Hunting boots can make or break a hunt, and the wrong ones certainly can ruin your hunting experience. Nobody wants to hike around with wet or frozen feet or battling blisters. Whether you’ve paid a lot of money for a guided hunt or just going out to hunt for meat in your backyard, hunting boots are typically an area you don’t want to skimp.
The best hunting boots will vary depending on the type of hunting you’re doing, but also personal preferences. From extreme mountain hunting to waterfowl hunting in a wetland, there are hunting boots to suit your needs. Good fit, proper warmth levels, and the ability to keep your feet dry are some of the most important considerations, although there are many more as well.
While the prices vary when it comes to hunting boots, one thing is sure: paying more for a good pair of hunting boots is well worth it. They will last many years with proper care and keep your feet warm, dry, and supported.
Hunting Boot Basics and Considerations – Buyers Guide
Hunting boots vary greatly, and some of what you choose will be based entirely on personal preference. However, armed with the proper knowledge, you can rest assured you will be able to spend your hard-earned money on a pair that will work for you and your needs for years to come.
The type of hunting you do will dictate the type of hunting boot you need. There is a high chance that you will need a few pairs if you are doing multiple types of hunting in different climates and terrains. However, for most people, there is likely an excellent all-around boot to suit your needs. We’ll help you understand the hunting boot basics to find the best hunting boots for you.
Whether you’re looking for the best hunting boots for men, the best hunting boots for women, or the best hunting boots for youth, there are many things to consider when in the market for your next pair.
Hunting Boot Fit
The fit of your hunting boots is critical to a good experience. Blisters are the number one public enemy to a successful hunt or an enjoyable time, regardless of success.
When determining fit, make sure you have enough room for wearing the type of socks you will be using when hunting. Take those socks with you when you try boots on. Then you can make sure the boots won’t be too tight. This is particularly critical if you’ll be hunting in climate and terrain that requires thicker, wool, or merino socks.
Consider the type of terrain you will be hunting in and the amount of weight you will have on your back. If you are in mountainous terrain or doing lots of up-and-down hiking with a heavy pack, make sure you have plenty of toe room. If you don’t give yourself a little extra space in the toe box, you’ll end up constantly banging your toes against the front of your boots as you walk downhill. A heavy pack exacerbates this, so be aware of this when trying on boots.
Most outdoor stores that sell hunting boots should have some sort of “hill” in their store to “hike” up and down on. Take advantage of this and pay attention to how much your feet slide around. You want to make sure the boots lace up snug and keep your feet from moving around. The more movement you have, the more uncomfortable you will be. But again, you don’t want them too tight, which will also be miserable.
Ankle support is another essential component of a good hunting boot. Hunting is typically not done on a paved road or highly used trail, at least where a good pair of boots will be necessary. It almost always requires going “off-road” and across rocky, brushy, rough, and uneven terrain. Therefore, you want good ankle support.
The height of the shaft dictates how much ankle support a hunting boot has. The shaft is the upper part of the boot. Boot shafts come in tall, medium, or low heights. A taller shaft that goes further up your calf equals greater ankle support. These will also keep things like brush and snow out of your boots and allow you to walk through shallow water crossings. However, taller shafts can add unnecessary weight if you don’t need this added support or protection.
A mid-shaft boot is going to suit the majority of people in a multitude of conditions. It gives a little bit of ankle support at a lighter weight. A low-shaft shoe will be the lightest weight but may not offer enough protection or a stiff enough sole to be practical. As with everything else, it all depends on how you’re using your boots.
With both the mid and low shafts, a good gator will help keep snow and debris out. These are lightweight and don’t cost a lot, so that you can make boots or shoes with a lower shaft work into the late season.
If ankle support is the goal, you’ll want a boot that laces up so you can cinch them tight. If you’re looking for boots for waterfowl hunting, you’ll be looking for boots with a much higher upper to keep water out, but they most likely won’t have laces since laces create an entry point for water to get inside. The ankle support will be much less, but you won’t be hiking around as much either.
Hunting Boot Soles
Between the footbed and the outer sole of a boot sits the mid-sole. A hard piece of material called a shank is inserted into the mid-sole and dictates how soft or stiff a hunting boot sole is. Most shoes built for running or everyday use have softer soles, whereas hunting boots are typically on the stiff end.
Stiff mid-soles allow for less flex, with ample foot and arch support. When going down the trail or cross-country, this results in less foot fatigue. The majority of hunting boots will have a stiff mid-sole.
A softer shank is more comfortable and allows for better foot control. It will also be quieter when stocking animals. However, they are an impractical choice for hunting where your feet need extra protection, especially with weight on your back.
Hunting boots are made with rubber soles due to their long-lasting durability, flexibility, and the ability for different tread designs. The tread design is a critical component to a good hunting boot and the kind you need, again, depends on the conditions you’re hunting in. The tread is what will give you the type of traction you need.
Pro tip: Match your boot tread to the terrain of your hunt.
