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Hunting Boots: Finding The Right Fit

by Josh Fletcher 24. January 2012 11:54
Josh Fletcher

Each year hunters will spend thousands of dollars on outfitters, guns, and bows. They will research and spend hundreds of dollars on everything from calls, scents, to back packs; however the one item often over looked is proper foot wear. They will buy top of the line equipment from archery specialist at pro shops but will run to a big chain store to pick up a pair of hunting boots on sale, basing their boot selection just on price and looks.

Even the United States Military under stands the importance of taking care of your feet. A solder is no good if he has a bad case of trench foot or feet so blistered the soldier can’t walk.

Your feet and foot wear are just as important as the weapon you are carrying on your next hunt, because if your feet get cold, wet, or blistered your done hunting. If you don’t take care of your feet you won’t sit in the stand long waiting for a big whitetail to walk by. You’re not going to cover the amount of ground needed to find that big bull elk if your feet are blistered from an uncomfortable boot. You’re not going to stay in the woods or cover much ground chasing that long beard in the early April morning if your feet are wet from the morning dew.

I think by now you get the point, and understand the importance of proper foot wear. There is no magic boot out there, nor is there one style of boot for every hunting situation.  The key is to look for certain characteristics in a boot that will not only fit your foot but also your hunting situation.

In this article we will break down the three main types of boots to fit a variation of hunting situations. These are not the only style of boots out there however these are the most popular. Next we will take a close look at each type of boot and common characteristics that you will want to look for in picking the right boot for you and your hunting situation.

Keep in mind that with all the boots out on the market the main thing for all three categories is to get the best boot that you can afford. I am not saying that you will need to break the bank for a good pair of boots, but foot wear is an area of your hunting equipment you won’t want to skimp on.

We have noticed that you are better off paying up front for a good pair of hunting boots that will last you many years and treat your feet well versus buying a cheap pair just to get buy, which will often leave you buying a new pair year after year.

Again we want to emphasize that there is no one perfect boot, the reason is, there are too many variables in your hunting situation and environment for a one size fits all situation boots.  With that being said we will not focus on a particular brand of boot but common characteristics that you will want to look for in making your next hunting boot selection.

The three main categories that we will cover for hunting boots are, knee high rubber boots, hiking or hunting boot, and pack boots.

The knee high rubber boot is often best suited for the whitetail stand hunter. The guy or gal that walks a relatively short distance whether it be through swamps or upland, but is looking for scent control and who has the main goal of sitting in a tree stand for several hours. The other type of hunter that utilizes rubber knee high boots is that of a hunter in swampy wet conditions or a turkey hunter battling the morning dew.

The hiking boot or hunting boot is for the hunter who will walk through a variety of conditions, whether it is shallow swampy water, upland conditions, snow, or mountains of the west.

The third popular boot is the pack boot. This type of boot is often used in the far north ware hunting conditions consist of extreme cold and snow. Most often used for sitting long hours in the cold waiting for a deer to walk by.

Now that we have the three most popular types of boots available, let’s break them down to discuss what to look for in making the right selection for you.

Knee High Rubber Boots:

With rubber boots there is no laces to tighten up the boot around the top of your foot and around the ankle area of your foot. Because of this it is important to select a good pair of rubber boots that is form fitting in this area of your foot and ankle. Some companies such as the Irish Setter Company designs the boot to have a flexible cup for your ankle to stretch out from the boot allowing the top of your foot to slide down into the boot. By doing this it allows the company to make a more form fitted boot to your foot.  Other companies are now producing a more properly molded boot to the hunter’s foot. This will make the boot tougher to slide your foot into, however once your foot is slid into the boot it is more locked in and secure allowing less “slop” for your foot to slide back and forth in.

A good rubber boot such as these from Scent Blocker have an antimicorbial inner sole to resist mildew and bacteria growth.

This is very important to have a secure ankle and foot fit in rubber boots because if you’re a hunter who has a considerable distance to walk to your tree stand you will start to feel fatigue in your legs from trying to compensate your natural walk and to avoid the boot from slapping the back of your calf and to prevent your foot from sliding around.  Not only will this fatigue your legs, but will also create blisters on your ankles from the constant rubbing of the boot.

Next, you will want a rubber boot that provides good ankle support so that you don’t roll your ankle while walking through a given type of terrain. A good rubber boot will have a thicker rubber around the foot and ankle area.  Above the ankle you will want to have a more flexible rubber, some companies use neoprene in this area. The reason is that the boot above the ankle must flex with your shin to allow a more comfortable stride to your step.
 
