Monday, July 19, 2010

Gardening Shoes, For Real




 I got a quick rise when I read the headline of the latest blog post from the UC Davis Good Life Garden: "Tennis Shoes? Flip Flops? Or Do You Garden in Rubber Boots Too?"

Finally, I thought, a discussion of functional garden footwear! But, sadly, no. That blog was a promotion for another blog, which uses the phrase, "Rubber Boots" as part of its title.

So, I guess it's time to weigh the pros and cons of the various styles of gardening shoes here.

Note that I said "gardening shoes", not "garden shoes". 
There is a difference. 

"Gardening shoes" imply footwear that combines function, comfort and safety while working outdoors. 

"Garden shoes" are an amalgam of style and color, with an overabundance of plastic. Their job: make the gardener look good, as in "Don't these purple sandals complement my English Lavender? And they go so well with the mauve wall color in our dining room!"

"Gardening shoes" are worn by horticultural heroes for whom the term "sweat shirt" means "cool weather warmth" or "The stinky, wet short-sleeve tee with the 1977 Lynyrd Skynyrd Tour Schedule on the back that gets worn every Saturday".

These are the gardeners who are dripping perspiration by 10 a.m., after spending the early morning shoveling, wheelbarrowing and transplanting.

"Garden shoes" are on the feet of rose snippers, leaf fondlers and blossom sniffers who wander through their garden after Sunday brunch, a copy of Sunset magazine in one hand, a Mimosa in the other. Their main job: straighten up the area so that their landscape service doesn't think they are slobs. Their shoes were not constructed to traverse any of these outdoor conditions: mud, weeds, snails or walking any distance more than the 70 feet between the front porch and the back fence. 

And that's assuming they have a "backyard". Sorry, but that patio/outdoor kitchen (complete with overhead fan and pizza oven) inlaid with the 400 square feet of travertine tile that supports six oversized terracotta planters from Pottery Barn doesn't count. This group can take a swiveling seat in their Martha Stewart Bistro table and chair set and go back to reading the artichoke quiche recipes in Sunset while us gardeners talk practical footwear.

What do hard working gardeners want in a shoe? A shoe that doesn't distract from a day in the yard. A shoe that a gardener can spend the entire day wearing without a complaint, racking up the miles and the fingernail dirt. A worry-free shoe that doesn't make you stop in mid-pruning to take care of blisters, cramped toes or sticky weeds that work their way into the socks. A shoe that repels water during a broken sprinkler repair job. A shoe with a solid sole for shoveling and a reinforced toe for when you drop your shovel. A shoe with a sole that has some grip on slippery surfaces but doesn't track excess mud into the house.

No single shoe meets all those requirements. Some, though, come close. A review, based on 30 years of yardwork. The grading system:
**** Great for gardening use. You won't think about them at all.
*** Recommended, with certain limitations. Good backup pair.
** Feels good when you put them on... you'll regret it later.
*  Great while sitting on the patio. Hey, is there something burning in your outdoor pizza oven?

Function: *** Does it all for Pacific Northwest gardeners.
Comfort: ** Fine, for about 15 minutes.
Safety: **** Ain't nothin' gonna attack you through that!

Function: **** Blundstones!
Comfort: **** Blundstones!
Safety: *** Blundstones! (But they will track in mud)

Function: *** Does it all; laces attract sticky weeds.
Comfort: *** With the right socks, yes.
Safety: *** Won't stop the mud in the house.

Function: *** Hard sole is good for digging.
Comfort: **** Wear 'em all day!
Safety: *** Clean before going inside, or your safety is at risk.

Function: ** Not for digging or making mudpies.
Comfort: *** Yes, until the insides are gravelly.
Safety: *** Watch your ankles for insect bites.

Function: *** A harder sole is better for digging.
Comfort: *** Excellent, until wet.
Safety: ** Foxtails stick in laces.

