The Arbortec Kayo was designed to be a boot that would combine everything an arborist needs in one package – but do its assets also make it a good option for forest machine operators?

I’M not one of those people who change out of their work boots when they finish for the day. I simply loathe changing into a pair of trainers or shoes to drive home. I don’t know why, it’s just something I’ve never done. I think it’s because in a previous life I worked on high-health pig breeding units and we had to shower and change before and after work, which wasn’t fun in winter when I had a 50-mile drive home every night. 

I started felling in 1986 and from then until around 2001 I wore chainsaw boots every day. I wore them when I was driving a skidder, I wore them when I was cross-cutting on the landing and I wore them when I was felling. Driving home in chainsaw boots wasn’t an issue for me back then as I always used a Transit van as my work vehicle. You could drive one of those old Ford vans in a pair of weighted diver’s boots; the kind they used with the suit with the big glass dome and air pipes attached – but now I’ve encountered two problems.

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Firstly, modern vehicles – even work vans – have pedal set-ups which seem more suited to dainty feet. Size 12s clad in chainsaw boots don’t make for smooth accelerator-pedal action. Secondly, the same large feet don’t work well in machines with fly-by-wire controls including direction pedals and ground-speed-sensitive throttle pedals. It’s not just the size and weight of chainsaw boots that cause me trouble, it’s the high tops and the rigidity around the ankle. So like many people, I’ve been asking the question: why can’t somebody make a light and flexible boot for those of us who maybe use a saw occasionally, but spend the bulk of our days sitting in a machine? I don’t want to wear workshop boots in a machine and risk being caught sawing a few stumps off by the boot police. Nor do I want to have to force my ankles to bend in full-on chainsaw boots.

I was browsing through one of our local saw supplier’s online catalogues looking for a new saw with heated handles, when a special offer popped up on a sidebar among which was a pair of arborist boots suitable for groundwork – but they also had a flexible ankle design that made them good for climbers. I ignored the loops and fixings that an arborist might find attractive and concentrated on the extremely low top. The issue with chainsaw boots is they need to be high enough to get the chainsaw protection up over the ankle, so I was intrigued to see how Arbortec have done it with the Kayo boot. It’s remarkably simple. They’ve added an inner sock into a low boot that contains the chainsaw cut protection and, as an added bonus, they’ve made the inner sock from a breathable material with a waterproof membrane.

It seems so simple – surely there must be a drawback?

The boot itself is quite a traditional design. It is leather, with the laces running through conventional metal reinforced lace holes and tape loops on the ankle. There are no hooks, no locking metal loops and no extra flaps that tie in with the laces. These are a fairly conventional-looking boot which, if you were to remove the inner sock, would look like a high-end work boot.

It’s a great idea – take a low-top chainsaw boot and add a flexible liner that extends above the boot top. Best of both worlds?

First things first, are they comfortable? Well yes they are, very comfortable. I had no problem breaking them in. They didn’t pinch and, despite them looking to be quite narrow, they have plenty of room to accommodate my rather wide feet. They lace up tight, despite the traditional lacing that doesn’t have all the trick rolling-ball eyelets and locking hooks. It’s proof the way to make a boot that fastens properly is simply to put it together properly. There’s no need to try and reinvent the wheel.

My first impression, after swapping out of my usual felling boots, was that even though I was going from a well-worn boot I was used to, the Kayos felt light and flexible. They also felt reassuringly rigid in the right places, not at the ankle though, which is the whole reason for buying them.

I wore them for the whole day first time out. I’d normally break new felling boots in half a day at a time. It’s a habit going back to when everyone around here wore Blackthorn boots. You broke them in carefully or you suffered. A full day in a brand-new pair of Blackthorns resulted in aching feet and some of the worst blisters I’d had since I gave up playing rugby. Wearing the Kayo boots is a bit like wearing a work boot. They do give up the rigidity at the ankle that a feller on rough ground would perhaps want, though I know a couple of guys who insist on wearing felling wellies in winter and I have never been able to get on with them, so I guess some people will be okay with the low boot style.

One thing for sure is they are just about exactly what I was looking for when it came to driving the forwarder. They’re flexible enough to operate the machine’s controls and feel more secure than standard work boots that have soles designed for concrete floors. The Kayos have an open-pattern Vibram sole that, while providing good grip, is reasonably shallow, which avoids snagging on steps and mesh platforms like those found on harvesters and forwarders.

All these features are incidental as the boots are designed for arborists who mix groundwork with climbing, but that’s fine. The features cross over well into mechanical harvesting where operators might need to do a little sawing. I’d probably wear these boots all day felling on reasonably flat ground, but I’d probably go to a full-height chainsaw boot on really rough or steep ground, especially if it was wet.

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There is, however, one issue I can’t fail to mention, and it stands out in the pictures. It’s not an easy thing to explain. I found a perfect analogy that involved a condom and the fact they are rolled up, but was told it wasn’t appropriate. If you’ve ever bought one of those lightweight survival sleeping bags that come in a pouch with a drawstring at the top you’ll know what I’m getting at when I say getting into the Kayo boots for the first time is like getting that sleeping bag back in the pouch once it’s been used. I don’t know what they use when they are first packed, but they never go back the same. Getting my size 12s into the extended liner for the first time was such a struggle I had to call for assistance. I can report that it gets easier as the boots wear in.

I was tempted to take a Stanley knife to the whole thing and delete it but then all I would have had would have been a pair of very expensive work boots. Removing the ‘sock’ will remove the chainsaw protection (and nullify the Class 2, 24 m/s rating) and if anyone with a clipboard were to become aware of what had been done then not only would the boots not be compliant, but whoever had done the modification might well be in trouble for modifying or altering a piece of personal protective equipment.

It goes without saying that, like all Arbortec boots the Kayos are loaded with features, including the Vibram sole, waterproof and breathable lining (Arbortec BreatheDry system), premium leather construction, secure lacing – including SRT climbing system loops – and a reinforced rubber perimeter to protect the lower part of the outer boot immediately above the welt. The boots come in UK sizes 3–13 and weigh in at just 1.1 kg. They are a Class 2 chainsaw boot, rated to 24 m/s.

They aren’t the cheapest boots on the market. I’ve seen them listed at £275, but I bought mine online from Sam Turner’s at Darlington for £199 with next-day delivery.
In conclusion, I like these boots. They seem to be just what I’ve been looking for, but they are a compromise – a very good one, but still a compromise. I don’t think I would wear them if I was felling all day on difficult ground, although they are comfortable and do keep my feet warm and dry in wet conditions. The fact they are essentially an ankle boot just doesn’t give me the feeling of security I get with a full-height boot like the Stihl chainsaw boots I’m currently testing.

Overall though, they fulfil a specific need and to that end they’ll be worn most days right from leaving the house in the morning to getting back at night, which is exactly what I was looking for.