Thursday, June 19, 2014

So far...

My children have learned that jetlag is a fickle beastie...

Bougainvillea is abundant and colorful...

Only the natives are capable of scaling the coconut tree...

The Indian Ocean is unlike their known Atlantic is so, so many ways...

But also, similar.

Mommy's feet, however, are happiest covered in Indian Ocean sand.

A large crocodile carved out of ebony will not fit in our return luggage...

But, so it was argued, multiple pairs of earrings would.

And, somewhere inside of them, the African drum beats true.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Multiple planes, various trains, a couple of automobiles, and a few buses tossed in for fun...

Sitting here this evening in my parents' living room. In Tanzania. Still a lot overwhelmed by the fact we actually, finally made this happen!  As the wee girl has said multiple times...we are definitely not in Virginia any more.

Still jetlagged loopy. So we're headed to the beach in the morning...a day in the sun to reset our body clocks. Then a few weeks to enjoy this amazing adventure as a family.

Lots of pictures and stories will be coming. But tonight? We rest.

It's a two-fer! Blauer tactical boot review *and* a guest blogger post!

I was approached by a friendly representative from Blauer about the possibility of trying out a pair of their boots.  However, since my footwear of choice leans more towards Chucks and flipflops and less towards tactical boots, my partner in this crazy life got the honors.  And a shiny pair of boots.  He's taken the time to test drive them for a spell and share his findings...

Blauer 8" Blitz Boot (Waterproof)

Although I haven't done this on the blog before, I have been asked to provide a product review for a tactical boot. As an initial disclaimer (and to keep the FCC happy), the boots were provided to me free of charge, but I have received no other compensation for this review. 

Product review: The Blauer Blitz 8" Waterproof Boot

Product description from Blauer: Blitz® is the ultimate in public safety footwear, combining the best boot technology with the BOA® lacing system. Premium waterproof full grain leather and suede with a waterproof membrane stand up to the elements and keep you looking professional. Rubber heel cage gives added durability and ankle stability. Compression molded EVA midsole and molded polyurethane insole with GEL heel cushion mean extra comfort during long shifts. Puncture resistant midsole board keeps your feet protected from nails and other debris when you need it. 

The listed retail cost is $179.99, putting them in the mid-range for similarly described and intended boots - good search work can certainly find them for less. This is part of a range of several boots by Blauer using the same lacing system and outlook.

Additional descriptors:  These boots meet the criteria for "lightweight tactical boot," being more than an athletic shoe or "casual" boot but much less than a mountaineering or hiking boot. The model I wore had the 8" ankle support upper, so I would generally limit my personal use of this type of boot to tactical/work wear, as opposed to crossing over into "daily" or "casual" wear for my normal needs.  Based on my experience I would feel comfortable wearing or suggesting these boots for daily law enforcement type wear, for use in training courses or scenarios and the like. I would not recommend them for prolonged hikes, ruck marches, or anything carrying a significant load (although they are not intended or recommended for this either). 

Evaluator: I am a law enforcement officer with over a decade experience, working full time on a bomb squad with several collateral duties; prior to this I have a lengthy period of military service. I am of average height and weight for an American male, although I have large and somewhat wide feet. I tend to be relatively picky about my footwear, and rather hard on boots - there are certain brands and models I strongly advocate, and others I avoid due to this. This is my first experience with the Blauer brand of boots. I also have arthritis and foot issues, following my years of work, which can also affect my comfort issues in boots. I also have a past ankle injury which leads to my expectations of ankle support from a higher-cut boot. In terms of a "lightweight" boot of this style I would expect one to two year's worth of service prior to replacement, with anything under a year being disappointing and anything over two being exceptional. 

Evaluation conditions: I wore these boots for just over two weeks of duty, including "general" daily activities such as patrol, bomb response calls, tactical training, administrative functions and the like, as well during a week of range instruction duty where I was on my feet for at least eight hours consistently daily. Movements ranged from standing for prolonged times, to walking, to short periods of running and dynamic activity. Weather conditions were typical mid-Atlantic early summer, with temperatures ranging from the 70's to the 90's, moderate to high humidity, and several days of heavy rain (and the resulting mud/wet ground afterwards). Terrains covered included indoors, pavement, level grass/outside, and moderately rough terrain. No attempts were made to conduct technical climbing, mountaineering or cold weather exposure, nor to conduct a prolonged run in the boots. In effect, these boots were tested under the conditions an "average" officer might encounter during this time of year. Socks worn were of a merino wool type throughout the test, by varied manufacturers and with various thicknesses. On significant change from my "normal" patterns is that I did not alternate these boots - normally I try not to wear the same pair two days in a row, so as to prolong the lifespan of the boots, as well as giving them time to breathe and dry when needed. The Blauer Blitz boots were worn consistently for each of these duty days, with only my weekend periods giving them a break.

