Until Now, I Didn’t Know What Hiking Comfortably Felt Like

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I’ve had very flat feet and correspondingly bowed ankles my entire life. I’ve muddled through with orthotics and struggled with off-the-shelf footwear reasonably well, but I always paid for long hikes or walks with blisters, pain in my toes, and aching arches. I’ve never let it hold me back though and recently my daughter and I decided we were going to tackle a bucket list item and signed up for a trip to Mt Kilimanjaro.

It became painfully clear, literally, during my preparatory hikes that standard footwear would, at best, make this trip painful, if not impossible. I found Kevin’s site and knew that this was likely the only option for having a successful trip—no matter how well conditioned I was personally, if my feet couldn’t handle the effort, it wasn’t going to work out and I would likely waste the investment in money and time for this trip.

In a leap of faith, I contacted Kevin. He carefully explained the process he’d follow and the quality of the materials he would use, and after a short deliberation I decided to work with him on these hiking boots. He was very professional, clearly very knowledgeable and skilled, and in a short amount of time, I had a snazzy new set of hiking boots.

The difference was immediately obvious. The shorter hikes were suddenly much easier. Last weekend, my daughter and I did a more strenuous hike in Yosemite on the Upper Yosemite Falls trail. The trail is advertised at almost 4 miles, but my FitBit (and Apple Watch) both recorded steps equivalent to 12 miles after the 7 hour round trip.

I can say at the end that without these shoes, it would not have been possible. While understandably tired, my feet had no blisters, sore spots, squished toes, or any other similar issue I’d experience wearing conventional footwear on similar hikes—we did Glacier Point 6 years ago so I definitely had an apples-to-apples comparison.

In the end, regardless of how this trip goes otherwise, there is no question this was an excellent investment in a very high-quality set of footwear that could very well last me the rest of my life. Kevin said these would fit like nothing I’ve every worn before and he was absolutely right.

—Jeff

Top of Kilimanjaro

Update Feb 2017…

A week ago, we returned from that trip to Kilimanjaro. My daughter and I successfully reached the summit about 6:30am on 29 January. It was seven days from the start of our trek to the top and we took roughly two days to descend. I wore the boots Kevin made the entire trip, through lush rainforest, arid desert, and atop the snow and frozen skree at the top of the mountain. You can see me in the picture below, lower left, in the blue/white/black coat with Kevin’s boots proudly on my feet at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.

For all the conditions, the scrambling over rocks, changes in temperature, these boots never let me down. I didn’t have a single blister or any other issue with my feet—frankly, between the boots and the socks, my feet were never even cold. Others lost toenails and had other problems, but Kevin’s promise rang absolutely true—these wore like nothing I’d even worn before, nor like anything I’d wear again. They got me there and they got me back. Getting these boots made was absolutely the single best decision I could have made for the success of this trip.

Renewed by the Mountains and my Boots!

Buying Kevin’s hiking boots was an act of faith on my part, and it paid off wonderfully. The boots just came out of a 70-mile week in the Rockies on mountain trails, bushwhacking up to 8 miles in a stretch, 4th class scrambling, easy 5th class pitches, and on several 15+ miles days. For the first time in my life, I walked 20 quick miles in a day, and my feet were not sore or tired; I felt I was wearing ultralight shoes. Another day I bushwacked a 10 hour day (in a non-stop downpour) up a steep river valley, over blown-down trees, through a burnt down forest, across boulder fields above timberline, then down a steep river valley with 30-degree wet mossy slopes with ease. I felt I had billygoat feet!
I learned on that trip that proper footwear enables a body to move painlessly through the high country; the result of the finest materials in the hands of a craftsman who transforms bootmaking into an artform. The best boot companies manufacture boots; Kevin creates masterpieces for each individual. I know — I own a pair.
I earn a middle-class income, I am frugal and having Kevin craft boots for me is the best value I’ve seen in outdoor gear: I only wish I found him years ago. I arrived at Kevin’s shop damaged after a lifetime in the mountains. At forty I had four spine surgeries resulting in three herniated disks and three arthritic vertebrae, a knee with 3 points of full cartilage degeneration and no feeling in parts of my left foot (the result of severe nerve damage). My days in the wilderness were numbered and thanks to Kevin they’ve been extended.
—Chris