Function: * Have you ever tried digging in sandals?
Comfort: ** Fine, til the bottoms of your feet get sweaty.
Safety: * Choose nail polish to match stubbed toes.

Function: * Matches blooms of "Cherish" rose.
Comfort: ** While sitting, drinking Mimosas...sure!
Safety: * What's crawling on my toes? Eww, it's a bug!

Function: * Compacts soil. Twists ankles.
Comfort: * If you like the feel of nipple rings, you'll like these.
Safety: * Not for use during backyard games of "Twister".

Function: * Slug squishing keeps feet cool!
Comfort: ** Fine, until you step on a rock.
Safety: * At least your socks won't bunch up.


  1. I have tried so many different shoes for gardening! And I dislike intensely those that allow dirt and mud and gravel into the shoe...this means clogs of any kind, even though I love clogs very much ( the comfort of Crocs cannot be denied despite their looks). We used Muck Boots, and still do, especially in winter, great for any and all outdoor work. But the very best garden shoe of all time I purchased at Smith and Hawken. They are called Bogs, are slip ons made of rubber. I always forget I have them on, they feel like a real shoe. They are waterproof, snug right up around the ankles, making it difficult for water to get in, let alone dirt or mud. They make me really happy, as they do preserve a pedicure, which sandals and clogs do not!

  2. Ha... thanks for the input! The aerating spikes seem like a good idea on paper, but... yeah. Forget those!

  3. This was Hilarious!!!.."straighten up the area so that their landscape service doesn't think they are slobs" HAH! I have heard of these people. Gah!

    Personally I am loving my rubber boots with steel toe.

  4. I have enjoyed reading your articles. It is well written. It looks like you spend a large amount of time

    and effort in writing the blog. I am appreciating your effort. .

    Blundstone Footwear

  5. So. Really no input on what a good lightweight sturdy gardening shoe or boot is. Something that would keep the heels and instep of ones foot comfortable while double digging. I guess a mid range Redwing steel too work boot and some gaiters are in order. No Brainer. Took me 30 seconds.

  6. Could you give any direction on what brands or search keywords I could use to find slip-ons similar to the ones you suggest? I didn't have much luck searching "slip-on sneakers"

  7. Thank you!I am wearing my big rubber boots right now somewhat begrudgingly. I think I'm due for some half boots after reading your article!

  8. Have Aigle Parcourt and love for all seasons but summer. Bought cheap Steve Madsen chucka style boot for warm weather and so far have been hard-soled enough for the shovel but lightweight enough for the heat, tie up as snug as I want, but no arch support and I need arch support so have to add those. Also not waterproof in the least but dry out fine. Was hoping for something definitive here as to something for the summer heat and humidity since even in upstate NY the Aigle are too damn hot in July, but guess I've got as good as it gets.

  9. your grading system is so useful and quite funny. i think rubber boot is fittest for a garden shoes

  10. This is something I've been thinking about for years. Rubber boots are great when its muddy. Muck boots are the most comfortable rubber boots out there. They're just to hot in the summer time. Athletic shoes are comfortable and breath well in hot weather. But they are not good in the mud and durt gets inside them and makes your feet and socks nasty. There should be a happy medium. A mid height, light weight shoe like a light hiking boots.They should have a flexible, waterproof sole and lower.A wear resistant breathable upper. They should have good arch support and midsole for digging and stepping on clods and rocks. And lastly, a good camo or dirt color so they look cool and don't show dirt as bad. If someone finds shoes like these, let me know.
    Gibson's Garden

  11. Ariat All Terrain boots are pretty awesome.

  12. Hey,

    Great post, interesting that you mentioned the difference of a garden shoes and a gardening shoes. I haven't heard about the Aerator Shoes but I might try using it next time. I have been using Sloggers Women's Rain and Garden Shoe for almost a year now and I am planning to buy a new one.

    Keep it up
    - Zac

  13. THis is a great list that i used for my blog to get a few good links to. Thank you!

  14. Thank you for the hilarious and informative article!