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  • 03/03/2015
  • bonjay

I know someone just posted something like this (I, too, am a rookie female firefighter), but I didnt quite get the answers I was looking for from that. I just got hired on an IA hand crew for my first season. I’ve been around the fire community for a few years now, but I’m just looking for tips to make me as prepared as I can be for the season. For instance, I  got a new pair of Danners (american made). I know new boots take a while to break in, but these are pretty damn uncomfortable. Should I just deal with it and expect them to be better when they’re well worn, or try for something better? Best socks? I had a buddy of mine tell me 2 pairs of layered dress socks are the best. True? Or shoot for something else? Any tips on stuff like this would be awesome. Looking forward to working my ass off, and just want to be as prepared as I can possibly be.


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  1. Mike
    March 3, 2015 Reply

    Hello, I think the (2) pair of dress socks idea is about the worst thing I have ever heard of for fire socks. Maybe it works your friend but I would say NOT most. I wear, as well as most fire people I know (and I know a lot) Darn Tough socks. I specifically wear Darn Tough Mountaineering socks. Yeah they are expensive, but I buy maybe (2) pairs a year (when on sale or with REI rebate money) and now have a whole mess of em’. I have worked on nearly every fire module and I can tell you that socks are one of the most important items a wildland firefighter can invest in. I have found Darn Toughs to last longer (I can wear them for like 4-5 days of full on 16 hour hard shifts), be more comfortable, less slip, and less crust/smell than other merino wool brands (think smartwool). This has been just MY experience, so others may disagree, but like I said I know many o’ many wildland firefighters who also feel the same way about darn toughs. *****Also*****Here is what I found to be my best boot situation: 1.) pair of comfortable “hikers” in my case the Lowa Tibet (leather lined) (always make sure to get 100% leather boots, no gortex lined or any other lining), and 1.) pair of traditional fire/logger boots, in my case White’s Smokejumpers (though will probably switch to Nicks soon). I rotate between the (2) pairs and always have both with me on fire assignments. I have seen peoples’ boots blow out on the line on several occasions so having a back up is good. ALso, depending on the terrain and fire you can get away with wearing the comfortable boots or not. If you have both on you at all times then you can make the switch when needed. But remember if you are on a shot crew or are new to a handcrew they wont like you bringing a bunch of “crap” with you on fire roles. There is limited space in buggies and engines and pickups, so just figure out a good way to stow the boots with your gear.

  2. techs672
    March 3, 2015 Reply

    bonjay writes:
    > I know new boots take a while to break in, but these are pretty damn uncomfortable. Should I
    > just deal with it and expect them to be better when they’re well worn, or try for something
    > better? Best socks? I had a buddy of mine tell me 2 pairs of layered dress socks are the best.

    Leather boots can take a while to be really comfortable. But if they aren’t starting to get at least a little better in a week or so, you need to start experimenting with adjustments. You want to be pretty close to good before you need to wear them all day, up & down, loaded & kicking. Take care of your feet while figuring out what you need — if you get blisters or bruises or strain something, you won’t heal fast enough to tell if adjustments are improving the fit.

    You can shape a leather boot to your foot some by walking in water over the top until they fill up, and wearing them dry. Avoid blisters during this process by keeping your feet as dry as you can by wearing the boots only intermittently and changing to dry socks as needed. Oil/grease them well when dry.

    Without knowing what exactly is uncomfortable, and assuming that you don’t need different boots altogether… Try different sock combinations if you get blisters, or too loose or too tight in the ball. And/or a heel cup for blisters or too loose in the heel. If arch pain, google and get a suitable insert. If blisters or other problems in the toe, thinner socks and adjust fit with inserts from the ball of the foot back to the heel. If blisters/bite/bruising across the front of the ankle, welcome to leather logging boots… If you don’t wear them year ’round, you’ll need to build a callus there every spring. I tie my boots with a half-knot at the top of the eyelets, then skip the first pair of hooks when lacing the upper. This allowed the leather to pooch out instead of in at that point — if I didn’t, the inward fold of leather would produce bruising that never got better. Two pair of White Smokejumpers, each rebuilt once; one pair of White caulks; one pair of Chippewa logger-style — every boot I wore in 30yrs except that 1st pair of Redwings and caulk felt-pacs.

