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Field Test: Cold-Weather Hunting Boots

Cold Weather Boot TestBoots, it could be said, are among the most critical of bowhunting equipment. Wet or frozen feet have sent many a hunter packing early for home. And even if such maladies don’t shut down your hunt, they sure make it less fun.

Boot companies make some pretty big claims for the ability of their products to keep your feet warm and dry. But how well do they really perform? We found out.

In this Field Test we evaluated boots for comfort, convenience, construction and overall performance. Some of those test are subjective. For two of the most important attributes—warmth and waterproofness—we devised two objective tests.

To test warmth we placed a thermometer in the toe of a boot at 65 degrees, stuffed a towel into the boot to close it off, and placed it in a freezer at 3 degrees for 30 minutes. (I tested various time periods and found this to show the greatest disparity in insulating ability.) At the end of the half-hour I removed the boot and recorded the thermometer reading. To ensure consistent test conditions and accurate results, I kept everything the same, which included making sure the thermometer and towel warmed up to room temperature before testing the next boot. The results were interesting, showing the warmest boot retaining over 50 percent more warmth than the “coldest” boot. —Mike Strandlund

But Can They Swim?

After spending some 60 combined years in the field we know how critical a boot’s ability to shed water can be to its stability and effectiveness—and our ability to hunt longer, harder, and generally remain in the field.

Our simple waterproof test featured donning the boots and dunking them in water for five minutes, while rocking back and forth, heel to toe—more or less simulating a walking/hiking motion. Wearing just a thin cotton sock allowed me to easily feel any leaks and where they originated; after the dunking the boot footbeds were removed and further inspection for interior moisture was completed.

The overall result was impressive—the vast majority of boots passed this test with flying colors, tallying not even a spec of moisture. Five or certainly 10 years ago, my guess would have been that less than 50 percent of a boot sampling this large would have passed even this simple test. Boot construction has most certainly improved. —Mark Melotik

Chippewa Waterproof Snake Boot

Price: $220

Website: Chippewa Boots

Chippewa Waterproof Snake BootsThis past October while bowhunting for mulies in South Dakota, area ranchers said they had never seen rattlesnakes more numerous. We largely shrugged the info off as “local flavor”—until one member of our group was struck at (and thankfully missed) by an angry prairie rattler. After that incident Chad would have paid big money for a pair of these lace-up 17-inch boots, but I guess the point is, when and where you really need snake protection, it’s awfully nice to have.

Fit and finish of these boots is impressive, complete with serious ankle support, and their absolute waterproof construction makes them even more versatile. The simple, virtually flat Vibram soles also make this a good option for silent stalking, especially feral pigs hanging out in snake-infested haunts from Texas to Florida. In those areas it’s nice to know these are “guaranteed snake proof from the bottom of the sole to the top of the boot.” —Mark Melotik

Irish Setter Outrider

Price: $149

Contact: (888) SETTER-0

Website: Irish Setter

Irish Setter OutriderIrish Setter’s 4-pound, 14-ounce, 17-inch Outrider knee boots feature pull-up straps and side zips for easy entry, plus a new adjustable fit system that allows the user to customize fit. Built to keep water out and scent in, yet remain breathable, these are meant for hunting in the worst conditions. Irish Setter points out that peoples’ feet swell during the day, so the side-zip and adjustable fit makes boot removal easier after a long day out. Real leather and abrasion-resistant nylon combine to create a boot that holds its shape without adding weight or restricting movement. Armored toe, heel, and side bumpers aid durability. The outsole has an aggressive tread pattern with serrated front cleats. Built with 600 or 1000 grams of Thinsulate Ultra insulation, these boots are available in Realtree HD Gray or Mossy Oak Break Up camouflage.

There’s a lot going on with this boot. It is a fairly substantial piece of apparel that will always remind you it’s there. Yet you’ll appreciate its convenience features that make the small tedium of dealing with boots a breeze. It was the second-warmest boot of the test, a major consideration.

