Boots are one of those gear items that can literally make or break a hunt. They can ether keep a hunter burning up the hills without fail or they can leave one dreading each step ahead. The hard part is boots are not a one size fits all piece of gear. Each one of us has different feet and each one of us requires different levels of support. What might be the absolute perfect hunting boot for one person could be a nightmare for another. There are multiple variables at play here, but perhaps the biggest is fit. A boot that doesn’t fit properly is a potent ingredient within a recipe for disaster. And next is how one actually puts a boot on. It’s a process and can have a massive effect on boot performance. So, instead of cooking up a recipe for disaster, let’s cook up a recipe for success in the name of hunting boots.
What Style of Hunting Boot Do You Need?
Before we really get into the fit and how to put on a boot, we need to first identify a style of boot that works for us. It needs to reflect our personal needs as hunters. This will help narrow down options when it comes time to start trying on boots. Take into consideration what type of terrain you’ll be hunting most of the time. Don’t go off of exceptions throughout the year. You might need a different boot for those, and that’s ok. In general stiffer boots are going to provide better support in steeper terrain. Some people wear trail runners though and are just fine. This is a very personal choice and one that only you can answer. It might take some trial and error to be honest. Also, notate the time of year and likely weather. If early season is your thing, then a non-insulated hunting boot is the way to go. For colder temps though, a little insulation might do you good. Your activity level plays into this as well. More active hunters might get away with a non-insulated boot throughout the entire year. Whereas folks sitting in a stand or blind will need something warmer.
In Person Fitting
In the online shopping age that we live in, it is imperative that we take care of this whole boot shindig in person. There is only so much that one can tell from reading specs and watching videos. Remember, your foot is your foot, and your foot alone. Because of that heading into a pro shop to get properly fit for a hunting boot will do wonders in the long run, or I should say the long hike.
Your Feet Are Different Sizes
When getting fitted for a boot, we’re looking for the length and width of both feet individually. These measurements are most easily obtained through the use of a brannock fitting device. The reason we want the measurements of both feet is simple. Most all humans have two different sized feet. This is vital information for properly fitting a boot. You want to base your sizing off of the larger of the two feet. Dealing with a little more room, and I mean a little, is easier than dealing with not enough room. It’s simple to take up some more space in a boot. Cutting away space though is tricky. Once we know our size in both length and width, it’s time to start trying on some boots.
Don’t Forget Socks
Something else to keep in mind here is socks. It won’t do any good heading down to the shop and trying on a hunting boot in your everyday city socks. Bring along the actual pair of socks that you plan on hunting in. Different thickness between different socks will play a role in fit. Go with a sock that fits not too tight, not too loose in the boot. One that is just snug. It’s important to not try and cram too much sock in a boot thinking it’s going to keep you warmer. Quite the opposite will happen. With too tight of a fit, you’ll actually compress the insulation from both the sock and the boot. By compressing the insulation, you’ll decrease the warmth, and deal with cold feet. Look into a high quality well engineered sock. Both Darn Tough and Crispi make excellent options to choose from. Your feet will thank you.
How to Put on a Hunting Boot
As I mentioned above, putting on a boot is a process. It isn’t just about putting your foot in and tightening the guts out of everything. From the outsole to the upper and everything in between, a boot is a chain of things that all work together in order to provide the user with what they need. Comfort, support, and functionality. If those links in the chain aren’t applied right, the boot’s performance will lack, which will transfer right into the person using them.
Follow These In Order When Putting on a Hunting Boot
- Loosen the Laces! Before putting your foot in the boot, make sure to loosen all of the laces 3/4 of the way. This will ensure that you aren’t causing any pinch points from forcing your foot into the boot. After loosening, then put your foot in the boot.
- DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT yank on the laces like they’re trying to get away from you. This isn’t like tightening a load down in the back of your truck. If too tight, you’ll actually decrease blood flow, which can lead to cold feet. Plus, that’s just not comfortable. Make sure your heel is all the way back into the heel pocket before starting to tighten. Focus on a nice even tension from the front of the tongue all the way to the lace lock. The lace lock is there for two reasons. To ensure that everything before that point doesn’t loosen, as well as help keep your heel locked in place.
- After the lace lock is secured, make sure the tongue of the boot is all the way up against your shin. You want to do this so there isn’t a gap there before tightening the rest of the boot. And make sure you’re not pushing your leg forward in the boot. If you are, then that gap will present itself once your leg is vertical in the boot again after tightening.
- As for the rest of the lacing, we want a nice even pressure throughout that last bit. Tighten it to what you feel you need for good ankle support.
- Tie them up and finish with a double knot. The double knot will help make sure nothing comes loose.
A Few Things to Pay Attention To
As you’re going through this whole process, there are a few things you want to pay attention to. One is side to side movement inside the boot. If there is any slipping from side to side, look into a more narrow option for you. Another is heel slip. With your right foot laced up in a boot, use your left hand to cup the heel and try to move it side to side, up and down. A very small amount of movement is ok. A lot is not. Too much heel slip can cause rolled ankles and hot spots.
Potential Issues and How to Fix Them
Sometimes, things like heel slip or that side to side movement are only noticed once in the field. Not to worry. All is not lost. There are some things you can try to help squash boot issues. For heel slip and side to side movement consider installing an aftermarket insole. These come in a wide variety of sizes and styles to fit your needs. When there is slipping going on, it’s an indication that there is too much room in the boot. An aftermarket insole can help take up that extra real estate for a more snug fit.
Lacing techniques can also help out a ton with boot performance. It sounds simple, but trust me it works. Experiment with some different lacing techniques if you’re having issues. Even things like hot spots can be taken care of by doing this.
Lastly, carry a roll of leukotape with you in your pack. When a hot spot or blister shows face, this stuff is a game changer and can take your experience from zero to hero. It’s durable and extra sticky. You’ll likely not have to reapply the rest of your hunt.
Now, Go Hunting!
If you’re anything like me, you look forward to each and every hunt with a healthy amount of vigor. All of the day dreaming and planning helps feed that enthusiasm until we leave for the hills. To have all of that potentially go down the tubes because of something like boots is just a shame. I’ve seen it and experienced hunts ruined from unhappy feet and it’s never fun. So, try and nip this in the butt before heading out. Don’t just buy the hunting boot “so and so” is using and call it good. Because, there is a chance it won’t be. Invest time in getting a properly fit boot and learning how to put it on now, for a better experience in the future. Good luck out there this season!
Written by: Ross Outdoors