Hiking in Switzerland

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Dear Kevin,
We just got back from hiking in the Alpstein for 3 weeks and my new boots performed superbly! While my partner treasures her 43-year old Lowa boots, she happily removed them after 6-7 hours of hard hiking. She said she needed to give her feet a rest and wore only slippers in the berghotels. I, on the other hand, had absolutely no need to remove my new boots. In fact, when I was forced to take them off in the berghotels, my feet felt just the same! I really couldn’t feel any difference, with or without the boots!
Why is my hiking in the Alpstein a true miracle? Well, as I told you when being fitted for my boots, I take a size 13 boot with a width of 6E+. I say 6E+ because I’ve never found a boot (or shoe, for that matter), that was wide enough for my feet. Instead, I hiked in sandals, with only one brand that ever fit. Yes, sandals! But I knew hiking in the Alpstein was going to be far more demanding than allowed by my sandals, so we started searching for a custom bootmaker who would take the time and effort to make comfortable boots for me. And, indeed, they are extremely comfortable! There’s room for all my toes, and the length and arch are perfect!
As someone who has been unable to wear ANY store-bought shoe or boot for the last 40+ years, I have to say your boots are an eye-opener! They accompanied my up and down every single trail, slogged through every wet cow patty in sight, and never gave me a single problem.
I’ve attached a picture showing my new boots as we took a slight detour from the Alpstein to ride the nearby bobsled run. Aren’t my very, very large wide feet beautiful!   -Ken

SO THAT’S WHAT MY FEET ARE SUPPOSED TO FEEL LIKE AFTER A HIKE!

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Kevin, yesterday I took my new boots out for a four mile spin, two miles with 1000 ft of elevation gain and back down. The last time I did this hike the last half mile was very uncomfortable. This time it felt GREAT! My new boots are a huge success – thank you!! There was plenty of room for my toes on both feet going up and coming back down. The softer soles and arch support were perfect, as was the padding over the instep. There was no rubbing around my heels or toes. I felt no need for moleskin anywhere. My feel felt comfortably snug in the heel and didn’t shift around. The last couple of times out I’ve come back with sore toe pads, but not this time. (I have little cushions, like tiny bolsters, for my hammer/claw toes on my right feet that I might try out to see how they feel.) My bunions started making themselves known toward the end of the hike at the very end, but so much less than on any hike on the descent in years – worth a mention because it felt so much better!

 

Thank you, Kevin. It was such a pleasure to go for a hike and be able to enjoy the wildflowers and surroundings without pain in my toes. I have been quite apprehensive about my ability to do this hiking trek to Machu Picchu due to the discomfort of my feet. I’ve had visions of being unable to enjoy this trip of a lifetime or having to ride the horse and missing out on the satisfaction of scaling the passes because my feet hurt so badly. Problem solved! Now I just have to focus on getting my body in shape – just 48 training days to go!

 

Many, many thanks!

—Leslie

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Update October, 2016  I LOVE MY BOOTS! They have been utterly life-changing for me, allowing me to go places and do things I was afraid were beyond me—thank you!! I’ve meant to send you this photo of me in Peru going over 15,200 ft Salkantay Pass on my 60th birthday, on the way to Machu Picchu. What a great experience—thank you for making it possible!!! Recently my boots and I went backpacking in the Ansel Adams Wilderness out of Mammoth, and witnessed breathtaking landscapes and lakes that can only be seen if you walk there.

My Feet Don’t Hurt Anymore!

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I’ve always had pretty bad luck finding comfortable shoes. These last few years, it has become more difficult. I basically felt like I had a time limit as to how long I could be on my feet, after a couple hours I’d be in some discomfort, it would progress and by the end of the day my feet just plain hurt. This was especially difficult for me since I’m a landscaper, and I’m required to be on my feet all day. I started doing a few tricks, like taking my boots off in between jobs and at lunch. This was becoming unsustainable. So I started looking into it, talked to a couple podiatrists, they told me that there was nothing wrong with my feet, they were just shaped a little different. It dawned on me that shoe manufacturers make shoes to fit the average foot, and if yours happens to be a little different—you’re out of luck. So now I’m thinking, I need to get somebody who can make a boot that is engineered to fit my foot. Is that even possible?

