Working outside all day, in all types of weather, in all types of conditions, makes the gear choices that a farmer makes really important. This week, I am going to do a run-down of some of the clothing and equipment that I use every day, and while I totally understand that everyone has different priorities and tastes, this is a topic that I think and read a lot about. I tend to subscribe to the idea that it is better to spend more on a superior product that will last than get the cheaper option that will have to be replaced more often. For equipment that I am going to use every single day, depend on to function in tough conditions when I really need it to, I am willing to pay more for something that is going to satisfy my needs.
The most important piece of equipment a farmer wears is their shoes. Rubber boots, work boots, sneakers, whatever you’re wearing on your feet has to be able to stand up to everything that you’re going to walk through in your day. Your feet need to be well cared for if you’re going to be on them all day, and they really need to stay dry. There are so many different things that your shoes will have to deal with in a typical farm day that it is challenging to find a single product that will work for everything. I have three primary pairs of farm shoes: tall rubber insulated rubber boots for winter, tall rubber un-insulated rubber boots for the rest of the year, and waterproof work boots. I step into rubber boots first thing in the morning, especially for milking cows, and often change into work boots after breakfast to wear for the rest of the day. My winter boots often stay on all day during the snowy months since they are the only insulated pair that I own.
I am still hunting for the right pair of insulated rubber boots. For the past five years, I have been wearing the LaCrosse Burly AirGrip 18inch. LaCrosse makes the tallest rubber boot that I’ve found (excluding waders), and that height is really important to me. These boots have a great tightening strap at the top for walking through deep snow, the insulated lower section is perfectly warm, and they are reasonably priced. However, the rubber wears out at the front of the ankle where the lower section meets the upper, the tread wears out almost instantly, and they provide very little support.
For the rest of the year, I wear LeChemeau Country All Tracks as my rubber boots, and they are the most important article of clothing that I use. These are really well made boots, showing almost no wear and tear after more than a year of hard use. They are comfortable to wear all day, simply designed, tall enough to keep most of the morning dew from the pastures off my pants, and pretty well priced.
When I don’t need to be in rubber boots, I wear Lowa Renegade Pro GTX Mid, a water proof mid-height hiking boot. I have gone around and around on this item, working in sneakers, full leather work boots, hiking boots, and trail runners. Nothing has been perfect, but these Lowas have been pretty solid for the past year. When the weather is dry, working all day in a super comfortable breathable sneaker is fantastic, but I get bummed out when my feet are wet all day because my sneakers have been over-topped by a deep puddle. My feet are safe and dry in a tall pair of leather work boots, but by the end of a long day they are feeling too squeezed and tight. So I’ve been looking for the middle ground for a long time, and the Lowas keep my feet dry even in deep water, and don’t squeeze the life out of them too. They are really really expensive boots, but they seem to hold up well to abuse and I am hoping to wear them for a few years.
The next most important thing that I use every day is my knife. Many farmers carry multi-tools, some carry swiss-army type knives, some carry razor knives, and I’m sure some carry things that I’ve never even heard of. I carry a Benchmade Mini-Griptillian, a simple, well made plain-edge knife with a pocket clip to keep it easily accessible. Mine is light blue, which sounds silly, but helps to distinguish it from all the black knives out there, and make it easier to find when I drop it. Benchmade knives are made in America and are really thoughtfully and carefully constructed. There are a lot of great knives out there, and while this is by no means the only good one you can carry, I like it because it is not too big to carry comfortably, but big enough to exert pressure on.
The final item that gets significant wear in my farm costume is my L.L. Bean winter jacket. I had been looking around for the right winter jacket for years before finally finding the L.L. Bean Waxed Cotton Down Jacket. This jacket collects the strengths of many other designs into an unbeatable package that is warm, waterproof, and tough (sort of). The down filling is warm enough for working outside for a full winter day, the waxed cotton keeps me dry, and it’s tough enough for walking thru briars or lying under a piece of machinery. After two years of constant winter wearing, mine is ready to go back to the shop for some patching and sewing, but it is holding up pretty well for the abuse that it takes. I’d like to have a chest pocket on the outside for pencils, injections/medications, etc, and I wish the cloth was a bit thicker and tougher, but this is the best winter work jacket that I have found.
I think that the equipment a farmer carries or wears out into the fields and forest can tell you a lot about the care and attention that they are going to give to their crops and livestock. Taking the time to find the right item for you, an item that will meet your needs, that you’re comfortable wearing or using, and that you can afford, shows me that you are paying attention. At the end of the day, farming really comes down to paying attention.