If you hunt “terrain-y” whitetail habitat like I do, you will appreciate the aggressive sole that will help you up the steepest, slickest riverbanks. Just be sure to clean the cleats before climbing to your stand.

This is my favored type of boot for whitetail hunting because it is quick and easy to use, has a high top, and helps suppress scent without stewing your feet. I have used Irish Setter’s previous high-top model the last couple of years as my main whitetail hunting boot, and I will use this model this season.

Sizes: Medium and Wide 8-12, 13, 14

—Mike Strandlund

Rocky Bobcat 8-Inch ($140)

Price: $140

Contact: (877) 795-2410

Website: Rocky Boots

Rocky Bobcat 8 InchWith its athletic styling and an aggressive outsole, Rocky’s Bobcat boot is designed for hunters on the move. The Bobcat, available in Realtree AP, Mossy Oak Break-Up, and a brown cordura/leather combination, is waterproofed with Gore-Tex fabric and has 800 grams of Thinsulate insulation. It also has a mudguard extending up from the sole to protect the foot from bumps and scrapes.

This is a small boot that does a big job. Comfort is superb, and ankle support is tremendous—about the best of the boots I tested. The traction is unparalleled, and while durability could not be a component of this test, this boot gives the indication of being in the game for the long term. This boot would be an ideal choice for any kind of early-season bowhunting, especially the long-distance, hard-climbing Western kind.Plus: It truly is waterproof.

Sizes: Medium and Wide 8-12, 13, 14

—Mike Strandlund

LaCrosse Alpha Iceman

Price: $150

Contact: (800) 323-2668

Website: Lacrosse Footwear

Lacrosse Alpha IcemanDo extreme-weather pac boots have to be heavy and bulky? The Alpha Iceman proves they don’t. For this tester the amazing lightness of these ultra-warm boots (listed at $150) was one of the test’s big surprises.

Equally surprising was this boot’s stellar waterproof performance. For years I considered pac boots a “lower-tier” choice for keeping out water—largely because of my personal experiences, and maybe because many manufacturers felt that in extreme temps it’s not such a factor. Regardless, after the Alpha Iceman’s stint in the drink it emerged dry as a bone—to my mind seriously expanding this boot’s versatility wherever you hunt.

If teens and lower temps are expected in the whitetail woods this fall, I’ll be giving the Alpha Iceman some additional “on-stand” testing. A note on sizing: I’m typically an 11 wide but this one doesn’t come in wides; a 12 regular fit me perfectly. —Mark Melotik

Bogs Blaze 1000

Price: $137

Contact: (800) 201-2070

Website: Bogs Footwear

Bogs Blaze 1000Insulated with 1,000 grams of Thinsulate, Bogs’ Blaze 1000 waterproof slip-on boots are designed to keep feet dry, warm, and comfortable from temperate conditions (60 degrees F.) to sub-zero conditions. A four-way stretch upper and molded EVA mid-wedge support and cushion the foot and lower leg while sealing out the elements. The EVA contoured sock liner with Aegis anti-microbial protection helps prevent odor and adds cushion. An adjustable rear gusset at the top of the boot ensures a snug fit around the leg. A non-slip, non-marking outsole has deep lugs for traction and a self-cleaning tread design. It comes in Mossy Oak Break-Up.

It bothers me a little that these boots display a “Comfort rated to -65” logo. I’ve worn rubber boots for 45 years, and there’s just no way. And like most boots of this genre, there is 0 ankle support. That said, I was impressed that they came in fourth (tied) among 16 boots tested here for warmth. They are also very comfortable for a rubber boot, have an effective closure at the top for scent control, and a sole that is maybe the perfect compromise.

Sizes: Medium 7-14, Whole Sizes

—Mike Strandlund

Danner Blade GTX 8.5 Inch

Price: $160

Contact: (877) 432-6637

Website: Danner Boots

Danner Blade GTXIn many cases first impressions don’t prove true, but the eye-catching, futuristic good looks of the Danner Blade certainly did for this tester, who found this sleek full-size design fit like a glove—one of the most-comfortable boots in the whole test. Better yet, the Blade also performed more like the high-tech, ultralight running shoe it resembles. The “testing ground” proved to be the Badlands area of western South Dakota, where I put many miles on my leather-and-Cordura Blades back in October, in search of a big muley buck.

