February 21, 2007

The end of an era in serious boots

Canvas/leather enlisted men's boots from the Russian army
Southern Colorado is thawing out a little bit this week. My rubber snow boots, caked in mud, sit drying on the front porch. Fifteen inches tall, they are still not tall enough for some of the lingering snow drifts.

M. swears by her Sorels with the felt inner liners and rubber/nylon outer layer. I go for laced shoepacs with removable liners when I have to walk a long distance; gumboots with thick socks when I don't.

But none of that compares with the World War II German and Russian infantry who marched in pull-on boots and no socks. Instead, they wrapped their feet in pieces of cloth (an art in itself) that could be rearranged when holes wore through, thus outlasting any pair of socks. Today's Russian army, however, appears ready to drop that system. (See photo.)

Advocates of the tradition say cheap and virtually indestructible boots and foot bindings suit the cold Russian climate better than the refined footwear of Western armies. And in the marshland, there is almost no danger of water making its way inside.

On a related note, this story from a January 1945 issue of the military newspaper Stars and Stripes describes how American soldiers adapted to winter weather.

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