Where land and water meet there is often mud, and those of us using small boats likely have to take it into account when we’re cruising. Mud can be messy at best, a barrier or a trap at worst. On the Ohio River, a short span of mud between dry ground and my boat actually pulled the boots and socks right off my feet.
In the October 2017 issue, I wrote about mud pattens, squares of wood I can tie to my boots to keep me from sinking deep into soft mud. They’ve worked well for me in several intertidal mud flats, though I have to walk with my legs splayed and I did encounter one river mouth that had mud so sticky I had to turn back.
I recently had the opportunity to try a pair of Mudder Boots, a product that takes a different approach to keeping on top of mud. Instead of using large, rigid panels, the Mudders are made of flexible plastic and expand only when the wearer steps into soft mud. On solid ground, the wings are tucked tight to the sides of your feet and have a width of only 8”, not enough to be awkward to walk in. In the mud, the wings flare to a width of about 14″. The manufacturer pegs the surface area of the expanded Mudder at 180 square inches. That’s more than the 144 square inches of my 12″ x 12″ pattens and almost as much as the 196 square inches of my 14″ x 14″ pattens.
The Mudders come in a single, one-size-fits-all version, and each weighs 2.35 lbs. A pair of straps with easily adjustable ladder-lock buckles cinch over the instep and the ball of the foot for a snug fit. The recess is just wide enough for my size-14 rubber boots with thick soles, and a good fit for my size-13 slip-on deck shoes.
With a patten, it’s essential to have the ball of your foot close to its front edge. At the end of your stride, the toe pushes down into the mud while the heel pulls the patten up, prying it out. If your whole foot is on the patten, you’re only trying to lift the patten free, which may not overcome the suction and, while you’re trying to pull up with the back foot, you’re only pushing the front foot deeper. With the Mudders, I have a few inches of my toe extending beyond the front, so I do get some prying action to pull them free, but they don’t rely on that alone. The extension at the heel is cut higher than the wings, and at the end of the stride, it will let air in under the sole. The wings also retract as you take the weight off, lessening the surface area in contact with the mud and pulling air in from the heel.
I recently came ashore in a cove where there was some very soft, sticky mud. I could barely walk in it with my deck shoes without losing them, and each step took an effort that threatened to pull me over. With the Mudders on, the mud slowed me down, as I expected, but not nearly as much as going without them. I made steady progress without having to tug the back foot free. The wings fanned out as they’re meant to and brought the sinking to a stop.
An unexpected bonus was being able to walk comfortably on sand and hard ground without the awkwardness of pattens. The tread on the bottom provided a good grip on a steep grassy slope I climbed to leave the mud for high ground. Traversing the slope gave me my only complaint about the Mudders: the high sides pressed hard against the sides of my legs just above my ankles.
When I was done tromping around in the mud, I waded a bit in water over a firm gravelly bottom to clean the Mudders. When I took them off, there was still a lot of mud on the soles. The mud I’d been walking in was so thick and sticky that I had to scrape it away with a stick (it was a wonder I could walk in it). The treads have plenty of space between the ridges, so with a bit of work I could get them clean.
Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Magazine and thanks reader Dallen Bounds for the suggestion and the loan of the Mudders.
Mudder Boots are available direct from the manufacturer for $144 per pair.
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