|Articles (Tools &
This article has originally been published in the BC Outdoors Magazine
technology in boot manufacturing and new materials makes it possible
for hunters to find a pair of boots that are both functional and
comfortable. Weather you climb the steep mountain sides in pursuit of
rams and goats, hike the vast grasslands for the elusive pronghorn
antelope, spend hours in a treestand waiting for a whitetail deer, or
traverse the northern muskeg-swamps looking to find a bull moose,
there’s one thing you can be rest assured of:
there’s a boot for that.
There are many aspects to consider before we put our hard earned cash
down. A pair of flexible and light hiking boots are ideal for upland
bird hunting or stalking deer in the river bottoms. Take that same pair
of boots on a mountain hunt and they could get torn to shreds amongst
the jagged rocks and steep mountainsides before you even reach base
camp. Other considerations are the time of year that you do most of
your hunting; a boot layered with cooling membranes for the dessert
will “cool” your feet to the freezing point on a
late November deer rut hunt. Define the type of boot you need by the
habitat (rocks, sand, dirt, snow, grass, brush or mud), terrain
(mountains, hills or flat) and the climate (hot, wet, dry or cold).
The definition you come up with will determine what type of sole (stiff
or flexible), the boot material (light or heavy leather), insulation
strength (see side panel) and waterproofing would be perfect for you.
Another consideration to take into account is the height of the boot
collar. Personally I prefer 8 to10-inch collar heights for boots I am
wearing in high grass, on gravel and anywhere else were debris could
fly up into the boot top. The terrain you are most likely to traverse
will determine what type of sole is best.
I am not much of a mountain hunter and so I asked my brother, a Swiss
mountaineer, what he would recommend on the type of boots to wear. He
recommends a boot with a relatively high collar to give stability to
the ankle in the uneven mountain terrain. Preferably, the ideal
mountain boot should have stiff soles with an aggressive profile that
will dig into the ground and grab on to the smallest rock projections.
For better foot support the boot should be of a lace-to-the toe design
that lets you lace the boot tightly around the length of the foot.
Conversely, in gentler terrain and in the lowlands a lighter boot with
a less aggressive sole profile and thinner soles and uppers are better
suited. These boots are lighter, maximize comfort and move naturally
with your feet.
A boot category that became very popular with whitetail deer bow
hunters and generated a new market that slowly spills over to Canada,
is the knee-high rubber boot. The reasons these boots are popular is
not the fact that they are completely waterproof, but rather that they
are also scent resistant, meaning that they do not leak human scent.
But this is not the reason why I own two pairs of rubber boots, one
pair knee-high, the other hip-high. The reason I own them is because
they keep my feet dry in tall dew-wet grass, in the duck marsh or
crossing creeks and walking in the swamps. These specialised rubber
boots fit tightly around the foot and ankle and will not pull off when
you sink into ankle deep mud. This tight fit combined with hard rubber
soles, featuring a steel or hard plastic shank, makes these boots also
quite comfortable to walk for several hours without getting sore or
tired feet. These hunting rubber boots are also available in insulated
and non-insulated versions that, depending on the amount of insulation,
will keep your feet warm even in the coldest temperatures.
A hybrid of sorts combining leather and rubber boots is the L.L. Bean
boots, named after its inventor. The shaft of the boot is made of
leather and the foot part of rubber. L.L. Bean boots come in a variety
of shaft lengths und insulation strengths. These are my favourite boot
to take on a spring turkey hunt, when wet ground conditions are
frequent. The unique design of these boots provides me with the best of
both worlds, waterproof rubber at the bottom with the comfort and
flexibility of leather around the ankle. The only drawback with these
boots is that they only can be laced up the leather shaft. The rubber
part of the boot cannot be laced and that makes them not an ideal
option for traversing steep hills or mountain sides.
A few words about Insulation.
The most common material used to insulate hunting boots is
Thinsulate™, a product of the 3M Corporation.
Thinsulate™ is a moisture-resistant and breathable fiber,
sandwiched between fabric linings that trap warm body temperature but
lets moisture pass through. With that Thinsulate™ fulfills
two important elements in keeping your feet warm: trapping warmth while
wicking moisture away from the skin surface. Thinsulate™
insulation strength is measured in grams per square metre. Common
insulation weights for hunting boots are:
grams, for cool conditions or high activity levels.
grams, cold conditions or moderate activity levels in cool conditions.
grams, for very cold conditions or moderate activity levels in cold
grams, for extremely cold conditions with light activity levels.
grams, for extremely cold conditions with light to minimal activity
The insulation strength provided above is for normal to moderate
activity levels. This is important to remember for hunters sitting
motionless for hours in a treestand or blind the later part of the
hunting season. On such occasions a higher insulation grading, or
additional insulation with thicker socks, may be needed to obtain the
same insulation levels, instead of 600 grams insulation 800 grams or
even 1,000 grams may be required in these cases. Besides keeping the
feet warm Thinsulate™ also provides comfortable padding to
the boots, preventing excessive rubbing of the skin on hard leather and
Now let’s look at various less obvious parts a good hunting
boot that should play an equal part in choosing the perfect footwear
The boot sole is comprised of three parts; outsole, midsole and insole.