I’m fairly certain they carried me farther and faster than I would have gone in some more-weighty models, but there was one concern. These boots passed our waterproof test with flying colors, but after just one solid wet-weather day logging maybe 10 hill-country miles, I experienced some leakage. For the record, I can’t recall having another Gore-Tex-lined Danner boot leak before a full season—or two—of hard hunting. Regardless, I can’t wait to give them another shot on a high-country elk hunt next fall. The Blade is available in several styles, including the 400-gram Thinsulate 8.5-inch model we tested in Mossy Oak Treestand, as well as an 8.5-inch uninsulated model in Realtree AP HD camo ($150), and a 7-inch model in Mossy Oak Brush camo ($140). —Mark Melotik

Danner Montana Hunter GTX 400G

Price: $240

Contact: (877) 432-6637

Website: Danner Boots

Danner Mountain Hunter GTX“Bombproof” isn’t a term we like to throw around lightly in our Field Tests, but this tester believes the solidly built Montana Hunter wears this impressive moniker well. The ultra-supportive all-leather upper and aggressive Vibram sole make this one a great choice for carrying a heavy pack or traversing rugged backcountry.

Yes, you’ll save some weight from a more-traditional “stitchdown” design but this boot is no lightweight—only you can gauge whether the extra-rugged construction is worth the tradeoff from lighter, Cordura/leather models. Typically, if there is a question, it is. If I had to depend on one pair of a boots for an extended backcountry trip, I’d have no problem making it this one. —Mark Melotik

ScentBlocker Dream Season Pro Knee Boot

Price: $170

Contact: 507-263-2885

Website: Robinson Outdoors

Dream Season Pro Knee BootAvailable in Mossy Oak Treestand, ScentBlocker’s waterproof, rugged Dream Season Pro knee boot features a removable odor-adsorbing SPF 60 activated carbon gaiter with BodyLock technology. For further scent control, a removable activated carbon insole with S3 antimicrobial technology is toe-warmer compatible, says the company. Other features include a wool insulated lining, side zip construction for easy on and off, and breathable membrane construction.

This boot is constructed with support in mind. A skeletal upper with BrushBlocker shin guard protection supports without added weight. Triple-density Rock Shock stabilizer lugs and Climb Right angled heel are designed for multi-terrain traction and reduced slippage climbing into and out of stands. Fusion gel absorbers provide added shock absorption for long days afield.

Although it looks substantial with lots of padding and support layers, the first thing that impresses you about this boot is the lightness. As you try it out you are further impressed by its convenience features—the pull-on loops and zipper closure, which I really like. I also like the confidence I get from knowing the carbon and effective top closure minimize my scent. Comfort-wise I find it middling, with a thick sole and higher heel that seems to give you a high center of gravity with perhaps a stability issue (think cowboy boots). It provides more ankle support than you might imagine, though some of that comes from a narrow ankle area that was binding for me.

This is not a warm boot, as the chart indicates, and it was one of two that failed our waterproof test. The tester reported “moisture felt at foot near zipper after 3 minutes, sock had large wet spot after 5, though not soaked.” That said, those characteristics may not matter much to some users, and this boot has some attributes that other boots do not.

Sizes: Medium and Wide 8-12 (Half-Sizes Available), 13

—Mike Strandlund

LaCrosse Alpha II 5.0

Price: $150

Contact: (800) 323-2668

Website: Lacrosse Footwear

Lacrosse Alpha II 5.0Introduced in 2008, the multi-boot Alpha II lineup from LaCrosse features the company’s new “OptiCirc” lining technology designed to increase air circulation inside the boot for maximum comfort. The soft, cushiony “waffle texture” lining of this boot performs as stated, significantly reducing the interior “clamminess” that can result from most all-rubber designs. It won’t stop your feet from perspiring, but save for extreme cases you likely won’t feel it.

