I recently asked followers on my Facebook page how they keep their feet warm and to name their favorite winter boot. These are hunters, ice fisherman and trappers for the most part, and if anyone knows about cold feet it is this crowd. While there were varied opinions on brand, most agreed on certain features.
Along with your hands, your feet are usually the most susceptible to cold weather. If your feet aren’t warm, you will never be comfortable; no matter how many layers of the best hunting clothing you can buy are worn. And if you have had a cold weather injury such as frostbite in the past like me, you know you can hardly ever keep your feet warm from deer season through coyote season – otherwise known as November through March.
A stroll through your local outfitter or bigger chain outlet store could leave you with more questions than answers when it comes to choosing the right gear to keep your feet warm. And with the cost associated with a quality pair of boots on the rise, making the right purchase the first time is important.
Shelves stuffed with boots of every conceivable style and purpose loom over you like a thundercloud in July. Add in Thinsulate ratings and activity guides and you are soon so overwhelmed you just end up checking out with a box of shells and a new blaze orange beanie.
My readers responded like my very own personal pro-staff and here is what they had to say.
The most recommended brands, in no particular order, were Muck, LaCrosse, Baffin and my favorite – the U.S. military surplus extreme cold temperature boots; also known as the Mickey Mouse and Bunny boots.
According to my pro-staffers though, each brand and design has its own drawbacks. The Muck Artic Pro has a loyal following, but detractors complain of durability – especially with neoprene tearing and sole separation issues. LaCrosse is another big favorite but rubber cracking and declining quality came up several times in the debate. Baffin Trapper boots were well recommended for severe sub-zero temps, but again, some folks were critical of them for being too bulky and don’t recommend them if you walk long distances. The extreme cold temperature military surplus boots have a staid following and a proven track record, however they require the right socks to prevent feet from sweating and a proliferation of imitation knock offs can make it a challenge to ensure you are getting authentic boots.
One size doesn’t fit all
What seems to be the most difficult aspect in deciding on a pair of boots is the walking versus sitting conundrum. Still hunting or walking in to a tree stand that is located deep in the woods calls for a boot that can breathe so your feet don’t sweat. Same goes for a stroll through the woods looking for antler sheds. When you stay moving, your feet stay warmer. Conversely, sitting in a blind or standing on ice all day while ice fishing requires a boot that keeps the cold out and the heat in. Lack of motion in these instances causes circulation to slow and feet to cool.
The consensus is that the type of activity you are engaging in will dictate the type of footgear you’ll need. Terrain, mobility and weather all affect the type of boot you’ll need. You may find you’ll end up with several pairs of boots suited to specific tasks. I’ve yet to find a single perfect solution for all activities I’m engaged in over the colder months: stand hunting, still hunting, ice fishing, predator hunting, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and the list goes on.
While I don’t know if we will ever see the perfect universal winter boot for the outdoorsman, there are some things that just about everyone agreed on.
Wool, Felt, and Warmers
One recurring theme, and one I very much agree with, is what goes on your feet before the boots do. Wearing proper socks goes a long way in keeping your feet warm and dry. Wool is the best choice by far; you’ll need to experiment though to find the right weight so you don’t cause overheating and thereby, sweating.
Felt liners provide an additional barrier to keep the warmth in and the cold out. Look for a pair of boots with removable felt liners. You should remove them daily to dry out any moisture accumulated during wear.
Individually packaged foot and hand warmers have become very popular. One placed under the arch of the foot and one placed at the toes will provide comfort on the coldest days. This works especially well when you are stationary.
A word about Thinsulate
Thinsulate is the brand name of a synthetic insulating material developed by 3M. Its primary use is in clothing and is rated by grams; the higher the gram weight the higher the insulating factor.
Most readers, when discussing their boot choices, almost always noted the Thinsulate rating of their boots. The ratings ranged from 600gr to 2000gr, highlighting the differences between rubber and leather boots. On average, those who chose rubber boots had lower Thinsulate weights and the leather boot crowd had the highest counts. This is likely due to the breathability differences in rubber and leather.
After tallying responses, the cumulative advice is this:
- Fit the boot to the task.
- Wear wool socks.
- Use felt soles and liners where you can and remember to air them out daily.
- If you move a lot over dry terrain to a fixed location, a pair of leather boots with between 1000 – 2000 grams of Thinsulate may be your best choice.
- If your operational area is wet or you stand on ice a lot, rubber style boots may be the way to go.
- Last but not least, you can never go wrong with having a few hand and foot warmer packs on hand – just in case.