Turns out there are a few people who do that. I poked around online, and found Kevin Leahy. Reached out to him and he talked to me about my situation and what he could do for me. Buying custom boots felt like an indulgence because it’s a big chunk of money for footwear. There was not any salesmanship on his part; he told me what I could realistically expect. It sounded likely that he could help me so I decided to go for it, rationalizing that instead of buying several pairs of boots and shoes each year and throwing most of them out because they never “broke in”, I could bite the bullet now and have one really quality pair of boots that is repairable, and would last me a long time, and I’d hopefully be comfortable in. This turned out to be a great decision! My only regret was not doing this ten years ago! I live 90 minutes from him, so I was able to do the casting of my feet, and an in person fitting. It was one trip for the casting, a second for a fitting, and another trip to pick up the boots. Everything being done within the timeframe he gave me. They say boots have to break in, and they do, but boy… these boots felt great right from the outset, he allowed plenty of toe width, but the boot fit so perfect that my foot was held solidly (in the past I’ve tried to buy other boots with wide toe widths to accommodate my foot shape, and then the boot wouldn’t fit me right in other areas and my foot would slosh around). He uses a malleable leather which feels very nice around the foot. I use Obenauf’s LP, it conditions and protects the boot and helps protect the boot from getting scratched or scuffed and it has some repairing capabilities. The boots were surprisingly light too! The craftsmanship and materials were beautiful and sturdy! He included a custom orthotic engineered to give me good arch support. This was important to me as I’d been suffering from plantar fasciitis.

Fast forward a few months. The boot is working out wonderfully. Only problem is that the orthotics are a little stiff for me, and are not helping with my plantar fasciitis. Kevin offers to make me another pair at no charge. He makes them right away and mails them out to me. These one’s are a little more cushiony, and were just what I needed. Fast forward a few more months, I love these boots. In fact, they are the only footwear I want to wear which is a bit of a problem since I don’t want to wear boots out to a nice restaurant, or to a wedding. Since things worked out so well with the boots I decided to hire Kevin to make me a walking/dress shoe! My boot lasts (forms) could also be used to make shoes, so I was able to order my shoes by phone. Everything worked out beautifully with the shoes as well. To top it all off my plantar fasciitis has finally gone away!

Ok, that was pretty long winded, but Kevin has had a big impact on my quality of life and I’m very excited to tell you about that! I am able to work now without pain, and am able to comfortably do more activities. To summarize, in my opinion Kevin is a rare craftsmen with an incredibly specialized skill set. Also, he’s not about the money. He ultimately wants to make sure his customers get what they need. His boots are not cheap compared to buying retail, but he offers something completely different, and thus, there’s no comparison. He does offer an excellent value in my opinion, and he does stand behind his work. I highly recommend him and hope he continues to provide this unique service for many years to come!

-Sam

Footwear for every Occasion

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Kevin is a rarity: a true master craftsman. He knows footwear, his work is meticulous, his boots and shoes are durable, he designs and fits at the smallest level of detail. Moreover, he is extremely accommodating, easy to work with, dependable, timely, and a likable person. You’re reading this, so I assume you care about what you wear on your feet; be assured Kevin cares as much as you. If you have difficulty getting a good fit with off-the-shelf footwear, or if you simply want boots of unmatched quality, Kevin is your man. You are lucky to have found him. I have purchased hiking boots, chukkas, and shoes. Highest recommendation!

—Jeff

Mouse Traps & Boots

If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mouse trap than his neighbors, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

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What Kevin Leahy does is make a better hiking boot. And he did “build” his house in the woods.
After thirty years of searching for over-the-ankle boots which fit my foot problems, my husband and I decided to invest in custom boots before a planned trek in Bhutan this autumn. My foot complexities include calluses, bunions, ankle bone spurs, wide across the metatarsals and narrow through the ankle plus plantar fasciitis and metatarsalgia.
I was very scared to spend money way beyond our usual budget. I now think we got more than what we paid for.
 
