I can't tell you how many times I've been in a hunt camp where someone had a problem with their hunting boots. Usually the boots weren't dry or warm enough, but other times they didn't offer enough support or traction for hunting in rugged terrain or were brand new and simply hurt the wearer. Unfortunately any one of these problems can ruin a day in the field. I wish I could say that I was never the one to have these problems, but the truth is that I've learned some hard lessons over the years when it comes to hunting boots. Here's what you need to know to make the right choice.
A quick glance at the wall of hunting boots at your local Bass Pro Shops or Cabela's will show three basic types of hunting boots: Pac boots, rubber boats, and leather and/or nylon boots. Let's examine the pros and cons of all of them.
Pac Boots Add Warmth in Extreme Cold
These boots usually consist of a rubber bottom with a leather, nylon or combination upper. Pac boots tend to be the warmest ones you can buy, thanks to a removable, insulated inner bootie liner, often constructed of felt. Pac boots are waterproof, generally 8-16 inches in height, and are designed to be worn in the coldest, snowiest, iciest conditions but they are heavy and not suitable for long walking distances.
Pac boots are better suited to long sits in a cold, late-season hunting tree stand. They are usually sold based on a temperature rating, and I recommend the warmest you can buy if you are going to be sitting for long periods.
Tip: The Irish Setter IceTrek 1,600 Insulated Waterproof Hunting Boots sport the acclaimed UltraDry waterproofing system for true watertight integrity you won't find on ordinary men's hunting boots or men's fishing boots.
Rubber Boots are Versatile and Keep Your Feet Dry While Hunting
There was a time when most hunters in North America wore rubber boots for just about all types of hunting and for good reason. When it comes to keeping your feet dry in wet conditions, with little weight, there is simply no better choice. Rubber also tends not to absorb scent, which is an advantage for bowhunters who need to always be cautious about leaving human scent around their deer stands.
They are available in heights ranging from 10 inches up to about 18 inches, which can be a great choice for waterfowling in areas that are wet but still shallow enough not to need waders.
Rubber boots are also very popular for turkey hunting and early season deer hunting, when temperatures can get cold, but not bitterly cold. These boots are not generally considered to be ideal for hunting in frigid temperatures, but some models are now available with warm neoprene uppers and as much as 2,000 grams of insulation, which can challenge that long-held belief.
The waterproof nature of rubber is what ensures that water stays out of the boots, but it will also keep sweat in as rubber doesn't breathe. As a result, these boots are not the ideal choice for situations that call for a lot of walking, and rubber also doesn't generally offer enough support for hunting in rugged, rocky terrain.
Leather or Nylon Hunting Boots Are Certainly the Most Versatile Style of Hunting Boot
These boots seek to combine the best qualities of Pac boots and rubber boots, which makes them probably the most popular and certainly the most versatile style of hunting boot today. They are typically constructed of either leather, nylon or a combination of the two. A waterproof and breathable membrane such as GORE-TEX will help keep your feet dry, while insulation options ranging from none to 1,600 grams of Thinsulate will keep your feet warm and comfortable in conditions ranging from spring turkey hunting or early-season archery in the south, to late-season pheasants in the Midwest and November whitetails in Canada.
When combined with an aggressive lug sole, this type of boot in an all-leather construction is the preferred choice for hunting in rocky, mountainous terrain, where a good grip and ample ankle support is essential to prevent slips and falls. Many models even sport a reinforced toe cap for extra protection and increased durability in rough conditions. At the other end of the spectrum, softer-soled models are also available for still hunting, stalking or any hunting that requires extra stealth.
In terms of weight, models meant for hunting upland birds, where many miles are walked each day, can weigh as little as 2 pounds or so, on up to heavily-insulated models or those built for the roughest conditions which can weigh up to 5 pounds or so. If you intend to do a lot of walking, every extra ounce can make a difference at the end of a long day.
These boots are also available in a wide range of heights, from as low as 6 inches up to about 12 inches, with most being in the 8- to 10-inch range. The higher models are great for additional support in rough terrain or if shallow wading may be necessary. If biting snakes are prevalent in your area, models from 13 to 18 inches will help keep you safe.
Pay Attention to the Hunting Boot Insulation Material
Technological advancements in insulation mean that boots are now warmer and lighter than ever before. Materials such as Thinsulate and Thinsulate Ultra are widely used and boots are usually labeled in terms of how much of it they contain, expressed in grams. When hunting in mild conditions, uninsulated models, or perhaps boots with just 200-400 grams of insulation, will keep your feet from overheating.
Mid-weight models with 600-800 grams would be ideal for mid-season hunts, or even later season hunts if you are constantly moving. The coldest conditions call for 1,200-1,600 grams or even more to keep your feet warm, or if sitting still for many hours. A selection of hunting socks of various weights/thicknesses and can also increase the temperature comfort range of boots.
A Final Word
When shopping for boots, take a pair of socks with you that are typical of what you would wear while hunting, to ensure proper fit. If you wear orthotics, take those too and remove the factory footbed (insole) before trying each boot.
Finally, make sure your new boots are nicely broken in before hunting in them. Wear them around the house, while walking the dog, etc. Again, walk with your usual hunting socks, as much and as far in advance of hunting season as possible.
Tip: The popular Cabela's Deluxe Cold-Weather Wool Boot Socks is a great choice when facing an all-day wait on a cold stand or long stalk through wet, soggy terrain. You'll want more than one pair of these socks for all your cold-weather boots.
With so many makes, models and styles available today, at affordable prices, there's a boot that's just right for any hunting situation.