The best hunting boots for each season

I’ve seen more hunts ruined by foot problems than any other cause, issues like blisters, sore ligaments, open injuries from chronic moisture, even debilitating athlete’s foot.

Fortunately, most of these problems can be prevented with proper boot selection and diligent foot care. I hunt all over the country and all year long with only four pieces of footwear. You can think of this as the Four Boots Rule.

the pillar

6” medium duty leather non-insulated hiking boot. Good for everything from Florida spring turkeys to New Mexico pronghorn for days of travel between home and the hunting grounds. They should be made of thick leather, preferably about 2.5 mm, to protect your feet from thorns, sharp stones and the cold in the morning.

Best Backpacking/Moose Hunting Boots

For long hikes on rough terrain with a heavy backpack. At first glance, these should seem excessive. Companies that produce footwear for serious mountain hunters, including Schnees and Meindl, produce boots that weigh nearly 5 pounds, which is the equivalent of about 3 pairs of standard tennis shoes.

Manufacturers would certainly make these boots lighter if possible, but it takes a heavy package to incorporate all the features needed for serious backcountry hunts: thick leather uppers; heavily padded collars; rugged midsoles; a breathable membrane such as Goretex or eVent; rubber sole protectors; Vibram or Vibram-style soles; in addition to triple or double stitching.

Usually boots of such quality are completely waterproof. It is possible to wade or even stand in ankle deep water for minutes without getting your socks wet. Plus, they give you the stability you need to handle side slopes and steep inclines without injuring yourself while carrying heavy loads.

*Ordered from most flexible to least flexible*

best rubber hunting boots

Use them when you need to control odor and/or water. They’re perfect for getting into tree stands and other ambush setups, because you can rub them down with muddy water to remove unnatural odors, like gasoline or your own stench, odors that might otherwise give you away. They are also perfect for hunting on flat, wet terrain, such as hunting wild hogs in the Florida panhandle or stalking black bears off the coast of Southeast Alaska.

You should definitely think twice before wearing rubber boots on steep terrain. Lack of ankle support can put you in a really bad spot, and your feet can get horrible blisters. Some of the best rubber boots, like those made by LaCrosse and Xtra-Tuff, have soft fabric liners that allow them to be easily put on and taken off when wet without letting them slip and slide against your feet. Avoid any type of lining that is fleecy or absorbent; you will never dry them.

Pack Boots: The Best Hunting Boots for Cold Weather

A dirty secret about the stiff rubber outsoles used in most hiking boots is that they get almost as hard as a nylon cutting board when temperatures hit the 10s and digits. This isn’t really a problem on dry rock, as they can still grip, but as soon as you throw snow and ice into the mix, you could be trying to scale a hill on ice skates. When you know for sure you’ll be facing low temperatures as well as snow and ice, switch to a Pac boot with a leather upper and rubber bottom, plus a more flexible style of outsole armed with Air Bob Traction or similar. design.

The best designs fit almost as snug and comfortable as boots designed for backpacking hunters, but will keep you much warmer. Be sure to get the types that use removable wool felt liners, and buy two sets of liners if possible. On long hunts, you can rotate your liners daily: one pair left to dry over the wood stove or in your sleeping bag, one pair on your feet.

waterproofing boots

How are leather hunting boots properly waterproofed? The most important thing is to start with clean, wet boots. You can remove dirt and grime with a stiff toothbrush, and you can dampen the leather naturally, by being outside in humid conditions or by covering it with damp towels for an hour or so. Either way, you want the leather on the boots to be fully saturated.

Next, use an old sock or rag to liberally apply your waterproofing agent to the leather. Nikwax waterproofing wax and Sno-Seal jar wax are good products. Pay close attention to seams, stitching, and the areas around the buttonholes. When finished, allow the boots to dry for an hour, DO NOT place them near a direct heat source, before buffing off any remaining paste. Then, let the boots sit overnight to dry completely before wearing them outside. When the water no longer collects in your boots, it’s time to repeat.

Chest waders – not just for duck hunters anymore

Chest waders fall outside the four boots rule, but you know what they say: rules are meant to be broken.

When you need to stay warm for a longer period of time, consider donning a pair of extremely cold weather chest wellies worn by waterfowl hunters late in the season. These are made to keep you warm while you’re standing waist-deep in frigid water as 40-mile-per-hour winds whip through it, and they’ll work just as well when you’re lounging in a frozen field during a late-winter goose hunt. They’re especially useful when hunting requires you to lie down in snow or frozen mud for hours, because you’ll stay dry even as your body heat begins to melt.

Many ice fishermen have also figured this trick out and ditched bibs and insulated boots altogether in favor of cold weather wellies. For them, there’s an added benefit: if you fall through the ice in shallow water, you can come back up dry as a bone and go about your business.

Wet Socks Grab Rocks

A great advantage of wool-blend socks is that they stick like glue to wet, algae-covered river cobblestones. When you need to cross a stream or river, keep your boots dry by strapping them to your backpack, then cross with your socks.

The rocks can be a bit painful on your feet, but at least you’ll have a very slim chance of falling into the water and getting soaked. Once safely across, wring out your socks before putting your boots back on. Or if you have an extra set of dry socks (you always should), put them on and hang the wet socks on the outside of your backpack to dry.