    I say 2pr of socks is definitely the right path. I don’t know about both being thin dress socks unless the boots are too small/narrow. But not just one pair of thick “boot” socks. My choice is good thin wool dress socks plus fitted cotton athletic socks — at least one of them calf-high. Or two pair of athletic socks if the boots have room. I put a clean pair next to my feet every day, with yesterday’s inner sock on the outside today. So you get two days out of each pair. Pack at least a week’s worth if you don’t get home every night; keep a set in your line pack; think early about hand washing if it doesn’t look like you’ll get to do laundry.

  3. Troy
    March 4, 2015 Reply

    I know you already spent some money on Danners but I highly recomend Nicks. I have had many of my firefighters skimp out on footwear and it usually doesnt work out well for them. Don’t get me wrong Danners are great for normal outdoor jobs but we experience extreme conditions. Your feet/ankles/knees are one of the most important things to a wildland Firefighter so dont skimp on socks or boots. To break in my boots I usually just oil my boots and wear my boots until they are comfortable. If I get sore then I just take them off for a while then put them back on for a while longer. My arches usually are what hurts and that is very typical until they are broke in. Once they are broke in, they are the most comfortable footwear that I have. I have heard all kinds of crazy ways to break in boots. I second techs672 when he says try two pairs of cotton athletic socks. I do the same rotation that he does. I change my undergarments everyday while I will go a few days with shirts and a bit longer with pants.

  4. Spitfire
    March 4, 2015 Reply

    I’m a retired wildland firefighter. Take care of your feet. I went through a few different boots and I told myself that I would never pay that much, trust me, do it. I have a pair of roughouts (whites) that I love and took hardly anytime to break in, most boots will give you the white bite, for a bit. I have a pair for sale, very good condition , like new, black. Not wearing boots all the time now definitely changed my feet, the arches, have to have them. I wear my other fire boots for fishing, burning around the property, etc.

  5. Mike
    March 4, 2015 Reply

    I am not sure why some of these people are advocating for cotton socks. If there is one saying that I hear all the time from serious outdoor/mountain sport folks (I will include wildand firefighting people) in this category its that “COTTON KILLS”. I dont know if some of the other commenters are old school dudes who missed the merino wool train or what. But I guarantee you merino wool socks are far superior to anything made of cotton. If you do choose to wear 2 pairs of socks then do it like so: the bottom pair should be silk and a genuine “sock liner” and the outer should be a merino wool, over the calf, thick sock—again, my recommendation is Darn Tough. If you want to go ahead and wear cotton socks—go ahead— but anyone who spends time schleping up and down and around serious mountains will tell you its all about the merino wool. P.S. I am a Rocky Mountain born and bred man, I backcountry ski throughout the winter, backpack, hike almost daily, hunt, and fight fire in the summer—-I KNOW MY BOOT SOCKS.

    1. Troy
      March 4, 2015 Reply

      Easy there Mike! You seem to be taking this to heart. I too lived in the steep moutains and hike all around all my life (hunting/logging/fighting fire/or just hiking). These are merly sugestions not gospel. I am not saying that merino wool is bad or anything, I just mentioned what I do. Different people have different experiences and no two people are the same. What works for one may not work for others.

  6. Ed
    March 4, 2015 Reply

    The best socks to wear are the ones that make your life as comfortable as possible. I’ve had different socks work for different boots and how they fit. One pair of White’s worked great with hiking socks (wool and wool blend), a different pair of white’s got a little sloppy in the heel and two pairs of cotton tube socks worked great, a pair of Nicks I bought too small could only fit one pair of thin cotton and was fine for plenty of miles. I adjusted to the boots I was wearing that season. Never had Danners because I was told to avoid them when I was a rookie, however that doesn’t mean they won’t work for you. Get those puppies broken in though asap. Your boots and your feet. Try walking off trail, the steeper the better. Go up hill, down, and side slope. That’s what you’ll be doing in them for the next six months. Good luck and have a good season.
    PS- Mike’s “that guy”….. don’t be that guy.

