Tag Archives: rubber boots

Declare war on salt!

5 Mar

I’ve had too many pairs of winter boots destroyed by road salt and I’m mad as hell!

salt winter boots

My disgusting, now defunct suede winter boots eaten by salt. Even the zippers are salt-dried. What a waste.

In Ontario, where I currently live, road salt is used so heavily that the streets are white with it and there is fine white salt powder on everything. Salt is a highly corrosive mineral that leaves a mark on not only our footwear, but damages nature, metals, and building materials.

Catherine Houska, metallurgical engineer, says that despite environmental concerns, salt for de-icing changes the chemistry of soil, is harmful to plants, trees, and fish, and it’s use continues to grow–even “sunbelt” cities now stock salt for freezing rain.

After reading Houska’s Deicing Salt: Recognizing the Corrosion Threat, I realize just how damaging and far-reaching salt pollution is. “Deicing salt poses a significant but often unrecognized corrosion threat to architectural metals and other construction materials,” Houska writes. “Seasonal deicing salt accumulations have been documented up to 1.9 km from busy roadways and as high as the 59th floor of a high-rise building.”

Overuse of road salt in Ontario wreaks havoc on land and crops that we need to eat. In a recent legal case in Ontario, farmers sued the local government for losses on their crops due to the use of road salt and won. With any luck, this case will set a precedent and the use of corrosive de-icing salts and the destructive effects on land and vegetation will be examined and changes made, possibly moving us to a non-corrosive grit for winter traction like sand, used in places like Saskatchewan and in Russia.

Salt’s corrosive nature can eat its way through even the thickest treated leathers. This winter, I watched my once-waterproof suede boots destroyed by road salt to the degree that water seeped into the outside of the boot and left my feet wet, plus, they look so awful that I am embarrassed to wear them, despite spraying with protective footwear products and regular cleanings with water and vinegar to neutralize salt’s corrosive effects. The salt literally ate through the suede and dried out the zipper so much that they are useless now. So what do I do with them? Thousands of boots and shoes have been rendered useless after being eaten by salt, and most of these will find themselves in landfills, adding to our polluted world. There must be an alternative.

The switch to synthetics

Though I’m not a fan of synthetics, once my suede boots went down, I decided that I will not throw any more money away on leather or suede (to be honest, I’ve decided not to wear leather anything anymore because of the animal cruelty and environmental pollution involved in the leather-tanning process). I’ve ordered waterproof synthetic boots that salt should brush off of. I reckon that this will prevent a volume of winter boots from going into the landfill because the salt will not corrode this particular material, and the boots will have a longer life, create less waste, and reduce the demand for more boots.

I’ve written before about the downfall of rubber boots in the Huffington Post that are now so cheaply made that they crack after one season’s wear and quickly fill the dump with spent boots. I am a huge supporter of investing in good footwear that is environmentally responsible and that one can maintain with visits to shoe repair shops to stretch the boot’s life. A Canadian company that makes good waterproof boots is Kamik. Kamik boots are recyclable and made of vulcanized rubber (the process in which rubber is heated to a high temperature which binds unstable rubber polymer chains and makes them strong, elastic, and waterproof, as opposed to cheap PVC which easily cracks and is quickly tossed). Even better, some Kamik boot styles are available at your local Canadian Tire store!

What I really like about Kamik boots is that they are serious about sustainabilty. They make boot liners and linings from recycled water bottles; soles are 100% recyclable, and they create “innovative materials like Ecologic Rubber.” Not only does Kamik use recycled products in their footwear, they also offer a recycling program on some styles: Our shoes last a really long time, but when you’ve worn them into the ground, keep them from getting buried in it by sending them back to us. Brilliant.


Now, many of Kamik’s boots for men are for the outdoors and outdoor activites like farming and winter sport, but what about urban men who wear suits to work? The answer is the coloruful, modern-day Norwegian-designed golash, SWIMS. SWIMS can come in the form of an overshoe or overboot, a stylish alternative to salt-eaten shoes and heavy winter boots. SWIMS has collaborated with the likes of Armani and bootmaker, John Lobb, to bring protective footwear into the stylish spotlight. These products use a type of insulated, tear-resistant rubber to protect your shoes from the ravages of winter moisture. However, I cannot see anything linking sustainability to this company, and that’s unfortunate.

Since most of us do not make governmental decisions about road safety and cannot reduce the use of salt used on roads (though we can contact our local politicians to make our voices heard), our alternative is to choose winter footwear that will last longer than permeable materials like leather, and take them to the shoe maker for repair when needed. Our saving grace would be to wear footwear that we could throw in the blue bin when we’re finished with them, eliminating waste and continuously re-using the boot materials.

There are beginnings of this but nothing is full-blown yet: there are shoe recycling spots (mostly in the U.S. where 300 million pairs of shoes go to landfills each year), Nike has a U.S.-based running shoe recycling program, and we’re stating to see small companies develop recyclable shoes. Excellent steps forward, but for us Canadians, we need responsible, recyclable, waterproof boots.










