Trolling for new boots

A View Askew

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2007

I'm off on a trip to Mars, and I'll rest assured that while I'm gone, my upholstery will be safe from unicorns.

At least I could be, if marketing strategies were to be believed.

I bought a pair of winter boots recently. In shopping around I was amazed at the advances in boot technology that have developed since the days of the trusty "moon" boots when I was a kid.

Anybody remember those? Giant, poofy, astronaut-looking monstrosities that had as much traction as a stick of butter. They were warm, at least as long as they stayed dry. Since the insulation apparently consisted of sponge, they didn't stay dry for long. Kids would start out for school with a spring in their step. A few blocks later they'd be dragging themselves hand over hand along the ground, pulling their waterlogged feet behind them like they were trying to escape from quicksand.

With boots today that's no longer a concern. Now moisture is magically wicked away from your feet and evaporated to keep you dry. The tread is so aggressive you could walk up a vertical wall. And as for warmth, boot manufacturers may know something the rest of us don't, because they seem prepared for hell to freeze over.

I was cheap and bought boots that were only good down to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Had I been willing to shell out more money I could have had boots rated for minus 135.

My Americanism kicked in when I saw those babies. If minus 30 is good, minus 135 must be fabulous. In our culture of bigger is better, portion control is for losers (Canadians? Europeans?). Must ... supersize ... everything ... (expect, oddly enough, supermodels. Go figure).

But then I thought, why the heck would you need boots rated for that much cold? Alaska's pretty dang chilly in the winter, and I hate cold feet as much as the next person, but minus 135 degrees? Seriously? What on earth could you possibly be doing where you would need boots good down to minus 135 degrees?

Nothing, as it turns out. You may need boots that serious if there's a trip to Mars in your future, where temperatures at the poles in the worst of winter have been known to reach a blustery minus 200. And you'd better bring them along with the toe-warmer inserts (sold separately, of course) if you're heading to the moon, which can dip to minus 387 at night. (Bring your flip-flops, too, since it'll be 253 above during the day.)

But here on Earth, the worst you'll encounter these days is the mere minus 58 average temperature at the South Pole. According to a weather site for the home of the penguins, the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was minus 129 in Antarctica.

So how do boot manufacturers come up with a cold rating of minus 135 if it never gets that cold to test them? It's like manufacturers are daring customers to argue that the boots don't live up to their billing. Go ahead and try to say your toes were cold at minus135 degrees. Even if you manage to hitch a ride to outer space, your lungs will freeze before you can place a call to the Better Business Bureau. And good luck getting cell phone reception out there.

It's ingenuous, really. Product research cuts into profits, and who needs that? Just ignore real-life applications and make stuff up. Welcome to the "if a tree falls in the woods" philosophy of marketing. If it can't be tested, it can't be disproven.

I can see the commercials now ...

Scene begins in a tastefully decorated middle-class living room. A long-suffering yet patient mother wearing comfortable khakis without a wrinkle on them is scrubbing a stain on the carpet. Two rowdy but in a lovable, they-could-hug-a-puppy-at-any-moment sort of way boys tear through the room on their way to a noisy, yet intellectually stimulating and social skill-enriching activity in the backyard.

The younger lovable scamp bumps a table, sending a vase of flowers and its contents spilling onto the carpet Mom just finished cleaning. She ruffles the youngster's hair and sends him on his way, then looks at the camera.

"Kids can be tough on carpet, but they're nothing compared to trolls."

Cut to snarling, jaundiced, pointy-toothed, 3-foot-tall mutant pouring a tankard of grog on the sofa.

"That's why you need new Mythic Brand fabric cleaner. It's tough on dragon drool, but easy on drapes."

Mom sends the troll to stand in a corner and sprays cleaner on the wake of green, gooey destruction it left behind.

"Mythic Brand: If monsters exist, stains don't have to."

Sounds great, right? You don't know if it'll remove dirt or dried grape juice, but if the cast of "Lord of the Rings" crashes at your apartment for the weekend, you'll be able to save your deposit.

So I'm off. Wish me luck on my trip. It cost a fortune to get outfitted with the cold-weather boots, gloves that can safely handle kryptonite and camera with leprechaun-enhancing lens, but I found all the gear I needed in a great catalog for new-age travelers. It's called Continual Renewal Adventurers.

Motto: There's One Born Every Minute.

Jenny Neyman is a freelance writer who lives in Soldotna.

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