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great gear #1: desert boots

Designed in WW2 by serving officers in the eighth army in Cairo, the original desert boot is made of suede with a crepe sole and low heel. My own pair, a cheapo version, have some kind of rubbery plastic version of crepe but they are similar enough. You can buy a classier version from Clarks. Today I wore mine for the first time in Wadi Digla, a rocky canyon where I go to recharge my energies- it’s only a ten minute drive from where I live on the edge of Cairo. Every day now it’s in the 40s and any kind of normal boot or shoe feels really hot and sticky. Mostly I wear sandals, leather because it absorbs sweat best, but with Teva type adjusters so they are really comfortable. But while sandals are best by far for sand and gentle paths, they are a bit slidey and unstable for steeper surfaces, not to mention banging your toes when you clamber over rocks. This is where the suede desert boot is brilliant. It feels like a moccasin, much better than the chunky soled Merrill all terrain trainers I usually wear- with the desert boot you can feel the rock through your feet and it smears on flat surfaces well too. In fact I did some scrambling and boulder moves today and the desert boots were great, even with the overhanging welt.

There are modern army type desert boots out there but mostly they are simply jungle boots made of suede. Except they have to have cordura on them to look modern so these bits make your feet sweat. And they are way too high- mostly you only need a boot to just go over the ankle. While the classic desert boot is probably a bit low for going over lots of dunes- sand will get in I should think- they are so cool to wear if you are doing mixed desert travel- driving and walking or even walking and riding camels I should think they would be excellent. Especially in the summer, when any walking will always be short distances.

However for a multiday hike in winter you may still be better off with the walking boot type of desert boot made by Meindl and Altberg but not the ludicrous Oakley boots used by some military forces- these are waterproofed- the very opposite of what you need! On a multiday hike I‘ve found that if you wear trainers or sandals your feet take more of a beating than if you wear boots- simply because the boots spread the load around, and hi-leg boots spread it around even more than low leg. Sweat causes blisters so you need to get rid of moisture as much as you can, so if the boot has no lining that’s great. Wear two pairs of wool socks to sop up whatever is left and change your socks over every four hours of walking if you can. If your feet are really hard and used to long distance walking you can take more liberties by wearing smaller boots and thinner socks- it’s just that I’ve found after long experience that roomy boots with thick wool socks are the most comfortable.




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