One of the largest contributing factors to any given hunt are your boots. Cut and dry, they can make or break a hunt, or at very least determine an enjoyable outing from a downright miserable experience afield. I often think people do not give nearly enough attention to their choice of footwear prior to hunting; or even hiking/scouting for that matter.
I am not going to lie, I was the guy whom would wear rubber boots for 100% of my outdoor adventures, with the exception of wading boots accompanying a pair of waders for fishing. Whether it be preseason scouting and hanging trail cameras, to stand hunting during bow season, to really putting on the miles in the Northern Zone still hunting the big woods, my choice was always rubber boots. I would literally burn through a pair of rubber boots in a single season. No matter the brand, Lacrosse, Cabela’s, Muck, Irish Setter, etc., Name a brand and chances are I have some type of experience with it over the years. They all performed very similarly.
Nonetheless, all were completely shot and retired to the garbage bin after a single season. Nowadays, rubber boots do not come cheap. Pushing the $200 mark for some of the higher end well-known varieties and at least $150 on average, I feel is a pretty large expenditure for a single season of footwear. I put a heck of a lot of miles on boots and rubber boots just do not hold up, but more importantly, do not nearly offer the support needed for the task at hand.
Last September during the early bear season was the point where I decided I needed something other than rubber boots. It was a day typical of early to mid-September, temperatures starting off in the 40s and making there way into the low 60s with low humidity, just a nice early fall day in general. I put on 12 plus miles that day of rough Adirondack terrain bear hunting, but more so scouting for the up and coming deer season.
Upon returning to the truck shortly after dark and being on my feet from sun up to sun down, it was very apparent something needed to change. My feet and ankles were damn sore to say the least. While they most certainly have their place, rubber boots are not at all suited for extensive walking and maneuvering over steep, mountainous terrain.
After performing copious amount of research and reading review after review, I was ready to purchase my very first pair of “real” mountain boots. I also felt as though I wanted to give ample time before giving an honest review of said boots. So here we are, the first week of June, a full scouting season, a deer season, a winter predator season and now closing out a spring turkey season, I feel confident enough with very close to 450 miles logged on this particular pair of boots to give an honest review of my findings.
In short, a real pair of boots is an honest life changer. Similar to the degree of switching over to Merino wool and modern synthetic wicking fabrics with an insane amount of insulation for given weight instead of cotton, that will be saved for another column, but the wow factor was that strong.
I ended up settling on a pair of Kenetrek Mountain Extremes with 400 grams of insulation, a somewhat middle-of-the-road boot between non-insulated and the heavier cold-temperature friendly 1,000 gram version. You have to come to terms that one pair of boots will not fit every situation perfectly, for what I wanted these for and the normal temperatures and activity level I would encounter during the majority of the time I was wanting them to be on my feet the 400 gram version was the best choice for me.
I realize the Adirondacks may lack the severity of pursuing Dall sheep on some rock face miles from any type of civilization in the Brook’s range of Alaska but that does not mean that is the only suitable place or scenario for an exceptional pair of boots.
I was a bit skeptical about ordering boots without ever trying them on, but that was not at all feasible, being there are no dealers located in New York. After a very educational conversation with a Kenetrek customer service representative who was more than knowledgeable about the size, fit, etc., I was pretty confident I had made the proper choice in size and width. I will say these boots line up almost exactly with a Brannock device (the silver thing in the shoe store everyone played with as a little kid).
The quality and craftsmanship was super solid and the boots, thankfully, fit impeccably. I will say upon slipping them on and lacing them up properly, they will be unlike anything you have ever worn before. I am sure this applies to any true mountain boot regardless of the brand. Whether it be Kenetrek, Lowa, Crispi, Schnees, Mendl, etc., I am certain they all have a similar overly supportive feel to them.