The outsole (bottom of the boot): Most of the modern boots use an
outsole made of synthetic rubbers of various densities and hardness.
One of the ultimate outsole materials that is predominantly in use
these days is “Vibram” (see side panel for more
information), and for good reason. Vibram soles, named after its
inventor, are the invention of an Italian mountaineer who wanted to
create an outsole with the qualities of Pirelli race car tires. The
result of this endeavor was a rubber sole that provides excellent
traction on the widest range of surfaces from rock to snow, mud, ice
and even oil yet contains a very high degree of abrasion resistance and
is impervious to most oils and chemicals.
The tread pattern on the sole is important. Air bobs, my favourite
pattern, are rounded knobs that provide good traction without getting
clogged up with mud, dirt and snow. However, they are not an ideal
choice for the mountain hunter because the air filled bobs flex and
cling to everything for the ultimate grip, but can rip off on jagged
rocks and therefore are not recommended for rough mountain terrain.
Shallow treads are preferred by upland bird hunters because they make
for easier walking but slip in the snow and mud. Wide deep V-shaped
aggressive lugs are all the rage right now, hailed as the do-all and
be-all outsole pattern that does not fill up with mud or snow and
provides a good grip in most terrain. Thinking about the tread pattern
when you purchase a new pair of hunting boots is important, you want
the pattern that’s best for the terrain and time of year you
intend to use the boots, this not only aids comfort but also safety.
This is a protective, sometimes insulated or cushioning layer
sandwiched between the outsole and insole. Usually midsoles are made of
cork or one to two layers of leather. During the past decade midsoles
have been improved by using modern materials such as thermoplastic
rubber and polyurethane that can be better molded for various
thicknesses to support particular parts of the foot or provide more
cushioning and with that, wear ability and comfort of the boots. The
insole: The insole, usually removable, is the layer of the sole that is
in contact with the foot. These too were originally made of leather or
cork to absorb perspiration. The problem with leather and cork was that
it hardened, shrank and in the case of cork, disintegrated over time.
The new synthetic fiberboard insoles not only last much longer but they
can be custom molded to just about any walking style and foot form.
are an important part of the sole. These are inserts of spring steel,
wood or plastic and provide support for the foot arch. Depending on the
design a shank can add stiffness or assist the foot in springing back
to its form, important when carrying a heavy load down hill.
Boot Uppers: Everything above the soles is the uppers. The most common
materials for the boot uppers are leather, cordura nylon or rubber.
Full-grain leather is the full thickness of a cow hide, stiff, durable
and heavy. Split leather has been thinned and is more flexible and
lighter. Depending on the use of your hunting boots you may choose the
stiffer full-grain leather or split-leather boots.
Cordura is a material made of a nylon weave which is lighter than
leather. Unlike leather, Cordura has no natural resistance to water and
thus needs a special membrane liner to make it waterproof. Cordura is
not heat resistance and melts easily so don’t try to dry them
out close to a campfire. Because Cordura it is a weave it is easily
penetrated by thorns and other sharp debris which needs to be
considered if you hunt in a place where thorn bushes or cacti exist. In
my opinion the most durable boots are constructed of full grain leather
and if cared for properly can last a life time. Over the years I have
owned dozens of all kinds of hunting boots and some of the oldest that
still serve me well are made of an all-leather construction.
Lining: The interior boot lining is most commonly made with a synthetic
fabric called Cambrelle. Cambrelle helps with moving moisture away from
your feet and is sturdy enough to protect everything layered beneath it
such as paddings, insulations and waterproofing membranes.
The most common waterproofing material used is Gore-Tex. This is not a
fabric but a membrane (see side panel for more information) with tiny
holes just large enough to let moisture vapor (sweat) pass through but
not water. To waterproof a hunting boot it is lined with a Gore-Tex
bootie that is either suspended between protective layers or is
laminated directly onto the inner boot itself. Great care in the
installation of Gore-Tex must be taken not to puncture it with a sowing
needle as it would leak in water. That is the reason why Gore-Tex
booties are only sown onto the boot along the upper boot-neck rim.
