October 25, 2021
Boots are one of the more important investments a hunter can make, and this goes seemingly double for upland game enthusiasts.
Whether we're chasing corn-fed pheasants in the plains, wily, rock-hopping chukars in the mountains, elusive ruffed grouse in the Northwoods, or tight-holding quail in the South, we generally put a lot of miles on our hunting boots.
A good pair contribute to maximum enjoyment of a hunt. A bad pair can ruin it.
As an upland hunter, you're typically looking for boots offering a combination of comfort, durability, performance, affordability and, yes, sometimes style. You also examine the types of areas you're most likely to hunt and tailor your boot selection accordingly.
The demands you place on boots can vary drastically from, say, the plains of the Midwest, to the more arduous terrain of the Mountain West, so keep that in mind when evaluating boots.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to test a handful of boots that have been introduced over the past few years to see how they might perform for upland hunters. All were not specifically designed for upland hunting—with some more suited for certain types of hunting than others—but I can see any of them making sense for those chasing birds this season.
With seasons already open in many states, and more set to open next month, hunters may be eagerly looking for a new pair. So, without further ado, here are five boots to consider for this season. And, given their quality, these are boots that could likely serve you in seasons to come as well.
5 Great Boots for Upland Hunting
This solid, all-around boot takes a classic design and pairs it with modern technology. Case in point: Beautiful full-grain leather and nylon uppers meld with a Vibram SPE Midsole and a supremely grippy Vibram outsole. The rubberized EVA midsole maintains the same cushioning properties as traditional EVA. However, it’s also designed to be much more durable to meet the demands of adventurous hunters who need lasting performance. A TPU heel clip further boosts the longevity of the boot. The outsole, based on my own experiences, made quick work of any terrain I encountered, whether I was climbing rocky hills, slogging through wetland areas or walking down farm roads.
In terms of comfort, the Recurve also has a removable OrthoLite footbed, which offers exceptional cushioning and support. And, because it's constructed using open-cell polyurethane, it has improved heat dissipation and air circulation to keep you dry and cool as well.
Speaking of staying dry, the Recurve utilizes a 100-percent waterproof Danner Dry lining that allows moisture from the inside to escape without letting water in from outside. I did not experience any wetness while walking through water-logged areas, or due to sweating on warm summer days.
The 7-inch-tall boots provide ample ankle support on a variety of terrain, too. Even walking the side of a steep hill, I was not concerned about my ankle rolling.
It’s a much smaller detail, but I also particularly liked the laces on the Recurve. They feel like they can hold up to a lot of abuse, and the hooked eyelets ("speed hooks") make for crazy-fast unlacing when you're ready to remove the boots. The looser hooked eyelets can make lacing up the boots a little more challenging, but again, they practically unlace themselves until they reach the standard punched eyelets when you're ready to take them off.
They're also pretty lightweight at a little under three pounds. The fact that this reduced weight doesn't lead to decreased performance and durability speaks to Danner's craftsmanship.
I tested the Mossy Oak Original Bottomland version of the Recurve, but there are other styles and colors as well. There are brown and brown/olive variants, and an insulated version for hunts later in the season. All of the boots have an elegant, slightly old-school look about them, yet feature modern-day technology that results in superior performance.
These are good boots for a host of upland hunting scenarios. I wouldn't be afraid to hunt with them in the mountains, in the forests or on the plains. About the only situation where you might encounter a problem is if you hunt in an area where you can mistakenly step in water more than 7 inches deep. But, to be fair, that scenario would be problematic for many upland boots.
$200 | danner.com
IRISH SETTER MUDTREK 17-IN. RUBBER SNAKE BOOT
Upland traditionalists may be heartily guffawing at the inclusion of a rubber boot, but a good number of hunters have started turning to them—especially if they anticipate wet conditions where they hunt. For example, grouse coverts in New England and the upper Midwest can sometimes get fairly wet. And, depending on whether you consider the snipe—a close cousin of the woodcock—to be an upland game bird, chasing them often means dealing with moist, soft terrain in marshes and bottom lands. In these situations, a tall waterproof boot like the Mudtrek 17-inch Waterproof Pull-On Snake Boot is a perfect solution.
Irish Setter’s lightest rubber boot, the Mudtrek Snake Boot, weighs a bit over five pounds. This makes them a little easier to walk in than heavier rubberized boots that make you feel like you've completed a strenuous leg work-out after a day of hunting. The lightweight RPM sole is a big part of why these boots weigh so little, and why they're so comfortable. These soles are made from a breakthrough composite material that provides a lot of comfort and strength without too much additional weight. A removable polyurethane footbed also helps provide all-day cushioning under foot. While I didn't do a marathon hike with these boots, I did do a lot of walking through wetlands and fields, and not once experienced any signs of discomfort.