I especially like the overall comfort that starts with a nice and snug ankle-fit design that eliminates the “sloppy feel” we’ve encountered with some other rubber boots.

The 5.0 model tested makes use of 5mm-thick neoprene rubber insulation and is therefore the most “temperature-versatile” of the series that also includes a slightly less-bulky 3.5mm version ($140) and an uninsulated version ($130). —Mark Melotik

ScentBlocker Pursuit 12-Inch

Price: $150

Contact: 507-263-2885

Website: Robinson Outdoors

Scentblocker Pursuit BootThe emphasis on scent control is evident with ScentBlocker’s Pursuit 12-inch wool-insulated boots. They feature a removable activated carbon insole with S3 antimicrobial technology and a removable SPF 60 activated carbon fabric filter with BodyLock technology that adsorbs human odor and allows you to regenerate the filter. Other features include a nylon speed-lace system utilizing thin-profile, durable lace and lace locker storage pocket; a waterproof breathable membrane; abrasion-resisting stretch fabric gaiter with BodyLock; triple-density rock shock stabilizer lugs for multi-terrain traction, and a reinforced rubber toe. Pursuit boots come in Mossy Oak Treestand.

I was really surprised by how much I liked this boot. I find it very comfortable with a foundation I found much more stable than that of its Dream Season cousin. That base provides good traction but with one of the best self-cleaning tread designs I’ve tried. I also like the lacing system and closeable top. The boot did pass the waterproof test. And while this boot came in at the bottom of the warmth test, I would consider it among the best choices for reasonable-weather hunting.

Sizes: Medium 8-12 (Half-Sizes Available), 13

—Mike Strandlund

Sportsman’s Guide Agility 16-Inch

Price: $90

Contact: (800) 882-2962

Website: Sportsman''s Guide

Sportmans Guide AgilitySportsman’s Guide says that its full-grain leather-trimmed Agility boots are excellent for slogging through wet marsh, though we found differently. These boots feature shock-absorbing, removable, wicking mesh-lined EVA insoles. An elastic cord collar with barrel lock helps keep out debris, and internal pull-on loops offer easy-on convenience. A neoprene padded collar, rubber toe cap for extended wear, and an athletic-style, top-traction rubber lug outsole complete this sensible, 31-ounce boot. Agility boots come in Mossy Oak camo.

Most impressive about these boots are their comfort. Think bedroom slippers—with about the same level of ankle support—though for some that doesn’t matter. These are convenient slip-on boots with pull-on loops that breathe, as opposed to their solid-rubber counterparts, on which they are designed to be an improvement. They are handsome and seem well-built, though the soles give the appearance of somewhat lesser quality than most of the others tested here. Warmth-wise, they ranked in the middle of the field though the remarkable thing is they compared nicely to boots with considerably more bulk and insulation.

The major fault we found was when the boot failed the waterproof test—rather dramatically. The tester reported, “moisture felt on bottom of foot after 1 minute, substantial leakage all around after 3, completely soaked after 5.”

Bottom line: For the dough, these boots are a fine value for standard-duty, dry-ground whitetail hunting.

Sizes: Medium and Wide 8-12 (Half-Sizes Available), 13, 14

—Mike Strandlund

Chippewa Bay Apache 8” (Model 25006)

Price: $147

Website: Chippewa Boots

Chippewa Bay Apache BootExtreme comfort was my first impression of this neat waterproof “mid-height” boot that offers a leather upper and aggressive Vibram sole. At first glance this “hybrid” pac design didn’t appear to offer much ankle support, but while wearing them I found otherwise. There’s plenty of firm support, and overall fit and finish speaks of deft attention to detail and premium quality. This is one well-built boot. This wouldn’t be my first choice for heavy climbing or stalking over long distances out West, but it seems ideal for early season treestanding, down to about 30 degrees or so, with the support necessary to tote a treestand and fully loaded daypack on your back. —Mark Melotik

Rocky 10-Inch Arctic BearClaw 3D

Price: $190

Contact: (877) 795-2410

Website: Rocky Boots

Rocky 10 Inch Arctic Bearclaw 3DA whopping 1,400 grams of Thinsulate Ultra insulation as well as breathable Gore-Tex go into Rocky’s very warm, waterproof boot. The cushioned Air-Port footbed allows for circulation and comfort, and the outsole features durable Rocky 3D Welt construction. The Arctic BearClaw 3D is styled in full-grain brown leather with Mossy Oak Break-Up.