Many hunting boots use durable Vibram soles. These were initially designed for mountaineering and have evolved to work for a wide range of shoes and boots. If you see a boot with Vibram soles, that is usually a good thing.
Whichever boot you go with, make sure they have a good, solid outer sole.
Hunting Boot Materials
Leather vs. Synthetic
When shopping for hunting boots, you will primarily find boots made of leather, but companies are making high-quality synthetic hunting boots as well. Of course, there are also rubber boots for hunting waterfowl. Many leather hunting boots are either a combination of various types of leather or a leather/synthetic combination. Overall, you can’t go wrong with leather hunting boots, and they are preferred over cheap synthetic fake leather.
Leather is tough. It is difficult for sticks, rocks, brush, trees, and other sharp objects to penetrate leather, giving you the ultimate protection from the elements you’ll be walking in. Of course, the terrain you’ll be hunting in will determine how burly of a boot you’ll need, but when in doubt, go for something on the tougher side. The best elk hunting boots (or many other types of mountain hunting boots) will likely fall in this category.
Another benefit of leather is there is some level of water resistance. A good leather boot will keep you dry when hiking through wet grass and brush. In fact, a good leather boot can withstand quite a bit of moisture. A good bootmaker will also treat its boots during the manufacturing process to help with water resistance, and there are many products you can purchase to put on your boots to increase water resistance.
Another upside of leather boots is they are malleable and form to your feet better than a synthetic boot, often getting more comfortable with time and use, as long as they’re correctly cared for. Usually, the soles are the first thing to wear out on a good pair of leather boots; thankfully, most can be resoled and last for many years of heavy use.
A downside to leather hunting boots is they typically weigh more than a synthetic pair. However, some better, more expensive boots have improved technology to create a good weight/quality balance. When it comes to doing lots of hiking, especially mountain climbing, ounces equal pounds, so weight does matter.
There are good hunting boots out there made from synthetic materials or even synthetic/leather hybrids. Synthetics do not mold as easily to your feet; however, this can be good for extreme mountain hunters where more rigid support is critical. They also allow for more breathability, venting sweat better. However, one issue that crops up with synthetic materials is that it can be easier for dirt and sand to penetrate, creating blisters and discomfort. A good gator can sometimes help mitigate this problem.
Synthetic hunting boots are not as easy to rehab as a pair of leather boots. Technological advances have created boots that can last as long as a leather boot. With leather, you can apply a leather conditioner to bring them back to health (if they’re not too far gone!) and keep them in good condition.
Finally, we can’t leave out boots for bird hunting, particularly waterfowl, as it’s usually done in wet, marshy areas. Some boots will have tall shafts that go far up your calf, almost to your knee, while other waders will go up even higher. Either way, these boots will typically be all rubber with minimal seams or a hybrid with non-rubber only on the uppers. Avoid leather boots for this circumstance, unless, of course, it’s upland bird hunting you’re doing. The best upland hunting boots will be leather or leather/synthetic hybrid.
What you choose comes down to personal preference, how, and where you’ll be hunting.
Insulated vs. Non-Insulated Hunting Boots
Whether or not you buy boots that are insulated or non-insulated will largely depend on the climate and environment you are hunting in. Many top hunting boot brands make boots with both options.
No matter what boot you end up choosing, remember your feet will stay warm based on your body heat and the ability to keep it trapped. Alternatively, if you are moving around a lot, your boots must have the ability to vent the heat away from your body to prevent your feet from sweating. Sweaty feet make your socks damp, which can lead to very cold and potentially frostbit feet in a short amount of time if you stop moving.
Warm Weather Insulation
If you are hunting in warm or hot weather, a pair of non-insulated boots is the way to go. Sweaty feet can cause blisters just as much as getting them wet can. Therefore, make sure you also get a pair with good ventilation.
Pro tip: bring an extra pair of socks, so if your feet do get sweaty or wet, you can change them. Then hang your wet pair on your pack to dry.
Cold Weather Insulation
Boots are typically insulated with Thinsulate and measured in grams, from 200 to 2000. The higher the number, the more extreme cold they are suitable for. Boots with 200-gram Thinsulate are good for cool summer and fall days and nights, while boots with 2000-grams are ideal for very extreme cold or sitting for prolonged lengths of time.
The other consideration for insulation is how much you will be moving. If you’re hiking around a lot, you’ll be sweating more, and a boot with 2000 grams of insulation will be overkill. However, if you’re sitting in a hunting blind in the cold, you will be pretty sedentary, and a pair of highly insulated boots will allow you to sit out much longer.
Insulated Boots For Every Season
For people who live in an area where conditions vary significantly from season to season, a boot with some insulation, like 200, 400, or 600 grams, may work for warmer and colder seasons by changing your sock weight. Wear something lighter in the fall and thicker as the weather gets colder. You can also add a sock liner for extra protection against cold and blisters. Be careful to allow some space inside your boot still, as this is where the warm air will stay trapped to keep your feet warm.
