The previous post lays out a few options for hand protection while on a boat plying northern waters. Now, on to feet.

And I must admit up front that I didn’t quite solve the riddle of keeping feet warm and dry. I knew I wasn’t alone. Take, for example, Mike Johnson. Mike is an explorer who has sailed his large schooner, Gitana, to most places a boat can go on this globe, including Cambridge Bay, where she overwintered on the hard last year. During a visit to our house prior to this year’s Northwest Passage, Mike laconically summarized his polar gear’s successes and failures with one sentence: “It’s all ok, except I get cold feet.”

And no wonder. On a high latitude boat making stops in the Arctic, one’s feet must be prepared for three environments: the extreme cold and wet on deck, the relative comfort of life below, and tromps ashore in mud and ice.

It may be that one boot could handle all this, but I didn’t find that one boot. Instead I chose three very different solutions:

1. Xtratuf Insulated boots for on deck.

2. The Ugg Classic Short for below.

3. Columbia Bugaboot for trekking ashore.

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Three boots for the three environments in high latitudes.

Here I’ll review the Xtratuf boot, and move on to the others in subsequent posts.

Xtratufs for On Deck

These brown rubber boots are the de rigeur footwear in Southeast Alaska. Developed in the 1960s for west coast commercial fishermen, they are the brand-standard for anyone on the water in a region where everyone is on the water. Loyalty to this boot is such that Xtratufs have gone beyond that of work boot and can now be found at weddings, donning the feet of toddlers too young to walk, and hanging as ornaments from the boughs of Christmas trees.

Compare these two images to get a sense of how this boot’s popularity has radiated:


Ad photo from the site showing designed use.


alaska weddings 2 - Copy

One of many places Xtratufs can now be found.

Pretty photos (and an outsourcing problem that has been remedied, according to locals) to one side, these boots just work. Several styles are available, but for this year’s Northwest Passage I chose the Xtratuf Legacy Insulated boot for maximum protection. The shell of this boot is made from a tripple-dipped, seamless neoprene that is both strong and flexible down to subfreezing temperatures. The high cut helps keep water out even in the sloshiest of environments, and the chevron-patterned sole provides ample traction on a wide range of surfaces. For heat retention, a layer of foam insulation surrounds the foot of the boot (top and bottom, but not the calf). Note: much like the Atlas gloves in the previous post, this boot is designed to take inserts in the form of warming insoles and “Sokkets.” I used the Servus 3/8ths inch felt insole (see “Layering Options” below).


Xtratuf Legacy Insulated boot.

Cost: Boot-$120.00. Insole-$7.00

What Worked

  • Tough as advertised: The shell is highly puncture resistant and durable, and unlike other materials, doesn’t break down (get sticky) in the sun or when stored for long periods in a boat locker. I have a well-used pair (uninsulated) bought in Hawaii in 2011 that have seen heavy use since, and the only sign of wear is a split in the rubber between the cuff and boot, easily repaired using several methods.
  • Unquestionably waterproof: the seamless neoprene construction is simple and a reassuringly “no fail” solution. With foul weather gear pulled down over the high tops, I found my feet stayed dry in even the wettest weather.
  • Layering Options: I bought boots a full size larger than my normal footware. This allowed me to put in not just one but two insoles or to double up on thick socks when conditions were especially cold. Additionally, insoles and socks that had become damp and clammy could be easily changed for a fresh, dry pair. I took three pairs of insoles and six pair of Smartwool Mountaineering socks.

What Didn’t

  • Not warm: that “rubber” boots are not warm is a common lament among high latitude sailors, but I’m not sure this is entirely the fault of the boot. Granted, the neoprene always “feels” cold going on, but I think the main culprit is our inactivity. Much of standing watch is just that, standing, and with little to keep the blood circulating, it’s no wonder our feet freeze. To be fair, I attempted to get blood moving by shifting my stance and walking in place while on watch but with little success. And it’s important to note that my feet got cold in other boots too.
  • Not breathable: again, this is a qualified criticism as the boot makes no pretense toward breathability. That said, because boots are worn for such long periods, moisture does tend to build up inside and lend to the feeling of cold.
  • Not good for walking: all that insulation (including the insoles and thick socks) make this boot too chunky (and hot!) for anything but short walks ashore, but that’s a function of this boot. I’ve hiked many a Southeast Alaskan town in uninsulated Xtratufs in relative comfort.

What I Opted Against

  • Bama Sokkets (by Honeywell for Xtratuf): these are removable, insulated boot liners made to wick moisture from the feet to the boot wall. Great idea, but in my experience they are a fiddle to get on and off, and my feet exit the Sokket after a long watch as damp as ever.

The Bamma Sokket for Xtratuf boots.

  • Permanent “sheep skin” linings: the Viking Trysil with pile liner is one of several brands I chose against because of the difficulty of drying the insides once wet.
  • Gore-Tex insulated boots: the Durbarry of Ireland line is the hot, new thing in sailing boots, but in addition to a gob-smacking price tag ($399 a pair), I’m hard pressed to see how Gore-Tex could wick moisture out of a non breathable, leather shell. Also, feedback I’ve received from other Arctic sailors suggests they are not a warm boot for the north.


Though the Xtratuf Legacy Insulated boot failed to keep my feet toasty-warm, the boot’s durable, seamless, high-top construction, its good grip, and options for layering in extra warmth make it a superior boot for high latitude deck work.

Up next: boots for inside the boat…

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