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More Than ‘Just Boots’: How My Gear Became a Rite of Passage

A pair of boots carried my daughter away into an adventure of her own. They've walked on beaches I've never seen. They've stood on boats I'll never sail.
xtratuf legacy boots(Photo/Rachelle Schrute)
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A new pair of boots arrived at my doorstep, and with them, my entire perspective on life changed. Dramatic? Maybe. But in that box was a pair of boots that unexpectedly brought tears to my eyes for many reasons.

Of course, it wasn’t just the boots. I am an outdoorsman, an adventurer, and, most importantly, a parent. As my family has grown, strived, struggled, and learned to let go, a single pair of Xtratuf Legacy Boots has played a steady role in what we did and what we continue to do. This shiny new pair reflected a future my daughter would write, a future of her own, as untold as the gravel bars and Alaska peaks that await her.

The time has come for my youngest child to step out of my boots and into her own.

I’m tearing up now as I write this.

Yep, my kiddo is moving out. These boots will leave the footprints as she goes.

My Gear

Testing Outdoor Gear
A life of testing the best outdoor gear in the world; (photo/Rachelle Schrute)

My gear today looks a lot different than it used to.

I was 18 when I walked into a fly shop and bought my first dedicated trout rod. I’d been fishing long prior, but only with a borrowed rod and hand-me-downs. The day I bought my own is etched in my memory. It was a Redington Trout Kit with a 9′ 5wt rod and a reel already set with backing and line. The retail price at the time didn’t even breach $100, but it was the most money I’d ever spent on anything besides my first car.

I was nervous, intimidated, and terrified of spending that much money on something I didn’t need. The smell of that fly shop has become a core memory, marking the day I became my own person in the outdoors.

Today, I’m surrounded by gear (literally) and have the honor of testing the best outdoor products on the planet. New gear is an everyday occurrence for me.

I now have a pile of fly rods that cost more than my first few cars combined. Don’t get me wrong; I love every one of them.

However, I’ll never love them more than I love that Redington, which now sits broken and mounted on the wall. That beloved rod of mine was cast for the last time in my daughter’s hands not more than a few months ago. A hasty back-cast and a stubborn tree closed out its days on the water.

And she, my daughter, is where this gear story begins.

Outdoor Parenting

Fishing with my daughter
“Fishing” on the Yellowstone River in our best hand-me-downs; (photo/Rachelle Schrute)

I remember the first time my daughter stepped into the Clark Fork of the Blackfoot River to fish with me. She wore hiking sandals, little cotton shorts, and a pink and lime green tank top complete with a peace sign. When you think of what a typical toddler from Missoula, Montana, might look like … bingo. She must have been 3 or 4 years old at the time.

Her sandals kept sliding around on her feet and were no match for the moss-emblazoned rocks. The flow was verging on too swift for her little body to fight against. She was an absolute trooper for her first time in the river, but it sparked something in me as a parent that I didn’t expect.

I couldn’t wait to get her geared up. I didn’t have the money to spring for toddler-sized waders and boots at the time. I wouldn’t have even considered it. My gear was still mostly second-hand and patched everywhere I could fit a stitch.

That day was the realization that my daughter was more than just my daughter. I wasn’t just taking my toddler fly fishing. I was giving my daughter the gift of fly fishing; she just wasn’t quite big enough to accept it yet. She couldn’t stand in the current of the most pristine water, breathe in that indescribable mountain river smell, and be present in the craft passed down from my father.

She was too damn busy trying not to drown. Though she had the best day, giggling and growling through her struggles to stay upright, I yearned for her to be just a bit bigger so she could experience this thing I love so much.

It (fortunately and unfortunately) didn’t take long. It wasn’t but a few short years later that my daughter would stand eye-to-eye with me, and my gear would become our gear.

Our Gear

Our Outdoor Gear
My gear quickly became our gear as my daughter quickly outgrew me; (photo/Rachelle Schrute)

My daughter is now 18 years old.

Between the ages of maybe 12 and now, my gear has been just as much hers as mine. There is no definitive number of times I’ve yelled out:

“Savannah! Where is my *insert random gear I need* ?!”

The pieces of gear we’ve been fortunate to have access to have been the tools that allowed us to play in the wild places we love. The outdoors was where she and I sought therapy from a life that wasn’t always too terribly kind to us. I’ve always told her, “The trees will never lie to you, and all the waters ever steal is time.”

