The Bottom Line
The Return of the Overshoe
By Tamia Nelson
January 13, 2009
When my last pair of lovingly tended wellies sprung a leak and left my feet out in the cold in the closing days of autumn, I didn't know where to turn. Cheap wellies had vanished from outfitters' shelves and online catalogs, and I wasn't prepared to pay premium prices for what are, at bottom, barn boots with snob appeal. So I looked around for something else. And I found it in a most unlikely guise: a modern-day incarnation of the old-fashioned overshoe.
But that's getting ahead of my story. With paddling season all but over, I figured I could take my time and weigh my options at leisure before committing myself to a radical alteration in my distal wardrobe. Then fate intervened, and my search took on an air of crisis. Shortly after my wellies' last stand, my old felt-insulated pacs also gave up the ghost. This was an emergency. General Winter's army was camped right on my doorstep, and there wasn't a moment to lose. I could live without wellies till spring unlocked the waters, but I needed to replace my pacs right now. So I grabbed a Campmor catalog and started leafing through it. Then my eyes fell on…
That's NEOS as in New England Overshoes, by the way. It's the name of the company. I have to admit that it wasn't love at first sight. At USD75, the price of the foam-insulated pacs that NEOS has christened Explorers™ is high, though not as high as the tariff on many modern-day wellies. (My old felt-insulated pacs—Maine Hunting Shoes®, to be exact—are now unobtainable at any price, and the closest thing in L.L.Bean's current lineup sells for a downright chilly USD95. Want a Gore-Tex® liner? You'll pay another 40 bucks.) Still, had I not been confident that I'd be able to return the Explorers if they didn't measure up, I doubt I'd have parted with the cash. But needs must, and General Winter was definitely on the move, so I placed my order. And before the week was out baby had her new shoes.
I got quite a surprise when I opened the box. Despite the Explorers' high-tech look, it was déjà vu all over again. If you've been around the block a few times, you may remember galoshes, the once ubiquitous rubber overshoes that protected the feet of men and boys alike, in all seasons and (nearly) all weathers. They fitted over your shoes and closed with sturdy metal clasps. And until you ripped them on a barbed wire fence—this was the inevitable fate of galoshes, at least in farm country—they kept the water out and the warmth in. Luckily, torn galoshes could be repaired with a tire patch kit. Then, when you found yourself putting patches on patches, you just got a new pair, cheap. All was not pure bliss, however. Women and girls were expected to make do with inferior vinyl pullovers that closed with a button and loop and tore at the slightest provocation. I was no slave to fashion, however, and I cast my lot with galoshes just as soon as I started buying my own clothes.
That was a long time ago, of course. Galoshes are even scarcer than cheap wellies these days. Or they were until NEOS came along, at any rate. True, the NEOS boots are made of nylon, rather than rubber, and they're certainly not cheap, but they seem worthy successors to galoshes in every other respect. They fit over your everyday shoes, just like galoshes. Moreover, they keep the water out and the warmth in. At least that was what the advertising copy promised. Now it was time to put the copywriters' promises to the test. So I donned my new Explorers and took them for a short slog through some wet snow. The results were encouraging. My feet stayed dry and warm. And the combination of overshoe and running shoe was no harder to walk in than my old pacs. In fact, my snow trials went so well that I decided to give NEOS a shot at auditioning for the wellies' role in my wardrobe, too. Enter…
Whereas Explorers are short and chubby, the uninsulated Trekkers are tall and lean. (That's them in the picture at the top of the page.) If they lived up to their billing, I figured they'd make pretty good replacements for my wellies. First, however, there was the problem of sizing. If NEOS boots have an Achilles heel, this is it. Getting a good fit isn't easy, and a good fit is critical. Too big, and your NEOS boots will flop around like flippers. Too small…well, too small is just too small. Period. The size chart provided by Campmor helps, but only a little. There's no substitute for trial and error, especially if you fall near either end of a size band. I'm lucky. My (men's) size 8 shoes place me close to the middle of NEOS' Medium range, but I still struggle to get running shoes and hiking boots into my NEOS boots. The Large is definitely too large, yet the Medium is almost too small. (The flared heels on my running shoes—you can see them in the picture— don't make things any easier.) Farwell, whose size 9-9½ shoes place him right on the dividing line between Medium and Large, has an even harder time. He ended up with Large, but depending on the shoes he's wearing, he often finds his Trekkers either too big or too small. He copes. The moral? If you buy NEOS boots, try them on for size over every pair of shoes and boots you're likely to wear, and take your time doing it. Don't head out the door until you're satisfied that you have the right size. You may even discover that you need different sizes to accommodate different shoes. Needless to say, this can get costly.
I was fortunate. Once I'd confirmed that I was a Medium, the rest was pretty straightforward. Trekkers give active legs plenty of room, and their wide maw makes donning and doffing them easy. In fact, it's almost big enough to swallow a large day-pack:
Moving on, now… One of my wellies' notable strong points was their high top. The Trekker is no slouch in this department, either. It's about 20 inches tall—that's plenty high enough for even the boggiest portage trail—but ingenious hook-and-loop closures, combined with elastic cinches, keep the uppers from flapping about while you walk…
And as the picture below illustrates, fine-tuning the fit is simple. I'm not wearing gloves, but even if I were the task would be easy.
