July 02, 2021
By Brian Strickland
As bowhunters, we have a lot of options when it comes to the gear we carry into the field. Bows, arrows, broadheads and countless accessories are all essential when it comes to bringing a climactic ending to a successful hunt. However, as important as those items are, I don’t think they hold a candle to picking the right pair of boots. Foot issues anytime are miserable, but that misery is compounded when your long-awaited bowhunt turns into an early death march back to your truck. More than once I’ve had to endure such circumstances. On the flip side, I can honestly say that having the right boots matched with the style and location I was hunting certainly made an impact on my overall experience.
That said, if there is one thing you take away from this column it would be that one pair of boots will not work in every hunting situation. You wouldn’t want a stiff, mountaineering-type boot when hunting pigs in a Louisiana swamp; nor would you wear a knee-high rubber boot chasing mountain goats in Kodiak, Alaska. Believe it or not, I witnessed that just a few years ago and it didn’t work out well for the party involved.
There are an array of hunting boots on the market today and it can make your head spin trying to pick the right pair. What makes the decision even more difficult is that not everyone’s foot is the same. Your buddies go-to boot may not be your best option. With that in mind, a good pair of hunting boots is going to match a given situation by first providing ample support and traction, while also standing up to the rigors a particular region will throw at you. More times than not, they’ll need to keep your feet warm and dry and also provide the proper fit and comfort from the moment you start your hunt until you head home. Point being, happy feet will equate to a happy hunt, so picking the right boot can make or break the experience.
Virtually every bowhunter I know either has dreams of heading west or has already experienced such adventures. Whether you’re on an extreme sheep hunt or your typical Rocky Mountain elk adventure, it’s an intensive style of hunting that can play havoc on your feet.
For this style of hunting, there are three types of boots to choose from and they are largely based on what boot manufacturers call torsional rigidity, or more understood as boot stiffness. Not to get too much into the weeds, but a boot’s stiffness (or flexibility) is largely based on the shank in the midsole. Soft, medium and stiff-shanked boots all have their place in these environments, but there are drawbacks to each you should be aware of.
Softer shanked hunting boots are similar to a hiker. Because they have a softer stabilizer they have more flex or less torsion control. On the plus side, they tend to be quieter which is great for stalking game, and are also very comfortable and lightweight, which is ideal for the bowhunter on the move. One of my favorite pair of boots years ago was this style and I felt like I was walking on air. However, the drawbacks to that flexibility is potential foot fatigue when carrying a heavy pack and hiking for extended periods in uneven terrain, especially sidehilling. However, this can be minimized if you condition your feet to these situations before your hunt.
Kenetrek Mountain Extreme ($465): As the name suggests, the Kenetrek Mountain Extreme is their flagship boot and is a favorite among mountain hunters. At its foundation is a 7mm polyurethane midsole to ensure torsional rigidity and their proprietary K-Talon outsole to ensure your feet stay where you want them.
The 2.8mm thick full-grain leather uppers with one-piece vamp construction features a reinforced rubber sole guard for abrasion resistance, and with the no-seam tongue and breathable Windtex water-proof membrane the only moisture your feet will see is what they produce.
Danner Pronghorn ($230-$260): The Pronghorn was the first quality boot I ever owned, and five generations and two decades later, they are still popular among bowhunters. A great crossover option for the whitetail enthusiast and western hunter, Danner couples their Vibram SPE Midsole and TERRA FORCE NEXT platform to ensure superior comfort, arch support and torsion control. Full-grain leather uppers can take a beating, while the breathable GORE-TEX liner will ensure you stay dry. The Pronghorn is available up to 1200g of PrimaLoft insulation and in a snake-proof option as well.
Stiff-shanked boots are extremely popular today among many western hunters, including yours truly. They are much stiffer, have a more aggressive outsole and are built to withstand the wear and tear of a true mountain adventure. They are specifically designed to provide overall better support to your foot, arch and ankle and I have found this style to be particularly good on extended hunts when uneven terrain is involved.
