Mukluks (snow moccasins)

Originally published (in Dutch) on the Dutch Bushcraft Forum on May 15, 2011 in a thread about making moccasins.

Early 2010, I made a couple snowshoeing moccasins (mukluks). I used the sewing pattern from the book Snow Walker’s Companion by Garrett and Alexandra Conover. (I can really recommend this book by the way, if you are interested in Winter camping with a “primitive” approach).

Making the moccasins cost me quite some time and money (a few weeks looking for and ordering materials, two weekends of sewing, total material costs almost €200) but the project was a lot of fun.

The same year I tested the moccasins for one week in Sweden during a winter survival training with my Dutch friends Rob Hofman and Johan Hoogendijk. Here are some pictures of the moccasins on this trip.

mukluks1
The mocs just before departure
mukluks2
Binding the mocs to my selfmade Roycraft snowshoes
mukluks4
Wearing the mocs in camp
mukluks5
The mocs in deep snow (not wearing snowshoes)
mukluks6
My friends wore rubber Swedish army boots and had to regularly dry them at the fire

More pictures of our 2010 Winter survival training in Sweden

A bit more on winter footwear

Footwear is probably the hardest piece of clothing to get right if you’re in the bush for several days in severe cold. One of the things you have to keep in mind is the difference between wet cold and dry cold. When it gets colder than about -7 C, the snow does not melt on your clothes and shoes anymore and then you’re in a situation of dry cold. At that temperature, your shoes (and your clothes in general) don’t need to be waterproof anymore, which is convenient, because they can be more breathable then. The more breathable your clothing, the easier perspiration will evaporate and the less it will freeze in your clothing. (If your clothes are not breathable enough in severe cold, and you’re not in a position to regularly dry them, after a few days they will accumulate ice and you’ll get increasingly colder).

The Conovers write that the people of Canada traditionally wore breathable moccasins in dry cold, and waterproof seal-skin boots in wet cold. According to them, you can emulate this with selfmade moccasins (including felt boot liners) in dry cold and rubber boots (incl. felt boots liners) in wet cold.

Test results moccasins in Sweden

During our week in Sweden (Feb. 2010), my mukluks performed excellent. That Winter, North of the great lakes, in many paces there was about half a meter of snow and our average morning temperature was -15 C (coldest morning was – 24 C)! So these really were dry cold conditions. Walking on the moccasins was great in the snow (very soft) and weighed very little.

Furthermore, a major advantage was the breathability which became evident when comparing them to the rubber boots of Rob and Johan. They both bought a pair of rubber army boots from a Swedish army surplus store in Slutarp on our way North (really worth a car stop if you are around). (These boots are also described in the Swedish army manual Vintersoldat – Soldatreglemente för vinterförhållanden). The rubber boots are waterproof but not breathable so every day Rob and Johan had to dry their boot liners and socks by the fire. I did not have to do this with my moccasins, only on the last two days.

The only times that I could not wear my moccasins during the week was when ice fishing on the lake. On the ice, beneath the snow, lay a layer of water and then I had to wear my rubber boots (Tingley’s).

Were the mocs perfect then? No. At the end of the week I was walking a bit on the side of the shoes. (Later at home I found out maybe I could have solved this by tying the felt boot liners a bit tighter around my feet with some extra string). Also the stitching loosened somewhat at the end of the week but that is easily remedied if you have a needle and thread with you.

A final tip: never leave your moccasins outside at night – as I did one time – and always take them with you in your bivouac bag, or they will freeze overnight and you can get hardly put them on the following morning 🙂

Here are some addresses to find materials if you want to make a pair of mukluks yourself (all costs include shipping):

Leather
Thick deerskin, brain tanned and smoked, purchased from the American company Traditional Tanners (about €90):
http://www.braintan.com/
(Sometimes you can buy this type of leather also from Diederik Pomstra in The Netherlands: http://www.het-stenen-tijdperk.nl/).

Canvas
Two square meter white canvas (255 grams per square meter) bought at Stoffenhandel.nl (about €15):
http://www.stoffenhandel.nl/

Wool felt boot liners and insoles
Two pairs of wool felt boot liners and two pairs of wool felt insoles purchased from the American company Steger Mukluks & Moccasins (about €50):
http://www.mukluks.com/
(The Conover’s also describe in their book a fairly simple way how to make your own wool felt boot liners).

Sewing supplies
Glover needles (triangular needles) and “neverstrand” thread (waxed) purchased from Boomsma Leder & Fournituren (about €25)
http://www.boomsma.nl/
(I also had artifical tendon purchased from Marcel Gotjé which also worked fine: http://www.nativeart.nl/).

Rubber boots
Tingley natural rubber overshoes purchased (with some luck) on Marktplaats (about €10)
http://www.marktplaats.nl/

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