It is an extremely different feeling compared to a rubber boot or even your typical lace-up hunting boot. The arches are very high and super supportive, the boot literally just becomes an extension of your lower leg. There is zero play. The possibility of rolling an ankle in these boots is zero, I mean zero. You would tumble to the ground as a whole prior to your ankle rolling. It is honestly that solid, which I will say does take a little getting used to. Wearing these actually changes your normal posture and almost forces you into a more upright and healthier posture.
Per recommendations, I waxed them with a non-petroleum based boot wax and set out for the approximate 50-mile break-in period. I must say that these boots were never uncomfortable to me, not one time. I would wear them to work or out on shorter weekend scouting trip and wild mushroom forays accumulating 3 to 5 miles in a given trip, but nothing too crazy. I never once had blisters or even a hot spot.
As hunting season rolled in October, first I had racked up around 75 miles or so and felt as if the boots were formed to my feet and broken in quite well. I wore them on any coyote hunting adventure and throughout bow season until I ended up taking a great buck with the bow, and then my attention focused northward.
This is where they were put to the test. Scouring ridges, saddles and mountain tops for the sign of a worthy Adirondack buck really dished out the abuse. They held solid, and more importantly, my feet and I felt wonderful returning to the truck after multiple back to back 10-plus mile days of traversing mountainous terrain.
At this point, I was sold. Changing up the setting in January, they followed me along on a predator hunt in Kansas where we racked up an easy 50 miles in a week, and yet again feet and overall body just felt great after all that distance. Kansas was the farthest thing from any mountains and the need for a super supportive boot was overwhelming. Throughout turkey season they shined, racking up probably close to another 100 miles or so throughout the month of May. They kept me going and going.
I did, however, experience a couple of dislikes. One very cold morning in March heading out to make a coyote set, my partner and I were crossing numerous areas of hard pack snow. Due to the extremely hard and dense soles of a mountain boot and the supportive design, no matter how hard I tried to be super delicate and light footed while attempting to coast across the hard pack in an effort to get a one up on some wily coyotes, they dug in time and time again, making the most horrendous game spooking noise ever to be had, and, of course, this was all taking place on a dead still morning.
My buddy briskly walked over the same exact snow in rubber boots making absolutely zero sound. I was blown away by this fact and, in turn, learned something that morning — not to wear these type of boots when particular conditions exist.
Another occasion, as they easily became my favorite boots out of sheer comfort, I threw them on one rather cold morning to spend a day perched high up in a climber during late muzzleloader season, and I really ended up regretting that decision, to be straightforward, my feet froze — 400 grams of insulation . . . pffftttt. I may have well been up in that tree with only a pair of ankle socks on.
It got to the point where by 10 a.m., I just could not take it any longer and had to get down. My Lacrosse rubbers with three times the amount of insulation would have fit that bill much, much better. My point is although they are great for some applications, they fail miserably in others. No one particular boot works for every hunting situation or outdoor adventure.
I have come to the conclusion that I absolutely love a pair of mountain boots for most hunting applications, with the exception of stand hunting in cold weather and a few other very certain scenarios, but overall, they have been a true game changer for me.
One additional side. Note to lace up boots in general is the addition of a quality pair of gaiters. I will never venture into the woods again without a pair on, super simple to put on they essentially turn a lace up boot into a water shielding beast, reminiscent of the features of a rubber boot. No worries of soaking wet pants from the morning frost or dew, which then seeps down the top of your boots and ultimately makes your feet wet, then cold or at very least uncomfortable. A good pair of snug fitting gaiters will easily allow you to cross water deeper than the tops of your boots as well.
Now, I wouldn’t wade around in it like you can with rubber boots, but for a quick deep stream crossing or a simple in and out, you will make it to the other side dry as a bone. They really are another game changer in the realm of apparel and footwear. Not to mention they keep the bottom of your pants clean, mud-free, and in like new condition, as well as the upper portion of your boots. They are just a great overall addition to anyone’s hunting repertoire.
If you have been on the fence about purchasing a pair of true mountain boots, consider this your push to the other side. I promise you will not regret the decision.