What to Look for in a 3 Season Hunting and Hiking Boot
Picking the right boot for you really drills down to personal preference but with the number of boots available the process can quickly get overwhelming. The purpose of this article is to simplify the process by providing a guide on how to select a reliable, year-round boot you could take on a day hike, multi-day trip and off-road.
For credibility, I've co-written this guide with industry professional Poul Sylvest, who had been fitting clients with boots for 47 years and counting. My most valuable lesson learned from him was, "If you have the correct boot, there is no break-in period."
Look for a solid leather exterior, avoid fabric or mesh pieces and too much stitching. The toe area gets a lot of wear and tear, any stitching in that area can easily come apart.
Soft Leather Tongue
Make sure the tongue is leather as well, avoid fabric, which cannot be waxed for further waterproofing. The leather used on the fabric should be softer and thinner than the rest of the exterior of the boot. You want the tongue to have a crease midway, this ensures there's no pressure on the top of your foot. Well made boots will go as far as pre-cutting a crease in the leather to relieve that pressure point.
All Around Rubber Gaurd
If you plan on going off-road in your boots or stepping into a few puddles, you want to look for a rubber guard that goes all around your boot, not just the toe area. The extra protection will shield against sharp rocks cutting into the leather and increase the waterproofness of the boot from the mud and puddles.
Grippy and Even Sole Construction
Try to get something that can be re-soled. Western hunting beats the crap out of your shoes, but the leather will stay intact if you are cleaning and waxing them regularly. You should be waxing them when you see the water not beading off the leather (easier said than done).
The yellow Vibram logo stamped beneath the sole has become the industry standard for a hardworking shoe but be mindful that most shoe manufacturers have designed and patented their own Vibram soles. In short, just because that logo is there it doesn't make a shit shoe, less shit. Here are some qualities you should look for in a good sole:
A slightly curved sole that encourages the front of your foot to roll easily off the ground
A mixture of spikes, curves, and lines that gripe well on loose rocks, mud and soft ground
A relatively even sole, avoid a chunky high heel. This will cause you to heel strike first which is the root of most ankle, shin, knee and hip pain.
A huge misconception is the higher the boot the more ankle protection. Ankle support actually happens at the base where your heel is. A well-made boot should have a solid heel cap that doesn't soften with use. A higher boot insulates better for colder trips and provides more protection against water. If you're getting a three season one, a boot that just covers your ankle is more than enough. Any higher and you'll be sweating up a storm. Use gaiters for more protection during the wet season.
GORE-TEX (GTX) liner, this is debatable because many will say you will overheat and it will leak anyways. This is true, GTX will leak if not appropriately treated during and after the field with beeswax. For example, sleeping at camp with the insoles out of the boots will dry them faster which will increase the waterproofness of your boot. Also, GTX needs to be clean for it to work properly (just like a GTX jacket). After a dirty hunt, you need to rinse the inside of your boot out with soapy water and let it dry out thoroughly before waxing them again. Also, wear a good pair of mostly merino socks to keep things well ventilated.
No matter what you do, do not buy a snug fitting boot go up a size. For several reasons:
A bit of room is better for cold weather management - better insulation when there’s airflow
Good if you need to double up the socks
Good if you need to add in a thicker liner for cold weather
Helps avoid stubbing your toe and losing your toe nails on downhill sprints
Your feet will swell under a weighted pack after a while (this fact depends on how hard and far you go). Won’t happen to everyone but it sure did to myself and a few others I’ve spoken to.
Listed below are examples of boots that fit the descriptions mentioned. I'm listing specific models that are well known and easily found in-store or online. Click on each image for more details.
PROS: good for a narrow long foot, no break in period, and most affordable option.
CONS: The tongue is fabric and therefore cannot be waxed for extra waterproof protection.
PROS: Great for a wider foot and thicker midsection, no break in period, very cushiony, can be re-soled.
CONS: Has been known to leak but reason not clear. That being said they have a great warranty like most high quality boot providers.
PROS: Great for a wide foot, or a thicker midsection, full leather, no break-in period, and can be re-soled by Meindl. Fully leather for better waterproof waxing.
CON: This award-winning hiking boot is an INVESTMENT but well worth it. I have a pair and love them!
PRO: great snug fit for a hard to fit, long, narrow foot and ready to wear right out of the box. Fully leather for better waterproof waxing.
CON: None, at least not that I’ve heard of yet from my fellow hunting friends.
This is your standard guide for a three-season boot. What I've described you will be investing about $400-600. At the end of the day if the boot fits and you are comfortable and it hits none of the guidelines - that's ok too. Work with your budget and remember, comfort first.
To make things even easier below is a checklist you can copy and paste to take with you shopping or reference back to while browsing online:
Soft Leather Tongue
Wrap Around Rubber Gaurd
Grippy and Even Sole Construction
If you have questions on how to buy boots online or can't decide between a boot, let me know! I will see if I have tried them on before or done research on them. Furthermore, I would to hear about which boots your rocking in the field and your experience with them.
Articles coming soon: how to wax your boot, how to keep your Gortex liner waterproof, and lastly how to take advantage of your boot warranty!