Hobnail Boots

Cambridge District Scout Archives

Cambridge Archives

The pictures below are from C T Wood’s album of 1922 and show hobnailed boots used in walking and climbing in the Lake District.  Most do not show the features of the specialist climbing patterns (below) that emphasize the edges of the sole.  These may be a pattern that is not designed for a specific climbing task but for all walking/ climbing terrains. More likely they are a generalized hobnailing for rural or industrial work.

C T Wood’s album 1922
These boots, also from C T Wood’s album, show a edge only hob nailing and may be specialist wear.
1928 9th Cambridge Missing Nails

A leaders shoe, below, showing a pattern that I have not seen elsewhere. The camp was not in notable ‘climbing’ country. This is clearly a shoe, not a boot.

A J Covell’s album Cambridgeshire Collection 1930’s

Hobnailed boots were formerly used for mountaineering to grip on sloping rock surfaces. Mountaineering hobnailed boots tended to have large pointed hobnails on the extreme edges of the soles and heels to grip small roughness on steeply sloping rock and on snow, particularly before crampons were used.

Lord Somer’s triple hob nails

The hob nails wear down quickly and are hard to replace.  The firm soles needed are unforgiving and the nails conduct heat away very quickly in winter.  They give reduced grip on smooth or sloping rocks and hard ice.  They work well on rough rock, edgy holds and vegetation.  When walking becomes climbing (graded climbs) they are inferior to modern soles.

I have lost the name of this book. If you recognise it please let me know.

This illustration, above, shows four styles with one to three different hob nails. They were adapted to local climbing needs. It is difficult to judge to what extent this was regional pride, local usage or a fine appreciation of very local rock conditions.

Not Cambridge – but well observed and dated piece. Crampons can be seen top left. Note how this hobnail pattern is replicated by modern sole patterns.

‘The vibram sole has become the best all round compound for mountain use.’ (http://glencoemountaineer.blogspot.com) And on an individual basis they are less destructive than a hob nailed boot.

2nd Cambridge 1926

Hobnail boots damage the landscape.

1957 Bob Eden of the 5th recalls preparation for a Lake District. ‘Preparation for mountain climbing included purchasing ex-army boots and bashing in star-mugger and Triconi 6 nails into the soles. Then lots of painful walking well beforehand to to break-in these boots in a futile attempt to avoid painful blisters.’

Climbing irons c 1950’s 5th Cambridge
60th Cambridge Camp Yarn on Mountaineering 1950’s
60th Cambridge Alps 1946

Vibram Soles

Invented 1938 in Italy following a number of deaths attributed to inadequacy of hob nails they were rare until some time after the war.

Vibram was made of treated rubber. The first successful ascent of K2 was with Virbam soled boots. This form of sole is now standard for general mountain wear.

7th Cambridge Senior Scouts Log Book 1963

1949 A 12th Cambridge report of a hike on the Kander Glacier (c 10,000′ or 3000 m) gives the following ‘lucky to be going on the climb at all without proper boots’ ‘realised the advantage of having nailed boots’ ‘Peter, who had rubber soles on his shoes slid back into the arms… , I who had crepe soles, which was rather better than rubber, but not a lot… also had difficulty’ . Their guide, Ueli, cut steps and at one point they borrowed ice axes from a converging party.

Note the ‘shoes’ in the description above – clearly differentiated from others who had boots.

JWR Archivist Jan 2019