You will also want to find a rubber boot that has a removable insole. The negative of rubber boots are that they do not breathe. Because of this, often the insoles of the boot will be ridden with foot moisture and need to be pulled out of the boot to dry and avoid bacteria growth.

Also pay attention to the outsole of the boot or traction. Because these boots are less flexible and forgiving as hiking boots and are often worn in wet muddy conditions you will want an aggressive sole pattern that will clean out and not get clogged up with mud limiting your traction.

Last and most important the boot must be comfortable. When trying on a pair of rubber boots, don’t just take a couple of steps in them and throw them in your cart. Walk around, make some laps in the store, you may get some strange looks but for the people that understand the importance of a proper fitting boot, they will know what you’re doing. If you feel just the slightest part of the boot that is uncomfortable or ankle slop, start over and look at a different pair, because what might  feel slight in the store with a flat smooth floor will be magnified tenfold in the woods on uneven ground.

It is also important to note that with all boots you want a good snug fit, especially in the ankle and the top part of your foot, however you don’t want a boot to tight that it will restrict the blood flow and circulation of your foot. Even just the slightest restriction will cause your feet to feel cramped and also cause your feet to get much colder very quickly. You will want room to freely wiggle your toes. If you know you’re going to be picking out a pair of boots at a store, wear the type of socks you will be hunting in, because if you wear wool socks while hunting they will fit much differently in a boot than thin cotton socks that you wore while trying on the boots in the store.

Tips for taking care of your rubber boots:

•The biggest thing to remember with rubber is that as soon as it is produced from the factory, when exposed to UV (ultraviolet light) the rubber begins to break down. To avoid your rubber boots from cracking, ultimately leaking, keep your boots out of any sun light when not in use. Don’t store them out on the deck or next to a window. Keep them in a tote or a box for best life of the boot.

•Try to avoid extreme heat on the rubber. Avoid keeping them in the vehicle for an extended period of time. Extreme heat can warp the boot causing a different fit.
 
•Because rubber does not breathe, after every use, pull out the removable insole and allow it to air dry. Next place the boot on a boot drier or have a fan blow fresh air inside the boot. By doing this will avoid bacteria and mildew from growing inside the boot. If your feet are like mine, I highly recommend sprinkling foot powder inside the boot after each use.

•A flexible rubber bonding glue works good for quick fixes of your rubber boots to patch minor holes or cracks such as “Shoe Goop”. However depending upon the amount of use, often this is just a quick fix and not a permanent one.

Hiking or Hunting Boots:

These boots are on average from 6 inches to 12 inches in height and often used for upland or mountain hunting. Just like the rubber boots mentioned above you will want the boot to fit properly. These are boots that you would wear on an elk or mule deer hunt in the mountains, a prong horn hunt in the prairies, or a pheasant hunt in the CRP grass. There are many different applications for the hunting boot and is the most adaptable for varied types of terrains.

Leather is the most durable and longest lasting material for boots.

When it comes to hunting boots I prefer all leather over Cordura for material. I have owned both types of material boots, and I got more life out of the leather boot than the Cordura. Leather is more flexible than Cordura, and when properly oiled leather will get you more years of use.
 
The problem that I have had with Cordura, is that after several years the Cordura begins to break down, especially in the crease where your toes bend in the boot.  I also prefer leather because when properly oiled, the leather its self has water repellency giving you extra water proof protection.

A friend of mine has a pair of leather hunting boots that he has worn for the last twenty years, and my last pair of leather hunting boots lasted me over twelve years.
If you do decide to go with a boot that has Codura, it is strongly advised to make sure the area around the toe, especially ware the toe bends, be made of leather. This is often the first area of the boot that Codura begins to break down at.

Next let’s look at the soles. There are two main ways of attaching the soles to the boot. One is sewn on and the other is glued on.  They both have their strong and weak points. I prefer sewn on soles because if I wear down the soles of my boots I can take them to a shoe cobbler and have them just sow on a new sole. The weak part of a sewn on sole has a tendency to feel like the boot is more top heavy while seated on the sole. What is meant by this is it feels like the bottom of your foot may tend to feel like they will roll over the sole on steep angles.
 
The glued on sole seems to provide more support on steep angles than the sewn on sole because most glued soles are molded to come up over the sides of the boots to provide more surface area for the glue. The negative of glued on soles is that the glue has a tendency to break down and not hold the sole on, causing the boot to leak or the sole to begin to come off.
 
You will also want to make sure your boot is 100 percent water proof, with no exceptions.  I feel so strongly about this that not only do I look for a boot that is water proof but it MUST be Gore-Tex lined. When I see a tag on a boot that says 100 percent water proof, my first question is, for how long? By being not only water proof but also Gore-Tex lined, I know that I will get years of use out of the boots without them leaking.