About all I can really say about the BearClaw is that it’s a great boot. I’ve been a fan of Rocky boots for years and was glad to see by this example, they are still improving. Not only was the BearClaw winner of our warmth testing, it was among the best for comfort, convenience, performance, and apparent durability.

Sizes: Medium and Wide 8-12, 13, 14

—Mike Strandlund

Wolverine Mammoth 9-Inch

Price: $188

Contact: (866) 699-7369

Website: Wolverine

Wolverine Mammoth 9 InchWolverine’s Mammoth boot Full-grain leather, 1000-denier Cordura nylon, and breathable Gore-Tex waterproof membrane lining make up Wolverine’s Mammoth boot. For warmth and comfort, Wolverine included 1200-gram Thinsulate Ultra insulation and a removable full-cushion footbed. Rubber/polyurethane lug outsole and classic Goodyear welt construction offers sturdy and flexible performance. An optional steel toe is available.

The Mammoth boot is a fine example of a kind of old-school design we’ve been familiar with for years. Considering its heavy insulation and rather bulky appearance, it didn’t do as well as I expected in the warmth test. But to its credit it is lighter and more comfortable than I expected.

Sizes: 7-12 (also in half sizes), 13, 14; Widths Medium and Extra-Wide

—Mike Strandlund

Cabela’s Outfitter Series Pro Hunting Boots 9” 400G

Price: $160

Contact: (800) 237-4444

Website: Cabela''s

Cabelas Outfitter Series Hunting BootOne nice thing about Cabela’s, is that over its many years in business, this veteran retailer has developed a great sense of what hardcore hunters want and need—based largely on solid customer feedback. The Outfitter Series boots have been Cabela’s best-selling line for 14 years, based largely on their rugged durability, and the line has constantly been updated, including for 2008. That’s when it began incorporating the company’s proven Shock Absorbing Workboot (SAW) technology from its Roughneck workboot line. SAW utilizes strategically placed impact zones in the forefoot and heel designed to soak up ground shock before it’s transmitted to your feet and ankles. That’s the technical jargon, but I can vouch this is one comfortable boot.

The redesigned uppers feature a Gore-Tex lining and heavily oiled American leather with a padded leather collar that makes these one of the most-supportive designs in the test—similar in “feel” to Danner’s Montana Hunter and a great choice for rocky, high-country environments, or any time you need extra support such as when carrying a heavy pack. The Cabela’s-exclusive Vibram outsole offers an aggressive tread backcountry hunters will appreciate. There’s lots of rugged dependability here but you’ll pay for it in some extra weight; these weigh 4.4 pounds per pair. —Mark Melotik

Proline Ambush (Model 14906)

Price: $90

Contact: (800) 334-4612

Website: Proline Boots

Proline Ambush BootFirst and foremost a rubber knee-high boot should be waterproof, and this one passed our test without problem. Neoprene is the high-tech boot rubber of choice these days, and the Ambush also makes use of this form-fitting, insulating material for its lining—a distinct improvement over “standard rubber” designs that offer no real insulating value save for your sock system.

When compared to the other neoprene boots in this test, it must be noted fit and finish of the Ambush takes somewhat of a back seat; specifically, though I liked the aggressive tread for sure-footed travel, I found the similar LaCrosse Alpha II to offer a much more secure ankle fit, though at a significantly higher cost. This might fall somewhat in the realm of personal preference, but to my mind ankle fit is critical when treestanding, both for toting treestands on your back, and for safely climbing into and out of your stand, whether you’re using a hang-on or a climber. In a nutshell, bowhunters on a budget will find the Pro Line does the job—while falling somewhat short of premium performance. —Mark Melotik

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