If you’re an Alaskan, you know what XTRA-TUF boots are. You also know that that hallowed symbol of Alaska localism is now a cheaply made foreign product rife with manufacturing problems now that the company moved its manufacturing to China. My last pair of XTRA-TUFs was purchased in 2004 and they are technically still wearable, though their outer skin is mostly just a collection of patches and wader-repair-goo keeping the water out of the cracks. I wanted a new pair but when I put my beat up old pair next to my friend’s brand new Chinese pair, and saw that my nasty old boots looked better than his three month old ones, which were sporting wear patches and scuffs through to the neoprene already, I despaired of ever having another pair of good rubber boots. There’s no way I was paying $100 for cheap rubber boots that were going to fall apart in a matter of months. What would we do? The great thing about XTRA-TUFs is that they were walkable; you could wear them all day and not get blisters or discomfort other than swamp foot from the lack of air. They are rubber, after all. Most other substitutes I tried (Bogs, for instance) were not comfortable enough to walk in for extended periods.
One of my mountain rescue group compatriots suggested I check out LaCrosse, since she uses them in the field and liked them, so I asked for a few sample pairs. It was perfect timing for the muddy, cold conditions of fall in Alaska. I like to hike in rubber boots when it’s muddy (why mess around trying to get leather to stay waterproof – just accept the need for rubber if you’re going to walk straight through shin-deep mud), and I cover a lot of ground so I need a comfortable boot. I took the LaCrosse boots straight out into service and was very happy to find out that they were great. They’re comfortable to walk in, and nimble enough to move in uneven terrain.
You gotta appreciate the name of these boots, or at least the “Break-Up” part of the name. That’s what Alaskans call “spring” – when the ice breaks up. For real, we hardly ever refer to that season as “spring”, it’s always “breakup”. I wonder if LaCrosse knew this and was angling to hit the Alaska market, bereft as we are over the demise of our hallowed XTRA-TUFs.
There are a lot of features to like on the LaCrosse boots. They go high up (18″) on the leg, and have an adjustable strap to keep them tight to your leg, which I find a little unnecessary, but maybe there are body types who would find it useful. I find the strap a little annoying and might end up cutting it off, but if you need to adjust the calf tighter, you might like that feature. I also found the boots a little more difficult to fold down than XTRA-TUFs are; which is something I am prone to do to keep my legs from getting too sweaty (though I admit contributed greatly to the life of my old boots, which developed cracks along the fold points) but that’s a minor issue and I’m very pleased with these boots.
Since I use them often for mountain rescue in the shoulder seasons, I kind of wish they came in a color other than camouflage (I’m not trying to hide, after all). I do use them for hunting but I never wear camo for hunting because I think it’s utterly pointless. So the camo is a bit overkill but I can live with it. They come in an insulated and an uninsulated version, which is great news for those of us in cold climates.
So I admit I haven’t thrown out my XTRA-TUFs yet. They’re next to useless; leaky, sprung, and uncomfortable, but it makes me sad to give them the old heave-ho. It truly is the end of an era. However, I’m really pleased with the LaCrosse boots and they’re the ones I wear when I need to grub around in the mud and water or hike out in varied terrain (read: swamps and bogs). Seeing them on the feet of other mountain rescuers is a good solid endorsement as well. So there’s no need to comb the stores for the last few pairs of Made In USA XTRA-TUFS (and they’re really mostly gone anyway, I’ve looked) because LaCrosse is a solid alternative.