Tree-planting and Preparing for the Unknown: Part I

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I recently spoke to a friend who just returned from a season of tree-planting in Beautiful British Columbia. She reminded me that the ultimate gear test is tree-planting: if your clothes and boots can tough through a whole season without turning to rags and flapping shreds of leather, you have found the ultimate product of durability. Outdoor enthusiasts are always looking for the “right” piece of equipment to complement their needs, especially those who live, work or spend extended periods of time in the bush. As a former planter, I remember vividly this unavoidable seasonal dilemma: will my boots make it through one more season? Will my tent fly rip this year or the next?

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Judy planting a tree

The winter before my first season of tree-planting, I paced around my dorm room at McGill with my head anxiously in my hands, panicked that I would be ill-prepared. There were so many questions: What kind of boots will I need? They say you need a warm sleeping bag….How warm? What about a tent? I’ve never even spent much time in a tent! And duct tape, a coffee mug, pillow….I have to bring my guitar….what about my planting equipment? I haven’t spoken to my boss in at least a week; does he know I’m still coming?

The 18-year old inner dialogue was quite exhausting. However, I survived my first season (turns out humans can do anything) and even went back for more. Here is what I learned and hopefully it will be of use for those leaping out into the unknown whether it’s tree-planting, a month long hike, travelling to a foreign country, or going into the woods for the first time. Regardless of what your challenge might be, there is no way to prepare for, or predict for that matter, all potential danger. But I have discovered a few tips for choosing the right gear that might help relieve otherwise unavoidable pain.

First item on the list: a pair of boots. Tree-planters spend 10 hours a day in their boots and 8 of those are spent walking around on terrain that looks like this:

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Cut-block near Horsefly, BC

Well okay, it’s not always that bad, but this particular cut-block really stuck in my mind. There are two opinions about footwear: you can buy cheap comfortable shoes for 100 bucks twice a season, or you can buy serious mountaineering boots for $ 400 that will last for hopefully 3 seasons. I have had the best success with spending more money on Gore-Tex boots made from one piece of leather. Although in the first picture of this article I’m wearing some LaSportiva mountaineering boots, I finally bought these Asolos before my last season and I have never been so happy in a pair of boots.

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My well-worn boots

They were instantly comfortable when I tried them on in the store and kept me surprisingly dry throughout the entire season (except during times of torrential four-day rain storms, and when swamp-wading was required in order to plant my trees). If they’re not comfortable right away, forget it. You don’t need a boot made of steel. I finally figured out that a lighter boot made of leather is more flexible and easier to walk in; boots made with lots of seams and of different materials will catch on branches and under-growth, consequently shredding and tearing. Don’t forget that you can always buy gell inserts for your boots to make them more comfortable and if you need orthotics like I do, bring them to the store and try them on with your boots (you’ll need to find a pair with a neutral sole if this is part of your needs). You want to be comfortable because at the end of the day you’ll look like this:

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Judy: season 2

And if your feet hurt too, well, you’ll be packing your bags in misery within a week.

Currently at Altitude I suggest Scarpa’s Nepal, an all-leather hiking boot, or Lowa’s Terrano, also an all-leather hiking boot. Neither of these is made with Gore-Tex, but you can waterproof your boots with oil or a spray.

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Lowa Terrano Men

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Scarpa Nepal Women

In order to have a complete discussion about footwear, the subject of gaiters should be addressed. I think gaiters are a must when you plant trees, more so than when back-packing on trails. They help to keep debris out of your shoes and protect your legs against scratches and puncture wounds from sticks. Some people find them too hot, but I wear three-quarter length pants that come just over the top of my gaiters, therefore keeping over-heating to a minimum, protecting my legs and forbidding debris to enter my boots.

OR’s Verglas gaiters for men and woman are the best. There is no elastic around the base of the gaiter so they completely cover the boot without riding up (not like the red ones you seem me wearing in the first photo when I was young and inexperienced!). These gaiters also don’t fall down your leg without having to strenuously tighten them around the calf, which can rub and cause blisters.

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OR Verglas Gaiters Women

Before you tackle a new adventure, keep in mind that you won’t get it right the first time. Some of the things you will, but you’ll make mistakes and tell yourself, wow that was idiotic. It wasn’t until my last and fourth season of tree-planting that I actually found the clothes and equipment that worked for me. Coming up next is my advice about tents!

Tree-planting and Preparing for the Unknown Part 2: What to wear

Hiking boots: Click here to view our buyer’s guide

Trail running shoes: Click here for our buyer’s guide

Fitting guide: Click here to check out our guide to getting the proper fit from your hiking boots and shoes