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Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Most of the time when I think about inflation, it's in terms of CPI, CPI-U, or other such statistic. You can argue about whether these capture the typical consumer's expense, or whether the government has an incentive to cheat on these things.

Nevertheless, I'm not your typical consumer --- while I'm a cheap-skate in most things, I do tend to have a policy of buying the best when it comes to outdoor gear. Most of that is because I'm enough of a wuss that even mild discomfort is disturbing to me, and some of it is because very few people try to ride bicycles across countries.

In 2005, while preparing for the Coast to Coast, I decided that my boots were what made hiking difficult --- I chafed, blistered, and was always in agony at the end of a hike. So I found Charles Van Gorkom and asked for a pair of custom hiking boots for what was (to me anyway) an incredible price of $700 (with a 5 month wait). Van Gorkom was a pleasure to deal with, and when there was an issue with my boots he immediately took them back, repaired them, and got them back to me with rapidity (he apologized profusely for what should be an uncommon failure).

Well, right in the middle of my long walk, Van Gorkom was named in various magazines for being the custom boot-maker, and now he charges $1600 for a pair for a 23 month wait. And get this, to get the same 5 month wait, you'd have to pay a rush fee, bringing the cost of a pair of boots up to $3000! (Incidentally, what my walk taught me is that even the most comfortable pair of boots I ever bought are still just boots, and aren't as good as running shoes)

Similarly, I bought my custom frame from Carl Strong earlier this year, and now he's raising prices as well, though not by 200%. My first thought was, "Darn, if only I could pick stocks the way I pick custom builders for boots and bikes!"

Unfortunately, I can't, so I'm mostly a passive investor. But if you want to know what my current picks are for boots and custom frames, I'd pick Esatto (Review) for boots,and Bill Davidson for frames. That's the nice thing about a market economy --- there are always alternatives for those who aren't name-conscious.

But there you go, if you want exactly what I bought a few years ago, your inflation rate can be as high as 30% a year!


md said...

asked for a pair of custom hiking boots for what was (to me anyway) an incredible price of $700

Yikes! How long are you expecting a $700 pair of boots to last? In my lifetime, I've probably paid about $400 for boots in about 10 years of hiking.

The very best boots I ever bought were Lowas. When it came time to buy a new pair, I found they'd changed the sizing just enough so that I was between sizes. I got a new pair of Vasques, but I don't like them (Vasques just don't fit me, but I let the saleguy convince me to buy them). I will probably exchange them for something else.

I really hate shopping for shoes. I wish I could resole the Lowas, but the uppers are wearing out too.

Piaw Na said...

I expect them to last a good 20 years or so. The thing is, while I hike a lot, here in California, you can mostly get away with running shoes, and those are still my favored hiking shoes. I only switch to boots when it's wet and muddy or when I go overseas and have to hike in snow, or whatever weird conditions (even had to use gaiters for a while in England), so my boots do last a long time and I do expect to resole these as they wear out.

Mr. Van Gorkom clearly thinks they'll last the average hiker a lifetime.

md said...

Oh $700 for a lifetime (or even 20 years) is great. Although, I would never expect a pair of boots to last a lifetime, since your feet generally expand with age. For whatever reason, $3K is more than I'd want to pay for a pair of boots.

I didn't know that custom boots were even available. Sometimes I wish I could buy custom fit clothing, especially jeans. It's really hard (no, impossible) to find a pair of jeans that fit me as well as my ancient hole-ridden Levi's.

Piaw Na said...

presumably with a leather boot as your feet slowly expand the leather slowly stretches to accomodate as well. My problem is wearing the boots often enough to keep it broken in. In general, custom clothing is worth the money if you use it often enough. All it takes is one less blister per hike.