Because I’ve found myself in a career that has made us “gear rich” for the past few years, there hasn’t been a shortage of toys to play with, and she has had a nearly endless supply of sleeping bags, tents, fishing rods, hunting gear, and backpacking meals to fuel her adventures.

All of that gear was expendable. It was just this year’s model, this version, replaceable by the next season. Until the boots …

The Division of Paths … and Gear

Xtra Tuff Boots
My daughter leaving for Alaska in THE boots; (photo/Rachelle Schrute)

Savannah graduated high school with a one-way ticket to Sitka, Alaska, in her pocket. Just a week after she walked across the stage and accepted her diploma in our little Montana town, she was moving, solo, to a place she’d never been. Her goal was to find herself without being defined by me or anyone else. She is a force, and no one was about to tie her to a mundane “normal” life.

While getting her packed, we began what almost felt like a divorce proceeding.

Wait … Who gets what?

Our gear was suddenly to be divided. What rods should she take? Which waders make the most sense? Which gear do I still need? It wasn’t a difficult process. I have more than enough gear to go around.

But then we got to OUR boots…

I bought a pair of 15″ XTRATUF Legacy Boots second-hand when I needed durable boots to keep my feet dry. I knew I couldn’t afford them, but I really, really wanted them. After searching for months, I finally found my size on eBay, and though it was more than I wanted to spend, I took the plunge.

Those boots haven’t left my feet often since. I wore those boots to pack my belongings when my marriage fell apart. They were the boots I wore to the river to catch catfish and walleye.

When I was living in a tent without a nickel to my name, trying to figure out how I would support my now-broken family, these were the boots I slipped into when I had to trudge out into the snow to answer the call of nature. They’ve been to Iceland and the Dominican Republic. They’ve stood in the snow, mud, water, blood, and literal shit.

But they were hers, too.

She wore them to take the trash out, even when they were way too big. She’d hobble around in them when it was raining at camp or snowing at home. These were the boots she’d slip on when she needed to walk away from a situation and go breathe outside.

Our boots got us through whatever conditions the world threw at us. They really were more than just boots. It was like they’d become our security blanket, down to get us through it all.

Then, one day, not too terribly long ago, she outgrew them.

Her Gear

Our XTRATUF Boots; (photo/Rachelle Schrute)

The call I made to get her a pair of her own boots was hard. I didn’t expect it to be. It took everything in my being to just get the words out. For some reason, the request for these boots got stuck in my throat. My eyes welled with tears, and I had to feverishly blink them away before they fell.

The boots symbolized her not just being my adventurous daughter, but her being her own wild, adventurous person. They would be the first real piece of outdoor gear she would own that wasn’t originally mine.

These boots are her version of my Redington Trout Kit. She’s now that same 18-year-old girl stepping into a fly shop to get her own rod.

Opening that box and seeing those boots was an unexpected gut punch. As a parent, you look forward to who your kids will be and what they’ll become. No one ever warns you about the trauma that happens when you get there. It happens so fast, and before you even comprehend what’s going on in your life, your children stand before you as adults in boots bigger than your own.

It’s funny how something as simple as a boot can symbolize so much more. These brown Xtratuf Salmon Sisters boots have now carried her off of my path and onto her own. They’ve walked on beaches I’ve never seen. They’ve stood on boats I’ll never sail. And it’s just the beginning of the life they’ll help carry her through.

My daughter will slip into these when life gets hard and the path gets muddy, just like I did. They will keep her feet dry when her cheeks aren’t and help her find traction when her world is a mess.

I cannot begin to fathom the sights they’ll see. As a parent, I can only hope that they eclipse my own experiences.

It’s More Than Just Gear …

Xtratuf Boots
My daughter leading a life of adventure, complete with those familiar boots that fueled my own; (photo/Savannah Schleining)

Being an outdoor gear tester has given me a jaded view of the gear we use, but it just took one pair of boots at the right phase of life to knock me on my ass and remind me that it’s more than just some material and a price tag. Gear is what keeps us out there.

The gear in our quiver becomes part of the family. It accompanies us up the mountain and keeps us dry, cool, safe, warm, and fed.

A simple pair of brown boots carried my daughter off to faraway places I’ve never seen. She’ll find a lifetime of adventures, triumphs, struggles, and stories — and the boots will be part of those stories.

And someday, completely dependent on the trails she chooses, I can only hope she’ll have the honor of feeling that same excitement, fear, pain, and joy of watching her daughter venture off in a pair of her own.

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