Saturday, January 29, 2011

blogAlaska Part 1: Alaskans don't care if their feet look funny.

I was at a gathering of friends the other night and it occurred to me, while dodging a bazillion pairs of boots in the arctic entryway, that here in Alaska we have some funny looking footwear.  Moreover, I think we're a little bit proud of it. (Although we would never come right out and say it). The old saying goes that you can learn a lot about a man by walking a mile in his shoes, well--here is what Alaskan's footwear says about us:

also goes by 'tuffs, Southest Sneakers, or just rubber boots--like, is there really another kind?
Beloved and owned by almost all Alaskans this homely brown boot comes in a few varieties: steel-toed, regular and insulated or some combination thereof.  They also come in a low-top "sneaker" form.  You will see the densest concentration of this footwear in Southeast Alaska, or anywhere where commercial fishing is an economic staple.  That being said, I see quite a few pairs of these bad-mamajamas hangin' around in Nome. I myself own a pair of the insulated ones, they keep my feet toasty and dry all the way down to about 5 degrees, then I have to switch out for my real winter boots.
When I go to visit my family in Southeast, this is the only pair of "shoes" I pack. Seriously, they go with everything.  And, yes, it is acceptable to wear them with skirts here in Alaska.  You wouldn't get a second glance...Heck, some people even wear them at their weddings.

and its lesser known cousin, The Mickey Mouse Boot

These are the monster truck of boots--and  they are supposedly one of the warmest boots in existence.  I listened to a radio spot about them the other day, and I had no idea they had such a colorful history.  I won't go into that here--all you really need to know about these boots is that they keep your feet very warm, the have a pressure-release valve which makes them a favorite among the bush pilot lot,  and they make you several inches taller. They are also heavy (In my opinion), and a bit clunky. These boots are also becoming a relic; I don't believe they manufacture them anymore. Lucky for us there are a ton of them hanging around at army/navy surplus stores, or on Craigslist--for sale cheap by people who are in a hurry to get the hell out of Alaska... because, seriously, do you really want to live somewhere where your boots need to keep your feet warm at -80? Think about it people.

aka "elf boots"
One of the most misunderstood boots out there.  Just ask our friend Scotty, who wore them home to Arkansas one Christmas.  I believe his family is still wondering about him.  These boots are actually from a Norwegian manufacturer.  They are lovely on the feet--light, breathable and incredibly warm.  Some people may find them confusing at first, because there is no defined left or right.  After you wear them a while they shape to your foot. My husband rocks a pair of these all winter, and as long as the weather isn't wet, he says they never fail to keep his feet toasty warm.  They have gained popularity as many mushers in the Iditarod wear them, but they are a solid product in and of themselves.  I also think they are the cutest baby boots EVER.  I may have to splurge on a pair for Sadie next winter.  

aka the boots that my perpetually cold feet stay warm in.
All my life I have been plagued by cold feet.  When I moved to Nome I knew I was screwed. So I went ahead and bought myself a pair of big, clunky Sorrels.  And guess what? That winter my feet froze.  Then I started seeing these mukluks around.  Yeah, they look like something that Robert Redford would wear to the Cannes Film Festival, but these babies are the real deal.  I splurged on a pair my second winter in Nome.  Three years later and my feet have never been cold in them.   They are extremely light and flexible, and wearing them feels like walking barefoot.  That is the method behind the toastyness-- they keep blood circulating through your feet, all the way down to your littlest piggies. Once you go Steger, you never go back--until it gets wet outside, then you switch back to your 'tuffs. 

the original
If you are lucky enough to know someone who still knows how to make a real pair of these, I hear they are THE way to go.  Apart from being a work of art in and of themselves, they are the warmest most water and weather resistant boot out there when it comes to fending off the arctic chill.  All our fancy modern materials and the original product is still the best.  It is pretty hard to beat Inuit ingenuity when it comes to boots and boats. 

So if you are coming to Alaska and you want to blend in with the locals, may I recommend that you invest in one of these forms of footwear? Just make sure you wear the right item to the right region at the right time of year, otherwise, you will stick out like a sore, um... BIG TOE.



    You have no clue how happy this post made me. When people in Oregon see my Tuffies they are mystified by them but usually think they're cool. When Jonathan and I were in Anchorage for the Iditarod in 2009 I saw so many bunny boots and it brought back memories from being little and owning some.

    Yay, thanks for making this post. :o)

  2. yay for blogalaska part 1!! i have only 1 pair of boots my feet never EVER get cold in and i call them my "icefishing boots". i know they wouldnt even cut it in alaska in april. LOL. i totally would be wearing the wrong boots in the wrong month if i came to visit you. :) lucky for me, last time i was in alaska, it was june and all i needed was my hiking boots! cant wait to see what blogalaska part 2 has in store for us.

  3. ok i've got some more blogalaska questions!! i know i had like 20 in my last post but there are in fact more. LOL. how often do you see the northern lights? how do you deal with the dark winters? and does the ocean freeze over at all by nome? [i finally got to watching the sarah palin finale and they were in nome (!!) and last night's flying wild alaska had a cross country team flying to nome, yay]

  4. Southest Sneakers, Sitka Sneakers, or just plain old Xtratufs... regardless of the name they are by far the best boots in America! I am so dedicated to Xtratuf boots that I built my own website for all things XTRATUF! I hope you keep wearing and packing those Xtratufs! If want to see more, check me out at

    Thanks for blogging!

  5. thanks for blogging this! i lived in Fairbanks for a year and when I moved there I took a pair of -40 degree Sorel's with feet were perpetually cold. I caved in and bought a pair of Lobbens while living there and my feet had never been so happy & warm! I brought them back to the lower 48 with me and they do great here in Salt Lake City as we have very dry powdery snow but I get tons of quizzical stares! I don't feet are toasty!

    1. They are amazing. My philosophy has always been toasty toes before fashion...but after awhile I've come to think of the Lobbens as warm and cute (probably just getting to Alaskan to care). The little kid ones are the cutest--just scored a pair at a Juneau thrift shop for $10! Glad your feet will stay cozy this winter in SLC, thanks for reading!