Testing and Trials to Find the Right Mountain Hunting Boots
By: Matt Wymer
A journey to a good fit, and some resources to help today’s mountain hunter find the right hunting boots.
The goal of this article is to walk you through this author’s journey to a good fit, and provide some links to other resources. If all you want is the resources, then scroll to the bottom.
As you will soon notice, my boot journey has been an evolution, and one that more than likely will still continue to evolve. Hunting boots, if used heavily, are not lifetime products. Some last longer than others. I have read that 2-3 years is a reasonable expectation for those who use them on a regular basis. I’ve heard stories of guys getting 4-5 years, or more, out of their boots, and I am hoping my current boot will deliver that. I have found that a good boot typically lasts me 3-4 seasons at most.
While the boots might look OK on the outside, the boot’s shape has been stretched and tormented enough that blisters become the norm after they begin to deteriorate and wear down. When this happens, you have to suck it up and get rid of what seemingly look like a good pair of boots.
Let’s face it, your feet are the tools that make adventures possible, and next to the weapon, there is not really much that is as critical as footwear. While styles of hunting and terrain vary, one thing is certain; good boots, or more importantly, good fitting boots, make or break your trip.
My first backpack hunting boots were a pair of La Sportiva Makalus. These are a mountaineering boot I had used as part of the Alpine Club in college. They had served me well and I assumed that would translate to sheep country. My first sheep hunt was one I was ill prepared for. Physically, mentally, the gear, you name it….I failed it! The constant wetness and abuse sheep country threw my way turned these into painful torture devices. I swear they shrunk a whole size plus! Both big toe toenails turned black and I had numbness in the toes for over a year following that hunt!
I hit the forums, asked around, and moved on to the (now discontinued) Cabela’s Alaska Hunter by Miendl. They were amazing boots the first 3 years I owned them. Feet stayed dry, and no blisters. However, the following sheep hunt was a completely different story! My feet were trashed! Blisters varied from the heel, to the sole, and to the toes. I replaced insoles, switched socks, but could not figure out why a boot that had fit perfectly for prior hunts, was now failing me.
The next season I tried another pair of La Sportivas. This time the infamous Trango S EVO GTX. I was hoping for a lighter technical boot to solve my problems. The results are in the below photo. Luckily my camp shoes that season were a pair of Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX Hiking Shoes. I had spent the summer hiking in those and found them amazing performers for such a simple, light, shoe.
I liked them so much I threw them in my pack as my camp shoes for that year’s sheep hunt. As you can see from the below picture, the boots were out, and I completed the rest of my trip in my Salomon trail runners. They worked OK for this, but my feet did take a bit of a beating in the rough sheep country.
As a member of Rokslide.com, since nearly the beginning, I regularly browse the forum discussion threads and enjoy the articles. I started to see a trend of folks who were dealing with a mid-west boot shop called Lathrop & Sons. Top this off with an informative article on Blister Prevention, and I knew I had to give them a whirl. After a few conversations with Steve I knew I needed to go with the Custom Fit service. I had my feet measured and info sent off. I was very interested in several pairs of hunting boots, but started to realize that Stephen was not as enamored with my choices as I was. He was subtly trying to let the boot pick me, vs me pick the boot. I realized I had called him because of his expertise and decided that I had better just let him take control.
A few days later a pair of Lowa Bighorn GTXs (the current boot is now called the Tibet, I think?) with Lathrop’s Synergy insoles arrived. They were not my first boot choice, and lacked the appeal of the boots I thought I was looking for. However, from day one they fit. I initially didn’t like the insole, it felt loose, but dang it the boot just fit! Before long, the insole was like a second skin as I broke them in on several training hikes, and then headed for the hills of Raspberry Island on a support mission chasing Alaskan Elk. Southeast Alaska is rough on gear, and our trip was a gear tester.
