Too many guys get hung up about rifles and knives and forget about the importance of good boots on rugged backcountry hunts. Honestly, though, I’ve seen dozens of hunts spoiled by low-quality footwear and I’ve yet to see a hunt ruined by a bad knife.
First off, and without exception, general-use hunting boots should be made of leather. If properly treated with leather conditioner and wax, no material lasts as long as leather or repels water as well as leather. (In my opinion, breathable synthetics might best be described as leakable synthetics.)
Boots should be tall, to the point that they seem too tall. I like boots that are commonly described by manufacturers as 10” boots. This allows you to wade many of the streams and boggy areas that you’re likely to encounter in the woods and mountains, and it helps keep out snow and slush. More importantly, tall boots provide proper support when you’re sidehilling. Nothing distracts you and wears you out like struggling to keep your ankles from rolling when you’re trying to grease along a steep mountainside in order to close the gap on a distant critter. Speaking of sidehilling, you also want to make sure that your boots have rigid soles with sharp edges. The sharp edges are necessary for gripping steep slippery slopes, and the rigidity is needed when you have to kick your own footholds into hard packed surfaces or frozen ground.
Of course, the way that a boot fits is as important as how it’s built. They should lace up almost as tight as downhill ski boots, but with ample room for your toes to flex. If your heal slips in a loose boot when you walk, you’re going to get massive blisters. But if your toes are overly cramped, you’re going to get cold feet. Sometimes it will take me a couple weeks of wearing a new pair of boots before I can achieve the proper lace configuration and tightness that allows for both comfort and support. That’s because boots that are designed for rough ground are inherently tough to break in. Put another way, boots that break in quickly will wear out quickly.
There are a number of quality boot manufacturers out there, including Lowa, Meindl, Kenetrek, and Schnees. They all have in common great products, as well as high prices. But they give you something in return for your money, which is invaluable: they give you the knowledge that your feet are going to be in top-working condition when the moment of a lifetime happens up on the mountain. So if you want something that’s going to work for you and last through several tough seasons, plan on spending from $250 to $400. For the last couple years I’ve been hunting in a pair of Granite boots, by the Montana-based company Schnees, and I can say that they are the best boots that I’ve ever worn. Of course, my opinion on this might seem tainted because Schnees is a sponsoring partner of my show, MeatEater. But you should know that Schnees is a partner with MeatEater only because I spent several months and placed a dozen calls begging them to join up with me. Their stuff is that good.