  7. Joule
    March 5, 2015 Reply

    Stay calm. What all of the posters are saying in their own way is that everyone is different. Everyone develops hotspots on different places of our feet. The big take home message is know what works best for your feet- your feet is your #1 mechanism for working in the field. Rest your feet and treat them well. Cotton socks are horrible at wicking moisture from your body, so the old saying “Cotton kills” is very true, you want your feet to stay as dry as possible. Wet feet are prone to more blisters. Experiment with the different thickness of socks. You obviously don’t want to go very thick since you will be doing a lot of hiking and generating your own warmth. Good luck this season.

  8. Mike
    March 5, 2015 Reply

    Ed is right I am “that guy”, don’t listen to me. Wear cotton socks, wear (2) pairs of dress socks, and throw out the Danners and buy a pair of Chippewas or Wolverines (or both). And make sure to come in hot your first day, take charge and always pretend you know what your doing. You’ve never run a chainsaw? So what, pretend you have some logging experience and volunteer to show it off by performing a double cut on a giant pondo. You will be a star if you take “this guys” recommendations. Oh and one last tip of golden advice, if at all possible definitely work in Region 5, preferably in the South Zone—and never leave—I mean why would you? Nobody else knows how to fight fire. Thanks, and good luck!

    1. Ed
      March 5, 2015 Reply

      Mike, no hard feelings. I was reading these posts after a couple beers. I thought you were a bit brash so I took a poke at you. Have a good season man.

  9. Mike
    March 5, 2015 Reply

    OK, Last comment I swear. Ed, no problem, in my original comment I was trying to be helpful with the most specific and detailed advice I could give. In my second comment I was genuinely surprised by those who recommended cotton socks. I didn’t mean to come off as brash or some kind of arrogant jerk. Although I should have left my last remark out—seeing as though I would never say that about myself and only did so because of the anonymous factor. Lastly, my final comment was pure tongue and cheek, hopefully that is plain and clear. And no disrespect to R5, just a poor joke I suppose. With that, I will use this as a learning experience and avoid any potential jerk-like-arrogant remarks. Thanks, and everyone have a safe and fun fire season. ***P.S. To the rookie, I still stand by my conviction of merino wool socks, and darn toughs for that matter. I also stand by my (2) pairs of boots policy. For whatever thats worth. Good luck to you.

  10. noah
    March 7, 2015 Reply

    To the original poster, I don’t know if your crew mentioned it or if you have seen it, but this year the FS is reimbursing $300 (I think, maybe more?) towards boots purchased. So if you wanted to get a second pair of boots you could go ahead and do that and save some money. I am going to be a rookie on an IA crew this year too (R6), and I’m going to go ahead and get some custom Nicks. As far as socks go, I am a fan of merino wool, and at the moment I like Icebreaker over smartwool, although I have not tried Darn Tough.

  11. Joe Hill
    March 9, 2015 Reply

    for 14 years, on engines, helitack, hotshots, finally with the jumpers: two pair of socks, the inner heavy cotton and the outer heavy wool. Never had problem. I also wore 8″ Whites which I have to this day. I still bring ‘em out of storage every now and again just to smell ‘em, and try to remember when I walked tall, and ate rocks and glass.

  12. TJH
    March 11, 2015 Reply

    If the tall heel on most White’s/Nicks type boots is not your thing, Nicks makes a low heel boot that is pretty nice and can be customized however you like.

  13. CM
    March 14, 2015 Reply

    I have gotten liner socks at a good price at Sierra Trading Post. They have a website too. I do the liner sock with a SmartWool hiking sock over the top. If you do get white bite (on your instep) the up-down-up lacing or the ladder lacing seemed to help for me. You can google ‘white bite boots’ and some pics of the lacing will show up, or just look at your crewmate’s boots. Someone will probably have them laced like that.