My pair of Danner Thorofares have seen the rugged mountains of Alaska, as well as Colorado the past couple of years, and I have been able to hunt longer and harder without the foot fatigue I generally experience with other boots. Although these styles of boots are a little heavier, they aren’t cinder blocks in most cases so the little extra weight far outweighs the long-term comfort in my experience. And although the stiffness generates a little extra noise, you can mitigate that by slipping them off and donning an extra pair of wool socks for the final stalk.
Irish Setter VaprTrek ($160-$170): Made with full-grain leather and abrasion-resistant material, the athletic VaprTrek from Irish Setter is an ideal bowhunting boot for the hunter on the move. Lightweight, quiet and waterproof from top to toe, it features an odor-controlling ScentBan technology that kills odor-causing bacteria and has an aggressive but nimble outsole to ensure your feet stay where you want them to. They are available in Mossy Oak and Realtree camo patterns and up to 400g PrimaLoft insulation.
A mid-stiff boot offers better rigidity, stability and ankle support. These seem to be the type of boot most bowhunters wear across all types of terrain, making them a good crossover style of boot in most situations. They are a good lightweight option for early-to-midseason hunts that can get the job done just about anywhere. Although they aren’t as quiet as the aforementioned style, they aren’t extremely noisy either, but the tradeoff of more support is certainly worth it.
If you hunt whitetails or spend time in marshy regions, you must have a pair of quality rubber-style boots. Not only do they keep your feet dry, but their ability to stay clean and scent-free is also important. Although rubber hunting boots generally look the same, looks can be deceiving so investing in a quality pair is important to overall support, comfort and lasting quality.
The three elements you should look for in a rubber boot are durability, flexibility and insulating qualities. A quality pair will offer a highly durable rubber shell that is bonded to a breathable neoprene liner. Not only does this enhance their waterproof capabilities, but neoprene has natural insulation qualities as well. When that is coupled with additional insulation, it adds even more warmth without the bulk, which is a must on late-season hunts.
Although not designed for mountain-type hunting — they're extremely popular with treestand hunters that are careful about their scent — a good pair of rubbers will also feature a fairly aggressive outsole to provide good traction in mud and mildly uneven terrain, while also having an athletic design that hugs your feet with a comfortable foot-bed.
LaCrosse Aerohead Sport ($180-$200): When it comes to rubber boots you get what you pay for, and once you slip your feet into a LaCrosse Aerohead Sport, you’ll know it was worth every penny. Its Polyurethane shell coupled with a premium footbed wraps your feet in heavenly comfort and warmth that you’ll instantly feel. Designed for optimal fit and flexibility, it also sports a rugged Brush Tuff material with abrasion shin guards for exceptional durability. The Aerohead Sport is available in both 3.5mm and 7mm insulation options, and an array of camo patterns.
Don’t Forget About Snakes
I never really thought about snake boots until I stepped on a rattler about a decade ago while on a spring turkey hunt in the Edwards Plateau of Texas. Luckily for me, he struck the bottom of my boot and I walked out a little wiser for the experience. Since then, I’ve experienced two more such encounters and now waterproof snake boots have been on my feet whenever I'm in country prone to these encounters.
While a good pair of snake boots will protect your legs and feet from quick-striking fangs, they will also provide good traction and support in rough terrain, as well as being waterproof. Some companies even offer rubber snake-proof boots for those who hunt in more swampy regions.
Many of today’s snake boots offer the same support as a mid-stiff style boot making them a great option in more rocky terrain. Even better is their athletic fit and comfortable footbed so you have no issues chasing game for extended periods. Would I wear a pair on a mountain-type hunt? No. But my Danner Steadfast Snake Boots, which are out of production now, are still put to good use every spring.
Rocky Boots Prolight Waterproof Snake Boot ($145): With 16 inches of snake-proof protection, Rocky’s Prolight Waterproof Snake Boot features full-grain leather trims that handsomely surround the Mossy Oak camo nylon material that reinforces Rocky’s guaranteed waterproof protection and breathability. Their BioMech Polyurethane rubber outsole is well-suited for rugged terrain, while the cushioned footbed ensures all-day comfort.