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Tough And Durable Shoes That’ll Survive The Outdoors

If you’re looking for shoes to wear in inclement weather or muddy conditions, who better to ask than a group of people who navigate these types of environments every day? According to zookeepers at the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, Pennsylvania, the ideal work shoe is something long-lasting, durable, comfortable and inexpensive — a combination that can be nearly impossible to find.

“We usually spend $100-plus on shoes at least twice a year, if we don’t employ duct tape and shoe glue,” Kate Olsen, the zoo’s assistant curator of behavioral husbandry and conservation, told HuffPost.

Olsen said that every zookeeper has their own favorite styles and brands of shoes, noting that what works for some doesn’t work for others. Yet, she said a common goal among staff members is to find comfortable kicks that last for longer than six months of consistent rugged wear, and anything that will keep their toes dry on long days in the elements.

“‘Waterproof’ and ‘water-resistant’ are very different things,” Olsen said, joking that even some supposedly waterproof shoes don’t keep your feet completely dry.

Theresa Wilson, the director of ZooAmerica in Hershey, Pennsylvania, explained that shoe height can be another determining factor for staffers.

“Some like full boots and some like low hikers,” Wilson told HuffPost. “Preference is dependent on individuals and their comfort level.”

Though Wilson didn’t endorse particular brands or styles, she noted that a solid zoo shoe should be something that has traction, that can get wet and that you won’t hate to walk in for eight hours a day.

To help you treat your feet in wet, muddy or just general outdoor conditions, Olsen and others broke down zookeepers’ favorite shoes to wear to work.

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Salomon hiking boots

Kate Olsen, the assistant curator of behavioral husbandry and conservation at the Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown, Pennsylvania, said that her colleagues like Salomon’s hiking boots, like these grippy ones with Gore-Tex. “We try really hard to find boots that stay waterproof as long as possible, [and Gore-Tex] is usually helpful here,” she said. (She emphasized that they try to find them on sale or at discount resellers.)


Danner boots

Michael Stern, a curator of primates and small mammals at the Philadelphia Zoo in Philadelphia, goes with a splurgy option: Danner boots, of Reese Witherspoon movie fame. “I’ve found that Danner boots last longer, are more comfortable and look better than many of the other boots I’ve tried,” Stern told HuffPost. Danner boots are made in the U.S. with imported components. The waterproof Quarry style features Gore-Tex lining and triple stitching.


Keen waterproof hiking boots

“Keens have a good warranty on their boots for outdoor professionals,” Olsen said, explaining that Keen waterproof hiking boots are also popular among zookeepers. These waterproof hikers boast a sole that’s been fused together — not glued — making them extra durable.


Timberland Chocorua waterproof boots

An option just under the $100 mark, Olsen said that Timberland Chocorua waterproof boots are another favorite around the zoo. These offer a Gore-Tex membrane and durable rubber lug outsoles. Though we’re hardly zoologists, we’re also big fans of Timberland waterproof boots, even just for fashion and days in the city.


Merrell sneakers or hiking boots

You can’t go wrong with Merrells, said Olsen (and everyone here at HuffPost). Olsen said that staff members like both sneakers and boots from the outdoor brand. We love these low-profile Moab Speed 2 hiking sneakers with Gore-Tex. They’re lightweight and easy to wear while still giving you stability and support. And frankly, they just look great and come in a ton of fun colors in men’s and women’s sizes.


Kuru sneakers

Kelsey Wise, a primate keeper at the Philadelphia Zoo, likes lace-up sneakers for work. Wise has worn shoes from brands like New Balance and Saucony, but has just switched to the heel-hugging options of Kuru.

“Kuru caught my attention because they advertise shoes on the type of foot pain you have,” Wise told HuffPost. “Being on my feet all day, I need good, supportive shoes. I also have to occasionally switch out of my sneakers to boots when cleaning and hosing in habitats, so something I can slip on and off is important to me as well. I do think I will continue to purchase Kuru, as they have been the most supportive and long-lasting shoe I’ve owned.”

Kuru’s easy-to-use website lets you find shoes intended for foot pain and conditions like plantar fasciitis, flat feet, heel spurs and bunions.


Keen Whisper sandals

At the end of the workday or in between tasks, Olsen said that staff members like Keen Whispers (which don’t come in men’s styles, but the men’s Clearwaters are similar). They are waterproof, protect your toes, are able to go in the washing machine, and give you tons of sole and arch support throughout your foot.

Muck Boot Co.

Waterproof boots from Muck Boot Co.

For water work, Olsen said that staff members generally stick to waterproof boots from Muck Boot Co.

“In general we’ve found that Bogs and Muck Boots really hold up to the amount of water work and hosing we do,” she said.

Muck Boot Co. — which says it’s the original creator of the “muck boot,” a boot made for mud and mess — offers a ton of styles for waterproof boots that keep your feet protected. We like its classic chore boots with a stretchy and protective neoprene upper that’s comfortable and moves with you.


Bogs waterproof boots

Olsen also recommended Bogs, which makes everything from low-rise garden shoes to knee-high boots for winter and snow. It has a huge selection of rain boots, most of which are incredibly cute — like these laced waterproof boots with a thick sole and easy-on zipper.


Dr. Scholl’s insoles

Lauren Powell, a KidZooU keeper at the Philadelphia Zoo, said that she’s found more luck with putting comfort inserts into any budget kicks.

“What has been the most cost-effective for me is to buy cheap sneakers from Amazon and put the really good Dr. Scholl’s inserts in them,” Powell told HuffPost. “I use the black boots the zoo provides if I am going to do a lot of cleaning and hosing, and put the inserts in them as well. It turns any pair of uncomfortable shoes into very comfortable shoes I can stand in all day.”


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