Gear Test: Best Hunting and Hiking Boots for 2014

Gear Test: Best Hunting and Hiking Boots for 2014

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Summer is one of our favorite times at Game & Fish because it means we can once again take off into the wild for our next warm weather adventure. Whether we're hiking the forgotten trails of the Idaho backcountry in search of black bear or casting a line for some burly largemouth bass in the Midwest, summer is the perfect opportunity to experience the outdoors all over again.

No matter which excursion you have planned, the right footwear can make all the difference. To help you find the best boot for your next adventure, we grabbed five of the best boots on the market and put them to the test: the Adidas Terrex Fast X Mid GTX, Danner Gila, Keen Verdi II Mid WP, Under Armour Speed Freek Chaos, Lowa Ranger II GTX and Irish Setter Havoc. To help bring consistency to the test, we all wore Icebreaker merino wool socks.

We assigned each pair of boots to a wear tester and asked them to rate the boots based on four different categories: overall comfort, stability, traction and mobility. Our testers put no less than 35 miles on each pair of boots, on every terrain from sidewalks and office floors to straight vertical terrain and rocky, aggressive trails.


For each category, our testers ranked the boot on a scale of 1 to 10 and explained their reasoning. We then consulted as a group to compile the final scores.


We began our gear test with a break-in period and gave feedback about how difficult or easy the boots were to make our own. We counted the miles and noted the point at which initial break-in issues — general stiffness, walking discomfort, and so on — disappeared.


We also evaluated what we thought was the best use for each boot, giving you some idea of which activities the boots are best suited for based on the particular design elements employed. Every boot we tested would make an excellent addition to any sportsman's collection, but some are better suited for certain tasks than others. Our goal was to help you find the right hiking boot for your needs.

Whether you're preparing for a backcountry hunt, getting ready for deer season, planning a weekend hike or you just need a versatile, all-purpose boot, we've got the right footwear for you. Check out the best hunting and hiking boots of 2014 and get your summer plans off to a rocking good start.

Photos by Michael Anschuetz


Adidas | Terrex Fast X Mid GTX

Comfort Score: 10 / 10

The Adidas Terrex is a versatile boot that allows you to cover many applications. Our tester wore the boots for months to the office, and at lunch took them for 2- to 5-mile hikes. They were equally comfortable for the 9 hours spent at his standing desk each day and for high mileage backpacking treks on the weekend.

The adiPrene midsole cushioning is a big part of the equation. It\'s the same material Adidas uses in its running shoes, and it offers tremendous support underfoot. An OrthoLite footbed is ergonomically designed for the contours of the human foot and protects you on long, jarring hikes. In all, the Terrex Fast X Mid GTX gives you the comfort and feel of a running shoe with the support of a hiking boot.

Adidas | Terrex Fast X Mid GTX

Stability Score: 8 / 10

The key to these boots is a support system that doesn\'t contribute unnecessary weight. The flexible synthetic upper is framed in by a rigid skeleton of support arms that wrap around the midfoot and rise across the high ankle position. One arm braces the ankle on each side, while four studs allow you to cinch down the laces as desired. This structure system protects you from rolling your ankles and gives you sure footing when moving laterally on uneven terrain.

Beneath your foot is a durable Traxion rubber outsole (built by Continental, the legendary tire maker) that rises and stiffens in the midfoot to prevent overpronation and supination. A Formotion heel softens the landing on your stride, while the aforementioned adiPrene cushioning system promotes comfort and stability underfoot.

Adidas | Terrex Fast X Mid GTX

Traction Score: 9 / 10

The Traxion rubber outsole is built by Continental and features an aggressive tread pattern. Like its tires, Continental uses a rubber compound that offers a firm grip on wet or slippery surfaces, while the tread studs keep you grounded on the fiercest terrain. Our tester had no problems with the boots on steep, rocky ground, and felt they provided exceptional grip even on rocks during water crossings (the boots are also Gore-Tex). After 20 to 30 miles the tread studs were still in good shape and only beginning to show wear.

Best Uses:
As a light but sturdy and stable hiking boot, the Adidas Terrex is suited for a lot of different uses. It\'s comfortable in casual situations and has the looks to impress (our tester couldn\'t go anywhere without getting positive comments about the shoes). It\'s also a great fit for strenuous hiking with a moderate size pack, but probably not ideal for longer backpacking trips with heavy loads (unless of course you\'re a minimalist). We also found a lot of interest from tactical gun guys who need a tough and light but athletic boot for range wear.

