It was my first season in fire, and we were spiked out somewhere on the great western slope of Colorado. The fire was a smoldering mopshow, and we'd been working it for three or four days. One night, my superintendent was making his rounds, checking in with everyone to see how they were holding up. When he came over to me, his first question was "How are your feet?" I was bit surprised by the question, but replied they were fine. He then took a moment to stroke his handlebar moustache and stare at my boots. When he looked back up at me, he said with the utmost seriousness, "Take care of your feet. They're your money makers."
Looking back, that was the most important piece of advice I was ever given in fire. Trench foot, athlete's foot, jungle foot, blisters, ingrown toe nails - when your feet are jacked up, you're a piss poor firefighter. That's the truth. All you can think about is how miserable your feet feel. When your situational awareness starts and stops with an intense urge to take a chainsaw to your ankles, you're just not mentally in the game.
The most important investment any firefighter makes is his boots. Period. He will sleep in his boots. He will trudge up and down mountains in his boots. He will walk across white ash in his boots. He might even accidentally drop some napalm on his boots from his drip-torch. But his boots will be there for him.
My first season, I bought a pair of $200 Red Wing fire boots. I thought $200 was an ungodly sum of money for 8" of leather and rubber. Halfway through the fire season, I realized that $200 was not enough to buy comfort on the fireline. My feet took a beating. I looked around at what all the veterans and overheard wore, and to a man they wore the same boot - The White's Smokejumper. 10" upper, vibram sole, and just an all-round sharp looking boot. The price tag (~$400) will make you shudder, but you get what you pay for. Hotshot Fitness recommends no other boot besides White's Smokejumper. It is simply the best on the market.
A little bit of TLC and preventative maintenance will keep your boots fit for duty, and your feet happy.
Just as important as what kind of boot you wear is what you choose to put between your sensitive little toes and the rough leather of a fireboot. It is highly recommended that you wear two sets of socks. To the greenhorn, this might seem ridiculous. After all, won't your feet be ridiculously hot? Well yes, yes they will. But that's mainly due to the fact that the temperatures will be 90+ degrees, and there's a good chance you'll be standing on ground that recently burned. One pair of socks or two - your feet are going to be hot regardless. The only saving graces is that the rest of your body will also be feeling the warmth too, so you won't spend too much time fixating on your roasting feet. To the veteran, it's just common sense. We exclusively recommend SmartWool socks. They're the highest quality socks on the market. While we would *love* for you to purchase your socks through these links (they generate a 4% commission for us - not much, but it helps defray the cost of hosting the site.) You should first check with your crew to see if they have a pro-deal already lined up with SmartWool. Pro-Deals will allow you to get SmartWool Socks for as much as 50% off - a great deal. For more information on how to get your crew signed up for Pro-Deal prices, check out www.smartwoolpro.com. In the upper-right corner, look for "Smartwool Pro Application." That'll get you started. In the meantime, you might want to check out these beauties...
For the outer sock, we highly recommend more Smartwool socks. Here are three more excellent choices offered by Smartwool.