Garment Stories: Caravan Standard Boots

I have had these Japanese – made in Vietnam, though – boots since July, and I’m still figuring them out. The have got only 7 wears since then but already have a rich garment story.

Chapter I: The Acquisition. My dad is a bus driver. Of big buses full of tourists. One of those people who dares – and enjoys – carrying a full 50-person bus up and down an Alpine serpentine or Norwegian fjords. Most often those buses are full of people trying to squeeze as many countries and experiences as possible into a tight schedule of ‘seeing Europe’, tours where they get 20 countries in 20 days and such. And, although this is not the kind of travel that Eastern Europeans used to do to see Europe in the 1990s where one would literally spend several days living in the bus, even people who sleep at hotels and make their major distances on plane leave a lot of stuff behind in the bus. My dad also cleans his bus, so we are quite used to random foodstuffs (with unreadable labels) appearing at home because somebody just left it behind. But it’s small stuff typically: cookies, candy, snacks, napkins… something you would truly stash in the seat pocket and forget.

Hence when I saw a pair of heavy duty boots just sitting in the middle of our living room (yeah, that’s where he unpacks) in Rīga in July, I just though that my dad had bought himself a pair. Only later it was informed that it was – obviously – not his size at all and that this pair of boots was left behind by a client who first realized that she needed a pair of serious duty boots for exploring Norway in summer and then decided that she was not really happy with them after all. And the while she took for thinking it over clearly wasn’t a long one, as the boots had no trace of having ever touched ground. So, no, she wasn’t practicing the ‘trial period’ tactics I recommend for your garments.

My dad collects all the useful stuff people leave behind, so the boots were coming home. And they turned out to be exactly my size!

How else you can model a pair of heavy duty boots in July?

Chapter II: The research. Now I wanted to know more! By a coincidence, I handled a pair of Giulia’s boots for the Percentil experiment in August. A pair of Vibram boots. The only two words that looked brand-like on these new boots was Caravan and Vibram. But searches for Vibram only brought up the disgusting five-toe footwear… I apologize if you’re a fan but I just cannot see that thing. Weird, I know, as I have nothing against seeing actual feet.

At the end it looked like Caravan was the brand and Vibram was the supplier of soles. So it was a journey down the internet rabbit holes trying to discover what had I encountered there… ending up on the Japanese internets. I wasn’t able to find the boots on the Caravan homepage, although there are some similar ones for between 150 and 500€. Then, according to this blog – thank you Google Translate! – I finally found a photo of my boots and understood that they are are reboot of a Caravan Standard model very similar to what the author / his father had had, now retailing at below 150€.

And that blog linked to the full heritage story – with photos – of the Caravan boots, finally! Some Google Translate excerpts for your curiosity:

‘On May 9, 1956, the Japanese Mountaineering Corps succeeded in the first ascent of the Himalayan giant, Manasuru (8156m above sea level, 8th in the world). This is the first time a Japanese has climbed the 8000m class Kyoho. […]  In 1952 (Showa 27), when the next year’s first Manaslu expedition was decided, equipment was also required accordingly. Most mountaineering equipment was custom-made, but there were still problems with the shoes. From the base camp to the top of the mountain, we will continue to use heavy climbing shoes with durable leather in the upper and metal in the sole. The problem was the approach shoes used on the long way to the base camp. At the time, there were still people who climbed the mountain in the underground tabi, and Japan did not have the “light climbing shoes” itself. The harsh Himalayan approach cannot be walked with underground socks or athletic shoes. I absolutely needed shoes that were “light and easy to wear, didn’t slip on the rocks, and didn’t rub”.’

‘In 1954, Sato established Yamaharusha Co., Ltd. in Ginza (later renamed Caravan) and started selling caravan shoes. The production is of course Fujikura Rubber Industry. The first product was almost the same as the one made for the Manaslu Expedition. The upper ankle was proudly affixed with a mark engraved as “Recommended by the Japanese Mountaineering Society”. […] Compared to full-fledged heavy climbing shoes, it is much cheaper and its superior performance was proven by the Manaslu Expedition. Caravan shoes attracted the attention of general mountaineers and gradually became known.’

‘In 1959, the caravan shoes were remodeled to become “Caravan Standard”. There have been minor changes since its launch, but this year’s changes have never been so big. First, the upper cotton canvas is changed to rubberized nylon. This greatly improved waterproofness. The arch part of the sole is equipped with an iron spike called “tricone”. The anti-slip effect on wet rocky places has been further improved. However, these changes resulted in a slight increase in weight. There are two kinds of colors, navy and red.’

So I’ve got on my hands a classic Japanese mountaineering boot.  Completely unintentionally.

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Chapter III: Wearing. On the empirical side, I experimented briefly with them in September. They are heavy. Surprisingly heavy for my feet so used to sneakers. And the upper was rubbing against my leg and leaving it sore for days. I suspect that is the type of footwear that you have to break in *a lot* to find supercomfy afterwards. So I left them in Rīga waiting for winter, with my fingers crossed that this could finally be a good replacement for the Muroexe boots that I was so longing to get rid of. They would make more sense in Barcelona for the occasional rain and slippery tiles instead of Rīga rain and winter… for that you might want a taller boot.

Now, after a couple more wears, I have a bit more information on how these beauties wear:

– The heaviness and chunkiness is real but not overwhelming.

– The height, though, is new, as all that superperformance sole ends up making it, well, a platform boot.

– I clearly walk wrong because the dark rubber parts are already staining the light brown canvas on the opposite boot.

– I had an unpleasant boot experience I still can’t properly disentangle. My old sprained ankle started hurting and went on like that for a week after one day in these boots and then next day walking a lot in my old Crocs boots. That made me to cool off with these and reconsider if I ever want to wear them again. But then I did – to Opera, no less – an I was fine afterwards.

– As for wearing hiking boots to Opera, yep, these felt cool enough for me to pull that off. In those old Crocs boots I felt like a peasant. Obviously, it’s Eastern Europe and many people change shoes in Opera or have a pair of pretty boots for such occasions… but we are minimalists around here and do not drag extra shoes to places where we’ll be spending only 3h.

An opera-going outfit according to Luisitas.

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So the adventure is still on and only time will tell how this relationship will go. But the story is already a good one… Do you have any similar stories of having needed a lot of time to understand if a garment is working for you? How did that go? And what was the final verdict?

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Luīze

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