Dont just trust that the boot is water proof. Make sure they are Gore-Tex lined for added years of water proofing.

When trying on a pair of hunting boots, just like the rubber boots, make sure they are very comfortable with zero discomforts. Often people will try on a boot with mild discomfort, but they still buy the boot any way with the mindset that they just need to be “broken in”. However it always seems that the discomfort never goes away, and if the boot is not comfortable you won’t wear them, and if you don’t wear them, why even buy them in the first place.

Next you want to make sure that your toes do not hit the front of the boot while on steep angles. You want a good boot that provides great ankle support and also a snug fit at the top of your foot and front of your ankle. By having a proper fit in this location your boot will prevent your foot from sliding forward and slamming the tips of your toes in the front of the boot while on a steep angle. If you ignore this while trying on a pair of boots, you better invest in a lot of mole skin and band aids on your next hunt in the mountains.

Also just like the rubber boots make sure you have enough room to wiggle your toes so that you don’t restrict circulation, and pick a boot that has good aggressive outer soles for traction in many different types of terrains.

Tips for taking care of your Hiking Boots:

•If your hiking boots are leather, keep them well-oiled after each hunt using a quality leather treatment or a product such as Sno-Seal.

•Keep mud off your boots while not in use. Get a firm bristled shoe brush to help wash off the mud from your boots after each hunt. If the mud is left on while in storage it will cause the leather of the boot to dry out and possibly crack.

•Just like the rubber boots, remove the insole of the boot to air dry from foot perspiration, and also place boots on a boot drier or allow a fan to circulate air inside the boot to prevent mildew and bacteria growth.

•Keep boots from direct sun light. The UV from sun light will break down and dry out the leather of the boot.

•With boots made of Codura, treat with a thin layer of silicone water proofing spray after each hunt to maintain the boots water proofing abilities.

Pack Boots:

Pack boots are designed for extremely cold temperatures. These types of boots are often used by deer hunters that spend hours on stand waiting. Because of the large bulk and weight of the boots for insulation against cold temperatures, these boots are not meant for long walking.

Pack boots can be large and bulky, however you will never wear a warmer type of boot.

When selecting a pair of pack boots, keep in mind that the rating of the boots does not mean they will keep you warm down to that particular temperature. For example, if boots are rated for -25 degrees, does not mean your feet will be warm in them when the temperatures plummet to -25 degrees. Use this as a rating system to compare to other pack boots. An example is, if you plan on using pack boots for extremely cold temperatures or if your feet get cold very easily, you may want to go with a pack boot that is rated down to a -150 versus a boot that is rated to a -110.

When picking out a pair of pack boots you will want a pair that has a removable liner. The reason for this is similar to the removable insole on your hunting boots. After each hunt you will want to remove the liner to allow to air dry and also place the boot itself on a boot drier. While hunting under extremely cold temperatures you will want your boots bone dry before each hunt. Any amount of moisture in your boots will result in cold feet no matter how insulated the boots are.

Because you will most likely be wearing pack boots in snow, they must be 100 percent water proof with no exceptions. You may also want some extra room in the boot for thick wool socks along with room to attach adhesive toe warmers inside the boots, also just like the rubber boots and the hiking boots, a proper fit with good ankle support is a must.
 
Tips for taking care of your pack boots:

•Just like the hiking boots, keep the leather uppers well oiled. If the uppers of the pack boots are made of Codura spray them with a light coat of silicone water proofing spray after each hunt.

•After each time you wear your pack boot, pull out the removable liner and dry the boots on a boot drier or have a fan blow fresh air into the boot. When wearing pack boots you will want them to have zero moisture inside the boot. If your feet are damp, they will be cold no matter how well insulated the boots are.

•Most pack boots have rubber bottoms, just like the rubber knee boots avoid direct sunlight on the boots to prevent UV damage to the rubber.

Conclusion:

No matter what style of boot you choose they must be comfortable. Do not put up with an uncomfortable boot with hopes of it “breaking in”. If they hurt your feet you won’t wear them to break them in. You will also want good ankle support in your boots and they must be snug around the ankle with no room for “slop” however you don’t want your boots tight around the toes so that it restricts blood circulation in your feet. Also keep in mind that if it just says 100 percent water proof on the tag, asks yourself, for how long?  Not only will you want your boots 100 percent water proof but you will want them to be Gore-Tex lined for many years of water proof durability.  Most importantly get the best boots that you can afford, and you will get many years of comfortable hunting out of your next pair of boots.

