’re waiting, have a shop through our collection of reproduced Vintage patterns.

Photos courtesy of The Vintage Traveler. Please visit her wonderful vintage travel and clothing blog!

© 2014 Kass McGann. All Rights Reserved. The Author of this work retains full copyright for this material.

1 Comment

  1. Hiking footwear has truly evolved from its more archaic days yet this post is absolutely charming. I am sure that they did the best that they could with what they had. I wonder what they would say if they saw today’s variety of boots.I am sure the latest muck books would knock their socks off.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>