Price: $185

Adidas | Terrex Fast X Mid GTX

Mobility Score: 10 / 10

When our wear tester first strapped on the Adidas Terrex Fast X Mid GTX boots, he was shocked by how light they were. At just 1 pound per boot, they feel more like a trail running shoe than a hiking boot. The typical concern with a lightweight boot is that it won\'t offer adequate support, but that\'s not the case with the Mid GTX. The adiPrene midsole gives you a semi-firm midfoot feel without adding excessive weight or making them clunky, while a Continental outsole protects your feet from the harshest terrain.

The synthetic upper fits snugly around the mid and forefoot, giving you an athletic fit with high breathability. A four-stud lacing system secures the ankle support.

Our tester tackled every kind of terrain with the Terrex GTXs, including a 9-mile hike on a mildly aggressive trail system with a 50-pound pack. While the boots weren\'t made for massive loads, we wanted to see what benefits we\'d get from switching to an ultralight boot. Our tester noticed that his legs felt fresher and more nimble toward the end of the hike, which makes sense considering the boots he typically wears in that situation are about 4 pounds combined.

The downside, not surprisingly, was that his ankles were definitely sore the next day (the minimalists out there would say that\'s a good thing). There\'s always a trade-off when you cut weight in any kind of footwear, but Adidas may have found the sweet spot with the Terrex Fast X Mid GTX. They are perfect for day hikes, small-pack hunting or office wear. They also make an exceptionally good range boot, both for casual use and 3-Gun competition.

Icebreaker | Merino Wool Socks

To help bring consistency to our testing, all of our gear experts wore Icebreaker merino wool socks for the bulk of their mileage. Merino wool is probably the most reliable material to pair with hunting or hiking boots because it naturally wicks away moisture, offers premium padding and insulation, doesn\'t retain odor, and keeps your feet from blistering even when wet. Depending on the thickness of your sock, it can also be worn in all seasons.

Icebreaker makes some of the best merino wool products on the market — our gear testers can back that claim up. Not only did the socks protect our feet from blistering and excessive aching, they also kept our feet dry in both extreme cold and scorching heat.

Price: $15-$35

Danner | Gila

Comfort Score: 8 / 10

The Danner Gila was very comfortable right out of the box. There was a brief break-in period, but the boots only got more comfortable with time. Built with a polyurethane midsole and polypropylene shank, the Gila is designed to maintain rigidity on unstable footing and, in turn, to protect your feet. Our wear tester didn\'t experience any blistering or uncomfortable hot spots on the foot while slugging out the miles.

The only discomfort our tester experienced came during the initial break-in period. The boots created a pressure point on his feet near the top of the boot just before the toe box. The issue caused minimal discomfort, however, and worked itself out after only a few hikes. The Danner Gavre outsole provided ample cushioning under foot and kept our tester\'s feet from aching even after countless miles on the trail.

Danner | Gila

Stability Score: 9 /10

With an aggressive tread pattern and enhanced stability Gavre outsole, the Danner Gila was more than capable of providing a stable base that was noticeable on the trails. The Gila is aggressive enough for handling mountainous terrain with ease while still providing solid comfort on moderate trail systems. Additionally, the stiff and rigid heel ensured our wear tester\'s ankle was properly supported at all times.

Danner | Gila

Traction Score: 8.5 / 10

Built to handle the most unpredictable environments, the Danner Gila proved more than capable of tackling some of the toughest terrain out there. Our wear tester noted that the aggressive lugged tread pattern on the boots allowed him to stay glued to the toughest trails. The boot provided a solid grip in loose soil and steep terrain.

Best Uses:
The Gila shines exactly where it\'s designed to — in rocky, mountainous terrain. It\'s also perfect for just about any hiking and backpacking you can throw at it, even with a pack weight up to 50 pounds. The Gila can handle the 3-mile day hike or the 25-mile backcountry excursion. It may not be the best option for office or casual wear, but that certainly wouldn\'t be too much of a stretch.

Price: $180

Danner | Gila

Mobility Score: 9 / 10

Right out of the box, our wear tester was impressed by the look and feel of the Danner Gila. The boot fell in the 'œGoldilocks zone' for boot weight — neither too light nor too heavy, but just right (the boots weigh 51 ounces per pair). The Gila spawned from boots Danner makes for the military and is wrapped in a synthetic Optifade and Nubuk leather upper. An abrasion resistant rubber rand wraps the toe box and four speed hooks lock down the laces around the ankle. With rock solid support at a minimal weight, the Danner Gila is ideal for high-mileage Western hunting.

