PICKING THE RIGHT BOOT FOR A FALL HUNT
Depending on where in the country you are, you’ll want to factor in some different characteristics to ensure you have comfortable boots and a comfortable experience on the hunt. Nothing leads to a dissatisfying hunt faster than sore or cold, wet feet. Here is a primer on picking the right boot for the fall hunt of your choosing.
There are plenty of great boot options, but unless you are still growing, don’t skimp on your boots. Buy for a long-term solution and pick a boot that can be resoled and cared for so it can last a long time. When considering the construction of a boot, there is no problem with fabric boot outers, but they won’t be able to hold up as long as more traditional boot materials. Opt instead for full grain leathers, reinforced uppers (think Kevlar, etc.), and Vibram (one option), or other tough, replaceable soles. Bonus points for welted soles if you are a traditionalist and want the best construction techniques (mechanical versus adhesive bonding).
We prefer legacy companies like Danner or Irish Setter, but you can find solid boots from other manufacturers. What is most important is to understand the way that materials, construction techniques, and the intended purpose of a given boot will work together to determine what makes the most sense for you.
Often, many hunters will overbuy their boots, e.g., selecting way more than they need and subsequently having a suboptimal experience due to over-insulation. It’s also annoying to be using a winter boot on a spring or summer hunt. And, boots that don’t breathe are hard to reconcile when you are in a high desert, hot and arid hunting environment. Try to choose boots with the appropriate technology for the climate, or it won’t be a great experience.
In many fall hunts, temperatures can dip into the low 20s and 30s or even lower. This type of hunt can have a dramatic impact on which boot you choose. If you’re sitting in a stand all day with little movement, you won’t be producing heat as rapidly and will, therefore, need more insulation. If you are hiking all day and the temperature band for your locale is higher than average, you’re going to want to opt for a more breathable and less insulated version.
Some areas will be into the snow season by fall, and you will want more structured, insulated footwear to ensure you don’t have exposure to frostbite and to keep you comfortable with wet and cold environments. Sometimes, for the more hardcore hunter, being able to equip crampons, ice accessories, or snowshoes can be a priority.
For most hunters however, it’s best to focus on the basics.
Here are some terms you should know:
Impermeable(s): This generally refers to rubber, or a fully-encased solution to keep feet completely dry. They are particularly effective in super wet environments or where scent can be a significant deterrent to netting game. They don’t breathe at all, and feet can get swampy inside. They are excellent solutions for wet snow or stream-laden land or riverbanks. They are also generally very inexpensive because they are cheaper to produce and don’t have an overtly technical material base.
Waterproof Breathable(s): Gore-Tex is the dominant brand name, but there are plenty of other proprietary variants. Generally, this refers to PTFE or Teflon-based films laminated onto fabrics to allow for sweat and vapor molecules to exit the eco-system, and water droplets which are, by comparison, bigger than a molecular basis not to be able to penetrate the fabric. This mean the boot gets wet, but the foot stays dry, thanks to a “sock-like” lining in the boot.
Natural materials: Things like wool, sheepskin, leathers of all types, felted items, etc. have always had a strong presence in legacy bootmaker portfolios (even when new innovative technologies have been released) because they perform well. Boots for fall are typically made with natural materials on the uppers and synthetic materials (like Thinsulate instead of the natural down alternative) in the mid layers.
Synthetic materials: Things like Thinsulate, carbon-kevlar, other nylon derivatives, and open and closed cell foams tend to work well because they can perform to certain standards consistently, like holding a specific temperature level per gram/ounce or being hydrophobic (water resistant).
The best boots will use a combination of traditional natural materials and synthetics to achieve a balance of long-wearing performance, specific condition capabilities contributing to a comfortable experience.
It’s important to understand a few points to keep the boot matched to the need:
· Overall weight
· How much insulation is needed?
· Weight on the sole
Overall weight can be a tricky consideration because you want a boot tough enough and heavy enough to last a long time, but you also have to be wary of how heavy the boot is if you need to be mobile for your specified hunt.
If a boot is insulated, it will range from about 200 grams of Thinsulate (a very popular insulation because of its ability to be used in thin layers rather than bulky lofts) to 1200 grams of this proprietary 3M brand product. Hollow fibers woven in matting will trap escaping air from your foot and hold it there longer to keep heat in place. It is waterproof and can perform better than natural insulations like goose down when wet. By comparison, a 200-gram weight will generally protect you from about 45 degrees to about 30 degrees Fahrenheit depending on how the boot uses that insulation.
800 grams is about industry standard for “cold weather-specific” boots and will get you down into the 0 to -10 degrees Fahrenheit arena comfortably for most activities. However, if you are sitting in a cold place without movement, you’ll should consider more.
Weight on the sole refers to how the sole moves with the upper. Is it clunky or is it slim? You will want a larger, wider sole if you are working over uneven terrain that has varying textures. It will help even out your balance and keep you on your feet. Keep in mind that it will also make it harder to move through tough terrain. If you are on dry, even ground, then you will want to opt for a lighter weight, more flexible sole construction, to give you the bounce and flexibility that works better on such terrain.
The overall weight will be much higher if you go for traditional construction methods like lugged soles with welted construction. This is a classic technique which builds a better shoe through mechanical connections rather than adhesive glues. But sometimes the weight won’t make sense. Some of the high-end Danner boots are around 80 ounces altogether. That’s 2.5 lbs. on each foot. You wouldn’t want to hike for more than a few miles uphill in boots that heavy. But absent of the 800 grams or more of insulation that they include, you wouldn’t want anything less for frigid days.
The long and short of it: The thinner and lighter weight the boot, generally the less durable and long-lasting they will be. But there is a fine line now with so much technology devoted to footwear. The short-term performance is sometimes so good, that sacrificing the long-term durability is just a concession that is worth making in some cases.
Some Boot-makers Will Have Varying Grades by Weight and Purpose
Below are some examples:
Lightweight boots, which tend to be almost fully synthetic, cheaper to produce with lower material costs, and generally have more athletic and svelte soles that are attached with adhesives more often than not.
Upland-type boots, which tend to be a little less aggressive in the sole, a little more lightweight overall, and slimmer around the foot, are generally made of more traditional materials like leathers.
Winter-type boots that are a bit bulkier and have more stable soles to keep you floating on wet or snowy ground.
Wet weather boots are basically shells or over-boots.
It’s tough to dial-in personal boot characteristics, as each person will have different needs and fit concerns. What’s very important is to understand how the different materials work with each other and what to expect reasonably from each type of boot.
This author prefers a natural material upper and a nicely insulated synthetic mid-layer for fall boots in the United States where a fall season probably means cold weather and at least some snow on the ground. Waterproof breathable membranes make the most sense for these conditions and are worth the extra spend. Similarly, larger, welted soles make the most sense here for the author because of the additional benefits of a non-adhesive connection.
That isn’t to say that full synthetics with glued-on, lightweight soles don’t make sense. For highly active hunts where you are stalking all day, a waterproof breathable mid-layer and some moderate insulation in a fully synthetic upper will make a lot of sense. Just temper your expectations for longevity, because you are likely to be disappointed when you have to replace the boot two seasons after buying them if you are rough on footwear or in rocky conditions.
That said, tailor your choices to the immediate needs of the hunts you take most often and slightly overbuy in the case of construction quality and insulation. For fall boots, no hunter ever complained their feet were too hot when the cold set in. Similarly, no hunter ever complained about having chosen the well-made option compared to the version that skimped when the conditions got difficult.