Monday, October 20, 2008

Jungle boots; Gear for tropical rainforest

This is my jungle boots, another one of my Malaysia. I have tried many types of shoes but have found only two types that are suitable for the Malaysian rainforest jungle and terrain. For easy to medium type of terrain in the Malaysian jungle, you would have got to go with the Adidas Kampung (that’s another story though). But if you are going into the jungle for longer period of time, then the jungle boots may be your best option.

Here I have a pair of boots which I believe to be from the Vietnam War era. I got this from a surplus shoe vendor in K.L. He got it bulk from the States and I believe this particular model has been superseded with newer (and better perhaps) models.

Anyway, for less than RM100, I can’t complain. The boots are almost brand new and were in perfect condition. My pair of jungle boots is size 11.5 and it has a marking ‘RO-SEARCH’ (I have not a clue what this means) engraved on the soles.

I have worn this pair of boots into the Malaysian jungle before. On one particular trip, I walked close to 8 hours in total through rivers, slippery mud and some steep terrain. That and some observations, I have come to the conclusion that they are one of the best boots/ shoes for the Malaysian jungle. Here’s a few reasons why…

are adapted from real life experiences of the people (army) that spent time in the rainforest jungle. Whether it is the American army during the Vietnam war or the British in then the Malaya jungles fighting the guerillas, I am sure the type of gear they come up with is well suited for that environment.

Take for instance the upper cotton canvas. This canvas is heavy duty and is easily water permeable. This makes sense as in the Malaysian jungle, it is wet all the time. You’d either be crossing water ways or walking in the rain. Either way, you are bound to get wet. The single layer canvas is thick and strong; it absorbs water but is also easier to dry than other types of insulated linings found on other shoes/ boots. I believe it will also provide me some protection from snake bites (though I am not looking forward to testing that out).

Compare to some shoes/ boots that claim to be ‘waterproof’. Undeniably, these shoes are well built and I wouldn’t mind a pair myself if I am heading to colder dry environments. But these shoes/ boots if worn in the Malaysian jungle can quickly turn into a ‘flooding’ nightmare. Especially if worn on a long trek. Imagine wading through rivers or when it is pouring buckets. As sure as the shoes are in keeping water out, they too will keep the water INSIDE the shoes from escaping out. One would have to remove the shoe each time and pour out the contents constantly. That would mean many stops in between and higher possibility of damage to the feet.

My jungle boot’s soles have this peculiar design that is rather common these days with other military boots. I once wore this jungle boot on a trip to a waterfall with a couple of friends. The trail was rather steep and it was muddy because of the rain. My friends slipped and fell no less than 5 times each, partially because of the shoes they were wearing. I am happy to say that on that trip, I was the only one with a clean bum at the end of the day!

In the Malaysian rainforest jungle, you will get wet. That is a fact. There is no point trying to fight that. You’d better off being prepared (mentally and physically) for it. That is why I feel that this jungle boot best suits the Malaysian rainforest jungle. This pair of boots comes with bits and pieces that are already made for the wet conditions. The water draining holes at the sides of the boots is a good example. These holes serve as ‘outlets’ to allow both water and air to pass through…both ways. Crossing water bodies with this boot means water gets in and later drains through these holes.

In addition to that, the holes also allows for the needed ventilation. The air circulation I think (though as minimal as they may be) helps to ‘air’ the feet. God knows my feet need them!

Ah…the part I like (or am amazed) most about this boots is the inside soles. It’s a sole that’s made of plastic netting, works like a strainer. There’s layers of them with the sides all burnt and sealed together. Here’s a picture of them insoles.

According to wikipedia, these soles are “…ventilating insoles made of fused layers of Saran plastic screen, first invented in 1942”. Am not all that sure if it’s the same one but they sure are cool. Have a close up look a t the insoles. I took the picture below against the bright sky. Can literally see through them.

Well, this insole definitely does not absorb water. Unlike the conventional insole. Also, one side is rather rough and the other side is smooth. The rough side actually presses against the inside of the boots, creating a friction that stops my feet from sliding front and back.
The downside? Without a pair of socks, stepping barefoot onto this ‘Saran’ insoles isn’t the most comfortable. They give this ‘needle’ sensation that really keeps you on your feet (perhaps that’s what they are designed to do!).

To summarize (based on my personal experience)...This may not be the most comfortable shoes/ boots for the feet to walk on but they are built to suit the environment. Perhaps there are newer designs/ models available that are built with better comforts. But compared to the typical designer looking shoes you’d find in the market that claims to be ‘outdoor’ worthy, this pair of jungle boots doesn’t slip, helps keep them leeches out and are damn practical!

Just one word to describe this pair of jungle boots I think...awesome.