  14. MTHoop
    March 14, 2015 Reply

    Something to consider with your boots is your size and how much you weigh concerning the break-in period. I’m a small female and have found over the years that it takes significantly longer for me to break in my boots than my male counterparts. I have both Whites and Scarpas, love then both now, but hated them for the first few weeks. I also abhor cotton socks. I’m and IMST/EMTF and treat blisters all season. The worst I see are from nasty, dirty, wet cotton socks. I personally wear Smartwool PhD medium hiking socks of snowboard socks. Single ply when clean and add an ultralight liner after one wearing. I’m not a camp dweller, but spend all summer as a Pulaski motor. Finally, you are on the verge of a fabulous season. You will learn so much and make some lifelong friends. Keep your head down, mouth shut, and do not expect any special treatment because you are female. You are there to do the sane job and your crewmates rely on you to perform to the same level. Have a great season!

    March 15, 2015 Reply

    I prefer 2 pr Smartwool xtra heavy 1 pr and lite weight 2nd pr. I load my Hoffman Smokechaser boots up with Obenaufs boot wax, put them in the oven for about 15 min @ 350 degrees then slip them on wearing the socks u plan to wear ( google search heat fitting hockey skates for similar ideas).
    I have no scientific proof but my own experiences show me that a boot broken well is still NOT a boot broken in wearing a loaded line pack. I make a point to put some time in loaded down breaking in a pr of boots.
    Have a great season all!

  16. Bryce
    March 18, 2015 Reply

    I’ve got two years in, but here’s my take. The February before my first season I got a nice tax break, so I got myself a pair of smokejumpers. I’m really glad that I did that. That being said, get what works best for you that is withing your budget. The boot stipend is a really nice thing, and if I was going back out with the FS this year, I would be taking full advantage of it. Before I got started, I also picked up as many pairs of wool socks as I could afford, both heavy and light. Give your self 1 or 2 rolls and get a pro motive account and you should be able to stock up on socks no problem. Good luck and keep your head on a swivel.

  17. Lo
    March 20, 2015 Reply

    Welcome to a fun world! As a small woman, my personal experience is that all logger boots are made for men. The heel is never narrow enough, the toe box is often too wide. That said, I’ve outlived several pairs of boots, and I have yet to find the perfect one. As a new firefighter, if you’re not sure how long you’re going to stick with the gig, I would not go for Nicks for for any of the insanely expensive boots. I started off with Redwings, which are just about the cheapest, and they were by far and away the most comfortable boots I’ve had. THey didn’t last very long, but I loved them! Ever since, I’ve worn Hathorn (a cheaper White’s boot). I’ve liked them a lot.

    What has always worked well for me with new boots (and I have heard others say the same) is to fill up your boots with warm water, put your feet in, and go for a short hike. Nothing that will tear your feet up, but something that will get the leather working. Others might tell you this is bad for the leather, but if it’s between my foot or the boot, I choose my foot every time. This has worked well for me to loosen things up. Also, a set of cushy insoles will do wonders for comfort. My boots always bruise the hell out of the balls of my feet, so I can’t go without the green cheap insoles that you find at tack stores. It’s hard to say specifically how to help you though without more specific info. Are you getting hot spots? bruised heel/ball? Rubbing on the top of your foot and ankle? Blisters?

    About socks: I agree with others that the dress socks thing sounds crazy. Again, women have a different fit than men. I have a tiny ankle and a narrow foot, so I find that thick hiking socks are best. I LOVE my Smartwools, Wigwams, and Ultimax. I never get anything but wool or a high wool blend. Cotton is for crazy people who hate their feet. Just remember: wool keeps you dry. When your feet are in boots all day long, nothing is more important. Especially if you’re on an engine.

    Best, of luck!

  18. TJH
    March 30, 2015 Reply

    Some good advise about socks here. I found the main thing is to experiement a bit and see what works for you and then just stick with it. Personally, I think wool is the way to go and helps prevent foot issues over a long summer.

  19. Darla
    May 21, 2015 Reply

    As a female who fought fire in the 70s and 80s on the LP, most leather work boots are made for men therefore the heel is built larger. Be sure that you look into all-leather boots made for women and pay good attention to the fit around your heel. I actually wore Redwings with cotton and wools socks, and never once got a blister

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