A few months ago I felt a little stuck, nothing seemed to be going according to plan, I hadn’t been getting outside as much, I was trying to shake off my gloom, shake off winter… so I decided to really shake things up and buy a ticket to Ecuador to visit my friend Claudia, and bring another friend along for the ride- Erica. Two things about me, Claudia, and Erica: we’re designers, and we like the outdoors. So naturally we started to plan a backpacking trip… and talk gear. As if we needed to get any more stoked on gear, Erica and I were going to Outdoor Retailer one week before flying to Quito. As I counted down the days before my trip, the notes on my phone filled up with packing lists full of gear and camping recipes; and as I fell asleep in the nights leading up, visions of water filters and Swedish firesteel danced in my head.
Erica was coming from SF, and I from NY… given our expert googling skills and Erica’s extensive knowledge of layering (#1 rule of SF is bring layers), we should have been more prepared. We overpacked in the wrong areas and under-packed in the right ones, luckily for us Claudia is a sharing lady. She outfitted us in her extra Merino Layers, we borrowed sweaters and extra leggings, but one thing we were a little unsure of was her advice that we should do this 4 day trek in rubber boots. The thing that Erica and I had both had discussed most before coming to Quito was footwear. Should we hike in light boots? Would our feet sweat in leather boots? Will we need Chacos to cross rivers or lightweight flip flops for foot relief at the campsite? And here is Claudia, insisting that the only shoe we will need on this trek are these $10 rubber boots from the market in Quito.
This was actually the second time that I would do a backpacking trek in Ecuador wearing rubber boots, but I had always looked back on that and thought “Rubber boots! How did i even do that?! Ahh youth!” I thought I was too used to the comfort and advantages of “having the right gear,” to do another hike in rubber boots. I thought back to the ill-fitting pair of Timberland boots I bought at the local Salvation Army for my first backpacking trips when I was a broke student, figuring that I was just a more tolerant little lady back then.
I decided to trust in Claudia and the rubber boots, her insisting that, “They are a favorite of the Columbian Guerrillas, so they will be fine for you for just four days of trekking.” I later found out that, not long before, Claudia had done a 14 day trek in these same boots.. what a badass!! Within 15 minutes of hiking past the trailhead we were sinking up to our knees in the marshy muddy wetlands, and I realized that there was no way to do this hike in anything else.
While backpacking, one of my favorite things to do is talk gear- your gear becomes a part of you. You have to trust and rely on your gear, and its fun to discuss, critique, and imagine redesigning what you have. “Where is it bothering you?” or “I wish mine was like that!,” or “What if this had that on it?” But when it came to these rubber boots- they leave little room for improvement. I think there is something so perfect about this object that hasn’t changed in decades… in fact I used them seven years earlier and here I am using them again, the same exact design. They’re smooth on the inside, no seams to rub or laces to constantly adjust, nothing to break in too much or too little; they have some tread, and these particular boots are thin and flexible- might be considered cheap by some standards, and I’m sure it helps with the margins- but for this reason they are extremely comfortable to move around in. There’s nothing particularly offensive or stylish about the design to date them, the only improvement we needed to make was to take the insoles out of our expensive fancy hiking boots and put them in these cheap rubber boots. These boots more than got us from A to B- they were easy, comfortable, enough tread to help us going uphill (~1000 M of uphill mud, oh boy) and they did a good job of keeping our feet relatively dry.
So lesson learned: more often than not the simplest solution is the best way forward. Here’s to these boots never changing, looking forward to my next muddy camping trip in Ecuador- most likely in a pair of black $10 Botas Venus.