Wednesday, February 15, 2012


The last phase of replacing my footwear involved everyday casual shoes. I used to wear sneakers pretty regularly, but over time I replaced them with other things. My routine physical activity doesn't involve much running, so I don't really need sneakers for anything. (Well, unless you count the occasional sprint to catch a bus or train.) When I started commuting by bike, I figured the harder soles would help, but a few times getting wet was enough to finish off my old pair. I decided that sandals made for getting wet would be a better choice for commuting. By this time I was wearing Crocs most of the time, not really by choice. My wife had discovered them and insisted on getting me a pair. I wore them until they had holes in the bottom, at which point she got me another pair. I started to wear them for nicer occasions, but continued to wear the old ones whenever possible.

The main thing I like about Crocs is that they're relatively loose, and give my feet freedom to perform their natural functions without constriction. They're also easy to slip on and off, which fits well with my tendency to go around in bare feet unless I absolutely need to wear something. Getting wet doesn't hurt them (though, once the tread wears down, they're pretty slippery), so I can wear them in all kinds of weather. And they are pretty comfortable, whether new or old. But they do wear out, and there's no chance of repairing them. They used to have a recycling program, but it doesn't seem to be around anymore. So part of the reason that I keep wearing both pairs is that I'm hoping the recycling option will come back. Then at least I can throw them away with a little bit clearer conscience.

In line with the goal of multitasking, I wanted to replace both the sandals (which seem to have worn down really quickly, considering that I hardly ever wore them aside from my 2-3 days per week commuting, and then walking only a few minutes each day) and the Crocs with one pair of shoes. A first logical step was to get rid of the Crocs, which were too soft for bike riding, and just wear sandals. But I didn't want to stick with the same molded-plastic sandals that I was already using (which weren't very comfortable anyway for walking). I wanted something that would hold up better and could be repaired, and preferably something made in America.

My first inspiration was Birkenstocks. They're notoriously repairable, and they're supposed to be comfortable enough that they would work for general use. They have hard enough soles for bike riding, but I didn't know how they'd do getting seriously wet. I also wanted to make sure that I ruled out any possible American-made alternative.

I found a reference to Chacos, which were supposed to be repairable, though perhaps only through the manufacturer. But I discovered pretty quickly that they were no longer American-made. In fact, I really couldn't find any American-made sandals that would meet my needs. I considered moccasins, but there I'd have the same problem with soft soles. The one exception that I found was made with a hard Vibram sole, but it was glued on, so repair was unlikely. I concluded that I'd probably have to settle for German-made Birkenstocks, which is still a pretty good option--they have a long tradition in Germany and a unique design, and they're still made locally, even if it's not my locale. I could also find a (reasonably) local store, where I could try them on and really know what I was getting.

I found mixed indications about getting Birkenstocks wet, but the gist seemed to be that, although they're not exactly designed for it, plenty of people wear them in all kinds of weather without any real problems. Use the cork sealant and treat the leather; let them dry slowly when they do get wet, and they should do fine.

My Crocs and sandals still have some life left in them, but the Doc Martens never broke in like I was hoping. I think I actually got them at least a half-size too small, so I'm back to wearing my old, stiff, and not-quite-the-right-size dress shoes for church. I'd like to say that enduring such discomfort is an acceptable ascetic sacrifice, but I really needed to come up with a better solution. So, I went ahead and bought the Birkenstocks to wear for church. Julie's not a fan, but I think they look fine with dark socks. Once the other shoes wear out, I'll migrate them to more general use.


  1. I have never put so much thought into a pair of shoes in my life.

  2. Neither have I, Jodi! Neither have I... And he's put that much thought into 4 pairs of shoes now.

  3. And with any luck, I'll never have to think about buying another pair of shoes again :-)