April showers, rubber boots, and the environment

11 Apr

Period Hessian boots.

It’s April again and if you’re lucky enough to be in a snowless spot, it could be time to get out the umbrellas and rubber boots for a change!

Rubber boots as we know them today didn’t start as rubber boots. The style of boot derives from Hessian boots, a high style from the Regency Period. These 18th century boots were made of leather with a heel and slightly pointed toe, and decorated with a coloured tassel. This is the boot from which rubber and cowboy boots derived. (Click here for further period boot reading.)

Though also worn by Beau Brummel, the most famous of dandies, the Hessian boots were adopted by the military and favoured by officers. One of these officers,  Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, modified the style and changed footwear forever. Wellesley wanted a boot tough enough for the battlefield but comfortable enough for evening wear. The resulting boot was  made of plain soft calf skin (possibly treated with wax to make them waterproof), cut closer to the leg, housing the trim stirrup trousers of the period.

Leather “Wellington” boots.

These Wellington boots became all the rage – civilians and soldiers alike wore this style to emulate their favourite war hero and statesman. It was the boot of 19th century aristocracy, synonymous with fox hunts and country life in Britain.

Rubber Revolution

According to Scientific American, rubber footwear originated with Amazonian Indians who lived amongst rubber trees in South America,  but it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that rubber boots appeared. Natural rubber is composed of long polymer chains which, when uncured, move independently, giving an unstable substance that can get sticky when warm and brittle when cold.

In the mid-19th century, Charles Goodyear discovered a process called vulcanization that linked the polymer chains, making rubber strong, elastic, and waterproof. Goodyear used his invention to make tires and Hiram Hutchinson bought the patent to manufacture footwear, and the waterproof Wellington boot was born. (See pictures of rubber boot making in France.)

Wellingtons, wellies, gummies, gum boots, or  rain boots have been worn all over the world to keep feet dry and protected in mud, rain, and slush; for mining, industry, and food processing; fishing, farming, and riding (see this detailed article if you want to learn how!)

hunter boot

The Chet by Hunter.

Remember the black rubber boots with red soles from your childhood?  They’re  still readily available at Canadian Tire, but for those who itch for a more stylish rubber boot, Hunter, the Scottish rubber boot company, makes all kinds of styles, long and short – featured here is their Chelsea-style rubber boot.

For casual dress, Sweden’s Tretorn offers cool sporty, waterproof “rain sneakers”, along with other styles and lots of colour options. Further reading. But there’ s a catch to these stylish waterproof numbers.

Environmental Considerations

Rubber decomposes, as anyone who grew up in the pre-Spandex era can tell you. I have a pair of lined, rubber Tretorn rain boots that cracked within two years. I don’t know if the lining had anything to do with it, but I can’t wear them anymore. Tretorn doesn’t have a recycling program. So what do I do with them?

Hunter sells care products with their boots to shine them up, but this doesn’t seem to affect the “long-term” ownership of these boots. I’ve looked at forums and blogs that complain about their wellies “crumbling” and “splitting” since the Scottish company moved their manufacture to China (read this blog for an excellent take on Hunter’s move to cheap labour).

A wonderful alternative to throw-away boots is Kamik‘s vegan footwear. The styles are similar to Hunters, but the boots are eco-friendly, and the Kamik waterproof footwear is vulcanized, unlike the China-made Hunters.  Kamik’s boots are recyclable and made in Canada. Kamik’s products can be found in Canadian Tire and various other locations throughout Canada and the U.S.

Find dealers. Read more about Kamik.

Rubber boots are awesome in wet weather, so feel confident to roam the streets in the rain and splash through puddles, but do be mindful of the environmental impact of your choice in wellies.

The sloshed galosh

3 Mar

Waterproof Tretorn ankle boot

It’s completely unfair. Men have such slim choices in footwear in comparison to women. I’ve had feedback from all sorts of guys asking for “waterproof dress boots” and rubber boots in something other than black, brown, and dark green. It’s dismal. It’s dismal until we start demanding differently.

Humans seem to be innately aware of the importance of footwear. It’s the base on which we stand! People notice your footwear and you notice theirs – I’ve even had homeless people check out my shoes, so what does that tell you? When I’m in clean and polished shoes, I feel great, when I’m in dirty, scuffed shoes, I hang my head. Somehow the more looked after the footwear, the higher the self-esteem, no matter where you come from or how much (you perceive) you’re worth.

Today I’ve thought about some things, read some stuff, and had conversations with shoe experts to bring you fellas some practical information about choices in waterproof footwear, caring for your footwear,  and sloshing through the wet and still cold season of late winter / early spring.

I spoke to Crissi Giamos, the Director of Public Relations at Town Shoes, about waterproof boots. Though we’re into a new buying season now, keep Crissi’s brand suggestions in mind for fall / winter 2011 and beyond: Sorels, Hush Puppies, and some rubber Diesel models.

