Russia is mostly a northern country. It is hard to imagine it without its national symbol – felted Valenki. Every person there remembers them from childhood.
Amazing footwear for northerners – like walking on a warm soft cloud
These felted boots are super helpful for outdoor work in northern climates – forestry, construction, expeditions, oil and gas industries, electrical work, military, etc… They were also indispensable in Russia during WW II.
History of felted shoes – they are ancient!
Felted wool fragments are found in Asian prairies and they date back to 1st century BC. Modern version of Valenki appeared around 200 years ago as short felted shoes with canvas top. Later on the taller versions that are felted in one piece appeared.
It is pretty hard work to make Valenki, so the price was high. Many times families owned one pair per family, and they were treasured and inherited down the family line. In 1901 there were 196 families that were felting Valenki as trade. The felting technologies were passed down from generation to generation.
How they are made
Traditional Valenki are hand made with 100% wool, a very ecological choice of a natural material. The wool is soaked and shaped onto the form by felting and the use of soap and steam. There are some not very nice factory made versions that have glue and wood chips as part of the wool, they are stiff and not comfortable, those are not the authentic thing.
Benefits of wearing valenki
What are the benefits of wearing them? There are so many brands of winter footwear, and where do Valenki fit in?
First of all, they are made with no seams, which makes them very comfortable and soft. They take the shape of your foot and do not deform your feet. When you wear them, you feel like you are walking on a cloud.
Older people in the country like to wear Valenki even in the summer. The wool regulates the temperature really well and insulates not only from cold in the winter, but also from the heat of summer, keeping your feet comfortable.
The feet also breathe in wool. Air circulates through the wool fibers allowing feet not to sweat and stay dry and warm.
Valenki absorb 40% of moisture and evaporate it very well too. You still stay warm and it is very easy to get Valenki dry just by having them inside the house.
Valenki are soft and flexible. And a lot of the times there is no right or left boot, they get molded to your feet during wear. If you pick the right size (may be one size bigger then you have), you will never get a blister.
Valenki are made with 100% wool, that is shaved from sheep. That wool contains natural lanolin – animal wax that calms the joint and muscle pain, or bone fracture. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
During Valenki wearing the wool rubs on your foot and creates electrical field that is great for reducing stress and tiredness.
Massage. I love to wear Valenki on my bare feet, the wool stimulates bare skin (it does not itch) and improves circulation, so feet always stay warm.
Where to get them and storage tips
If you decide to get a pair just search Internet for Valenki. Do not wash your Valenki, just wet brush cleaning is all it needs. Add some paper inside your Valenki for summer storage to prevent wool moth damage. There are different kinds and colors of Valenki, just original wool sole, rubber soles to help during wet weather, embroidered, with fur decorative elements, short ones, slipper style for home, etc… If you want to see how they are made, search for “making Valenki”.
If you are curious, just give Valenki a try, you will be happy and grateful! My local American friend recently purchased a pair and she is very happy, all the friends are asking her where she got them:-)