These Boots Were Made for Walking …

This entry is part 56 of 67 in the series Field Notes

It sure seems like there is a lot of talk about feet these days. United States Survey Feet, International Feet, and 6 feet, but nobody is talking about the most important feet.

As surveyors, we like to talk about our equipment and tools. Whether it be the old school steel tapes and top mount EDMs we started with, or the latest, greatest GNSS receiver, lidar scanner, or drone. Could be the brush cutters we use, or what we carry in our vests, or on our belts, if anyone still wears one? One thing is certain, the equipment and tools have changed much over the years, including the digital level, which removed most of the human error from the equation. Who knows what is on the horizon?

What hasn’t changed for the entirety of our profession is that we make our living in the field on our feet. We may employ trucks, quads, or even four-legged animals to assist us, but ultimately, our work is done on our feet.

When I look at pictures of early triangulation or leveling crews, I can’t help but notice the almost knee-high boots crew members are wearing, in addition to their rather upscale attire. They walked a whole lot more than surveyors today do, so hopefully those tall boots worked for them, but they likely didn’t have many options.

As young surveyors, most of us wore what we had, or what we could afford, to cover one of our most important assets. Personally, I wore what I later called “K-Mart cardboard cripplers” which provided little support, didn’t last long, and had zero waterproof ability.

When I finally started making enough money and got old enough to realize that my feet were an essential part of my tools, I invested in an “expensive” pair of Red Wing boots. However, in my excitement, I made a very poor choice of soles. I purchased these high-quality boots with smooth shop soles. I cannot tell you how disappointing and embarrassing it was the first time I tried to walk down a grassy slope in them. Yep, immediately on my behind. Might as well have worn ice skates. I immediately took them back and paid even more to have a lug sole put on them. From that day forward, I promised myself I would never wear poor quality boots again, whether for work or for life. That was 35 years ago.

At this stage of my career, getting into the field is a rare, yet cherished opportunity. However, that hasn’t kept me from appreciating and owning high quality boots. I have them for all occasions and conditions. Insulated winter boots. Non-insulated, waterproof winter boots. Snake boots. Tall hunting boots and short hiking boots. Non-waterproof boots for warm weather so they breathe. Honestly, I haven’t worn a pair of sneakers for over 20 years. I don’t even own any. Some might say I have a boot problem. Possibly, but there are a lot worse “problems” to have.

In the heat of the summer I wear shorts and ankle high boots. I just like the support and protection and the fact that it is harder to get debris inside them on the trail.

A couple of weeks ago I had the rare opportunity to get into the field for some recon work and wore a pair of Italian made boots – a brand few would likely know. They have a distinct eyelet on them that makes them easily identifiable. When I met the rest of the team at the site, almost immediately one of the other surveyors (who is also a hunter and general outdoorsman) pointed at my boots and correctly blurted out the brand. An instant bond was formed. As we walked about a mile to recover some existing benchmarks, we talked boots. I would say that young fellow has the same “problem,” although he was wearing sneakers, so he has a ways to go yet.

So, take some advice from this old surveyor and invest in your feet. If you take care of them, they will take care of you. I am so invested in my footwear that I will steal a line from many an old western and request that I be “buried with my boots on.”

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