Town Shoes carries good old rubber boots by Tretorn and Scotland’s Hunter that are great for cold winters and wet springs, though unfortunately not in any fun colours or patterns for the guys. I have a pair of quiet brown Tretorn rubber boots with plush interior and I think they’re great!

It seems that a guy has to sacrifice either fashion or practicality in footwear because fashionably practical seems an illusion. Then a friend of mine reminded me that Australian Blundstones are water-resistant, long-lasting, and hard-wearing. I’ve had a couple of pairs of Blunnies myself and was very pleased with them, though they are NOT good in snow – no tread. Blundstones go with lots of things from smart casual to weekend casual looks.

TIP–> Crissi suggests to leave a pair of shoes at the office so that you can remove your dirty, wet outdoor footwear and feel good in a clean, dry pair of indoor shoes.


Salt is corrosive and seems to eat leather footwear! To me, salt used on sidewalks and on roads to melt snow and ice is massively overdone here in Toronto. When I lived in Saskatchewan, they used sand for traction under feet and rubber which is a much nicer alternative to salt that gets into the water system and messes with the soil.

Anyway, Crissi suggests a commercial salt remover for salt stains, and gives the following four steps to keeping your footwear clean and long-lasting:

  1. Clean with a damp cloth (it’s sloppy out there, gang, so clean daily).                                                TIP–> keep a cloth near where keep your boots so cleaning is within easy reach
  2. Use a salt remover (some people suggest using diluted vinegar for cleaning salt stains, but Crissi says vinegar will dry out the leather).
  3. Spray with All Protector.
  4. Polish when necessary (from every few days to a couple of times a month if you can).


I had a client in from Alberta last month complaining that he couldn’t find any galoshes to buy. He went to an old-school shoe store and had the proprietor dig in the stockroom for toe rubbers and eventually produced a pair thought to be from 1964.

For those of you who don’t know what a toe rubber or galosh is, it is a rubber covering for the  bottom part of your shoe to keep your footwear dry. Men wore these like crazy in the old days, but are scarcely seen anymore. I found this great site for toe rubbers and rubber shoe coverings to keep your footwear dry. As a more fashionable alternative, there are Scandinavian Swims, though according to their website, they do not ship outside of the EU.  However, Harry Rosen carries some styles during the fall and winter – here is an example of what they carried for fall / winter 2010.


Crissy says it’s clean, polish, and protect to keep a good-looking shoe or boot. I use an All Protector on my footwear which unto itself is a good general step in keeping your footwear in good shape, but sometimes we need to go further.

I really do in my footwear because I’m outside walking a lot. As we all know, there is nothing worse than a cold, wet foot, so I like to try to waterproof my footwear as much as I can. I have used a product called Dubbin from the Kiwi Outdoor line (made with silicone, giving a consistency like Vaseline) to waterproof my leather walking boots and it’s very effective, though use with caution: if you’re using on an other-than-black boot, it may darken the leather. Still, you might just want to use it around the part of the boot where the sole meets the leather to repel the water from this joining seam.

Another product I use to keep the leather of my footwear clean and supple so that it doesn’t crack, is a cream conditioner. I’ve had different versions of this cream cleaner and I’m happy with the results – I like to use it on smooth indoor and outdoor shoes to restore their moisture, spiff them up, and give a dull shine.

For those of you who opt for rubber boots, these are totally practical and low maintenance – they just need  a rinse! I like to give the outside of my boots a moment under the tub faucet and then dry them off before I go out – makes an enormous visual difference and I feel better in the clean boots.

Wet feet

Antonio Centeno, founder of A Tailored Suit, has an excellent article about waterproofing your footwear on the Art of Manliness website. When I spoke to Antonio, he stressed “using maintenance products consistently” to keep an outdoor shoe or boot in good condition – sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Borrowing from his article, Antonio explains how to deal with footwear that is already wet:

  1. Remove excess water from the outside of the shoe using a dry rag or towel.
  2. Pull the moisture from the inside of the shoe with a crumpled newspaper or a small dry towel. The key here is to draw the moisture out, so every hour or so replace the moist paper with dry paper.  Depending on the extent of the soaking, this could take from 2 hours to 2 days. [I think cedar shoe trees might work here too, depending on how wet your shoes are, as they absorb moisture from the inside of our shoes.]
  3. Do not place the shoes near a heat source; let them dry slowly at room temperature.  If you heat them you will cause the moisture to leave too quickly and greatly increase the chance of the leather cracking.  Cracked leather cannot be fixed on a man’s shoe or boot.
  4. Once the shoes appear dry and no more moisture is being drawn out of the shoe, clean and condition with a leather balm or cream and finally polish normally.  Over the next week ensure you clean and polish after every wearing.

I hope all of this information helps, lads. I’m still trying to locate something cool AND waterproof for you to wear that doesn’t have to go over your shoes, but the designers just don’t seem to be doing them! If any of you find slick waterproof winter footwear, please do us all a favour and post the link here, and if not, talk to your local retailers and ask for what you want – you may have influence!