 We were drawn to Kevin’s training—making orthotics and working with prosthetics on the one hand, apprenticed to a master Austrian hiking boot maker on the other. Also the fact that he lives near Santa Cruz, offered a free introductory appointment, and was close enough to where we live in the Bay Area that we could go down for a personal fitting. We were sold very quickly by Kevin’s clearly competent, workmanlike demeanor and skill. I’m not sure how this is relevant, but it also mattered to us that we were paying someone to blend art and science…and that he is clearly a truly decent person.  We liked him.
 
And we love the boots. I never understood what “fits like a glove” meant before. They are beautiful and they fit! And they have great traction.
 
I turned out to have some problem with the insoles because of a sensitivity to cork which I had failed to mention. Kevin made me a pair of orthotics without cork at no additional cost and had them in the mail within two days.
 
If we win the lottery, or even a windfall, I’m getting a pair of boots for my husband and walking shoes for me.
 
—Carol S.
UPDATE:
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Dear Kevin,
My boots were polished by a Bhutanese forester guide at 13,000 feet on the Druk trek in Bhutan. This was not his job, but he said he wanted to do it in tribute to the boots and how they helped him do his job, which was taking care of me. Trails in the Himalayas are much more difficult than ours in the United States—filled with stone, tree roots, steep inclines and declines, not to mention yak poop. I had dislocated my right elbow in early July and had balance problems. Despite that and my unfortunate tendency to walk toe to heel (you can see wear on the toes that document this), the tread on my boots has not failed me once. It IMG_3250is amazing and they are worth their weight in gold!
Tomorrow I hope they will take on a pilgrimage to a monastery built into a mountain called Tiger Nest. Thank you again for the time, skill and love that went into making them.
Warm regards,
Carol

From Troll Feet to Elfen Dancer!

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Before I review Kevin’s master shoemaking I must tell a story about a boy…and his feet…

Astronaut, explorer, scientist, pioneer, doctor, cowboy, priest, fire fighter, forest ranger – the hat depended on the day and the circumstances. Dangling from a high tree branch on a clear fall day with the canopy rattling in the breeze and the forest floor awash with gold and crimson it was a forest ranger. Feeling somewhat holy singing from the choir balcony in the cavernous church it was a priest. Riveted to the family’s first black & white 12 inch grainy screen television as Mercury 7 blasted off – it was definitely an astronaut.

What would get him wherever he wanted to go he had no idea, but he was certain shoes were important and necessary for the journey. PF Flyers sounded magical so he tried them, Keds too, Converse, Hush Puppies, Clark’s and many more brands graced his feet. He dared not mention “Hush Puppies” on his feet for the certain ridicule that would rain down upon him from the other boys. Clark’s proved to be a character builder as his ego had to overcome the constant chiding about the “elf boots”. Color, shape, brand, shoestrings, or not – no shoe characteristic mattered – except one. That boy would wear high heeled pumps if his feet would fit in them!

Each foot settled down into the cool slippery stainless steel slot, the flip switched, the machine hummed, the sides and ends closed in, and magically like the reels of a one armed bandit the length and width for the foot would lock in on the backlit determiner. One year 5 x E, The next 6 x EE – for the left foot, the tragically extra wide right foot always added an extra E. Eventually the right foot would settle at 8.5 x 5E! A troll ancestor became a suspicion in the boy’s mind as a reason for his utterly impossible feet. Mad under that bridge, biting its toe nails, occasionally coming up to eat a sojourner, then one day falling in love! The entire prospect disgusted the boy, and it was that stupid nasty troll’s fault he was stuck with those feet!

“Well you do have wide feet.” The shoe salesman solemnly said.

“Let me check in the back and see what we have that might fit.”

The boy knew what was coming – a D width shoe 1 or 1.5 lengths too long. It would be another year of shoes with curled up toes… with a forceful shove of the heal sliding down the shoe horn they were on. The boy would meekly whimper…

“They’re a little tight.”

