This non-sponsored article points out why I am convinced they are the best shoe option after backpacking for 3 years with a single pair, from alpine glaciers to tropical jungles.
Unboxing videos will not inform you if the product will fulfil its purpose or break when you need it the most. This is a non-sponsored review done after a decent period of real life use, on a product we bought ourselves.
I have been backpacking for a while now, and never managed to keep a pair of shoes alive for more than 6 months. I finally ended up buying a pair of brand new Dr. Martens, black leather boots, “The original” made in Vietnam for 179 euros, plus 10 euros of polish. It was 3 years ago, I have worn them every day since without trying to preserve them at all. They have spent 1095 days so far going through the toughest conditions, forced to cope with every stress my daily backpacker life stuff them in. (yeah, the first bath in a salty water swamp for the brand new Doc Martens is a little heartbreaking)
I’m sharing here my satisfactions and my disappointments regarding the Docs and their backpacker life-proof test, being worn every day for 3 years. (in 3 years I only had those shoes, and I only spent a few days barefoot)
They are the most expensive shoes I have ever bought, but also the ones that helped me save up the most. The average backpacker is broke and my bank account sees me as being an average backpacker. 179 euros a pair of shoes is pretty painful not to say out of reach when your diet is based on whatever is left in the “free food box” arranged in the cheap hostel you are renting a room in. One day I got tired of wondering if my dying shoes, which were new only 3 months prior, were going to make it through my 12 hours shift on a random farm that doesn’t pay well. I had 12 hours to think it through, and it came out killing a “cheap” pair of shoes every 3 months cost around 200 euros per year. What could I possibly afford at this price which could resist more than a year? No suspense there, I bet on the Dr. Marten boots. Why this brand and model especially? Well, we are all fooled by society and the way it works, we forget what was essential in life and we replaced it with superficiality and superfluous, we forgot that a pair of shoes first function is not to be pretty. I’m part of this messed-up society, I bought a pair of Doc Martens.
200 euros of shoes per year would be 600 euros for 3 years, I bought a 179 euros pair of doc Martens, it’s been 3 years, they are still not retired, I saved 421 euros.
I had no intention to buy a pair of leather Docs, I was after the vegan ones. I had very little time and no address. I traveled through the freezing city of Berlin to find them in-store. It was mid-November, everything was gone, time was running out, my soles were coming off, I got myself a pair of Dr. Martens boots made out of a dead animal. The leather smells like carrion to me. I felt guilty showing them off to Antonin who was also skeptical regarding the choice of material. Much later I realised I hadn’t made so much of a poor choice buying those shoes. They are made out of leather indeed but are indestructible. Because they have been on my feet for 3 years, I spared the planet from 5 pairs of shoes thrown away in the ocean so far.
Fit with anything anytime
This paragraph is going to be about minor interest considerations which are style and coherent wardrobe. To those who might not feel concerned, feel free to jump to the next satisfaction.
If you are a backpacker, a nomad, a traveler, or whatever you call yourself, you can only have what you can carry in your backpack. We have to pack only a few consistent items and pieces of clothing. Like most humans, my self-confidence is partially fuelled by a decent external appearance. Everything that’s in my backpack needs to work together. Any pants fit with any shirt, and the shoes must obey the same rule because on the long run you don’t want to murder your back carrying more than 1 pair of shoes.
My Doc Martens are simple black boots that fit well with any outfit for any occasion.
If you are not full-on into one activity or sport, you still don’t need to be carrying more than your unique pair of Dr. Martens. It’s absolutely convenient and satisfying to have all-rounder shoes, at least when you are an adventurer. Whatever is on for the day, the docs will do the job, but jogging, don’t try to jog with Doc Martens.
Although they are a bit stiff and heavy, they never prevented me from going:
If I were to make the ascent of Everest, I would go for a proper pair of hiking shoes.
If I had had as a plan to go for a world tour on a trail motorbike, I sure would have bought proper trail boots.
If I wanted to cover long distance trip, or competing, I would go for the full equipment, starting with the cycling shoes.
This is the part of my life where I would have been legit to get proper work boots because the van build lasted for a full year. But all our money was sucked up by our greedy van that always needed more construction materials. The doc Martens did a pretty decent job as work boots, the thickness of the soles allows the wearer to step on a wide range of screws, and the stiffness of the leather at the front of the shoe prevents the toes from being smashed by tools.
To sum up, if you are doing a bit of everything without assiduity, just stick with the Dr. Martens boots.
Spring, summer, fall, or winter, they will do the job. They have a pretty decent grip on the snow, and can be accessorised with insulating insoles that I have been planning on buying for 3 years now, procrastination made me wear ski socks instead.
I wore them for 370 days in Asia, at an average of 30°C for 70% of humidity, and I can safely say that they are not the best ‘breathing’ footwear. Although with a good pair of socks which thus are definitely not gonna be the 50% off sale from Target, your feet are gonna stay dry and healthy. Long demonstration short, no stinky feet, no mouldy feet. Overheating a little is the only little inconvenience you may have to face during summer, along with the white feet issue.
