Fit for purpose

If you're an outdoors type, it's worth splashing out on wellies.

Between the ages of seven and 15, I spent a large part of each summer working on my uncle's farm in Italy. He kept chickens and rabbits and he had a vineyard, the replanting of which took place when I was ten. My uncle, my father, grandfather and I worked on it together, every day. We gathered corn full of forbicine (earwigs), which would spill out from each cob as we separated it from the mother plant. At harvest time, I would ride the tractor with my uncle, and when the bales of hay rolled down the hill, I would run and try to push them back up again.

One of the proudest moments of my life remains overhearing my father (a man of few compliments) commending my strength to his brother and father. That was one of the best summers I've ever had. We chatted little but worked hard, and would end the day exhausted. Then we'd eat salami stuffed into torn bread, and peaches, picked right off the tree, dipped in wine.

There was an item of clothing that underpinned each of my experiences as a farmhand, and it was my aunt's wellingtons. When I was seven they fitted me poorly, but we would stuff them out with lots of socks. By the time I left the farm they fitted as if they were mine. There's a reason children would willingly wear wellies all day, every day: they are fun. Like aprons, they speak of industry, and you feel somehow ready to do anything in them. I'm braver wearing wellingtons than I am wearing any other shoes. Walking through the long grass of Italy, I feared neither snakes nor lizards.

The real problem with unlined wellies, however, is that, no matter what the weather outside, they will make your feet about one degree warmer. When I started fishing "professionally", I found it hard to accept that I might have to spend money on wellingtons for this reason. Standing in water, or even just on the riverbank, meant having freezing-cold feet in winter, and walking in wellingtons in the summer meant sweaty feet.

The answer was having Neoprene-lined boots for the winter, which keep your feet devilishly warm; for walking, you need leather-lined boots, in which you can walk indefinitely without your feet overheating. For Neoprene you're looking at spending between £80 and £100 (but you can spend a lot more); for leather, you're definitely looking at spending over £100. Hunter, Le Chameau and Aigle are the makes to look for; all three realise that while it's fun to splash in puddles, wellingtons also need to perform.

It seems a lot to spend on mere gumboots. But if you spend most of your time outdoors - and you will with good wellies; think of the health benefits! - this is nothing for footwear that will keep you warm (or cool) and dry. After all, a lot of women I know easily spend £100 on a pair of heels they may wear only twice.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 22 October 2007 issue of the New Statesman, Who’s afraid of Michael Moore?