Give your best: choosing the right hunting boot

Choosing the right hunting boot is one of the most important decisions a hunter can make regarding equipment. We’ve said many times in the past that what we see most frequently ruining or even ending hunts is foot problems. A good hunting boot should provide ample support and traction, keep your feet warm and dry, and withstand rough terrain and the elements, all while fitting well and staying comfortable for days on end. When boots don’t do these things, they inevitably become a liability. Problems like painful blisters and hot spots, cold and clammy feet, or even sprained ankles can turn a fun hunt into a miserable death march.

The best hunting boots are based on the best hiking and mountaineering platforms and should last the hunter at least several years with proper care. And as long as they fit well, good boots eliminate the most serious complications hunters often encounter when wearing the wrong shoes. But how you choose the ideal hunting boot largely depends on where, when and how you hunt. Among other things, you’ll need to consider the terrain, average temperatures, and the level of support you may need.

In certain cases, the environment or climate may require special footwear. For example, a hunter pursuing wild boar in a swampy environment might need knee-high neoprene or rubber boots. But the vast majority of big game and small game hunting can be done with just one or two pairs of high-quality, tough leather hunting boots like those made by Schnee’s. Each model is handcrafted and equipped with Schnee’s signature features. Its Easy Roller lacing system ensures a personalized fit. Upper leather and a full wrap-around rubber band provide years of durability. OutDry waterproof membrane keeps feet dry in snowy or rainy conditions. Dual-density midsoles cushion feet against constant bumps, and durable Vibram rubber outsoles are designed for maximum traction. We’ve used Schnee’s everywhere, from the farm field of Wisconsin to the highlands of Alaska, and they have never failed us.

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Timberline is the newest model of hunting boots from Schnee, but we have been using them for several months. Steve and Janis tried them out in the rugged desert mountains of Mexico on a Coues deer hunt last winter and loved them. I wore them all spring while chasing Merriam’s wolverines through the Colorado mountains. I’ve already done many miles in my Timberlines on rough terrain and from a durability standpoint they still look and feel like new. But the most remarkable thing about the Timberlines is how light they are. At a pound lighter per pair than the average hunting boot, it feels like you’re walking around in an ultralight pair of trail running shoes. And they have quite a bit of flexibility, which is nice on long, active hikes like the ones you might take while stalking antelope or hunting pheasants. But despite their light weight and lower degree of stiffness, Timberlines have plenty of stability and traction on steep terrain. I wouldn’t hesitate to use them on a backcountry archery moose hunt. The boots aren’t insulated, so they’re great for warmer environments or early-season hunts, but with a thick pair of merino wool socks, they’ll work just fine later in the fall. The Timberline is a great all-around option for hunters who prefer a softer, lighter boot and like to cover a lot of ground.

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For years, wherever we have hunted, Beartooths have been the workhorse for the entire MeatEater team. This year, Schnee’s refreshed its Beartooth model, and the Beartooth II is an even better all-around option for hunters looking for a boot that can handle a wide variety of climates and topographies. A new upgraded chassis and midsole add even more support and cushioning and also extend the life of the boot. The Beartooth II is slightly stiffer than the Timberline, making it a good choice for mountain hunting. But they’re not so stiff that long walks on flat ground become painful. The Beartooth II is available in a non-insulated model and an insulated version. Most of the MeatEater crew prefer the non-insulated version, even on later hunts in the fall, but the added warmth of the insulated style is nice when sitting long on a glass point or hunting in cold conditions. Whether you’re looking to invest in your first pair of high-quality all-purpose hunting boots or have finally worn out your original pair of Beartooth, you can’t go wrong with the Beartooth II.

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The Granite, Schnee’s rugged mountain hunting boot, also received an overhaul this year; The new Granite II features an upgraded dual-density midsole and rearfoot stability system, along with a custom Vibram Tsavo rubber outsole that maintains its grip on loose ground or bare rock. The Granite II could be considered a “sheep hunting boot” meaning it is rigid and designed to offer maximum support, stability and traction on the steepest of mountain terrain. And, equipped with 200 grams of Primaloft insulation, they’re great for mid- to late-season hunts. I include the Granite II here because some hunters spend most of their time in mountainous environments where these features are essential, and also because the Granite II is my favorite hunting boot. I have some old running injuries that sometimes cause my ankles to bend and roll without me realizing it, especially when going downhill. The resulting unplanned excavations can be painful and even dangerous in some situations. For this reason, I prefer a stiff and stable boot. And for a hiking boot, they are also very comfortable. I can walk on the Granite II all day without feeling like I’m wearing a pair of alpine ski boots. I’ve never drawn a sheep tag, but I use the Granite II while hunting Sooty Grouse, Mule Deer, and Elk in the Colorado mountains. And if I ever get to hunt sheep, I’ll wear these boots. If you’re looking for a bombproof mountain hunting boot, check out Schnee’s Granite II.

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Honorable Mention: Hunter II Pac Snow Boots

Schnee started making pac boots in Bozeman, Montana thirty years ago. They still make them there today. A pac boot may not seem like an obvious choice for an all-purpose hunting boot at first, but for hunters in some parts of the country, these boots are almost a necessity. With a resistant vulcanized rubber bottom, they are impervious to water. Removable quilted Thinsulate fleece liner is rated down to -20 degrees. So if you hunt in cold, wet environments, the Hunter II Pac Boot will keep your feet warm and dry. These were Steve’s favorite winter hunting boots in Michigan and are great for late season hunting of everything from Grouse to Whitetail Grouse. But Schnee originally designed these boots for elk hunting and you’ll still see plenty of serious elk hunters wearing them later in the season. Although heavy, the Air Bob sole provides good traction and the sturdy leather upper and lacing system provide good support going up and down hills. The Hunter II is available in 7-inch, 10-inch, 13-inch and 16-inch heights so you can choose the one that best fits your needs. I have the 13-inch version which is great for hunting in deep snow. And, if after many years of use, you manage to knock these boots down enough that they need to be rebuilt, Schnee’s has you covered.

You’ll notice that we prefer a higher boot height of at least 9-10 inches over ankle-high boots; There are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, if you’re going to be hiking, you’ll appreciate the added support and stability of a taller boot. Next, the added height keeps out water, snow, dirt, and debris. I know some hunters who still prefer lower, ankle-high hiking boots because they are lighter and faster. These boots work well on temperate terrain or for hitting the trail. But inevitably, those hunters get their feet wet during stream crossings or when a blizzard arrives unannounced. In weedy areas, they constantly stop to remove burrs from their socks. And on rough terrain, they can’t navigate steep slopes as safely or easily as they would with taller boots. When in doubt, choose a higher boot height.