Our wear tester was also impressed with the support-to-weight ratio of the Gila. It\'s built like a heavyweight but doesn\'t feel like it when you\'re pounding the trail. In turn, this limits fatigue and allows you to keep churning out those miles.

Keen | Verdi II Mid WP

Comfort Score: 8.5 / 10

To say the Verdi II is comfortable would be a major understatement. From the moment our tester put these on, the comfortable design was obvious. The Verdi II\'s are as comfortable as any pair of running shoes, but still durable enough to handle most light to moderate trails. Keen\'s dual density molded EVA midsole provided ample support, which made these boots comfortable to wear at the office or on trail all day long. There is plenty of room in the toe box and the heel is supported with a TPU stability shank.

The Verdi II\'s barely required any break-in. Our tester wore these a minimum of nine hours a day around the office, at home and on the trails everyday without any blistering. After eight weeks the boots were still just as comfortable as the first time he put them on. One feature that sets the Verdi II\'s — and Keen footwear in general — apart from the others is the wrapping of the sole over the toes. This acts as a much appreciated barrier for many obstacles or hazards in your path.

Keen | Verdi II Mid WP

Stability Score: 7.5 / 10

The Verdi II has an ergonomic design that was not only appreciated for comfort, but it proved to be quite stable as well. From the TPU shank support in the heel and EVA midsole, to Keen\'s patented toe protection technology and 4mm multi-directional lugs, the Verdi II was more than capable of handling varying terrains.

If hiking on trails, wearing to the office, or spending a day on the lake are going to be the primary uses, these boots are a great option. At a minimal weight the Verdi II offers good support and all-day comfort. Our tester felt properly supported at all times in these environments and could actually feel the stability at work.

Keen | Verdi II Mid WP

Traction Score: 7 / 10

From 7 inches of snow and thick mud to puddles and loose gravel, the 4mm multi-directional lugs provided solid traction. The tread on the Verdi II performed best on relatively flat and mild terrain, regardless of rain or snow. Much like the tread on a vehicle\'s tires, the Verdi II channels rain and snow through the tread, forcing it outward away from the sole. This allows the tread to work without slipping or getting gummed up with snow or mud.

Best Uses:
The Keen Verdi II Mid WP is a great option for the sportsman who needs a versatile, all-activity boot that offers premium comfort at a reasonable price. Like a general practitioner, the Verdi II covers most outdoor activities with ease but isn\'t a specialist in long-range backpacking or heavy duty land cruising. That actually makes the Verdi II more — not less — useful. As always, Keen delivers with an all-purpose, comfortable boot that will get you tons of use.

Price: $135

Keen | Verdi II Mid WP

Mobility Score: 9 / 10

Keen has been producing quality outdoor gear for years now under the mantra of "HybridLife," but it\'s only within the last couple of years that it has started designing hiking boots. Its commitment to designing versatile products that function in any environment and go anywhere is most evidenced in their newest hiking boot, the Verdi II Mid WP.

One of the features our wear tester liked best about the Verdi II Mid WP was its range of mobility. Regardless of the situation or terrain, from amble trails and aggressive terrain to the office, the Verdi II\'s light weight allowed them to perform admirably. Our tester never felt weighed down and only rarely restricted in his movements, whether it was a day hike or a 7-mile trek through some of the hilliest terrain around. With durable leather overlays, a breathable mesh upper and weighing less than 1 pound, these boots are quick, agile and perfect for work or play. Through much of the 35-mile wear test, the boots felt like an extension of the foot.

While the Verdi II can go anywhere, it\'s important to know what it is — and isn\'t — made for. The boots are great for weekend warriors, day hikers and most sportsmen, but they aren\'t as ideal for hardcore trekking in aggressive or steep terrain. Because the Verdi II is made with a flexible, well-cushioned EVA midsole, the boot is geared for comfort. For the buyer who puts a premium on comfort, wears their boots everyday for work and play, and doesn\'t plan on climbing K2, the Verdi II Mid WP is a great choice.

Lowa | Ranger II GTX

Comfort Score: 10 / 10

As our wear tester pointed out, you\'ll find out how comfortable a boot is if you put it through a 45-mile backcountry drubbing. The pretenders simply won\'t make it under those severe conditions. And trust us, the Lowa Ranger II is the real deal.

