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Bird Shoe Blues: a eulogy

March 3, 2009

On Sunday, just like every other single time I’ve gone birding for the past 3 and a half years, I pulled on my bird shoes, a pair of waterproof ankle-highs with an elastic toggle lace I picked up from L.L. Bean. Only this time, as I pulled the elastic strap to tighten them, something gave way. The elastic, worn thin by sea salt, snow, mud and muck, gave way. My bird shoes, gone.

Less than $50 when I bought them following a particularly soggy socked fall morning in 2005, they lasted through pelagics, CBCs, dewy mornings, and even a Super Bowl of Birding keeping my feet safe and dry. They were perfect, and when I tried to replace them a year ago and found LL Bean had inexplicably discontinued them, forcing me to buy a sort of similar but inadequate pair that I eventually had to return, I happily returned to the old pair, newly rehabilitated with a comfy insole for the time being, and gave their replacement little thought. Till now.

So even though the lace busted through (I blame salt water) I was able to tie the ends together so that they’re serviceable until I can find something I like.

It’s a temporary solution at best, though I wouldn’t put it past me to slap some duct tape on these things and go on until my feet look like silver clown shoes. So I’m coming to you readers. Do you have a pair of shoes you like to wear birding that might replace my beloved shoes? I’m taking suggestions and I’d love to hear yours. Here are my humble requests for features…

  1. Waterproof (obviously)
  2. Ankle high preferred (I don’t like wearing high sided shoes unless I have to)
  3. No laces if possible (I just hate laces)

Got any ideas? What do you wear on your feet when you’re birding?

  1. Mike permalink
    March 3, 2009 8:33 am

    Good question. I’ve tried a variety of boots but keep coming back to sneakers. For waterproof, I wear knee-high rubber boots… no laces!

  2. MaineBirder permalink
    March 3, 2009 9:23 am

    My suggestion has laces, but I love them!

    Wolverines… waterproof, thinsulated, plenty of tread for the rocks, ankle height. Bought them at an Amish shoe shop in central PA. 4 years ago. I never leave to go birding without them.

  3. Ashok Khosla permalink
    March 3, 2009 11:24 am



  4. Nate permalink
    March 3, 2009 3:13 pm

    Thanks for the suggestions!

    I’ve tried sneakers but never liked the fact that wet grass would make my feet cold and soggy.

    I’m going to check out Wolverines and Asolos, though.

  5. John permalink
    March 3, 2009 3:38 pm

    My last two birding boots have been Merrells, one a sneaker-cut and one a high-top. They fit my feet pretty well (a challenge!) and keep them fairly warm and dry. My only complaint is that the seams come apart after repeated pounding, so that kind of defeats the Gore-tex.

    Because I have trouble finding shoes that fit properly I always go to an outdoors store and try a bunch of shoes.

  6. Greg permalink
    March 3, 2009 4:24 pm

    And don’t forget 10 days in Costa Rica!
    I like my new North Face Vindicators, but my last pair of North Face GoreTex hikers only lasted 20 months before the uppers tore. I did buy the new and better designed model, and they are comfortable, warm and waterproof.
    But they do have annoying laces.

  7. Greg permalink
    March 3, 2009 4:26 pm

    I used to buy Wolverine boots when I cut wood and worked on the farm, and they consistently lasted many years….

  8. nishiki_85 permalink
    March 3, 2009 9:10 pm

    I have a pair of Kamik insulated rubber boots that are suitable for mud and snow. A lace at the top tightens a barrier to prevent snow entering the boots. When hiking in dry weather or a small amount of snow, Hi-Tec hiking boots are used. Sorry, rubber boots go higher than needed (which are handy when looking for Sharp-tailed Sparrow in the Dundas Marsh) and hiking boots have laces.

  9. Eva permalink
    March 5, 2009 3:49 pm

    Merrells. They got me through a field season doing terrapin research when I hiked on Maryland’s eastern shore through rain and mud every day for 10+ miles a day. They’ve proven time and time again to keep my feet dry and fit perfectly. Plus, they take awhile to wear out. I’ll never go back!

    By the way, I hear we have a mutual friend, Kim Cressman, who I bird with on a semi-regular basis. Who knew the blogosphere was so small.

  10. Professor Shoelace permalink
    March 5, 2009 7:30 pm

    You’re willing to abandon a perfectly serviceable, time proven and much loved pair of shoes for the sake of broken shoelaces? Why not just buy new laces? Perfectly good replacement shoelaces are available for a couple of dollars. As a bonus, you’re being eco-friendly!

  11. Nate permalink
    March 6, 2009 5:50 pm

    @Greg- Actually I left these shoes at home and wore hiking boots in Costa Rica just to be on the safe side and avoid turning my ankle and ruining out trip. : )

    @nishiki- There have been many times I’ve been stomping through marshes and I’ve wished I’ve had knee highs come to think of it.

    @Eva- Kim and I went to college together and took many bio classes early on. Small world!

    @Prof Shoelace- If you have elastic bungee type shoelaces, I’m listening…

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