What a run it's been for shoe and outdoor gear company Rocky Shoes & Boots (NASDAQ:RCKY), which this morning turned in third-quarter financial results that sent the shares another 10% higher. Tack that on to its performance over the last 12 months, and you've got a stock that's stomped all over the S&P 500.

The company's Q3 press release makes it clear why investors have been all over Rocky this year. Sales rose more than 21% year over year, while gross margins improved significantly as the company moved production to "sourced" facilities in the Far East. Net income tripled from the same period a year ago, as sales and gross margin boosts helped offset increased operating expenses.

Great as these numbers look, investors should remember that some of the "pop" comes from relatively easy comparisons. Business wasn't great in 2002 when full-year sales fell nearly 14% from 2001 levels on lowered demand for rugged outdoor footwear and the expiration of a U.S. military boot contract.

But that's not to take away from the achievements. Rocky is busily broadening its product line as it tries to build out its brand, and the company reports that new products have been well received. A $6.1 million deal to manufacture military boots -- such deals are temporary and involve a competitive bidding process -- announced last month, can only help.

At about $65 million in total market cap, Rocky is a pretty small outfit. But it's an ambitious one that seems to be putting up a pretty good fight in a competitive business. Not only that, but it's got a nice-looking cash flow statement to back up its earnings. Free cash flow has come in well above net income for each of the last three full years.

As recent history shows, it's difficult to bank on steady growth from Rocky. But if this year's performance is an indication of things to come, the company stands to earn its current valuation and then some -- even after its recent run up.

Dave Marino-Nachison can be reached at dmarnach@fool.com.