Dressing for a Cold Weather Hunt

by Josh Fletcher 14. November 2011 10:42
Josh Fletcher

As the rut heats up, the temperature begins to drop, and if you get cold you won’t sit long causing you to miss out on valuable time in the tree stand. A good family friend has been preaching to our deer camp members that you can’t kill deer sitting back at camp. To be able to sit long hours under cold temperatures requires a specific layering system.
 
The system that I describe below is tried and true. There are no gimmicks or one product by itself. The layering system requires specific layers that serve specific purposes, however when used together the layers work like a team to keep you in the stand longer under extreme temperatures.

Extreme weather calls for proper layering, or your hunt will come to a quick halt

Base Layer

To start with, the base layer is your most important layer to your body’s cold weather system. The base layer will mean the difference between a long and comfortable sit or a really short and cold sit. If you get sweated up while walking into your stand it’s up to the base layer to pull you through the cold weather wait.

Cotton may be a comfortable fabric for lounging around the house; however it spells disaster for a cold weather sit. The reason is that cotton absorbs sweat and moisture very well, however traps it and does not allow the moisture to evaporate quickly, leaving a wet fabric against your skin. Wet clothing then means a short sit when the temperatures drop. In short, avoid any base layer that has cotton as its main fabric.

Some people prefer to wear a form fitting base layer, to allow the base layer to grab perspiration and wick away moisture in locations of your body that a loose fitting shirt normally would not have full contact with.

The best fabrics for your base layer are polyester and merino wool. When reading the tags on your long underwear you will want polyester or a polyester/ wool blend. The polyester wicks sweat from your body and quickly evaporates the moisture leaving your body dry. I prefer my base layer to be a mock turtle neck or a full turtle neck.
 
Pocket Layer

The pocket layer can consist of any type of shirt that has chest pockets, as long as it is not made of cotton. If you perspire heavily while heading to your stand you will run the risk of having moisture bleed through your base layer and absorbed by your pocket layer.

The pocket layer often consists of polyester, but it should have chest pockets. The purpose of this layer is to hold commercial air activated hand and body warmers. By placing hand warmers in your pockets of your pocket layer allows the hand warmers to be added to the heat created by your body. Another location to place the adhesive warmers is the area of your kidneys. The weight of your pocket layer shirt will depend on the weather conditions you will be facing.

It is not recommended to wear any garments with hoods except for your outer layer. The reason is that the hood sticks out over your outer layer, if it gets wet from either rain or snow, it will cause the moisture to be wicked by the fabric and be pulled into your inner layer holding the moisture against the back of your neck.

Insulating Layer

The insulating layer is the clothing layer that will hold the warmth created by your body heat and the added warmth from the hand warmers. The fabric of choice is wool.  Wool has been used by old time hunters from the 1800’s. Wool also retains heat even if wet. I personally prefer this layer to be a vest. I prefer vests because they free up my arms from bulk after dressing in several layers, making it easier to pull back my bow and decreases the bulk of fabric on my arms to cause string interference with my bow.
 
Wind Proof Layer

Wool and other high quality fabrics work great at holding in body temperature, however as the wind blows through your insulating layer, it will rob you of your precious and important body heat. This layer consists of a special wind blocking fabric that is designed for stopping heat robbing wind from your insulating layer. Products that work great for this layer can be WindBlocker by Scent Blocker, GORE-TEX, or other breathable water proof fabrics.

Outer Layer

This is your last layer; you will want this layer to be a quiet fabric. The reason being is that most wind proof fabrics have a tendency to be a little noisy. This has to do with the materials used to stop the wind. Your outer layer will cover and dampen the sound made by the wind proof layer. I prefer a heavy fleece jacket. For years I also used wool as my outer layer, both work great for added insulation. Your outer layer should be a good insulating layer to catch any heat that may escape from your other layers.

Pant Layering

I placed how you layer for pants in a category of its own, because how you layer with your pants will depend on your hunting situation and weather conditions.

First with pant layering you will want to start with a base layer just like your top. You will again want to use a fabric for long underwear consisting of polyester or a polyester/ merino wool blend. Also just like the top you want this layer for its moisture wicking capabilities along with added heat insulation.

For crisp cold days with minimal snow depth or no rain, I wear a polyester blend pant. The thickness of the pant will depend on the outside temperature. For extremely cold days I will often wear a wool pant instead of polyester.

The outer layer will consist of a heavy fleece or wool, for warmth and quietness of walking to and from your stand.

