Eskimo boots

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Igloolik Eskimo Boots (Rachel Uyarasuk), Nunavut, Canada (2002)

Eskimo boots or Inuit boots are still an essential footwear of the population of the Arctic region. The names Kamik and Mukluk, which are commonly used there, come from the Inuktitut language and simply mean “boots”.

Kamik (ᑲᒥᒃ [kaˈmik])[1] is the name of a boot among the Inuktutit people of central and eastern Arctic Canada. Mukluk comes from the Yupik (from “maklak”, the bearded seal) and is common in the West Arctic, but it is also used by North American Indians. Kamiik are a pair of boots, kamiit are many boots. In their countries of origin, they are usually made of seal fur, caribou fur (reindeer), or other suitable and available furs.[2]

Kamik is also the brand name for an industrially produced type of boot; boots of a similar type are now sold outside North America under the terms Kamik and Mukluk.

Classic Mukluks and Kamiks

The footwear of the Eskimos is such that it forms an optimal protection against the cold from the available, well-warming skins. Warm and effective footwear is essential for survival in the environmental conditions of extreme cold in often severe storms that prevail in many Eskimo living areas. Even small openings caused by opened seams can lead to partial frostbite. The boots have to meet different requirements. The women in their dwellings need different footwear than the hunter who often holds out for hours on the ice in front of a water hole. These different conditions are partly met by wearing several layers on top of each other, the number of which can be reduced in warmer weather.[2]

Footwear consists of a combination of fur socks, loafers, and boots made of different skins and in different styles. The number of layers varies depending on weather, region, activity, and cultural affiliation. Seal boots have different shaft heights. They can reach up to mid-calf, up to the thigh, and even to the chest for boots to be worn in water.[2]

The boots, along with the rest of the traditional clothing, are also important to the Eskimos from a cultural point of view. The older women pass on their traditions orally to the younger seamstresses, who are interested in the time-honoured rituals and sharing customs. While the use of fur parkas has declined greatly (they are worn mainly on festive occasions), kamiks and mukluks have shown their superiority over southern footwear in cold and wet weather and are still much in use.[2]

Musk ox hide hunting boots, Canada, Northwest Territories


Originally, the Eskimos used only skins for their footwear, and those types of skins that were available in their area. These were mainly waterproof seal skins, thick-haired skins of caribou and polar bears, flat-haired but durable caribou bones, and, in the case of tribes living on islands, also the bellows of birds. For footwear the skins were usually processed with the warming hair, but overshoes of shorn or plucked fur were also in use. In the wet and clammy spring and autumn, Carib boots with sealskin soles were preferred.[2]

Other materials included, depending on their occurrence: Moose skins, beluga whale skins, wolf skins, wolverine skins, muskrat skins, Arctic ground squirrel skins, arctic fox skins, and red fox skins.[2]

With the arrival of whalers, fur trappers, and traders from the south, textiles were added as additional materials, not just for footwear. Factory-made boots of rubber or plastic are not popular with most hunters because, unlike the porous fur boots, they accumulate body exhalation.[2]


Seamstress with a Kamik made of fabric and seal fur (1999)

Eskimo footwear is designed to form an optimal protection against the cold from the available, well-warming skins. At the same time, their design is intended to express the cultural differences between the individual groups. The transitions here are quite fluid. When a seamstress moves to a neighbouring community, she often brings her previous knowledge there with her. The making of clothing, including footwear, is traditionally still the task of women, while the men, as hunters, took care of the procurement of food in the classic division of roles. In the main hunting season, sewing was sometimes prohibited by taboos and the women helped with the food supply.[2]

The production of classical footwear is long and laborious. The work process of making boots consists of preparing the skins, designing the patterns, cutting and sewing the parts of the skins together. The tools used are the women’s knife Ulu, scraping blades, scraping plates, stretching frames, needles, thimbles, sinews or threads and boot stretchers.[2]

On the scraping board, the fat and loose tissue of the sealskin is removed. After a few washing processes, it is stretched in a frame to dry. The skins are made supple by various working methods, especially fulling (in the past this included soft chewing), and in some areas they are also watered again with the addition of chemicals. For waterproof wet-weather ceramics, seal skins are also dehaired by shearing. In the past, the hair was removed by plucking. The methods of trimming vary considerably from region to region. Industrially tanned skins, which are also used throughout the Arctic today, are less suitable for certain uses, as they usually contain less fat in the leather and are therefore less waterproof. Regionally, the hide is also subsequently dyed or bleached in the early spring sun at temperatures below freezing. With variations, the preparation of caribou skins is done in the same way as seal skins.[2]

The basic components of footwear are upper leather, sole and upper. For soles, there are three basic types: hard folded (boot-shaped), soft folded and smooth, without folds. As for the uppers, there are five varieties: encompassing the entire foot, extending halfway around the foot, covering the top of the foot, extending up to the calf, and forming a common part with the upper. Shanks are made mainly in six heights: to the ankle, to mid-calf, to below the knee, knee-high, above the knee, and thigh-high. These different types of sole, upper leather, possibly a side stripe and the upper can be combined in many ways. Experienced seamstresses draw the patterns freehand on the coat. The usual method today is to apply them with previously made or passed on reusable stencils. These can be old, handed down or newly designed shapes.[2]

Before sewing, the fur is soaked for some time, or only the edges of the seam are kept damp. In the 1990s, sewing was mostly still done with needle and thread, less often with a machine. Sewing is done from right to left, with about five to six looping stitches per centimeter. It is important to make the seams as tight as possible and thus waterproof. Sole holes in hairy hides are repaired by putting on a hide patch, whereby the thread coming from the inside must not pierce the patch completely, so that it does not wear out when worn.[2]

Mukluk and Kamik as trade names

The names Mukluk and Kamik have since been adopted by industrial manufacturers of footwear for their products, which often do not correspond to Eskimo boots, Kamik as a registered trademark for outdoor footwear. The attempt of the Inuit to have their patterns, which are mostly based on classical models, protected as intellectual property for themselves,[3] was unsuccessful.


  1. Inuktitut Living Dictionary: kamik. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
  2. a b c d e f g h i j k l
    Jill Oakes, Rick Riewe: The Art of Inuit Women: Proud Boots, Treasures of Fur. Frederking & Thaler, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-89405-352-6.
  3. Phillip Bird: Intellectual Property Rights and the Inuit Amauti. A Case Study. Prepared for The World Summit on Sustainable Development by Pauktuutit Inuit Women’s Association. July 2002. retrieved 25 April 2015.

See also

Commons: Eskimo boots– Collection of images, videos and audio files

Commons: Fur boots– Collection of images, videos and audio files

Commons: Clothing of the Inuit– Collection of images, videos and audio files

Commons: Fur clothing of the Inuit– Collection of images, videos and audio files

Commons: Footwear made of fur– Collection of images, videos and audio files