In a survival situation whether this is a crashed airplane, lost on hunt or a collapse scenario where normal items become scare, inexpensive or both knowing how to construct your own arctic survival footwear could be the difference between life and death, comfort or pure agony!
I was reading this old book called “THE ARCTIC SURVIVAL GUIDE” written by Alan Innes-Taylor for the Scandinavian Airline System in 1957, it has a lot of good info in it, and I believe most of it is the same info that is in some of the old US AIR FORCE Arctic Survival Manuals from the same period. Among the various survival techniques described in these books are some very primitive yet effective techniques. These include:
MOOSE HOCK SHOES
One way to get a nice pair of shoes is to use a method of footwear as old as the caveman.
For this you can use the hock skin of caribou, moose, elk or any large game animal.
Basically look at the animals foot, where the bend is that area above and below is what you are going to use, tailor it to your own foot.
CUT A: Will be the area above the bend that will be body of the boot that goes up your leg, make sure it is long enough to make it med calf so it will be like a legging of sorts
CUT B: Will be BELOW the Bend and will be sewn up to keep your toes from hanging out!
• You will want to cut Areas A & B all the way around and deep.
• Separate from the Leg and pull it off over the hoof, you now basically have a L shaped piece of hide.
• In a less immediate survival situation you could clean and tan the hide, for long term use. In a survival situation, try to scrap the loose bits of meat off as best you can, but this is about survival and getting home, so a little left on there is ok, just not optimal.
• At part B (the bottom end) sew that up with whatever you have (This is why a Paracord Belt would be great! the fibers from a piece of paracord would work perfect!)
• Then poke holes with the bottle opener/leather punch (if you have a Leatherman handy) or just holes from a knife will work fine to create holes for laces.
• Then take the laces from the destroyed boots if possible or paracord(see another use, I’m not kidding about how useful that stuff is buy Spools!)
You know have a decent footwear. Don’t discard this as “gross” or too “primitive living”, try walking on a nice day through the woods with just socks, now imagine that in Arctic, cold weather survival situation!
Since the Moose provides you with four hocks, you can make two pairs of these shoes, and be able to change them out whenever you need to, definitely take advantage of the material to make a second pair.
Note: The Book “ARCTIC MANUAL” which was written by Vilhjalmur Stefansson for the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1944, is an excellent resource for many different arctic survival needs, recommends caribou for homestead/primitive living boots.
“The sole, shoepac type as always, is of August or September bull Caribou, and form the back skin. October hides are sometimes used but as said, the skins get thinner as the season advances…August or early September bootsole is so durable that on snow exclusively, or on snow and grassland, one pair of soles will carry you a thousand miles at least.”
Pretty neat stuff right?
Your Moose hock shoes will work fine, but what they lack is insulation, this leads me to the next thing to consider…
Simple grass has been used by northern natives and hard living European hunters/trappers, etc for a long time to help augment the insulating factor of your socks, or to preserve your socks as well.
The biggest killer in an arctic environment is not the cold as much as it is inaction or getting wet.
When you walk around for awhile you start to perspire (sweat) For a quick walk in the woods, this is ok, but in a true survival situation you will want to slow your pace enough to keep you warm and conserve energy as well as to control your perspiration. If you have good insulating boots and socks your feet will perspire, making your socks wet and when you stop that wetness will turn ice cold.
Grass insoles are good for three things
• Good dry grass will absorb the perspiration and your socks will be dryer
• The Grass will add another layer of insulation to keep your feet warm (as you get colder your body will make sure the core stays warm and your extremities such as your hands and feet will get much cooler)
• The grass can provide more cushion to your feet AND insulation if you are wearing improvised footwear like the moose hock shoes mentioned above.
How to make the insoles
• You will want to take ANY tall grass that grows throughout the north. Grasp large handful in both hands (the guide mentions a “sheaf” of grass, basically enough so both your hands, on on top of each other, aren’t touching) twist it in opposite directions. take that bundle and fluff it up into oblong shapes so it is “fluffed up” like a nest (this is so there is air insulation in between the grass).
• Make sure this oblong shape is “foot like” but wider than your actual foot and a inch thick, carefully put that into your shoe/boot.
If you have socks (hopefully a couple) use this to further your insulation.
• Put your first sock on
• Using the same method for the insoles put that in your second larger sock and roll it down so it is very short
• Carefully put your foot in, and try to have overlap over the edges onto the top of your foot with grass.
• Pack loose grass around the open space all the way up the sock, rolling it up as you go.
Now the picture in the book shows parachute fabric as the outer layer, this is a military manual and is for pilots that have to bail out of their aircraft, so they would have this available. This same method would work perfectly with the moose hock shoe, depending on the size of the moose and the room you have inside.
At night or long periods of rest take these out and dry them. Discard them if possible in place of new grass if you can find it.
If you cant find dry grass, make a wooden “grate” and attempt to dry the grass on that, you could take rocks and put them in the fire to warm them and then place them under the grate to dry the grass or just set them near enough to dry but don’t let them catch fire of course!
The Hudson Bay Duffle
Another form of insulation for boots or improvised footwear could be the “Hudson Bay Duffle”
The Hudson Bay Company had a trade with the Natives for insulated socks. They would make triangular pieces of fabric from soft blankets and sell them for use inside of Moccasins.
All you need is some piece of cloth cut into a triangle, and you stick your foot in that with it pointing towards one point of the cloth.
Edge 1: Is the point in front of your foot
Edge 2: Is the point to the left of your foot
Edge 3: Is to the right of your foot.
• Edge 1 would go straight over the top of the foot
• Edge 2 and 3 would be wrapped OVER the instep
The “completed” Duffle would look rough but useable.
This would then be eased into the moccasin and firmly lashed. DONE
This has a few advantages over socks:
1. Depending on material it could be washed and dried quickly
2. Foot can be placed differently to help even out wear, and avoid holes that may form in the heel
3. It can be made from any soft material, from jackets, to multiple shirts, blankets, etc.
You can definitely use this if you have an extra blanket in your pack that you can cut a piece from, then use Grass as an insole and then put inside the Moose Hock shoe.
I would definitely try to get your hands on these books if possible, check out local libraries or see if libraries in other areas would loan them to yours so you can check them out.