The Ranger II is built on a Vibram Tactis DST outsole that is well padded and features aggressive tread. A 5mm nylon heel lends itself to a healthy foot strike, and the SPS System cushioned midsole helps prevent overpronation and supination. Stiff inserts give you support in key areas of the midsole, which helps promote an efficient stride.

The Lowa Ranger II displayed extended comfort and performance on undulating trails and steep vertical mountainsides for six straight days — a real testament to the quality engineering that went into the boot.

Lowa | Ranger II GTX

Stability Score: 10 / 10

If you can take a boot to hell and back and return without bruised, blistered feet, chances are you\'ve found a blue ribbon winner. The Lowa Ranger II is just that boot.

It gave our wear tester exceptional stability on slopes with more than 100 percent grade and a full 50-pound pack. He said you could feel the support moving up the mountain, but where it was most noticed was on the descent. The ankles and outside edges of your feet bear most of the load at impact, which is where the Rangers provided the most support. If the boots can handle those conditions, they can handle almost anything.

Lowa | Ranger II GTX

Traction Score: 10 / 10

The outsole featured on the Lowa Ranger II is a Vibram Tactis DST, which employs semi-soft rubber for added cushioning and a supportive tread profile for all varieties of terrain. It\'s one of Lowa\'s most heavy duty outsoles, which is great for carrying heavy packs across nasty territory.

Best Uses:
Great for everyday hiking, but especially well suited for medium to heavy duty backpacking with loads of up to 50 pounds (and I\'d say beyond that, too). The Rangers are a bit clunky, but not uncomfortable, for everyday office wear. They are an exceptional fit for the backcountry hunter or anyone who enjoys trekking in the wild for several days at a time.

Price: $300

Lowa | Ranger II GTX

Mobility Score: 9 / 10

The Lowa Ranger II GTX boots are a slightly updated version of the original Ranger line, which was hugely popular and gained a reputation for reliability over the years. The German-made Ranger IIs aren\'t incredibly light (30 ounces per boot), but the extra weight brought on by additional protective features is a worthwhile trade-off. A one-piece Nubuk leather upper gives you great durability even when you beat the snot out of your boots, and while it\'s heavier than other synthetic materials, it\'s also going to last longer. A rubber rand runs around the base of the boot for added protection against misplaced trail rocks and boulders.

Our wear tester took these boots on a six-day, 45-mile backpacking trip to Idaho through some of the harshest territory in the Lower 48 and came back glowing about the Ranger IIs. He took them on climbs up and down 1,000-foot vertical mountainsides with a 50-pound pack and trekking poles — some of the most difficult ground you\'d ever wish to cross — and said the boots cradled his feet so well he came away without blisters or sore feet. They were comfortable mile after mile on the trail and rather enjoyable to hike in. That might be the ultimate wear test.

Irish Setter | Havoc

Comfort Score: 8 / 10

During the initial break-in period, our wear tester noted stiffness and pressure in the high-ankle area, especially when the boots were laced down tightly. That\'s a common issue especially in supportive leather boots, but it went away after a week or so of walking. The FlexLock upper cradles the foot nicely, while the UltraFlex broad sole platform gives you ample cushioning on jarring surfaces.

As with most leather boots, make sure you allow plenty of time for break-in before rushing to conclusions about the overall comfort. After a week or two hiking in the Havoc, you\'ll be grateful for a long-lasting boot you can make your own.

Irish Setter | Havoc

Stability Score: 9 / 10

When it came to stability, the Havoc performed exceedingly well. Our wear tester felt the best part of the Havoc was the wide footprint which provides a stable base whether you\'re hiking in aggressive terrain or on the go in a 3-gun competition. Constructed on an UltraFlex Big Game broad sole platform, the Havoc will have you focused on the task at hand, not problems underfoot.

According to our wear tester, the Havoc may run a half-size bigger than a typical gym shoe, but it depends on each person\'s foot and sock selection. As always, the best advice is to try a pair on for best fit (bring the socks you plan to wear in the field). This may also be an ideal boot for folks with wider feet.

Irish Setter | Havoc

Traction Score: 8 / 10

In late winter conditions, these boots were an advantage against the elements. The aggressive tread of the Havoc allowed these boots to stay grounded, especially when conditions were miserable. The heavier weight of the boot and side lugs provided support for lateral transitions on steep slopes. Throughout many of the terrains our wear tester felt that a lighter boot would have slipped, resulting in a loss of traction. The tread was likened to the tread on mudding tires — aggressive and knobby, which is great for dirt trails or mushy ground, but less ideal for smooth, slick surfaces.