Despite wet weather, wet brush, snow, slush, mud, and hiking over hill and dale, the boots held up. No blisters and my feet stayed dry! That next year I took them on my sheep hunt, where once again the boots performed as expected. However, the next season’s adventures proved too much for my trusty Lowas. I’m not sure what happened, but the tail end of that season resulted in blister city, chiefly on the bottom of my feet.
I’m wasn’t sure what to make of how the Bighorns were performing for me. I was deeply disappointed in their durability, and was ready to move on. While I was dancing around new boots and changing them around (yet again), my hunting buddy Jerry wore out his Kenetreks. Looking for something different he asked me about some Crispis he had heard about. I pointed him in the right direction and he soon had a pair in hand.
Knowing I was still looking for yet another pair of hunting boots, Jerry said, “Try the Crispis. I know your feet and boots are a soap opera, but give them a try”. So, I decided to gamble and ordered up two pair to try. Jerry really likes the extra height of the Crispi Hunter GTX, but that seemed too much for me. I ordered the Wyoming GTX and the Guide GTX. As I type this article the Wyomings are on feet, and I have gotten four season so far out of my Crispi Guide GTXs!
Even more amazing, I am running the OEM insole, a feat I have never done before. The Wyoming is a good light weight hiking boot, but it flexes too much for me to use as a sheep hunting boot. I don’t regret the boot, it serves its place in my arsenal, but it’s not the early season light weight sheep hunting boot I had originally planned it to be. It works well for less technical terrain, every day wear, and spring and summer adventures.
On the other hand, the Crispi Guide GTX continues to impress me. It breathes like no other boot I have worn, and it is insulated! I think the temperature variability on these boots is exactly what I needed. So far the fit is proven, and like the Wyoming GTX, the factory insole is the best factory insole I have used.
I wandered from La Sportiva, to Meindl, to La Sportiva, to Lowa, and am now a Crispi convert. That’s a lot of wandering, and a lot of dollars spent. Madness! If you do some searching on the net I’m not alone, the Crispi brand is quickly gathering a following. Its the only boot I have ever worn that has been blister free!!
What to do?
So, where does a new guy start out? If you have a local boot fitter, go there first. If a box store is in town, hit that second and see how different boots brands in your area fit. Then once you have some ideas of how these boots fit, spend some time and write down the different types of terrain you plan to hunt it. You may quickly realize that more than one style of boot is needed. Then start analyzing features and identifying what you are looking for.
For an example, head over to https://www.crispius.com, check out the features, and get a feel for what they offer. Do the same with the other brands you have tried. Then wrap it by checking out Lathrop & Sons. Read up on the fitting process, contrast this against your experiences. Can you just buy any old boot and rock it out? Or do you need to be fit? If you need to be fit, and the local guys can’t help, Lathrop & Sons is a no brainer phone call. Or you can gamble on a few pairs and hopefully don’t waste to much dough chasing fit. Heck, you might get lucky and by chance find a good fit. Just make sure you iron all that out before you are 5 days deep in the back country.
Getting a good boot and insole is step one, after that you need to focus on socks. A key thing to remember is that socks are like boots, and I have found the first season with any of the socks I have run to be the best in terms of fit and performance. Your experience could be different, but make sure you test (and prove) your ENTIRE system (Boot, Sock, Insole) as a complete unit before heading deep.
In the beginning of this article I referenced an article on blister prevention. One key take-away for me was the use of Leukotape P Sports Tape. Since then I have made it a practice to actively prevent blisters through the use of this tape on my heels. You simply just cut a piece large enough to cover your heel, or blister prone area, and then check it each night and reapply as needed.
You can get some here: https://amzn.to/3adX2Bg
RESOURCES For Finding Backpack Hunting Boots:
Hunting Boot Selection and Fit Advice from the Experts at Lathrop & Sons — Hunt Backcountry Podcast Episode 15
Boot Month on Rokslide! Multiple boot reviews, tips, tactics and more….
Western Hunter Blog – Best Hunting Boots Review
A deep dive into Zamberlan Boots from Black Ovis
Rokslide Threads & Reviews:
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