The Angry Corrie 11: Feb-Mar 1993


The great debate continues:
The walking boot v the flip-flop

Val Hamilton

It is surprising that such an august critical and iconoclastic journal as TAC has passed its 10th issue without questioning the central role of the walking boot in climbing hills. I would therefore like to put forward the case for the flip-flop as an alternative form of footwear.

1 - COST

Walking boots are ridiculously expensive: flip-flops are about 1/20th of the price. Many of us have come to regard a pair of leather boots as an investment (which can go up as well as down), but it seems fairly pointless to pay 80 for a pair of glorified trainers with a cut-away heel and which will give you about as much grip and keep your feet as dry as a pair of flip-flops.

2 - PLACE OF PURCHASE

You have to buy boots at outdoor shops. There you will be cross-questioned about your motives and experience, advised to try on the boots wearing four pairs of socks: silk inners, two pairs of wool socks and a set of Goretex Seals. When you get home to try breaking them in wearing your best M&S cotton / wool mix, your feet will slip around as if in size 14 wellies and you will have to head back to the shop and spend the equivalent of another eight pairs of flip-flops on socks. I know someone whose first pair of boots, on the advice of the shop assistant, were size 42: now on his own judgement and one pair of socks he's down to 38s. There is also the danger of encountering foot fetishists who want to feel your toes and insert fingers down the back of your boots.

You can buy flip-flops from Woolies where there is no danger of being engaged in any kind of conversation. And of course if you're into toe-sucking (see TAC9, p2), flip-flops do provide easy access.

3 - PAIN

Leather boots require hours of careful "breaking-in". This involves wearing them at all possible opportunities except on the hills. The relationship between painfulness and waterproofness of boots can be demonstrated by a simple graph:

If you are lucky, the point of intersection of the two curves should provide one good day's walking when your boots neither hurt nor leak. This will probably be a dry day on Dumyat but never mind. There is no point trying to break-in plastic boots though there may be some advantage in trying to alter the shape of your feet.

To be fair, there are those who claim the thong of new flip-flops needs some softening, but a piece of plaster between the toes soon solves this problem.

4 - CLEANING

Boots need cleaning: this should of course be done immediately on one's return from the hill, but never is. It is morally dubious to clean one's own boots without cleaning the boots of one's walking companion. This means that boot-cleaning may be postponed until the last possible minute before leaving the house, and in extreme cases this may lead to the abandonment of the day's expedition due to the principle of "first ready cleans the boots": each participant prolonging their preparations for the day to such an extent that they can never be accused of being "ready". (A version of the "Borthwick negative hitching" ploy? - Ed.)

Although plastic boots may need only a wash and a quick sole de-stoning (I recommend a potato peeler), the inners need regular fumigation by a professional sanitiser in full protective clothing (eg a zoot-suit), as specified by the Health & Safety Executive.

The occasional paddle in a crystal-clear stream at the end of the day is all that is required to clean flip-flops.

5 - SOCKS

Allied to boot-cleaning is the need for sock-washing. This is often extremely urgent and a panic-stricken desire for clean air may lead to socks being added indiscriminately to the washing machine. This usually renders the entire contents of the load useless, shrinking the socks and dyeing all other garments a delicate if blotchy shade of blue / green / pink or any combination thereof. Old socks are however never thrown out: they are relegated for use as welly socks, gardening socks, socks for visitors, emergency mittens and for filling spare drawers, lining the bottoms of wardrobes etc. Walking socks also come in useful as an answer to the question "What can Aunty Morag get you for Christmas?"

The only socks you can wear with flip-flops are Japanese tabi and unless Muji are selling them you can't get them in Scotland, so that removes that dilemma.

6 - INTERCHANGEABILITY

If you inadvertently pick up someone else's boots (sorry Geoff), it is unlikely that you will be able to walk far in them. Flip-flops are not possessor-specific. They are also unisex, but then so are boots, despite what the manufacturers try to tell you. "Ladies' boots" are just skimpier versions of the real macho male item.

7 - GREENNESS

Flip-flops are far more environmentally friendly than boots. They require no discharge of tanning effluents into Italian rivers and, as they provide virtually no grip, cause minimal erosion. 500 million Africans can't be wrong.

DISCLAIMER

Perhaps flip-flops are not ideal for Scottish winter mountaineering. Fitting crampons is difficult, although a few tricounis could easily be pushed into the soles, while growing your toe-nails long would solve the front-point problem.

Ed. - ... er, but didn't Shakespeare wear flip-flops?

NEXT ISSUE - Wellies v high-heeled slingbacks


TAC 11 Index