“Those are the widest shoes we have.”

His feet would be bound like a child Geisha’s for yet another year.

“Don’t worry they will stretch out.”

The boy wanted to say “Yeah sure – when the seams bust out.”, which they always did.

The boy grew up, became an equine veterinarian (horse doc), was constantly on his feet, loved hiking and camping, and had many a relationship with shoes and boots – most of them jaded.

Then a couple years ago after a brutally painful blistering hike at Glacier National Park I thought to check into custom hiking boots. I am not sure why I never thought to look – I had owned a number of pairs of custom riding boots and they were comfortable – at least for riding horses – but they weren’t exactly “boots – that – were made for walking”. I surfed the net and sure enough there were a few plus one or two custom hiking boot makers. Custom hiking boots were expensive! Kevin of course was one of the boot makers but his prices seemed downright affordable compared to a couple others – I was concerned. At this point in my life, with my feet, I wasn’t concerned about spending a little more I just wanted to get some quality comfortable boots. Wasn’t it likely the best shot was the most expensive boot? I pondered that question. I looked at reviews. I called and talked to some of the makers. I studied the pictures. I chewed my cud. I kept coming back to Kevin’s story and the intense effort he seemed to want to put into the measurement of my feet – the kit, the directions, the many measurements, the imprints, the foam mold, the request for photos (of my troll feet) – photos from both sides, front, back and the top! Kevin’s story, his training and his clear devotion to collecting the detail that would get it right for my feet carried the day. Kevin Leahy became the boot maker to the King – me.

Serena, my dear spouse, made great fun out of assisting me through all the varied directions, photos, impressions and so on. My much anticipated hiking boots arrived. They were beautiful – I know good leather – I spent many years in some quite exquisite saddles. I quickly had them on for a hike and felt I was walking on clouds. My arches seemed to ache though. I soldiered on, wearing the boots daily to break them in, and over the course of a couple weeks the aching subsided. My feet were being born again – as the ache subsided every bone and muscle in my feet started feeling better – and my feet started feeling stronger. I started to be able to curl my toes with gusto – it seems they had been squished into submission by decades of binding. I felt I could swing from the trees with my feet. I could walk for hours and stand all day with feet in utter bliss. I started thinking how nice it would be to always walk on clouds. I called Kevin.

“Could you make a pair of trails running shoes for me?”

“Sure Tom, tell me what you are looking for, and by the way I am coming to Ohio in a month, perhaps we could meet for a custom measurement.”

I was giddy at the thought of a custom measurement. Anyone who has the opportunity to be custom measured by Kevin should surely take advantage of it. He is an old hand and a skilled hand. Most of us have experienced the hands of a highly experienced and skilled physician – those are Kevin’s hands. Kevin arrived with a pair of “glass slippers” – a clear tape mold of my lasts he had built for the original pair. Into the slippers I went and he quickly marked and made minor adjustments. I described the shoe I wanted. Let me digress…

My mother grew up poor in Appalachia on a subsistence farm. There is a picture of her at about the age of 8 with her 2 younger brothers. They are clearly happy. They are covered with dirt – they often worked in the tobacco fields along side their elders. All 3 were bare footed. Their feet look grubby and happy. Throughout my childhood I remember my mother kicking off her shoes whenever she could, wherever she could. She encouraged us to do the same. She encouraged us to touch the earth with our feet, to feel the grass tickle our toes. Even the occasional honeybee sting was an experience our feet should have – according to mom.

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What I wanted in those trail running shoes was the energy of the earth to course through to my feet. I wanted to feel the tickle between my toes. I wanted magic moccasins! I got them. Kevin even added magic stripes. He traveled to the Napa Valley to buy the best of the best leather – magic leather no less – luscious, soft and supple. Those magic moccasins pictured here are rarely off my feet. They have been resoled once (by Kevin for an absurdly reasonable fee). They have no less than 4000 hours on my feet, and have at least another 4000 hours to go. They are amazing.