They are 2 brave allied during fall or the wet season. They are relatively waterproof and can wadding in puddles without getting soaked. They won’t hold water out for a long time if facing a tough monsoon, as soon as the water gets up to the Laceys they will start filling up slowly, but they have the advantage of drying up very fast. I never had to put wet shoes back on in the morning, and have been really much envied for that.
To be honest, the first time I had to dip deeply my brand new pair of Dr. Martens shoes in the mud was a little heartbreaking, especially right after they had a salty water bath in the sea. However, I’m sure that is what they are made for. Finally a pair of shoes living its best life! The darkness of a closet, the tar of a boring sidewalk, the tiles of the subway, these things are just good enough for those victims high heels. Doc Martens boots deserve the adventure.
Whatever what they went through during the day, I always got away with a quick wash with water or a wet cloth, and a bit of leather moisturiser. They dry within an hour and are ready to get back on the field.
There is only one thing I chose to be careful with, and that was Sikaflek, neoprene glue and paint.
After all they went through, they are still very much alive, this never happened before in my backpacker life. Every single pair of shoes that I wore (Timberland; Adidas; Décathlon; brand imitations and humble unknown brands) died within 3 to 6 months. After 3 years of intense wearing, the Dr. Martens have only scratches. The damages they are suffering are only aesthetic. The soles are still firmly attached to the shoes, there are no holes, they still keep the water out. The leather looks exhausted by the journey but I bet it only needs a bit of polish and elbow grease to shine again.
They didn’t vainly suffer, they have been guardian angels for my toes, ankles, and malleolus. A stroll in the jungle gets way more relaxing when you know your ankles are wrapped up in leather, out of reach of the snakes.
Thanks to this same leather, the skin of my malleolus stayed on my bones after I fell from my motorbikes. I should probably have worn Docs on my knees.
Every brand new shoes are painful to wear in the first days, while the Docs are torturing the feet for 2 weeks. I heard some people wear their new Dr. Martens only at home in the first place, or for very short trips, I didn’t know about that, and I had no choice anyway, I threw away my old shoes and traveled from Berlin to Vietnam with my brand new docs feeding themselves with the flesh of my feet. Trips in airports are usually a pain, this time it was actual pain. For the first 2 weeks of wear, my docs have taken over my life. If the toilets were too far I had to hold, I was forced to stand still in escalators, if there was an elevator I HAD to take it, always go forward, never backward, if I had forgotten something somewhere it was gone.
For the first 2 weeks, it’s not possible to flex the shoes so as to allow the feet to do feet stuff, they are trapped in 2 solid boxes. It took me a month to eventually soften them.
No pain no gain, a very tough pair of shoes that can last insanely long comes with pain as a counterpart. My Docs are now as comfortable as slippers, but my feet didn’t win the battle without consequences. The back of my heels is as hard and insensitive as a guitar player's fingertips.
No battle to be won here, the soles won’t soften, they will stay stiff and solid throughout the years. The quality of the leather, seams and the stiffness of the soles are what makes them invincible, but the feet are deprived of flexibility, agility, and proper grip, even the easiest climb becomes a problem.
I found myself facing high obstacles, unable to stuff my rigid feet anywhere decent to get some grip, the soles slip. Sometimes passing an obstacle wearing Dr. Martens shoes turns out to be as ridiculously hard as opening a beer can with boxing gloves.
As mentioned earlier, it’s a satisfaction to have shoes that keep the water out, but they also keep the water in. As soon as the liquid fills in by the top of the ankle, it turns the shoes into fish tanks for toes. Taking them off to pour the water off is the only solution if you don’t want to be wearing water jars on your feet.
The vanishing tongue
I don’t know who I have to blame on that point, is it Dr. Martens’ fault? Or have I been cursed for no obvious reason? Never have I ever managed to wear shoes with style, every single pair of shoes I wore so far suffered from the vanishing tongue issue. It looks always nice on the other while when I wear it the tongue of one of my shoes suddenly faints, passes out behind my malleolus, and just stays there. I used to try and bring it back on the front of the shoe where it is supposed to stand, but it seems it is beyond its strength, the tongue has the urge to hide inside the shoe.
What now ?
This is the details on the damages sustained by my Doc Martens shoes after 3 years of daily wear, 11 countries, 5 climates, and 6 seasons. (Spring, summer, fall, winter, wet season & dry season)
Can they rise from their ashes? Is it possible to give them another life at this stage? Where is it all going to end?
And the answer is :
It’s not over for them, I’m pleased to announce that they are packing their brush and polish and are going to follow me for our new world tour project, with a van this time.
Find out how stupidly easy it went to renew them from sole to laces, and grab some tips by clicking on the video :
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