Another boost to comfort comes in the form of the Mudtrek's TempSens technology. What this does is help regulate the temperature within the boot so you're not sweating profusely or suffering from the cold. In the heat—specifically, the mid- to late-summer conditions I wore them in—moisture is wicked away from the foot to facilitate evaporative cooling. As a result, my feet stayed fairly cool, completely dry and comfortable. In colder conditions, the system still pulls moisture away from the skin, but it also traps it to create a thermal barrier to help maintain constant temperature inside the boot.
It being summer, I obviously couldn't test the "cold" part of this technology, but I was very surprised at how cool my feet and legs stayed during testing. Typically, when I wear rubber boots in the summer, it feels like a furnace around my lower extremities, and my socks are often drenched in sweat. That was not the case with these boots.
I also appreciated the aggressive Rubber Mudder sole on the Mudtreks. It provided plenty of stability and traction in soft and squishy mud, as well as on firmer ground. The tread even incorporates self-cleaning lugs to help remove excess dirt as you're walking. This can really add up after a day of sloshing through muddy terrain, so it's definitely a positive feature.
The durability of these boots was equally impressive. A vulcanized rubber upper design offers both waterproofing and sturdy protection. The SnakeGuard construction, while engineered to impede fangs, also holds up well against thorns and barbed wire, both of which upland hunters frequently face. I did notice that, while very durable, the rubberized boots were a little louder to walk in than traditional lace-up boots, so hunters should keep that in mind.
One quality of these boots that I really appreciated—especially given their rubberized construction—was how easy it was to slide them on and off. A side zipper provides easy access, and a waterproof layer behind it prevents any water entry at the zipper. To aid with removal, there's also a small ledge, or lip, on the boot's heel for additional leverage.
Last but not least, ScentBan antimicrobial scent control eliminates odors within the boot. This is important for anyone who might also use these boots for any deer hunting applications. However, it's beneficial to upland hunters who don't want smelly boots as well.
To conclude, while comfortable, these are probably not boots that you’ll use to march across miles and miles of dry prairie. Nor are they likely the best fit for strenuous mountain hunting scenarios. But, if you're hunting in an area that’s exceptionally wet or muddy, or in a place where snakes are a common concern, these might be just the ticket. And anyone wanting a boot that serves double duty on upland game and deer, give this one a good look.
$239.99 | irishsetterboots.com
LOWA R-8S GTX PATROL
With almost a century of experience producing alpine and mountaineering boots, Lowa is a well-known entity among serious outdoorsmen and women. The European company has maintained its "mountain" focus over the years, with its line of hunting footwear even being categorized as "mountain hunting" boots on the company's website. This emphasis remains clearly evident in the new R-8S GTX. While this boot is one of the most affordable in Lowa's hunting line, it still doesn't skimp on features or performance.
For starters, the R-8S GTX Patrol has an 8-inch shaft for solid ankle support. This helps prevent ankle rolling on steeper terrain to keep you from falling down a hill or mountainside. Lowa's PU MONOWRAP frame, meanwhile, provides excellent lateral stability and long-lasting support for your foot. A shock-absorbing heel adds to the comfort. When hiking with these boots, there was no terrain they could not easily handle, and I did not experience any pain or discomfort while wearing them. Between the tall height, MONOWRAP frame, and cushioned ATC insole and DuraPU midsole, my feet felt incredibly steady and comfortable.
The boots have a split leather-and-fabric (Cordura) upper, as well as a waterproof/breathable Gore-Tex lining to repel water. This liner worked exceedingly well while I wore these boots, and I did not feel wetness inside the boot. The leather-and-fabric upper proved plenty durable, and stylish as well.
A closed-lace loop system with a locking-lace loop allows users to customize different tensions between the ankle and the foot. I appreciated the ability to make the tension for my ankle tighter than that for my foot, as I've had boots in the past that felt like they pinched around the top of the foot right before the start of the shin. I also didn't mind the closed-lace loops as much as I thought I might. The laces slid through loops fairly easily whether I was lacing boots up or removing them.
The R-8S GTX Patrol's outsole incorporates 5mm deep lugs for solid traction on dirt and mud. The outsoles are also slip-, heat-, fuel- and oil-resistant, while providing insulation from the cold. The outsoles proved more than adequate for any of the terrain I encountered in testing, whether it was thick mud, dry dirt or slick wet rocks.