An instep strap finishes the job, while a plastic clip keeps the strap from flying around—though if you're a belt-and-suspenders type (I am) you may want to double over the end and tuck it under the clip, as shown in the photo on the left:
Back from your walk? Thanks to a handy molded ridge on the heel, it's easier getting out of your Trekkers than it was getting into them. (See the right-hand photo above.) A minor point, you say? Yes, it is. But it's something you'll be glad of at the end of a hard day. Just don't forget to unbuckle the instep strap first!
Once they're off your feet, you can roll your Trekkers into a smallish wad for packing—something you couldn't do with wellies. If you've been wading through muck, however, I'd suggest putting them in a plastic bag before you stuff them into a pack. Like all waterproof footwear, Trekkers get damp inside, but loops make it easy to hang them up, and the wide maw means that they dry quickly.
So much for my preliminary impressions. But how well do my new shoes work in practice? Pretty well, as it turns out. And here are the details:
NEOS on the Trail
I've been using both Trekkers and Explorers for a couple of months now, for everything from sloshing through swamps to picking up a gallon of milk at the ser-sta-gro down the road on the state highway. And so far, so good. First things first. They are waterproof. Moreover, the Trekkers' lightweight fabric uppers are sturdier than they look. Early-winter treks along The River involve slogging through crusty snow. The crust is often sharp—sharp enough to cut your hands on, sometimes—and pools of icy water lurk just beneath the crusty surface. As the photos below show, NEOS overshoes take these conditions in stride.
Of course, some puddles are deeper than others. But with Trekkers there's no need to tip-toe around them. So long as you don't drop off the deep end, you won't feel the rising damp.
And if you've chosen your shoes and socks well, your feet will be toasty, too. NEOS claims that the Trekkers will keep you warm in temperatures that are 20° Fahrenheit below the comfort threshold for your shoes. The foam-insulated Explorers extend this figure down another 20 degrees. Both estimates seem plausible. I've worn my Trekkers over running shoes and medium-weight wool socks in temperatures well below freezing and been perfectly comfortable. In fact, I usually don't switch over to the Explorers until the thermometer plummets to zero degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
Traction? That's always a concern, particularly on icy trails, and while the Explorers have fairly deep lugs, the Trekkers' soles are city slick. Having taken far too many hard falls over the years, and with the bad back and dodgy knees to prove it, I wasn't very hopeful. But I needn't have worried. So long as I watch where I put my feet, my Trekkers keep me on the up and up, though I strap on Yaktrax® whenever the going gets really slippery.
Want to see for yourself? Here's a family portrait. The Trekkers are on the left, with a light hiker and an Explorer on the right, both of them sporting Yaktrax. How's this for a lineup?
Of course, Yaktrax and Trekkers work well together, too, as the following photo shows. Yaktrax aren't just for snow and ice, by the way. They're also a big help when your path winds over wet rock littered with new-fallen leaves, a combination that's probably sent me tumbling more often than any other. Note the rubber welt on the Trekker's sole and the shelf on the heel. The welt protects the upper from chafe, while the shelf keeps the heel-strap of a snowshoe binding in place.
OK. It's been fun taking the NEOS overshoes down the trail, but sooner or later you always have to go home. What if your home for the night is a backcountry camp, though? What then? Do Trekkers (and Explorers) have any role to play at…
The End of the Trail?
You bet they do. Remove your shoes first, and let your NEOS overshoes air for a few minutes while you slip on a pair of polyester fleece boot-liners. Now stuff thick foam insoles into your overshoes—NEOS sells insoles, or you can make your own from an old foam pad—and put them back on. Presto! You've got yourself a great pair of boots for lounging around camp or doing chores. Your feet will stay warm, dry, and comfortable. Does your sleeping bag leave you out in the cold? Then just keep the fleece booties on when you slide into the sack. No more cold feet!
It's time to wrap this up—and to ask the obvious question:
What's the Bottom Line?
To make a long story short, I'm happy. Trekkers and Explorers are reasonably light, surprisingly easy to pack (the Trekkers excel here), totally waterproof, warm, and versatile. That's a win-win (or is it a win-win-win-win-win?) combination. Any downsides? Yes. Price, obviously. And fit. Getting the right size is fussy, and the published guidelines are less than helpful. More importantly, perhaps, the durability of the NEOS overshoes remains an unknown. My insulated pacs kept going for nearly two decades, during which time the removable felt liners provide cozy homes for many generations of mice. I doubt that my Explorers will do half as well. On the other hand, I wore out a couple of pairs of wellies each year. The Trekkers ought to last longer than that, and if a stray strand of barbed wire or a broken beer bottle slices through the fabric, it should be easier to repair than the wellies were. Try as I might, I never could get a patch to stick to wellie rubber. (Duct tape worked better than anything else.) So durability shouldn't be a deal-killer.
All in all, I'm well satisfied. If this changes, I'll let you know.
It's always hard to lose an old friend, and I was sorry to see my last pair of wellies give up the ghost. The subsequent demise of my felt-lined pacs simply added insult to injury. But I couldn't afford to go into mourning. General Winter was camped on my doorstep. I needed something to put on my feet, and I needed it right now. Happily, I discovered NEOS overboots. Now baby's got new shoes. Two pairs of them, in fact. They aren't going to score many fashion firsts, and they won't win me any points among the landy (as in "Land Rover-owning") aristocracy in their three-hundred-dollar wellies, but that's all right. My NEOS boots have got me dancing down the trail, dry-shod and toasty warm. And that's what really matters.
Copyright © 2009 by Verloren Hoop Productions. All rights reserved.