Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Hunting boots are often based on hiking footwear, largely because they have to be waterproof, and offer insulation, comfort and grip. However, new stalking boots are beginning to introduce innovations specifically for the hunting market. Using the latest hunting boots from Jack Pyke as an example, we’ll explain the features you need before parting with your hard-earned cash.
The first thing to remember is to wear good socks because they are part of what makes a pair of boots comfortable. Not only do they provide warmth in winter, but they should wick moisture away from the foot in warmer conditions and cushion the foot as well.
Socks should be made of wool rather than cotton because wool wicks moisture away from the foot, where cotton tends to stay damp. Wool absorbs foot odour as well, which is something worth remembering.
Socks also affect the fit of the boot, so always try a new pair of boots on with the socks you intend to wear with them. Generally, finding the right fit is just a matter of trying on the boots and seeing which is most comfortable. However, it’s always advisable to check that there’s about a thumbnail’s gap between your longest toe and the end of the boot.
Some of us have wide Hobbit-like feet and this can cause problems because not all boots are wide fitting. If there isn’t a wide-fitting option in the boot you like, then you could try half a size larger than you normally take, but this is a compromise and getting the right width fit is all important. Try various makes of boot as some offer wider fittings.
Ladies usually have a shallower and narrower foot, so it’s vital for lady shooters to choose boots that are designed specifically for their dainties.
You must also decide whether your boots are for winter or summer use. Winter boots tend to have thicker soles, and are generally made of heavier, waterproof leather, whereas summer boots are made of lighter fabric so they’re more breathable. If you can’t afford two pairs of boots, it’s best to invest in a heavy pair for winter and use trainers in summer.
The Jack Pyke Hunters boots are more suitable for winter because of the heavy full grain leather upper and Hydroguard membrane which make them waterproof and breathable.
When looking for waterproof winter boots, make sure there’s as little stitching as possible because water can leak through it. If there’s a waterproof membrane in the boots, like the Hunters boots have, then this is less likely to happen.
Thicker soles tend to provide more insulation and boots designed for winter are usually lined with an insulating layer, such as Thinsulate, which is used in the Jack Pyke boots. You might want to fit an insole into your boot to add extra insulation.
In the summer, insulation is less important, so a lighter sole is generally better, especially when stalking rabbits, which are very sensitive to footfall and ground vibration.
However, if you are hunting across rough, hilly ground then it’s best to have a thicker sole and a higher boot because that determines the stability and support your foot and ankle gets from it.
The Jack Pyke Hunters are high, so there’s plenty of support here. They also have a lace hook by the ankle, which means you can really strap your foot in the boot, giving it maximum support.
Being high also means that you can wade through water. They’re not as high as wellies, but gumboots don’t offer the ankle support that the Hunters boots provide.
Even though the Hunters are lace-up, they’re completely waterproof. This is because the tongue is sewn into the boot and a gusset prevents water and dirt entering. This is sometimes called a ‘bellows tongue’ and on a walking or stalking boot, the gusset should be soft, so that it doesn’t chafe.
Walking through gorse or heather can rip some boots apart, so if you intend to stalk across rough ground you need a full grain upper, preferably with a rubber toe cap or ‘bumper’ that protects the front of the boot. Made from full grain leather with a bumper all around the welt, the Hunters are specifically designed for this type of terrain.
The heel counter - the plastic structure that wraps round the heel of the boot - is designed to stop over-pronation (excessive turning inward of the foot) and keeps the foot centred and stable as it strikes the ground. This reduces leg fatigue and helps maintain stability on tricky ground. The Jack Pyke boots have very good heel support and you can increase ankle support by lacing the boot up through the eye near the ankle.
Lacing your boots up properly is something a lot of us overlook. Some tie the laces too tight and cut off the circulation in their foot and others tie the laces so loosely that they provide very little support. All you have to do is tie them until they feel a little too tight, and then slacken them off a bit. Another thing to remember when walking across rough ground is to use all the eyelets on the boot because this makes the boot more rigid and provides that all important support.
Naturally, on rough terrain you need a good sole. Vibram are famed for making soles on walking boots as well as work boots
and the Jack Pyke boots have the latest Vibram Trek Hunter outer sole fitted.
Ideally, the soles of walking and stalking boots should have cleats designed to shed mud. I’ve never seen a sole a that has been able to shed mud in every condition, but the thing to look for on a sole is cleats that are well spaced and a sole that is flexible. This helps stop the sole becoming clogged with mud and retains its effectiveness in slippery conditions. The Trek Hunter soles on the Jack Pyke boots have these properties and seem to work well off road.
The rubber compound the sole is made from is also important. If it is as soft and tacky as an eraser, then the sole is good for walking on rocks. Just feel the sole of a pair of mountaineer’s approach shoes and you will see what I mean. However, if the sole is soft and tacky it won’t have the durability of a harder compound. A happy compromise has been reached on the Jack Pyke boots as the soles are quite tacky and yet should be durable enough for a few thousand miles. However, we will give them a long test and update you.
Be sure to wear your new boots in, especially if they are made from heavy-duty leather. If you normally wear shoes, wearing boots can come as a bit of a shock because your feet and ankles feel more restricted. After wearing the boots regularly for a few days this feeling should wear off and the leather will become more supple and shape itself to your feet.
Finally, what should you pay for a pair of hunting boots? This all depends on whether you want lightweight summer boots, or heavyweight ones. It also depends on what quality you are looking for. Prices start around the £70 mark and go up to £500. On average, you can get a very good pair of boots for around £200, which may seem a lot, but what price do you put on comfort? Also you will be a better hunter if your feet are warm, dry and comfortable. If you’re cold, miserable and uncomfortable, you cannot concentrate on your shot.
Back to the Jacks
As for the Jack Pyke Hunters boots, at £120 they’re good value for sure. As far as I can tell at this early stage they seem well put together, are waterproof and they kept my feet warm in the snow during a recent trip to the Scottish highlands. These boots have the features I need, so it’s no surprise that they get full marks from me.