Acclaimed photographer and outdoorsman Wyman Meinzer bought his first pair of Russell Moccasin Co. boots in 1987. At the time, Ralph Fabricius, the President of the company told Meinzer, “You’re ordering an old style boot that was popular at the turn of the century.” Meinzer’s response: “That’s exactly what I want.”
The boot is style called the Mountain Climber. It’s a hand-sewn moccasin-toe hunting boot with a custom 15-inch top. Made from oil-tanned leather, it features a oak leather heel counter, a treated oak leather midsole, lacing studs and Goodyear welt construction. “Here in West Texas we have a lot of lechuguilla and, of course, cacti, and then if you’re in any other part of the state, it’s a lot of cacti,” he said. “So I like the fact that these boots resisted some of the thorns that I would often get in my shins and my calves when I was wearing boots with lower tops.” Over the past three decades, Meinzer has worn Russell boots exclusively, both in the field and at home. “The thing is they’re just very comfortable,” he said. “Once I got them and started wearing them, they fit me like a glove and I just stayed with them all these years.”
Meinzer was named the official State Photographer of Texas in 1997 by then-governor George W. Bush. He has published 24 large format books, his photographs have appeared on over 250 magazine covers and his work has been featured in Smithsonian, National Geographic Books, Time and Field and Stream, among others. His choice of boots directly reflect his need for hard-wearing, functional footwear that will stand up to the rugged Texan landscape. “Here in Texas in the Badlands, or over in the West Texas Mountains, I do a lot of climbing,” he said. “You have a tendency to break boots over if you don’t have a mountain climber because this particular style of boot has a steel shank in the heel which prevents that move from occurring.” The uppers, which hit about four inches below the knee, protect from thorny vegetation, but can also protect against smaller snakes. “I’m not particularly fond of rattlesnake boots because they’re way to heavy and too thick for warmer weather conditions,” he said. “So these will turn back a small rattler — something that you might not see — but they certainly wouldn’t turn back a big four or five footer. But having been raised in snake country, that’s something you just always watch for.”
The boots weigh about two-and-a-half pounds each, and for comfort, Meinzer adds soft insoles to them. “See, I’m 66 years old so I don’t have the feet that I used to have, and so I need a little bit of cushion,” he said. “So I’ll usually go to one of the local dollar stores and just get those good fake cushions to put in them. It just feels like you’re walking on air: they’re very, very comfortable. When I put them on in the morning, I feel that I can go up against whatever obstacles I have for the day and achieve something positive.”
In his rotation, Meinzer has one pair of dress boots to wear to nice events and two pairs of older boots to wear in the field. “I think I’ve run through eight or nine pair over the last 29 or 30 years,” he said. “I usually go through a couple of sets of soles — maybe three sets — before I have to retire them.” His sole of choice is no longer made by Vibram, but he orders the Vibram Newporter sole with a turkey wedge from Russell. When the soles get replaced, he differs to a regional expert. “I really am not a particular fan of the standard Vibram sole that you normally see on hunting boots because they pick up too much mud. So recently, I’ve gone to a local boot maker here that puts a sole on that he said is sort of a paratrooper sole,” Meinzer said. “It’s got a very aggressive grip on it — in other words, you couldn’t moonwalk with ’em.”
A little while back, Meinzer traveled to pick up his Polaris Ranger after getting some work done, and stopped at a restaurant to get some dinner. “This guy walked up — a UPS fella — and he says, ‘I’m sure you have people do this before, but I know that you’re Wyman because I recognize your boots.'” Meinzer said. “I never met him before in my life.” His boots: a calling card, a wardrobe essential, a literal source of protection and stability. In his own words, “A good pair of boots are those that you look forward to putting on in the morning, and don’t want to take off in the evening.”
Editor’s Note: The Mountain Climber boot is no longer listed in Russell Moccasin Co.’s print catalogue or online. To order it, customers should call the company at 920-361-2252.