As you noticed there is no wind proof layer involved unless there is a special weather condition. The reason for this is when you are walking to your stand wearing a water proof or wind proof pant you will begin to sweat and accumulate moisture. The only time that I will utilize a wind proof or water proof pant, is when I am walking through deep snow, extremely windy conditions, or rain. It is recommended that if you have a long walk to your stand, pack in your wind proof layer and put it on when you get to your stand to avoid accumulating extra moisture.

Another trick that I have learned to deal with mild depth of snow to avoid carrying a wind proof layer is to utilize snow gators. These are a shin high water proof fabric that covers the top of your boots and shins. This helps to keep your pant legs dry during the walk in to your stand.

You get what you pay for is the "golden rule" when it comes to a quality pair of hunting boots

Foot Layers

A complete cold weather set up doesn’t just end with your body. Your feet are just as important. If your feet get cold, you will be packing it in for the day very soon.

To start with you will want a good pair of socks as your base layer, just like the base layer for your body you will want them to wick moisture from your feet. If you have a problem with extra perspiration on your feet, it is also recommended to powder your feet with a moisture absorbent foot powder.

The next layer for your feet is a high quality pair of wool socks. Just like your body this is also your insulating layer to hold the heat from your foot. I also recommend using commercial toe warmers to help produce more heat to be held in by your hunting boots for extreme cold weather sits.

Your boots are the most important item for your feet and your whole body. This is an item that you don’t want to skimp on warmth or quality. A good high quality pair of hunting boots will keep your feet warm and dry, and will last you for years. I once owned pair of high quality pack boots for twelve years before replacing them.
You are better off paying more for a good quality pair of boots than skimping and buying boots to get you by. Often cheaper boots won’t last as long as a good quality pair, causing you to buy more boots and paying more for several pair of less quality foot wear than if you just purchased a good quality pair from the start.

I recommend a good quality pair of pack boots for cold weather hunts. Also keep in mind when looking for boots that just because they are rated for -25 degrees does not mean they will keep your feet warm down to -25 degrees. You will want to select a hunting boot that is designed for the type of extreme temperature that you are likely to encounter on your hunt.

You will also want to make sure that your hunting boots are 100% water proof with no exceptions. If your feet get wet, you’re done hunting. It’s that simple. Long story made short when selecting hunting boots, get the best quality hunting boot that you can afford, this is one part of the cold weather system you don’t want to skimp on.

Gloves

I personally prefer to wear thinner glove used with a hand warmer muff. A hand warmer muff has a waist strap and attaches at your waist. With openings at each end you can keep your hands warm without added bulk and loss of finger dexterity for handling your bow and other items.

If you decide not to use a hand warmer muff, you will want to use mittens instead of gloves. Mittens keep your fingers warmer because they are allowed to share heat produced by each finger, versus gloves separate your fingers allowing only the heat produced by each finger to keep that particular finger warm. Basically mittens work on the concept of warmth in numbers.

Hats

Like your feet this is another layer that you don’t want to skimp on. Majority of your body heat is lost from the top of your head. Use a thick high quality hat that covers your ears down to your neck. Also like your base layer you don’t want to use any hat made of cotton. You want to keep your head warm and dry.

A good quality warm hat is a must for a cold weather hunt

Neck Gaiter

Once you use a neck gaiter during a cold weather hunt, you won’t leave home without one. Select a good neck gaiter that obviously covers your neck but also is able to be pulled up over your nose and mouth without exposing your neck. The purpose of this is to reflect the heat given off by your breath to keep your face and neck warm.

Back Pack

With your cold weather system you’re designed to stay stationary for long periods of time. You won’t be able to walk a considerable distance without getting sweated up while wearing your cold weather system. For that reason you will want a good quiet back pack to allow you to pack in your cloths.
 
I usually walk into the stand wearing just my base layer and pocket layer, if it is extremely cold out I will also walk in with my wool insulating layer. The rest of the layers go into your back pack. You never want to walk into your stand wearing your wind proof layer. The reason being, these layers are designed to stop wind cutting down on the clothing’s ability to breathe. By wearing this layer while walking you will often accumulate moisture from the wind proof layer.
The key to the back pack is to pack in your layers to be put on once at the stand, because you want to avoid getting heavily sweated up for your cold weather sits.

Conclusion

The key to dressing for extreme temperatures is to utilize layers. Like assembly line workers, each layer has a special purpose and design. However to keep you warm under cold temperatures each layer needs to perform its job and work together as a team to maximize and retain your core body’s heat. The key is to prevent the loss of as much body heat as you can. Several thinner layers will help hold in more body temperature than two heavy bulky layers. Use special layers for maximized warmth this year, because after all you can’t kill deer sitting back at camp.




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