“Hey John, I’m going to be looking for a new pair of hunting boots, what do you think are decent ones,” asked my friend Jeff Mullen.
To a hunter, or any outdoor enthusiast for that matter, the right equipment isn’t strictly made up of the best bow, knife or clothing. A comfortable pair of boots is an important part of the mix. If your feet aren’t comfortable your outdoor endeavor won’t last long nor be enjoyable. And in today’s age a good pair of boots can be expensive and considered a long term investment so choose them wisely.
But before you think this is going to be a typical column promoting one company or manufacturer of footwear, guess again. There are many good companies that make quality footwear, yet each fit different even if they are the same size.
I’ll never forget my first elk hunt in the Montana Rockies back in the 1970’s. Due to my lackadaisical attitude and lack of financial resources the only boots I could afford were purchased from a local farm and fleet store and were more suited for casual hunts in Midwestern wood lots, not snow covered peaks. Unfortunately one thing I’ll always remember about that trip was the treacherous footing those boots provided and blisters. Not something you want to remember about that type of wilderness adventure.
First off, consider what your primary use will be. Upland bird hunting requires a different boot than a stand hunter or someone who mainly enjoys high mountain hunting. Is it going to be warm, cold, wet, dry or a mix of conditions?
Choose a pair that is designed for the terrain you’ll be facing. Never buy a pair of boots in the morning. Wait until afternoon as your feet have a tendency to swell later in the day.
Also make sure you try on boots with the socks you’ll most likely wear. Saying “size does matter,” really does. If you normally wear a size 12 but the store only has a size 11.5 in stock, don’t even consider it. In fact, leave the store or you’ll be tempted to purchase them. The only consideration you should give is to buy a pair a half size larger than normal, never smaller.
Boots that fit tight and snug never equal comfort and warmth. What they will equal is pain. Comfort and protection are your main priorities, so your piggy’s need room to wiggle around a bit.
Aesthetics aside, not every boot has the same dimensions just like no two persons feet are the same. What might be considered “wide in a Wolverine boot may not be as wide as a Danner. Or what LaCrosse deems to be an “A” might be a “B” in a pair of Lowa’s. The first thing to look for is that “Oh, that feels good,” when trying any type of footwear.
You’ll likely find many different styles of boots on the market but most fit into five categories. Upland, multi-purpose, high country, knee-high and pac boots. In case you’re wondering, hiking boots are categorized with multi-purpose. Once you’ve determined the primary purpose of the boots pick a category to help narrow your search.
Upland boots are designed to be lightweight with non-aggressive soles to shed dirt and mud. Upland bird hunters often log many miles on each hunt and don’t need the extra weight. A heavy lugged sole isn’t needed for traction and support since most upland hunting is done in light to moderate terrain.
Multi-purpose is by far the largest category of hunting boots. Every option is available in this group depending on your specific needs. In general terms, boots in the multi-purpose category will have more support, insulation qualities and heavier lugs that provide better traction on multiple surfaces.
For hunters navigating steep terrain additional traction and support is required and here’s where the high-countries come in. No one wants a hunt to end prematurely due to a twisted ankle or other injury from a slip or fall. To be honest, I have a pair of high country boots that work extremely well when traversing hills and ravines right here in our own Hoosier state.
If most of your outdoor activities will be more sedentary and take place in cold weather, pac boots are the way to go. These boots sport removable felt or wool liners that may not provide the best support but the insulations qualities are superior.
If conditions are sloppy or you have swamps, creeks or marshes to cross, knee high rubber hunting boots are the best option. They are completely waterproof and can make the difference between a comfortable day or one that sends you back to the truck shivering.
Boots are as varied as people’s feet themselves and no two are alike. Take the time to try on several pairs and find what fits the best for you. Then when you make those outdoor excursions you’ll have several reasons to say “Oh that feels good.”