In a job that requires spending an extensive amount of time on one’s feet traversing rugged, uneven terrain, a quality pair of boots is vital. Failing to choose the right pair of boots will likely result in blisters, discomfort, joint issues and ultimately a reduced ability to efficiently perform the critical duties of one’s job as a wildland firefighter. Therefore, it is important not to settle for any old pair of boots when shopping for your work attire. To find footwear that will keep your feet protected against some of the world’s harshest elements, follow these tips for choosing wildfire boots.
Ensure that They Comply with fire Standards
Before purchasing a pair of wildland fire boots, it might be essential to ensure that they are at least up to USFS standards. The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) has also established a set of essential requirements for protective clothing, including boots, to ensure that wildland firefighters are properly protected against the adverse environmental conditions they face. Boots certified to NFPA 1977 standards will carry a label earned by 3rd party laboratories if they meet NFPA guidelines. The most basic USFS standard states that wildland firefighter boots must:
- Measure eight inches from the top of the boot to the bottom of the heel
- Have laces
- Have a melt-resistant Vibram-type lug sole (except Alaska)
- Have a leather outer construction
Being aware of these qualifications is the first step towards choosing a pair of wildfire boots that will keep you as safe as possible on the job.
Don’t Skimp on Quality
When it comes to your safety, you should never skimp on quality. Purchasing a cheap pair of boots that are not durable and don’t offer proper protection can result in significant injuries. When placed in extreme situations where optimum mobility is essential, poor quality boots can even put your life at risk. Poor fitting boots and boots that may come apart on the fire line could mean you can’t work.
Test Them Out Before Committing
Another tip for choosing wildland firefighter boots is to try them out before committing. While most brands won’t let you wear their shoes out on the fire line for a day or two to test them before making a purchase, you will likely be able to try them on for a while.
When trying on boots, don’t just slide them on your feet, take a few steps and call it a day. To get a good gauge on how the boots feel on your feet, lace up, take a short walk, try jumping up and down, and walk on inclined or declined surfaces.
While you’ll have to account for the fact that the boots haven’t been broken in yet, giving them a short test drive will help you determine if they will be comfortable on the job, or if they will end up giving you painful blisters.
So how do you determine what style is best? That may be more difficult to ascertain. Traditional “hand-made” boots tend to be logger-style boots made from heavy gauge leather and typically have a good sized heel capable of grabbing loose scree in mountain terrain. This type of boot is very durable but the tradeoff may be a heavier boot. There are now many styles of mountaineering boots designed for fire. Some have a full shank, meaning they don’t like to flex. This is a user preference you may not realize until trying them on. Typically mountaineering boots are less expensive than traditional logger boots but cannot be re-soled or repaired.
There isn’t a wrong answer, the trick is to know yourself and figure out what works well for you.