Modifications: The sole modifications made to these boots was after the first week I replaced the provided insoles with an aftermarket brand, and I applied a treatment/shine creme to the smooth leather for work appearances. This is in no way a critique of the insoles, as I end up doing this with every pair of boots I own due to the aforementioned foot issues - but I also wanted to at least give the boots some testing with the provided product. The provided insoles by Blauer were on par with similar insoles used by most quality manufacturers, and for many users should provide adequate comfort and support. 

Initial observations: As a whole, the boots are again comparable to many other "duty" boots in this category, with a plain toe, a moderately aggressive tread, and a comfortable upper. The most significant difference is the use of the "BOA" lacing system to fasten the boots. In effect, this consists of a braided steel cable (coated with a black synthetic) which is then tightened or loosened by a ratchet system at the top of the boot. The intent is to provide a faster method of donning or removing the boot, as well as eliminating issues such as dangling or broken laces and the like. This system has been used successfully in sports, tactical and other applications for closure/adjustment systems, and from my exposure is durable and reliable. However, I personally had some dislike with using it in a boot, which I will address below.

The overall fit of the boots was excellent. The size was "true" to my normal footwear, as opposed to certain other brands which tend to run small. In particular, the boot has a very generous forefoot/toe area, as opposed to being narrow or pinching. This added significantly to my comfort level in the boots. They were light enough that I could perform my daily activities without feeling like I had weights on my foot, but heavy enough I had no issues conducting tactical entries or other movements requiring a boot instead of an athletic shoe.

I required no break in period for these boots, they did not pinch, stretch, loosen, or otherwise appear to need an adjustment period for the average user. 

The tread was aggressive enough for my daily needs, as well as handling the mud and wet terrain I encountered in this period. I did not have a chance to evaluate the boots in any particularly slippery or elevated terrains during this time, however I would expect them to function similarly to most other boots with a Vibram-type tread. They also did not have a tendency to significantly "squeak" when walking on tile floors, which is a positive thing for most law enforcement use. 

The boots definitely met my criteria for water resistance - during both daily use as well as during rain and water exposure, I had no issues with water soaking into the boot or dripping down past the cuff. I did not attempt to fully submerge the boot to test the membrane resistance. The boots also did not seem to overly retain moisture - the membrane was breathable enough that at the end of hot, humid days my socks were not soaked with sweat when I removed the boot, nor did my feet feel overly "cooked." They also did not appear to hold moisture, sweat, or odor overnight under my conditions.

Comfort level was excellent. At the end of the day I didn't feel any need to rush out of the boot as I have with some others. I felt just as stable and comfortable standing and observing range activities as I did walking downrange in the boots on a bomb call. The combined leather and synthetic structure felt stable enough to provide ankle support when needed, but was sufficiently flexible to move dynamically when needed. 

No durability issues were noted in the time I wore these boots (admittedly limited for purposes of this review). No issues with scuffing, scratching or other damage to the smooth leather was noted, and the boots held a moderate shine well. I did not attempt to achieve a "boot camp" mirror polish on these boots, but the leather seems capable of taking it. The soles and midsoles both held up to all use without issues, no separation was noted at any point. Stitching appeared solid, and again no separation issues were observed. The BOA lacing system had no failures during this period, no wear was noted on the cables, and the plastic dial experienced no problems. In all, I fully expect these boots to provide one to two years of normal use under my conditions. 

Critiques: Functionally, the BOA system on the boot does not please me fully. Yes, it is extraordinarily fast and easy to put the boot on, twist the dial to tighten it, or to pull the dial loose and pull the boot off at the end of the day. Similarly, the system adjusts well to different sock thicknesses, and allows you to easily tighten the boots if needed throughout the day. It certainly had none of the issues of stretch, breakage, or adjustment that traditional laces have. I expected to feel pressure points from the thin metal cables, but experienced none in my use.

However, it is a "one speed" system for want of better words. From my past experiences outdoors, I am used to tailoring my boot laces as needed to my foot structure and activities - I have one foot with a bunion I like to put less pressure on for example. When doing a lot of walking, particularly in hilly areas, I might want to adjust my levels of ankle support or foot tightness over what I'd do when standing on stable ground. The BOA system is limited to "make it tighter or make it looser" as a whole, with the structure of the lacing system not allowing for adjustments to individual areas of the boot/foot combination. This would be an issue for me if I was considering a boot, but certainly may not be for all users. I will also note that it is NOT a "failure" of the design in my review - rather, it would be a significant issue if I was looking at a boot for more outdoor or dynamic activities. This may also be something that is a "non-event" as I wear them further, but I must bring it up out of fairness.

Overall evaluation: Despite this one concern, I would have no issues with recommending this boot for "average" use provided the end user understood this limitation. The boots are very comfortable, they are durable, and they provide a professional appearance for officers. The price point is certainly reasonable for what is provided. The Blauer Blitz boots were far more comfortable than similar "Magnum," "5.11," "Bates," and other brands with similar models, and appeared to be at least as durable if not more so. If you're looking for a good duty-type boot for daily wear I would certainly consider the Blauer line as a possibility.

~The Captain