Vibram Five Finger shoes for hunting.
Photo credit: Brady Miller
Hunting — and all the related gadgets and accessories — has evolved over the years and footwear is no exception. There are so many options available, depending on personal preferences and style of hunting. This is why it is important to choose wisely when buying footwear for your hunt as your hunt could be completely ruined due to poor decision making in the boot department. After many years of hunting with other people and watching the industry, I have noticed that there are generally four different types of footwear that people actually hunt in.
Yes, as wild as it sounds, there are fellow hunters out there wearing the five fingers (or toes) style shoes the entire duration of a hunt. While these shoes were designed for running, they also tend to work well for a hunting trip. The Vibram Five Fingers seem to be the best value if you are looking to try a pair. This style allows massive toe movement, but provides zero ankle support. The only advantage may be that you are basically barefoot, which means that you are able to feel everything you set foot on and could make stalking quietly much easier. I would not recommend hunting any type of mountainous terrain in these shoes. At the end of the day sore feet may result in you leaving earlier than planned or even an injury.
Trail running shoes have been a huge fad in the hunting industry recently and I personally know a handful of people who love hunting the backcountry for weeks while wearing them. They have an appeal to the “ounce counters” since they are lighter than regular hunting boots.
The Salomon Speedcross 3 GTX is among the top of the line and, after some research, I decided to buy a pair. This specific pair is GoreTex and seems very well constructed. I put them through hell the first time out, hiking 12 miles on less than desirable hillsides. Needless to say, it was steep. After that day, I swore that I would never set foot in the mountains with anything but a good stiff boot to support my ankles and distribute weight more evenly rather than have my feet absorb it all. For me, these shoes are great for exactly what they were made for: trail running. I have put countless miles on them running around home on gravel roads and trails. They do a great job keeping your feet dry — even when the water becomes deeper than the shoe — and I am impressed with how well they have held together. Yet, with a heavy pack logging countless miles chasing elk in unforgiving country, I need support and rigidness in a hunting boot. If I were out for an afternoon hunt around home, I could wear these and get away with it, but if I was successful and had to pack meat wearing a tennis shoe on steroids I would be cursing myself at every step.
These boots really illustrate how technology and design have evolved over the years. This style of boot is incredibly lightweight yet still provides great ankle support. There are many different boot makers taking a crack at this market and some of the best include Lathrop & Sons, Lowa, Scarpa, Salomon, La Sportiva, Schnee’s and Kenetrek. All of these companies make many different options as far as full shank, half shank, and overall height of the boot, but I am grouping them based on the materials they use to make the boots. The main reason these boots are made with synthetic material and leather is because of weight. My size 12 Lathrop & Sons Tech Lite Hunter weighs in at 30 oz, which makes them just under 4 lb. for the pair. The Danner Elk Hunters I grew up hunting in felt like I was carrying a concrete block on each foot, so you can only imagine how much better I feel at the end of the day gaining in every step wearing a lighter/technical boot.
The majority of these boots all have a rubber rand around the bottom of the boot that protects where the material joins the sole. I always look for a boot with this attribute. The rand helps repel water from the seams and helps hold the boot together. I also look for the leather of a boot to be turned inside out. Out of all the boots that I have worn, the Tech Lite Hunter is the only boot that is this way. The advantage of having the leather turned out is simple. A rough surface is much harder to make a clean cut on than a smooth surface. Hiking in the rocks a lot has left my smooth Kenetreks with cuts all over them, which will eventually result in the leather splitting and leaking. Just food for thought that some don’t think about. This type of boot suits me and my hunting style best. They are lightweight, waterproof and provide great support for heavy loads on steep terrain. These boots are looking more and more like mountaineering boots which is a good thing as some of us hunt very mountainous ground. Because of this, hunters need a common ground somewhere in between “plastics” and a full grain leather boot. This is where I think Lathrop & Sons have an advantage.
America was built on this genre of boot and there are a large number of hunters who absolutely will not stray from them. Some of the better leather boot makers include Schnee’s, Kenetrek, Lowa, Hanwag, Danner, Irish Setter and LaCrosse. These boots are much heavier but generally stay waterproof longer. You can apply a ton of oil or wax to the leather to preserve and keep water out versus some of the synthetic materials on the boots I spoke of above that you are not able to use waterproofing product on. While they provide awesome ankle support, my feet sweat way too much in these boots as they offer little to no breathability because they are 100% leather. There is nothing worse than wet feet and it does not matter if they are wet from leaking or wet from sweating, either way, they are wet! On the flip side, if you do not have naturally hot feet, these boots could be a great option for you as they usually keep the water out longer than synthetic material and help retain heat.
I have logged countless miles in Danner Elk Hunters as a kid trying to keep up with my dad and never looked back once I wore a pair of mountaineering-designed hunting boots. Time after time, I would rather spend the extra money to ensure that my feet are in good shape at the end of every day! Do not cut yourself short on footwear! Your feet may punish you in ways you never thought were possible.