Call them gumboots. Call them Wellingtons or Wellies. Call them rubber boots, rain boots, or galoshes. What we are talking about is waterproof foot protection, and there are times when a good pair can just feel absolutely essential: heading out to feed the animals on cold and rainy evenings, harvesting taro or rice from the muddy banks, and apparently doing surgery (for anyone to whom that applies).
When buying things, I like to have the goal of doing it once (or as little as possible), and one of the best ways of doing this—the same as developing a permaculture site—is to be aware of the multiple of functions things can perform and choosing the best version for what is expected. Gumboots are no different. With a little foresight, and site-specific realizations, hopefully it’s possible to pick a good pair that will provide amazing service and last a long time.
What Gumboots Can Do for You
In doing research for this, I ran into many more articles about fashion and fun than I did about functionality. I wasn’t totally surprised by that because, some years ago, I noticed that rain boots had become trendy. Unfortunately, with pop-culture, there usually comes cheaply manufactured, lesser versions of whatever prized things have become stylish. Such is the modern, capitalist lifestyle.
Suffice it to say, for this particular article, I’ve not so much worried about how gumboots look so much as what they do. In other words, besides looking chic and hopping in puddles, here’s what a good pair of working gumboots can bring to the table.
1. Obviously, they keep feet dry.
The primary purpose for buying rubber boots, for most folks, is to keep their feet dry. Unlike other “waterproof” versions of footwear, Wellies are bona fide effective. Leather hiking shoes might make the waterproof claim, but they fall short and can’t even dream of working in the same areas as rubber boots. When it’s thick mud or even shallow streams, nothing is the same.
2. They keep your feet warm.
For those in the cool and cold temperate climate, keeping feet dry extends far beyond comfort, especially in the autumn, winter, and early spring. During these times, wet feet equate to freezing. What’s more, a good pair of gumboots can come with insulation, which expands their value as both waterproof and warm.
3. They protect your feet.
Rubber boots are also commonly used for protection. This function has many variations. With regards to animals, pant legs tucked into rubber boots can help with ticks and other troublesome insects, and boots with thick sides are often used, though not necessarily 100% effective, to thwart snake bites. They also help with preventing foot diseases, like trench foot and fungal infections. They also protect feet from electricity.
4. They provide wider access.
Many think of rain boots as being only for rainy days (or, perhaps, fashion runaways), but that definitely isn’t the case on a permaculture site. Rubber boots give us access to many places we might not otherwise walk. We are able to amble through muddy entranceways, full swales, streams, shallow ponds, and so on. Shoes just can’t do that.
5. They are easy to clean.
Beyond being waterproof, warm, and safe, another reason gumboots give access to more places than shoes is that they are so easy to clean. Where mucky shoes have to be washed and/or dried, even when they are just work shoes, gumboots can simply be hosed off without having to dry them. They can just be slipped back on in the evening or tomorrow.
6. They have good grip.
A good pair of Wellies will also have quality rubber soles (as mentioned, making them good for electrical work), and the good soles will also be anti-slip. Wellies are specifically made for wet conditions, so designers worth their salt will definitely include grips in their boots. This can be particular useful in barns, outdoor kitchens, and other places with possibly paved floors.
7. We all go wellie wanging.
Lastly, just for the fun of it, we should mention that Wellies and gumboots (same thing, different places) are used in competition. Wellie wanging and gumboot throwing are recognized sports (with champions) in the UK and New Zealand, respectively. So, while we may have dismissed fun earlier (remember: jumping in puddles), perhaps we were mistaken.
What Makes a Good Pair of Gumboots?
Though we could simply go out and get what’s available and likely be okay, there are a lot of things that go into making a good pair of gumboots. If we aren’t buying them secondhand (Why not try?) but going for the most functional and durable gumboots we can get, then we should take a moment to consider what we are getting. Here’s a few things to contemplate when choosing.
Personally, I’m always going to look for natural, latex rubber from plants over petroleum-based rubber. This is not to say that rubber trees don’t come with their own devils, but nowadays there is much more awareness for creating sustainable and recycled rubber industries. As for comfort, some flexibility Is good and a little thickness will help preventing holes and possibly snake bites.
It’s really easy to ignore something like the weight of a pair of gumboots and find yourself lugging around, straining through each step. For those who are going to wear them often for lengths of time, go for something light. Remember, mud is already heavy enough, so the less the boot weighs the better.
Wellies that are used on smooth paved surfaces need to have a non-slip soles. Most of them will have this by default, but when buying a stylish pair, it’s probably something worth checking on. It’s great to look good, but seemingly, we are buying Wellingtons to get the job done rather than appear regal.
Some high quality boots have no insulation, others too much. What’s most important with regards to insulation is being aware of the needs of a particular site and/or requirements of boots. In the tropics, I can imagine how bad it would be wearing a pair of insulated rubber boots, but in Russia, they might be absolutely necessary to keep feeling in my feet. What works best for where you are?
The general consensus is that gumboots are best fitting when they are snug around the foot and ankle but loosen up higher in the leg. For one, if your calves are big, tight boots can be very uncomfortable, and if they are too tight, it won’t be possible to tuck pant legs into them, which equates to wet pant legs and open routes for ticks to crawl in.
Perhaps it’s a bit excessive to think this way, but then again, perhaps it means that that next pair of boots is just right. Perhaps, they’ll be the last pair you have to buy and do everything you need them for. Wouldn’t that make it worth it?
Feature Photo: Dennis van Zuijlekom