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Russell Moccasin Co.

One Drop

One of the Regulars
Swiss Alps
New to me Russell Moccasin Backcountry boot in Walnut Timberjack, pictured after a few days and around 30km wear, in mostly wet conditions.

I first became interested in this company's boots a few years ago, and have been following their progress as they redefined their business model and established their current lines of Ready to Wear, Classic Builds (Made to order models in standard configurations), Premier Builds (Made to order models with a choice of leathers, canvas colours, and soles), and fully custom builds. They used to be a fully custom operation with a few basic models, all based on the same basic moccasin construction and design, with what was a bewildering choice of upper design, leathers, mid and outer soles,, vamp choices, and linings.

My background and experience :

I was interested at first in their Safari model as a lightweight summer hiking option, but ended up choosing their all around hiking / hunting / everyday wear Backcountry, and after receiving them am very happy for the choice, more on that later. I have a lot of experience with hiking boots and shoes, being an avid hiker as long as I can remember, and living in the mountains for as long. I've worn all leather traditional hiking boots from my first Vasques in the '70s through full leather and lightweight modern leather/synthetic hybrid versions, among them Meindl, Merrell, Lowe, Raichle, Scarpa, Salewa, and most recently, my favorite hiking boots, a few all leather models by Hanwag, probably the best value out there in traditional leather hiking boots.

I've since permanently ditched the lightweight options because of the amount of miles and hard wear I put them through, they just don't last long enough to be a value proposition of any kind, and generally can't be resoled or suffer too much wear to hold up very long after one.

The company:

There are a lot of interesting particularities about their history, construction, and materials used, they have added some very useful information to their site recently on leather and sole options, and some videos and descriptions of their unique build methods and the reasons behind them. These are handmade boots that require a lot of skill and practice to make, I'm really amazed at the results and happy the company has retained these techniques and ensured the survival of the company and these amazing boots and shoes.

The Boots

Design, materials, and construction :

These are 7" boots with their double vamp design, essentially a moccasin inner boot cup made from waterproofed wet-formed leather, with an outer leather vamp surrounding it, built from the ground up with their waterproof hand stitching and design which ensure an incredible level of waterproofing for an all leather boot. They are unlined, and the sole is stitched on in a way that permits multiple resoling of the outer sole without the need to touch the actual boot upper construction. It's ingenious and another reason the boot is so comfortable and waterproof.

The outer leather is a full grained Chrome tanned oil-stuffed pull-up from S.B. Foot, it's incredibly supple for the thickness, smells amazing, feels a bit waxy on the outside and like a soft suede on the inside of the upper part of the boot, the section around the foot is a smooth inner leather of the moulded sole cup. The heel counter is very thick and stiff and is made from 100% oak veg-tanned leather.

There is a gusset on the tongue that goes quite high up, eyelets and army studs, a medium agressive classic Vibram Roccia outsole, a shock absorbing midsole, and leather half-insole with a Poron insert.

Fit, Comfort and Performance :

The fit and comfort of these boots is entirely unique, nothing like traditional hiking boots, or stitchdown or Goodyear welted heritage and work boots, including the Red Wing moccasin toe models they resemble. The closest way I can describe it is that they feel like a heavily beefed up all leather version of vintage hightop sneakers. This is due to the relatively low drop from heel to toe, the extreme flexibility of the sole, the very roomy toe box, and they way the grip the foot around the upper part of the foot and the ankle, leaving the forefoot free and the calf entirely adjustable depending on your lacing. The heel of your foot is sucked into the heel cup and remains locked in even with the boot unlaced, it's pretty amazing and there is zero possibility for heel lift if the boot is fitted properly.

I used the foot scanner on their site that is tweaked to recommend the right size for each of their models, it worked perfectly and the sizing is perfect for me.

They required no break-in to be comfortable enough for a first 2 hour dog walk after wearing them in the house for a few hours,, with absolutely no hot spots or areas of friction. On the other hand, they fit so closely around the ankle area that I can feel already how much they will adapt and form to my feet with wear, I can already feel a big difference after a few hours in them.

Performance is great with a few important caveats, that depend more on your needs and usage than anything else. Most importantly, they don't have the rigid feel and stability up through the ankle and calf that most hiking boots do, but as you are closer to the ground, and in combination with the sole design, means you have what feels like a wider, more stable platform. I haven't tested them out in any severe side-hilling conditions or on rocky terrain, I suspect their beefier models like the Cambo would do well there, but these are not the right boots for high altitude and extreme approach or trekking conditions. They do stop rocks and branches from pushing through the middle of the foot, but I wouldn't want to cross a bouder field in them or navigate paths through rocky summits and climbs.

The waterproofing is a very real thing, I hate Gore-Tex in boots and shoes and avoid it when I can, these will eventually soak up water if you remain standing in it, but it doesn't soak trough to the inner. I stood in a stream for 10 minutes and nothing came through, and in long wet grass they didn't allow a drop in either, just incredible in a boot that breathes this well.