Remember, the best hunting boots for cold weather won’t necessarily be the ones with the most insulation. If your feet sweat a lot, or you’ll be hiking and exerting yourself, you will want to consider less insulation, even if it’s cold out. On the other hand, some people may get away with more insulation in warmer weather because their feet don’t sweat as much or they’re not moving much. Just keep in mind sweat equals wet, and that can equal cold.
Waterproof vs. Water Resistant Hunting Boots
At first blush, these may seem like the same thing, but there is quite a difference when it comes to performance and what you’ll need to keep your feet dry. Again, it depends on the type of hunting you’ll be doing.
We’ll broadly split this into two categories: waterfowl hunting vs. big game hunting.
If you are waterfowl hunting, you’ll likely be tromping through wet, swampy ground. Therefore, you will need a boot that doesn’t have any leak points. This will help keep your feet perfectly dry. The best rubber hunting boots will have minimal seams and be waterproof, meaning water cannot get in. The downside to these boots is they are not very breathable. You may sweat more in them, and there is not much ventilation to allow moisture to escape. Therefore, you don’t want to do a lot of hiking or moving around in boots like this.
Many good elk hunting boots will typically be water-resistant, although many boots now have high-tech lining that makes them waterproof. Many waterproof boots don’t vent as well, so pay attention to this feature when shopping and make sure if you’re going to be doing a lot of hiking, your boot does vent well even if it’s waterproof.
If you are doing virtually any other type of hunting, water resistance will be important. If you are hiking in wet brush, grass, snow, or even just crossing streams, you’ll want something where you can step in some water without your feet getting wet.
A good pair of boots will be designed so that the seams will not allow moisture to get in. Of course, if you wade through a river where the water comes up over the top of your boot, this point is moot, and your feet will get wet. Otherwise, a pair of water-resistant boots should keep your feet dry in damp conditions.
Hunting Boot Care
No matter the type of boot you buy, whether leather, rubber, or synthetic, boot care will help keep your boots lasting for years to come. The more miles you put on a pair of boots and the more demanding the terrain you’re in, the more wear they will get. If leather boots get wet, they can dry out. This may lead to cracks that compromise the boot’s integrity and certainly lessen their functional life. However, as stated before, while a good, solid pair of hunting boots will be more expensive, you’ll get your money’s worth with proper upkeep.
Make sure you thoroughly dry, clean, and condition your hunting boots before putting them away for the season. If you don’t, you’ll likely pull them out next year and find they have shrunk, are stiff, and degrading.
Cleaning and Conditioning
First, if you’re going to be thorough, you’ll want to remove the laces (if your boots have them) from your boot. So you can get into the grooves in the tongue area. This will allow you to get out all the grass, seeds, and other random pieces of nature you may find in there!
You’ll then want to clean off excess debris and mud. You can do this with a stiff brush. Depending on the dried mud, you may have to resort to more creative ways to chip the mud off. Take care not to damage the material.
Once you’ve done this, use a wet cloth or sponge to wipe the boots clean. Make sure you get in any grooves and get all debris off.
If you have leather boots, you’ll want to use a quality leather conditioner and thoroughly rub it into the leather on the boot. Stores that sell hunting boots will always sell good leather protectants. Depending on what you use, it will likely darken the leather slightly especially if you use it on more delicate leather types such as suede or roughout. If you want to really do it right, you can find a conditioner specific to the different materials on your boot; however, that usually isn’t necessary. If you don’t mind the darkening, a good all-around conditioner will typically work for the entire boot.
You may also opt to use a seam sealant on your boots. This isn’t usually necessary with a high-quality boot. Make sure to check seams and apply any sealant or patches. Then store them in a dry place until the next hunting season!
Men’s vs. Women’s Hunting Boots
While several top hunting boot brands make boots specifically for women, there are far more men’s options on the market. Often, women are relegated to buying men’s boots and making them work. Some, like Kenetrek, have been making women’s hunting boots for a while now. However, many brands are finally taking the hint and making women-specific hunting boots.
Other brands that make hunting boots specifically for women include Lacrosse, Irish Setter (a good variety of rubber hunting boots), Crispi, Danner, Scarpa, Lowa, and Kenetrek.
Others, like Zamberlan, make hunting boots that are lightweight, with a slightly smaller profile. These work well for women, despite being a man’s boot. They also have good, solid mid-shaft hikers for women that would work well in many hunting situations.
A pair of good, high-quality hunting boots are worth their weight in gold. Especially when it comes to an enjoyable and hopefully successful hunt. You will likely regret skimping in this area if you plan to spend any substantial time in the field chasing game or fowl.
Remember, good fit and support, quality materials, and the right amount of insulation. These features should all be considered to find the best hunting boots for your purpose. There are lots of good brands making hunting boots in a variety of price ranges. Finding what suits your type of hunting, as well as personal preferences, should be a breeze especially now that you’ve done your boot homework.