Made by hand in the northerly village of Ely, Minnesota, and modeled after footwear invented long ago by Arctic tribes, Steger Designs’ mukluks are among the most unique of winter boots.
Seal skin and reindeer hide were materials of choice with the original mukluks. Fur lined the inside of the boots, the natural insulation serving as a fuzzy defense against toe-freezing temps.
Today, mukluks retain much of the old aesthetic, though nylon, boiled wool, and leather are more common ingredients. Rubber soles and plastic buckles finish off the modern look.
This winter, I tested Steger Designs’ Yukon Jack mukluk model. At $179.95, they are among the least expensive pair sold by the boutique manufacturing shop.
They have a plain look and a no-fuss design. The black boots blend in with almost any winter wear, as opposed to many Steger Designs’ models, which have patterns around the leg, long laces, fur trim, or leather fringe for a North Woods fashion pop.
Built with Cordura nylon and moose hide, the high-top Yukon Jacks are light, flexible, and comfortable in the snow. They come up 12 inches on the leg and cinch closed, making gaiters irrelevant on casual hikes.
The rubber tread is soft, and there is scant rigidity in the sole. Each step conforms to the terrain. You walk quieter in mukluks than in hard-sole boots.
Warmth is a hallmark with Steger Designs. The Yukon Jacks don’t let down in this department. I wore them outdoors for an hour at minus-6 degrees F one day. My face stung in the wind but I never heard a peep from my feet.
A thick liner of polypropylene and wool felt is to thank. Add the included 9mm felt insole and the company rates the Yukon Jacks for “extreme wear to colder than -20F” temps.
Overall, I like the boots for casual winter activity and hiking on flat ground. They are suited for winter camping trips in places like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of northern Minnesota near where they are made.
But the soft, minimally-treaded sole is slippery when the snow tilts on a slope. I was not impressed with the lack of grip. The fit is comfortable but somewhat loose, as there are no laces and few adjustment points.
Even sledding with my kids on a neighborhood hill was hard. The mukluks slipped out from under me while the people wearing normal boots kicked into the hard snow and walked past.
On frozen lakes or in rolling woods, the mukluks excelled. They are made for deep snow and flat, Arctic-type terrain.
Skip this model if you regularly venture anywhere steep — mukluks are not mountain boots. But pull on a pair for a test if you yearn for comfort and the type of foot warmth that comes only from people who live in the coldest places on Earth.
—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.GearJunkie.com.