They advertise themselves as lightweight boot, but they do have some heft to them, especially in the double vamp options with a heavier sole like the Roccia. They don't feel heavy on the foot due to the way they fit, but the Backcountry model is almost as heavy as the all leather hiking boots with glued on rubber soles, and far less than the traditional stitchdown all leather hiking boots that are of comparable pricing.

There a few other ways these stand out, one is how comfortable they are when resting, hanging out, or wearing after a hike. One thing about traditional hiking boots is that no matter how comfortable, they feel a bit stuffy and blocky or clumpy when driving, sitting around, or walking on concrete, These don't, it's almost magical how they seem to convert from a hiking boot to a leather sneaker when at rest. I always take my hiking boots off the second I get home, these I just feel like leaving on, they are that comfortable.

Because of this, and their looks, they can be worn casually, and make the transition from a hike, job site, or an urban setting without breaking a sweat, with long pants they just look like a moccasin shoe. I was never a fan of moccasin style work boots before now, but I think these are one of the very best looking boots out there, especially in this gorgeous rich brown colour.

Conclusion and advice:

This company and their products has not received much attention in the heritage / work boot space until recently, with videos from the Iron Snail and Rose Anvil, and Instagram posts and videos from the company, but if you have the cash and want a Moc Toe everyday boot that will last you the rest of your life and be infinitely more comfortable than Red Wings and similar, I can imagine the Safari or PH would be a perfect choice, and a no brainer.

If you want a boot for hunting, hiking, farming, or light work boot conditions, if you choose the model and options correctly, you will probably find an an incredibly well made and comfortable boot that will get the job done and last far longer than any other option out there.

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One Drop

One of the Regulars
Swiss Alps
Great write up!

Thanks, I've since added to it, I posted the pictures only at first by mistake and added on to the description afterwards.

I think there was a need here for more practical information on these justly famous and unique boots and shoes that can really only be purchased in person, or ordered online, and about a brand that went through a period of uneven QC and all the problems, operational and reputational, that accompany the buyout of an iconic brand.
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One Drop

One of the Regulars
Swiss Alps
Here's a bit of an update, after a few day's wear and beautiful, long hike today over all kinds of terrain with a friend and her Husky joining me and my dog.

One of things I was most curious about was if it would be tiring wearing a boot with so little lateral support and such a flexible sole, and how those features would impact navigating uneven terrain and side-hilling. I must say I wasn't expecting to report purely positive results, some of them pretty counter-intuitive and not at all what I was expecting.

Most hiking boots grip the heel, instep and forefoot, and leave some room for the toes but not the area at the widest part of the foot. They also lock you into the boot and usually allow from moderate to no flex depending what they were designed for (high altitude and mountaineering boots being the most rigid, most trekking boots offer a bit of flex and sometimes a rocker shaped sole to make walking more comfortable and reduce heel strike.) All are rigid torsionally and the amount of lateral support depends on the design and materials, most are fairly rigid.

All of these things make those boots perform well on difficult terrain, but can cause a certain amount of fatigue and swelling during a hike as the foot is locked into the boot and doesn't flex much, nor around the ankle. Everyone knows how good it feels to take your boots off after a long hike, no matter how comfortable the boots.

These Russells are so different as to defy direct comparison, they are closer to minimalist boots in that they allow the foot and ankles to flex, offer tons of ground feel, and have very little heel to toe drop. I've tried a few barefoot boots and they never felt quite right , I preferred traditional designs up to now.

What happens with these is that on descents or traverses on steep hills, and on even very uneven ground, is that the whole foot stays planted flat on the ground, and the edge pressure is transferred from the boot sole to the actual foot. So the stability is incredible, rather than clinging with just the edge of your boot to the hill, your whole foot and ankle engages as if you were barefoot, but with the protection of the sole and uppers at the same time. It's an amazing feeling and not what I expected. There's also more stability than regular boots due to being closer to the ground than with the thick rubber midsoles that most boots have.

The other effect is to actually reduce tiredness, and swelling, because blood circulation to the feet is much better, and your feet are flexing and all the small muscles in it are working to stabilise you rather than depending on the hard casing surrounding them. All that, combined with the breathability, results in far less foot fatigue and greater comfort the whole time they are on. It's really uncanny and I can understand why these gained such a good reputation in the hunting world where you are often not on paths or roads at all, their performance in the woods, on grassy slopes and through pastures and meadows, on scree and in mud, is exemplary.

There is also almost no heel strike, which is less fatiguing, and I expect this will reduce the premature wear I always get on the outside of the heels, as the whole foot strikes more evenly as when we walk barefoot, instead of landing on the heel with each step.

The last thing I noticed is that they gain from a bit of a lace tightening over the instep when descending steeps, to prevent the toes shifting forward and hitting the front of the boot, as they don't need to be tightly laced at all for normal wear. With a small adjustment there was no slippage and they worked great even on the steepest descents.

Taigo and Nia approve of this post :

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