Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What Is a Mukluk?

Mukluks are native Arctic boots used by a number of aboriginal tribes across North America to shield their feet and legs from extreme cold. Nowadays, these boots have experienced a resurgence in popularity as native designs are reproduced by high-end footwear lines and even worn by celebrities.


    The warm animal hides that make up mukluk boots are used to cover the feet, ankles and part of the calves to protect these body parts from harsh winds, sleet and snow. Native Canadian tribes often wore this light-weight footwear while hunting, because it allowed hunters to move quickly and quietly.


    The Inuit and Yupik peoples were the primary native Arctic groups who wore mukluks, which were known as kamiks among the Inuit. The word mukluk originated from the Yupik word maklak, meaning bearded seal. After Western explorers came to settle territories in Canada, they too began wearing mukluks to help protect themselves from the elements.

    In the 19th century, the Yukon First Nations tribe of Canada also began wearing mukluks in place of their traditional moccasins. Modern-day mukluks with a traditional design are still made by native tribes in Canada, and they are sold on websites and in department stores.


    Mukluks originally were made from sealskin, moose hide or reindeer skin gathered by Arctic aboriginal hunters. These soft yet sturdy shoes, which rise to the ankle or mid-calf, are designed for cold weather and might be insulated with the fur of beavers, squirrels, bears or other animals. Often, mukluks are adorned with pom-poms or tassels and include delicate beading patterns on the top of the shoe.


    There are a few different types of mukluks, ranging from the traditional native designs to modern-day variants on the originals. A traditional mukluk, also known as an Inuit boot, is made by binding animal hides together with animal cartilage, with one central seam running down the length of the boot. Another kind of mukluk is attached to a soft, leather sole and is sometimes used by dancers as leg warmers. Today's mukluks modeled after the original designs are generally made with sturdy rubber soles and synthetic lining.


    As with other animal-hide boots, mukluks must be cared for properly in order to retain their original shape and durability. Traditional mukluks and those inspired from traditional designs should be hung up to dry in a cool place after being exposed to water or damp environments. If exposed to high temperatures, mukluks can begin to shrink, becoming hard and inflexible.

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