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We ordered 3 other pairs of shoes that day along with the magic moccasins – one more for me and 2 for Serena. My hikers and trails runners have outdoor soles – Vibram soles which I love for the stability, grip, and durability. My next pair needed to have “floor soles” so I ordered the plain Jane walker. They may look plain but they have much of the same magic as the magic moccasins – not quite all of it but they are just great, and they don’t pick up the horse manure in the tread!

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I promised I would write a review for Kevin well over a year and a half ago. I won’t deny I am a procrastinator. When I needed my magic moccasins resoled I checked in at Kevin’s website to get the phone number, with some certain guilt peaked at the reviews, and there saw a review on a pair of his chukkas. I said to myself “I must have a pair”. I now do. The chukkas Kevin sent are stunning. They are an opus work by Kevin. They dazzled yesterday when I opened the box. They slipped on like gloves. The leather is exquisite, the color is special, “and – they have – miles to go before I sleep”.

I have finally written my review. I believe in these shoes and Kevin. Kevin’s shoes made me healthier – they changed my life. Troll feet or normal feet, Kevin’s shoes can make you fly. Maybe you think I just have a shoe fetish? Maybe you think no person would write such a nutty review unless they were paid for it. Please don’t over-interpret things – although I give I am a little crazy when it comes to my feet. I am a boy and his feet. The simple truth is – we just like magic things and walking in the clouds with our 8 friends…

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Thanks again for the boots!

Hi Kevin,
I hope that your new year has begun well.  I’m back from my European walking, and want to report what a success the boots were.  I walked from France over the Pyrenees to Burgos before I decided to add bus and train to my modes of travel – mostly due to the inclement weather along the way.  It was a wonderful and difficult experience, and I tell my friends when asked that one of the main miracles of the Camino de Santiago for me was finally discovering footwear that would allow me to walk more than a few blocks without major foot pain.
My feet and knees came through very well considering the test that they were put through going over the Pyrenees, in particular.
Also, I would like to order another pair of shoes.  I’d appreciate if you can give me the details on this so that I can send you what you need to add me to your list.
–Curtis

Best Boots Ever!

 

Chukkas under construction

Chukkas being soled while on their lasts

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Chukka with special Orthotic Support

Kevin Leahy makes outstanding boots and shoes. He made me a pair of boots about 8 weeks ago and I have used them extensively hiking. I am so impressed with the quality and fit and also the wonderful orthotic that really solves the arch and ankle problem in my weak left foot. I have had custom boots made by several makers and all fall very short of the quality and fit of Kevin Leahy’s boots. He is meticulous in the fit of the boot and his method of measurement of my feet is very accurate. I have never had support in my weak left arch and ankle as I have from his boots. All the custom boots I have by Peter Limmer Co., Van Gorkom and Crary are good but still did not solve my weak left arch and ankle problem. Crary came the closest but Kevin Leahy’s boots are a masterpiece of craftsmanship and care. The skill and knowledge that goes into his boots from years of training and experience working as a young man under Austrian and German master bootmakers is outstanding. All the knowledge of building boots for over 38 years shows up in the quality of his boots. Also, his orthopedic training from UCLA undoubtedly enabled him to build the boots to support my left arch and ankle.

I just had Kevin build me a pair of chukka boots and I love them. I look forward to wearing my boots professionally as I lead my next wildlife photo safari in Africa.

Doug C.

Update      Hi Kevin,
Still leading a safari in Kenya and finished the Tanzania safari.
Wanted to let you know that the boots are performing brilliantly.
I have never had such support. Before your boots I was never able to wear boots or shoes all day in the field.   Doug

Unlined Boots Update:

Just got home and put on your latest un-lined boots. Love the fit so far. Will wear them around this weekend but they feel really good.
Also really like the look and the one-piece thicker leather is wonderful. Loved your other boots but like these even more. Also like the toe covering to protect the boot when hiking and kicking stuff.
2/28/16     Hi Kevin – enjoying your great boots. Used them now in Tanzania for 22 days on Safari and enjoy them even more then the others. Fantastic and thank you.  Doug
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