Here’s a question for the real-life SATs: If you live in a place where the thermometer rarely drops to single digits, and almost never falls below zero, and you do not plan to spend any time outdoors, and would not even go to the Super Bowl in New Jersey if you had free tickets on the 50-yard-line, do your winter boots need to be “comfort rated” to: a) zero degrees; b) 25 degrees below zero; or C) 45 degrees below zero?
Actually, before we answer that question, let’s examine this concept of comfort that rugged outdoor-wear companies now use as a marketing tool. Exactly how “comfortable” will a pair of boots rated to hideously cold temperatures keep you? As comfortable as if you were in St. Bart’s? Or comfortable as in you won’t lose a pinky toe to frostbite?
Beyond that, whose comfort is being considered? Mine? Or that of my middle-school-age sons, who like to stroll around in shorts when it’s 40 degrees?
Is comfort, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder? I put the question to L.L. Bean, which sells a pair of women’s boots that — allegedly — are rated to 45 degrees below zero. I say “allegedly” because even though the company takes its temperature ratings so seriously that it uses mannequins covered with temperature sensors to help determine its ratings (the item being tested needs to maintain an ambient surface temperature of 95 degrees on the mannequin), Bean gives itself an out. As it says on the website, “When you select outerwear or footwear, please consider your personal response to cold.”
So getting back to that SAT question: The answer is none of the above. If the temperature goes below zero, the right footwear is flip-flops — worn on a tropical beach.