Forgive me, but I’ve always thought of UGGs as girlie boots. Where I’m from they are a fashion statement preferred by teens at the mall, and consequently nine tenths of the downtown UGG shop is dedicated to such pink and frilly footware that a high latitude adventurer would be embarrassed to enter.

Knowing that, I was amazed when Les and Ali of Arctic Tern recommended them. Because my time to Northwest Passage departure was too short to allow any research at all, I simply swallowed my pride, went to the above mentioned shop, and bought the only pair of men’s boots I could find, the UGG Classic Short.

Ugg short

UGG Classic Short

The UGG Classic Short is a sheepskin boot whose leather shell and wool lining are a single piece of material. The shell is a light-weight suede of medium height with a lining is 17mm grade “A” Twinface sheepskin to which is attached a sole of flexible, molded foam. According to UGG, sheepskin is a naturally thermostatic material and will regulate foot temperature to body temperature in a range between -30 Fahrenheit  and 80 Fahrenheit, which is quite a claim. Though “naturally high tech,” nothing about the boot feels the least bit rugged or outdoorsy. In fact, its sensation going on is more that of a bedroom slipper.

Cost: $170.00

What Worked

  • Surprisingly warm: for the most part I reserved these boots for the cabin and as something comforting to change into after a watch in cold, clammy rubber boots. For this purpose they worked extremely well. Donning these boots when coming below quickly produced warm feet. On dry days I’d sometimes wear the UGGs on deck for a watch and found that in these conditions they could be warmer than the Xtratufs (though feet still got cold after extended periods for reasons having more to do with inactivity than insulation).
  • Supremely comfortable: the plush sheepskin bootie and fully lined calf was a little bit of luxury (like a hot tub for the feet) and so thick that I never wore socks with UGGs.
  • Breathable: Even after hours of wear, and even in a warm cabin where boots like this were not required, the UGG never became perceptibly damp.

What Didn’t

  • Not for walking: while great for huffing around the boat (I even climbed the mast in them), the few times I wore the UGG on hikes to the grocery store or coffee shop it failed to keep its shape or provide much support.
  • Not waterproof: OK, this UGG is not designed to be, so such is hardly a fair criticism. That said, summer in the arctic is often slushy, and any time the weather turned convincingly wet, these boots were put away.
  • Sole crushing: with time, the sheepskin in the soles became compressed and lost some of its insulative properties.
  • Difficult to dry: because the shell and lining are all of a piece, the lining would have been very difficult to dry if soaked by rain or sea water.

Two points in defense of UGGs

1)      During the passage it struck me how similar these UGGs are to traditional Eskimo Muk Luks, which are made of soft sealskin. Like Muk Luks, the UGG is much more suited to the very cold (i.e. dry) conditions of an Arctic winter than the more typically muddy summer conditions.


Hand crafted Muk Luks. “Made of ringed sealskin from mid-calf to toes, this beautiful mukluk is warm as well as naturally waterproof. The sole is of leather and is tundra treaded for waterproofing as well as grip. Fully lined with borg (50% wool/50% polyester).” ONLY $598 from

2)      The UGGs my hosts wore were not the Classic Short, but rather a much more rugged boot similar to the UGG Polson. Given their tougher shell and sole, they were more versatile than my boot by far and could take wet days on deck and muddy days on shore with ease. Still, they suffered from having a boot top just that much too short (jumping from the dinghy to the beach had to be done with care) and the permanent liner whose insulation couldn’t be dried properly once wet.


UGG Polson

In the final analysis the UGG boot’s warmth meant it had potential, and a common refrain aboard Arctic Tern was that we wished UGG made sea boots.

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