Oh the warmth of wool. It is a fact that my feet are perpetually cold in the winter (no matter the quality of my wool socks). So cold, in fact, that a couple winters ago, I purchased a pair of Russian Valenki (Mid-calf, thick, felted wool, very uncomfortable boots). Needless to say, they did not find a permanent home on my shoe rack. The Woolster, however, is made of soft, flexible wool that moves with my feet. Even on the coldest of days, my feet stayed happily warm and toasty.
The Joe Nimble Woolster (available to purchase in Eurpoe and Japan) has become my favorite everyday winter shoe. Constructed with 100% felted wool, these "high top" shoes are made for the sub-zero temperatures of Maine.
The 4mm Vibram outsole gives the shoe a minimal feel without compromising the warmth offered with the wool. This, in combination with the Poron midsole, offers a great connection with the ground.
While the Woolster sole excelled in minimalism, it did not in traction. The sole tread worked well for slush, soft snow, the road, and mud. On hard, packed snow, I found myself stepping lightly to avoid slipping.
The toe box is truly anatomically correct, offering toes the opportunity to splay properly. I love this quote from the website:
The great freedom of the foot starts at the toes. In order to perfectly absorb and react sensitively to each path, the toes need room. Only then can they make each step nimble and agile.
If you have a moment, you may want to read the history of the Joe Nimble shoe (in German, translation required); it is a great story sharing the purpose behind the nice, wide toe box.
The lacing system was a new one for me, and I am pleased at how it interacted with my feet. The shoes are equipped with an Arch-raiser lacing system:
The lacing reaches under and through the foot and connects all the bones, muscles, and tendons of the midfoot together into a powerful, resilient unit. This lacing system provides the feeling as if you were being lifted from above. Feet no longer have to adapt to a footbed that never adjusts to the feet. Each step is cushioned by a superior, natural suspension. A lacing system designed to lift the arch not support it.
I couldn't "feel" the lifting of my arch, but my feet did feel different once the shoes were laced up. They were happy and felt almost barefoot. There was no added pressure to my foot anywhere inside the shoe due to the arch-raiser lacing system.
Water and the Woolster
While water resistant, they are not waterproof. I am sure you could waterproof them, although I do not think this is necessary. Wool is an amazing fiber: even when it is wet, it keeps your body warm. I tested this theory with the Woolster. I wore them out on the slushiest day this year, seeking out as many puddles as I could. My feet stayed completely dry through 75% of my walk. The water then started slowly seeping in through the sides of the shoe. As the water leaked in, my feet got wet, but they were never cold. The water seeps in through the sides of the shoe, right above the sole. The construction of the tongue prevents the water from creeping in over the top of the shoe. The water washed over the shoes multiple times, but the tongue is sewn to the shoe without any gaps. This prevents the water from entering via the top of the shoe. Once I removed the shoes, I placed them by the woodstove to dry. They were completely dry (inside and out) in one hour (and, contrary to popular belief, they did not shrink).
I have worn the Woolster everyday for over two months. They have seen snow, slush, ice, mud, and rain. They are constructed to hold up through the elements, and I anticipate getting a couple more late fall/winter/early spring seasons out of them.
It makes sense that the Joe Nimble has received multiple design awards. It is obvious that this shoe was constructed with intention. A winter shoe, tested in one of the harshest Maine winters (in the last 9 years), the Joe Nimble Woolster is top on my list as an everyday winter shoe.
To see the shoe in action, check out our short video: