Boots are the tires in which the bowhunter drives. And, just like different tires are required on a vehicle, different boots are needed for the bowhunter under various hunting conditions. Hunting boots are made using three primary materials; rubber, leather, and fabric. Many of today’s boots are made with full fabric outers, or combinations or fabric with leather and/or rubber. These fabrics include natural fibers, manmade polymers and nylons.
Of the three, leather is perhaps the most traditional outer material; with cow hide being the most predominant. Cow hide is strong, wears well, and is less expensive than other leathers. When the price and performance are considered, cow hide may just be the best outer boot material in existence. A good way to choose a quality leather boot is to gage the leather thickness. Thicker is better; it provides more protection and is more durable. Most leather boots go through an oil-tanning process, which requires them to be impregnated with Neatsfoot-type oil. This process helps repel water from the boot but does not make it waterproof. Full waterproof leather boots are achieved through chemical treatment or impregnation with silicon.
Perhaps the best material for boot making is nylon. This material is tough and carries good value for the cost. The most widely used nylon fabric is Cordura. Cordura comes in a variety if thicknesses. It has a rough texture that abrades and becomes fuzzy after extended wear. However, the material is very tough when used as an outer material in boots.
The advantages to using a material like Cordura over leather is that it is cheaper, lighter, and can be colored or camouflaged in many available patterns. Perhaps even better is the fact that the boots rarely require a “breaking-in” period. Disadvantages include unraveling due to abrasion and pulling, less protection against sharp sticks or rocks (when compared to leather) and they have more seams; which increase the chance of a blown seam at the worst possible time.
The top characteristic associated with rubber boots is their ability to repel water. Historically, rubber boots have been heavy and bulky; making long walks in them not very appealing. However, with each passing year rubber boots get lighter, stronger and more comfortable to wear. Perhaps the biggest advantage to rubber boots (other than waterproofness) is their ability to trap human odor within the boots. This means less scent is left on trails in and out of hunting areas. For this reason, whitetail hunters often choose rubber boots for most of their hunting applications. Rubber boots also tend to be very warm; although most hunters experience some degree of foot perspiration while wearing them. When compared to leather or fabric boots, rubber boots are larger and do not allow for quick movement over tough terrain. However, when hunting easy to moderate terrain, and mainly from a treestand, rubber boots are a fine choice.
How a boot is made is a very important point to consider before purchasing. Like anything, the construction methods directly affect the products ability to perform today, and tomorrow. The most common process used in boot construction is the Goodyear Welt. During this process a welt (ribbon) of leather or rubber is stitched to the boot upper, insole and lining; all in one operation. After that, the outsole is stitched to the bottom of the welt. The outsole is wider than the boot so the stitching is visibly evident. Boots that are made using this process are extremely tough. When compared to other boots, they offer excellent traction and the best lateral stability. Also, they are easy to repair in the event that something happens to them. One drawback associated with the Goodyear Welt construction is that it is more expensive than boots made from other construction types.
Another type of boot construction used is cement construction. This is when the leather is wrapped around a “last” (foot-shaped form) and cemented to the bottom of an insole. After that, the outsole is cemented to the bottom of the insole. There is very little labor involved in this process so boots made like this cost less. The primary disadvantage to cement bonded boots is that if a good bond is not achieved, the outsole will most likely pull loose. In addition, the boot becomes difficult to repair.
Boot construction known as “Process 82” involves stitching a leather upper to a welt bottom and stretching over a heated bronze form. Next, a pure rubber outsole is molded directly to the leather. As a result, the welt and vulcanized bottom become one. This is an inexpensive that results in one of the most durable construction processes. The disadvantages are a slightly heavier boot, and the inability to waterproof them without using a waterproof membrane bootie inside the boot.
New construction methods from companies such as LaCrosse have taken “boot building” to the next level. Using Aeroform technology, LaCrosse starts with a neoprene core “sock”; which by nature is highly flexible and has great insulating qualities. The back of the neoprene core sock then goes through a Liquid Rubber Seam Application which seals the neoprene together via a Reinforced Abrasion Protection Process. This particular area of the seam is also highly flexible which allows easy on and off applications. Next, a lightweight, polyurethane shell is poured around this neoprene core. This polyurethane shell is more durable, flexible, insulating and lighter than rubber. Underneath all of this is an Injected PU midsole for added cushioning along with an integrated shank that covers the arch of the foot. This provides stable support when climbing on ladder rungs or up a steep, rock-strewn mountainside to a secluded hunting location.
Boot Outsole Options
Just like treads on a tire, a boot’s outsole is designed for specific purposes and terrain features. While manufacturers try to distinguish themselves by making a unique outsole, for the most part outsoles can be classified into one of the four following categories:
Vibram Lugs – In the boot world, a “lug” is a nothing more than a hard rubber cleat with a sharp outside edge used for digging or lodging into hard surfaces such as rocks, dry dirt, or clay. As a result, a boot’s lug is depended upon to do all the work when the conditions get tough; such as when the terrain turns step or uneven. However, the drawback to boot “lugs” is that, since the lugs are deep and closely spaced, mud easily packs around them makes it difficult to get out. This reduces traction while at the same time makes the boot heavier.
Air Bobs – The advantage to Air bob outsoles is that they provide great traction in a broad range of terrain conditions. The distinguishing characteristic of Air bob soles is the dotted rounded knobs which have hollow cores. These “bobs” essentially flex when they come in contact with hard surfaces. As a result, each bob acts as an independent finger or claw, gripping wherever it contacts the ground. Air bob outsoles perform very well in rocks and dry dirt. However, they are just as efficient in mud. A major advantage is that they are also “self-cleaning”. The rounded design and abundance of space between the bobs doesn’t allow for much (if any) mud to build up around them. Air bobs make for a great all-purpose outsole.
Shallow Tread – The outsoles in this category have a thin, wavy-like pattern best suited for mud, grass and other slick walking surfaces. Their main purpose is to provide adequate traction while not allowing a buildup of mud. These soles can usually be found on rubber boots and upland hunting boots. However, they are not suitable for steep terrain.
Hiking/Athletic – Athletic outsoles have shallow lugs that are laid out in an Omni-directional pattern. They are used for very general in purposes and provide fair traction, a shallow grip and light weight properties. The main disadvantage to Athletic outsoles is that they are not self-cleaning. They will easily pick up and hold mud; which reduces grip and adds to their weight.
Hunting boot height can range from ankle high to almost-knee high. However, the standard height is 8-10 inches which is measured from the top of the sole. Boots in this height range provide plenty of ankle support and lower leg protection. Shallow creeks can usually be accessed while wearing them as long as the water doesn’t come over the top of the boot. Of course, if the boot isn’t waterproof, the height is irrelevant.
When walking in rough terrain where steep climbs or descents are the norm, a boot with at least 8 inches of support should be worn. Apart from that, boot height becomes a matter of personal preference. Things such as comfort, support and leg protection typically come into consideration. For the most part, taller boots provide more support, but they also weigh more and typically cost more than shorter, lighter boots.
Lining and Insulation
The lining of a boot is nothing more than the material used to cover the inside of the boot. In essence, it is the material which surrounds the foot and directly contacts it. Obviously, its primary purpose is to provide a comfortable fit and feel. A quality lining will decrease friction where the inner boot and the foot make contact, thus reducing the chance of blisters. A boot lining is also used to hold insulation in place, and it provides inside protection for waterproof membrane booties.
Most boots incorporate linings mad of leather or other manmade fabrics. Leather linings are often used and associated with quality. However, modern nylon and polyester linings are mush softer, lighter, more comfortable to the user and less expensive on the wallet when compared to leather linings. Still, the best linings tend to be nylon fabrics. These last longer and wear better than other linings. In addition, the insole (inside bottom of the boot) where the foot stands, typically defines how much room the foot has to move and flex inside the boot. Generally, the insole determines the shape, size and fit of the boot as well as the comfort level.
Today, many insoles are treaded with odor-fighting technology in order to prevent game-spooking odor buildup. Some use carbon technology, while others may use zeolite or silver to inhibit bacteria growth. This is especially important for bowhunters who need to get close to game and remain undetected.
Insulation depends on the hunter’s tolerance to cold and the level of circulation that he/she processes. Insulation basically provides dead air space within the boot walls which traps and retains body heat. The more dead air space per square inch of insulation, the more efficient it is. Boot insulation comes in three main forms: micro-fiber insulation (Thinsulate), felt, and foam.
Micro-fiber insulation is nothing more than a padding which contains thousands of tiny fibers which provide loft and dead air space. This insulation is very effective and is priced at a reasonable cost. It comes in diverse weights (200 grams, 400 grams, 1000 grams). The higher the number, the greater the insulating capacity of the boot. It should be noted that heavier insulations are thicker, thus, boots with 1000 gram Thinsulate will have bulkier walls than similar boots with 400 or 200 grams of insulation.
When deciding on the right amount of insulation, some general guidelines do exist. For bitter cold conditions and long periods of inactivity, hunters should consider boots with 1000 grams of Thinsulate or higher. For general purpose in temperate climates, boots sporting 400 grams of Thinsulate are a good choice. For active hunters in temperate to warm climates, boots with 200 grams of Thinsulate, or perhaps no insulation at all, are a good choice.
Also, consider where the insulation is placed within the boot. For example, some boots have insulation located over the instep and up the sides of the foot, but not over the toes. Properly insulated boots will have insulation completely covering the toe area, as well as the top and sides of the foot. In simplest terms, heat rises and will escape through the top of any boot if there is no insulation present to trap it in.
Boot buyers should consider the following guidelines before choosing which boot is right for them. For infrequent or light duty use, all-fabric boots are adequate. For moderate use, a combination of fabric/leather is a good choice. When short walks to a whitetail stand are the call of the day, rubber boots are a good option. And when serious hunting is in the forecast, especially in steep or rocky terrain, all leather boots are tough to beat.