Thursday, 3 September 2009


I am referring to my liking for gum boots, hiking boots and the likes. The picture below shows various species of them in my collection.

Of these, I am partial to gum boots for my wilderness walking.

The main reason for this is to protect myself from snake bites. We have 5 deadly-poisonous inland snakes and several other venomous snakes, which can cause “considerable discomfort”—to put it mildly. In Sri Lanka the annual death rate due to snake bite envenoming is one of the highest in the world with 6 deaths out of a population of 100,000. In 2008 alone, there were 33,000 snake bites in this country. This number comes from reports generated through hospitals, and do not take into account of patients resorting to traditional type of treatment. So the actual figures should be higher.

My secondary reasons for preferring wellies, as gum boots are affectionately called, are to enable me to cross shallow streams without getting my feet wet (and without removing shoes, argh!), and to keep off leeches (note, you have to wear them with leech socks).

Wellies have a bad reputation for being cumbersome and downright uncomfortable. This explains why most people dislike them. This was true for me too. With time, however, I have got used to them. As I use them heavily these days, their wear and tear is high. And I find myself in a difficult position when I have to replace them in this country. As I like to try them before purchasing, ordering them online is not a viable option for me.

Despite being a rubber producing country (and not to mention us topping the list of deaths due to snake envenomation), the types of gum boots made in Sri Lanka (in Arpico and DSI) are not designed for field naturalists like us in my opinion. .

I will explain.

1. Most of them are too short —Apart from increasing exposure to snake strikes, this "shortcoming" make them unsuitable for crossing shallow streams especially in rain forests here. Gum boots got to be at least 15-17 inches tall to make them suitable for people like us.

2. The lower back (back quarter) of most of the boots in the market are too rigid making them less flexible. This part of the boot needs to be flexible to alleviate discomfort during walking.

3. Sole is 'wrong'. This causes leg pain during longer walks. Makers should really do some sole-searching, and take a look at international brands to correct their basic design flaws.

When I want to go gum boot shopping, I have just one choice. That is to visit the Malwatte Road in Colombo Fort. When you enter it from the railway station side, the shops on the left side sell the wrong type of product, explained above. The ones suitable for people like us are available at the more doggy shoe stands on the right. An that is where I rightly go shopping!

These vendors get quality “imported” ones delivered to them in small quantities from various “informal channels” especially with the Colombo Harbour also being not too far away. The prices are generally reasonable here and there is a lot of room for bargaining. Last week, I was quoted Rs. 2,500 for an “Auda” safety gum boot. With fifteen minutes of creative negotiations, I walked away with it, paying just 1,650 bucks.
I hope people at DSI and Arpico will address the shortcomings mentioned here, and improve their existing product range. After all, there is a good target market, if they did their market research right.


rainfield61 said...

I did not notice all these as my hiking experience involves only the normal gears I am having.

Quite interesting.

Dee said...

A booty post

Kirigalpoththa said...

1,650 is a good price for those.

90% of the snake bites are recorded ankle and below level. so if you can cover well beyond your ankle level you are quite safe..

Amila Salgado said...

Hi rainfield,

Hi Dee,

Hi K,
I too think the same.

Right. The risk of snake bites above the knee is high for people like us who veer off main trails in looking for 'subjects' and do crepuscular/night birding.

Kirigalpoththa said...

Oh yes, above rule is applicable for those who walk, not the ones who crawl or go on knees ;)

Jochen said...

Regardless of snake bites (just one marginally poisonous snake in Germany), I also find rubber boots the superior shoes for birding. Can't beat them.

Stuart Price said...

A boot fetish eh? I can send you some snow boots for your collection if you like........

Amila Salgado said...

Hi again K,
I take a good look at the surroundings before engaging in such behaviour as proper footwear alone would not help then.

Hi Jochen,
That's good to know! They certainly are great footwear for birding.

Hi Stu,
hehe...sort of!!
Snow boots will be of no use here.
Thanks anyway!

jay said...

Well, I'm glad I came back for a second look at your blog now I have more time, because that was fascinating! How sad that in a rubber producing country it's hard to buy a decent boot and you have to resort to unofficial channels.

We have only one type of venomous snake in this country - a viper called the Adder. Its bite is seldom fatal, though many people get allergic reactions, which makes things worse, of course. But I was told that wellies (gum boots) would not protect me from Adders because they can bite right through them!

I'm glad to know the 'experts' were wrong.

Pat - Arkansas said...

I admire your boot collection and am quite envious of your gum boots. While I don't expect to encounter any venomous snakes during my "a little bit off the road" photographic explorations (although I might -- we have six poisonous snakes in Arkansas: cotton-mouth or water moccasins; copperheads; three types of rattlesnakes:Pygmy, Timber, and Western Diamondback; and coral snakes), I greatly dislike getting my feet wet and I abhor ticks and chiggers (not as bad as leeches, but bad enough.) Wellingtons would fit my needs very nicely. Your new boots are very handsome. :)

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Jay,
Good to have you back!
I hope those 'rubber people' will notice this post and do a proper range of rubber boots for various uses and users.

I am so, glad that I do not have to deal with Adders here. That snake should possess some serious fangs to be able to penetrate a rubber boot, geez!

A deadly poisonous Russell's Viper killed by my neighbour was photographed by me 2 days ago. I will share the pics later.

Hi Pat,
A pair of wellies would be very useful for you with all those worrisome creatures around. (another potential b'day gift to ask from your girls, if it is not too late).

I do not often encounter ticks and chiggers locally, but I suspect wellies + leech socks may work for them too to prevent their contact with the skin.

Thanks, I am glad you like my new boots!

Chung Cheong said...

HI Amilia

Do they have size 46 (size 12) boots? I have hard time looking for a pair here in Singapore.

Amila Salgado said...

Hi Chung Cheong,
Long time no see.
I will check when I go there and let you know. Hope you are keeping fine.

Chung Cheong said...

I am fine. Thank you. Looking forward to re-visit Sri Lanka again. Will definitely contact you should there be any plan to do so.

Amila Salgado said...

Sounds good, Chung Cheong!

Related Posts with Thumbnails