In April I posted about ordering a pair of custom boots with the goal of hiking again. This is the second part of the story, and—spoiler alert—there is a happy ending.
Leahy Custom Boots’ fitting process was incredibly thorough, with multiple steps: tape measuring, tracing, pressure assessment, a foam impression, creating a fiberglass mold, followed by visual observation of how I walked.
All of this, or course, was just the first phase of the fitting process. In August, Kevin Leahy shipped me a pair of “trial boots.” These were not fully finished but were sturdy enough to wear for a month to assess the fit. Not only could I determine where the boots fit well and what needed adjustment, but once the boots were shipped back to Kevin he could analyze the wear. With his 40 years of experience, Kevin could see subtle things mere mortals could not, like markings on the soles that revealed my unique walking gait and pronation.
I wore the boots on a short hike up Mt. Pisgah overlooking Lake Willoughby near my home in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom (NEK). Getting out on the trail for the first time felt like I’d been let out of jail. I ascended to Pulpit Rock, an outcropping that affords a breathtaking view of the lake and surrounding mountains. It would indeed be a fine place to give a sermon, except for the two-thousand-foot cliff at the edge, so the only attendees in church would be hawks and butterflies.
By the time I got home that day I fully appreciated why wearing the trial boots mattered.
I’d developed a blister on my small left toe. I sent the boots back to Kevin with photos and a note about the blister. He emailed back: “Point taken!”
Over the summer I mostly went barefoot. I literally had no shoes that fit me that didn’t cause discomfort or pain, at least for longer walks.
When the finished boots arrived in October I did a silent prayer: “Oh please, God, let them fit!”
I took the enormous (size 16 wide) boots out of the box and was immediately impressed with how heavy and solid they were. Inserting my feet and lacing up felt a bit like strapping into a glove, sturdy and supple at the same time.
Kevin advised me to break the boots in gradually over a month. Each day I’ve taken longer and longer walks, and with each step the boots have grown even more comfortable.
They are, in a word, fantastic.
For about four years my poor wife, Nancy, has gone for long walks without me, often lamenting, “I miss walking with you.” But last week we went for a hike together around Walden Pond in Concord. The fall foliage was near peak, the air brisk, the sky a Maxfield Parish blue.
When I ordered the boots in April I was thinking primarily about what they could do for ME: get me out on the trail again, enjoy the woods, see the broad beautiful world from the mountaintops. As I held Nancy’s hand along the Walden path, I came to realize what the boots did for US.
On Kevin’s website he describes his early years as an apprentice with a German alpine boot maker in the 1970s. The skills Kevin learned have been passed down for generations.
I hope that some young apprentice has a chance to learn from Kevin and carry on this tradition.
If you want to experience the difference that custom boots can make, check out Kevin’s work. You’ll need to be patient. It can take six months or longer to get them made. And you’ll need to spend a lot more than you would for off the rack boots. But they’re worth it.