These lightweight boots, which weigh under three pounds, are a solid option for any upland hunter. They're especially well-suited to the mountains but could just as easily perform amongst the pines of the Southeast, the aspens of the Northwoods or the rows of milo and corn throughout the Great Plains.
$275 | lowaboots.com
ROCKY UPLAND WATERPROOF OUTDOOR BOOT
These classic upland boots sport good looks and a lot of functionality. Featuring full-grain waterproof leather (with a San Crispino-style construction) and a fiberglass shank, this offering from Rocky Boots is sturdy and stylish. The company's VP (Vapor Pass) Waterproof technology, which comes with a one-year guarantee, provides a true waterproof experience that keeps moisture out without trapping sweat inside the boot. The result is feet that stay dry and sweat-free in the woods or fields.
Rocky’s Upland Waterproof Outdoor Boot is durable, too. A high abrasion blown rubber outsole stands up to abuse while providing traction. Meanwhile, the Rocky Briar and Thorn Guard material along the upper portion of the boot offers protection against the many prickly things upland hunters might encounter on a day spent in the field or forest. This feature worked pretty well on these boots, as I often encountered both during testing, and the guard protected against any impact.
Inside the boot, on the other hand, an EnergyBed LX Footbed with memory foam yields solid comfort. I was slightly surprised at just how comfortable this footbed was on long walks through the woods, and through marshy terrain. And I particularly appreciated the boot's 11 inches of height. It felt almost like a hybrid between a knee-high rubber boot and a shorter 7-inch upland boot. Their fairly light weight also made for easy walking, without sacrificing in terms of durability or support.
If I have one knock against these boots, it's probably the buckle strap. It doesn't allow a ton of adjustment in the event you need to snug the boots down a bit. I had requested a size for testing that ended up being too large, and I was unable to adjust it to fit. I ended up getting a new pair in a correct size, which was actually about a size down from what I normally wear, and those fit very well for me. Again, if you get the right size, this won't be much of an issue, but if you do find that there's a bit of play, you may have difficulty tightening the strap much to fit. I did like the rear zipper on the boot, however, as it made it easy to slip on or remove them.
Overall, I could see these boots finding favor with grouse and woodcock aficionados, quail hunters who might appreciate the briar and thorn guard and pheasant hunters pounding cornfields throughout the Midwest and Great Plains. They're also one of the most affordable pairs of boots on this list.
$181 | rockyboots.com
LaCrosse Footwear has been turning out quality products for well over a century now, and the relatively new Atlas meets the company's rigid standards established over the years. This boot looks a bit different than many others out there, thanks mostly to its molded rubber toe cap and DuraFit molded rubber heel cup. Up front, the rubber toe cap offers extra protection. In the rear, the DuraFit cup improves durability and fit and offers more stability on rugged, uneven terrain. This seemed to prove true during testing, as the fit of the Atlas boots felt very solid to me. Often, the heel and toe can be common areas of discomfort or weakness on some boots, but this certainly doesn't seem to be true of the Atlas, as both receive extra support.
The 8-inch-tall boot offers plenty of ankle support as well. I never felt close to rolling an ankle or detected any give there. The boot's outsole is equally sturdy and, as any good outsole should be, grippy. The LXG rubber outsole has excellent traction, featuring InfiniTrac lugs. These create a decidedly aggressive tread that provides sure footing across a wide array of terrain. I did not experience any slippage during testing, even on slicker rocks and gravel.
On the comfort side of things, the Atlas boots utilize a nice EVA midsole for great cushioning and shock absorption. As a result, walking in these boots, even for a long duration, is pretty simple and feels good. I've hiked decent distances in the Atlas boots, and I was not sore afterwards. The boot also features a Dry-Core waterproof lining to allow moisture from the foot to escape without allowing water into the interior of the boot. While I tested the non-insulated version, insulated models with varying weights of PrimaLoft insulation are also available.
Up top, a combination of nubuck leather and abrasion-resistant materials makes for a stylish, but functional upland boot (though it can be used for other types of hunting as well). The boots are also quite lightweight at 3.3 pounds per pair. This makes things a little easier on legs, and LaCrosse is able to do this without sacrificing durability. The boots performed very well for me on rocky climbs, standard two-track gravel and dirt, and just about everything in between. And I cannot commend the fit and feel with the DuraFit rubber molded cup enough.
$180 | lacrossefootwear.com