Best Uses:
The Havoc is a great choice for multiple hunting conditions and excels when conditions were at their worst. A wide outsole gives you extra surface area for improved traction and aggressive lugs claw through many different kinds of terrain. It makes a good boot for turkey, predator and big game hunters and could easily be worn around the property while hard at work. Because of its heavy-duty build, the Havoc probably isn\'t the type of casual boot you\'d wear to the office (unless your office is a corn field) or in the backyard when you\'re chasing the kids around.

Price: $190

Irish Setter | Havoc

Mobility Score: 7 / 10

The Irish Setter Havoc boots are designed for big game hunters who plan on putting serious mileage on their footwear. The Havoc is constructed from a FlexLock hand-sewn leather upper and polyurethane outsole and has a heavy-duty feel, as our wear tester pointed out. He used the boots for spring turkey hunting and a dead-of-winter coyote hunt in Illinois and found the boot to handle both conditions well. He tested the uninsulated version, which is obviously lighter than insulated models, and found that it kept his feet dry and warm when paired with a quality pair of wool socks.

The Havoc is a good walking boot with plenty of rigidity to handle rocky, mountainous terrain, but it\'s also well-paired for the hilly-to-flat Midwest. At 51 ounces per pair it\'s not the lightest, most nimble boot in the world, which means you likely won\'t be running around the backyard on Sunday afternoons with it on. This is a workingman\'s hunting boot that\'s built to last.

Under Armour | Speed Freek Chaos

Comfort Score: 9 / 10

The Speed Freek makes for a great hiking and hunting boot, largely due to the level of comfort it provides. With a durable EVA midsole that delivers comfort and shock absorption, this boot is ideal for a wide range of terrains. Our wear tester found the Speed Freek to be comfortable on trails and everyday use at the office. The molded Ortholite footbed is designed with a memory foam top and PU base, so you can be sure that these will feel just as comfortable three months down the road as they were the first time you slip them on.

Because of the slimmer profile, the Speed Freak conformed to our wear tester\'s foot in all the right areas and felt like an extension of his foot rather than an obstacle. Tight support around the ankles kept the foot from moving within the boot. The Gore-Tex 100 percent waterproof lining kept water and perspiration out. It didn\'t take long for these boots to break-in; within a week the Speed Freek reached a level of everyday comfort.

Under Armour | Speed Freek Chaos

Stability Score: 9 / 10

As mentioned, the support around the ankle is but one of the features on the Speed Freek that gives it great stability. Another feature is the flexibility of the boot. Not only will they conform to your feet, but they will also conform to any terrain around. The Speed Freek is stiff and rigid in all the right places while still being flexible enough to adapt to multiple types of terrain. With the push-through protective outsole, your foot will be protected from trail hazards without sacrificing mobility.

Under Armour | Speed Freek Chaos

Mobility Score: 10 / 10

Our wear tester was thoroughly impressed with the mobility of the Under Armour Speed Freek Chaos and told us these were the lightest full structure boots he\'s ever tested. Whether you're on a moderate-distance hike, spot-and-stalk hunt or 3-gun competition, the Speed Freek is an ideal choice for any sportsman who needs to get to their destination fast and quiet. Weighing in at less than 20 ounces per boot, the Speed Freek is quiet and agile without compromising stability or traction. The custom-designed high-traction, low-noise outsole make these a stealthy option for spot-and-stalk excursions. Additionally, Under Armour\'s exclusive Scent Control technology is built into the boot, which is a much-appreciated benefit for whitetail hunters.

Under Armour | Speed Freek Chaos

Traction Score: 10 / 10

Rain, snow, mud and gravel were no match for the aggressive tread of the Speed Freek. One look and you\'ll see why. With multiple tiers of tread patterns, the Speed Freek tore through whatever terrains our wear tester encountered. Whether it was an ice-covered sidewalk, steep rain-soaked hill, or jagged and rocky hillside, this boot performed magnificently.

Best Uses:
If you\'re looking for a boot that is as comfortable in the office as it is on the trail — while still being versatile enough for a treestand or duck blind — the Speed Freek should be high on your list. And with Scent Control technology built in, this boot has whitetail hunting written all over it.

Price: $132.99

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