Boot lacing systems:
Lacing systems consist either of eyelets, reinforced with metal rings,
D-Ring loops that pivot on hinges or lacing hooks. The lacing system
can also be a combination of the three above. While boots with hooks
can be quickly laced up they have one drawback. The hooks are prone to
snagging on grass, pant cuffs and forest debris. One lace up system
that has proven very valuable in the mountains is the lace-to-the-toe
construction. This lacing system extends nearly all the way to the toes
thus providing the foot more support and preventing the foot from
slipping forward on steep downhill hikes.
Despite what some may believe, leather is not waterproof, it is water
resistant. To stop leather from soaking up water I treat my boots
regularly with some type of leather wax or other manufacturer
recommended sealant. But I don’t just smear the stuff on to
the boot; I thoroughly rub it into the leather, paying particular
attention to the stitching. Do new boots need to be broken in? Modern
boots are constructed in such a way with padding, liners, contoured
innersoles and insulations that breaking them in may not seem necessary
but to me it makes sense to get a new pair of boots broken in by
wearing them on short walks, then on longer hikes until my feet feel
totally happy in them. I do my boot breaking-in sessions well before
hunting season arrives.
Taking Care Of Your Hunting Boots.
maintenance and care of your boots will ensure they last for years and
keep them in good working order. It all starts by keeping hunting boots
clean. Nothing ruins them faster than dirt, mud, moisture, and extreme
heat. The leather and stitching quickly will start to break down if
boots are not cleaned and nourished regularly. I clean my hunting boots
after each day out in the field by wiping and brushing off dust and
mud. If the boots get wet I stuff newspaper or even towels inside after
removing the Gore-Tex bootie, and dry them gradually in warm air, not
directly over beside a campfire or stove. If I am at home I may blow
dry boots with the hair dryer at the lowest setting.
When the boots are completely dry I wipe them clean with a cloth
moistened with leather soap and a warm water mixture. The clean boots
are then treated with leather conditioner. To do that I use the
manufacturer recommended animal fat and, or beeswax based products.
With a cloth I firmly rub the conditioner into the boot leather and all
Cordura boots can be easily cleaned with a soft brush and mild soapy
warm water. When the boots are dry apply a coat of spray on a water
repellant recommended by the manufacturer.
Rubber boots can be easily cleaned with a brush or cloth and warm soapy
water. Never use solvents as they can damage rubber. Never dry rubber
boots in direct heat; this will break down the rubber, Just like
leather, rubber too needs to be conditioned to keep it from
deteriorating. Use a quality silicone based rubber conditioner
recommended by the boot manufacturer.
Store all hunting boots during the off season in a dark, cool and dry
place. To prevent boots from getting dusty I store them in
Rubbermaid® boxes, after I cleaned and conditioned them,
leaving a small gap open on the lid to let air circulate. To make my
hunting boots last (my oldest pair is over 15 years old and still in
working shape) I wear them for hunting only, not to walk around town or
do garden work, that’s why they are called hunting boots.
You may have noticed that no brand name boots are mentioned in this
article. Why not? Although I do have my favourite brands they are of no
consideration when I set out to purchase a new pair of hunting boots. I
think that focusing on a particular brand can be detrimental to the
thought process of what is important. The first priorities should be
“where and what time of year do I intend to use the
boots?” and then looking at the boot has the properties that
fulfill all the requirements. After that spend an hour or more in a
shoe store and try on different pairs of boots, including different
brands. Don’t just put a pair of boots on your feet then walk
a couple of steps with it in the store and make a decision. When I
purchase a pair of new boots I make sure I wear the type of socks that
I will wear when I am out hunting. I will also walk around in them for
a few minutes. During that time I twist my ankle sideways, kick the toe
and heal in the ground; I may even jump up and down in the new boots.
It’s only if I feel perfectly comfortable and nothing
squeezes and there are no pressure points that I will I look at the
brand label. To me hunting boots are an important part of my hunting
equipment that can make or break a hunt. From past personal experience
I have learned that less-than-perfect fitting boots lead to blisters,
and quickly can become a battle of endurance. In one case wearing the
wrong boots led to a twisted ankle and ended a hunt before it began. As
hunters we spend a lot of time on our feet out in the bush and the
better the boots fit and suit the environment we traverse the happier
our feet will be. Lastly, wearing the right pair of hunting boots is
also important for our personal safety; many injuries have occurred by
wearing the wrong footwear for the terrain or weather conditions.
is no question about it that good calling is an essential part of
hunting success. The emphasis in the former sentence is on
“good calling” as in
getting the right sound and perfect pitch. Turkeys have been called to
deal by hunters. They have learned to distinguish between a real turkey
and almost real turkey sounds. This ability has saved many a toms life.
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