Gear Guy

When do boots need to be replaced?

At what point, if ever, should your boots be replaced? Is it a question of mileage, time, or condition? I've had my boots (L.L. Bean Knife Edge, leather) for a number of years. They are well maintained and comfortable. Is there a point where the boot does not perform its support function and the trade off between comfort and support (in favor of comfort) is not worth it? Jim Comerford Wyncote, Pennsylvania

A: Well, some years back, my friend Larry and I were hiking out from the Enchantment Lakes area in Washington's central Cascade Mountains. About 12 miles in, out (funny how that works). Plus a lot of thrashing around in between as we scrambled up several peaks and generally explored that amazing area, which I first visited in 1975, when woolly mammoths still roamed the terrain there.

Anyway, we were about five miles from the car when I heard the usually taciturn Larry say, "Damn!" which from him was a veritable torrent of verbiage. Turning around, I found him staring at one of his boots. The sole had delaminated, leaving him with a gape-mouth boot. Some adhesive tape sort of fixed the problem until we could reach the car.

That's one potential clue that it's time for new boots -— the sole delaminates. Sometimes repairable, but often a sure sign you need a new pair of boots. Other indicators: The leather is so soft that they no longer offer good support, the stitching has completely blown (although that can be repaired), and the boots have shrunk a half-size, which can indeed happen with really old boots. If you pronate, as I do, you might find the boot has canted 15 degrees to one side -— another sure sign to move on. Finally, I had some old Galibier mountaineering boots with a steel shank that rusted right out of the boot! That was repairable too, though.

So, the answer is: Whenever YOU think it's time for a new pair. I think you'll know it if they get so soft they no longer perform they way you want them too. And really, a good-quality pair of leather boots, properly cared for, is as close to a lifetime investment as you can make these days.