February 2, 2023

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Now it’s time to grab the Classic Duck Boots from LL Bean

Born in New York and raised in the South, I had never been exposed to any particular piece of New England Americana until a few years ago. It’s the kind of item that identifies so strongly with a region that its followers border on the fandom level of sports teams. I’m talking about the 110-year-old LL Bean Duck Boot, also known as Bean Boots, with their love ’em or hate ’em look.

They’ve been a staple of New England style for generations, but you don’t have to trudge through a northern Appalachian wonderland to appreciate a good city boot or outdoor boot for work on snowy days. That is, if you can find a pair, as LL Bean still makes them by hand and runs out each year.

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The best from both worlds

Your first impression might be that they’re something of a Frankenshoe, where deep in a lab some mad boot scientist sewed together two completely different types of boots. The top half looks like a regular boot – a classy one at that with its rich brown leather – until your gaze travels down past the thick, pretty laces. The lower part of the boot is… made of rubber. Three broad lines of white stitching tie them to the leather upper, and underneath the stacked soles are another piece of rubber, tan and with a basket weave pattern. What’s happening?

Duck Boots solve two problems by combining the lower parts of a rubber boot with the laced upper parts of a leather boot. They’re not as stuffy and muggy on the inside as a full rubber boot, but they’re less prone to leaks than a full leather shoe when you’re trudging through puddles and snow all day. Also, the laces on the leather upper offer the wearer more adjustability and a better fit.

What if you walk through snow more than a foot deep? I’ve done this more times than I can count in my bean boots and no water has come in yet. The flat part above the toes and the edges of the boots are most in contact with snow and are well protected. The bottom rubber on the Bean Boots keeps my feet dry even when I’m digging through 17 inches of snow. The wicker sole is grippy and hugs wet asphalt like a bear to a honey jar. They seem soft enough that they wear out quicker than normal on dry tarmac, but these are snow day boots anyway.

All-day comfort

Photo: LL Bean

LL Bean still handcrafts the Bean Boot in Maine, and they’re still affordable at $149 for the classic 8-inch version with no insulation. There are now a number of styles of bean boots for sale, varying in height, insulation, color, and waterproof Gore-Tex lining. My recommendation is to go for the unlined, uninsulated classic version and add warmth with thick wool socks when you need them. If you need even more warmth on really cold days, you can swap in a pair of LL Bean shearling insoles.