If you asked 10 backpack hunters if they prefer a stiff or flexible boot, I’d guess you’d get 7 out of 10 preferring a stiffer set of boots. Now that’s not to say that a flexible set of boots won’t work for you, but because of the heavy loads, long miles and overall abuse a backpack hunter’s feet will receive in a season, the stiffer option will usually be the best. This of course means a stiff set of boots can be a necessity for the backpack hunter.
What about day hunting and the quick overnight trip? Is a stiff boot a good option, or should you be looking at something more flexible? In my opinion, a stiff boot in these circumstances can be a bit problematic at times and not always needed.
So what’s the right choice for you? This will depend on what type of boot your foot prefers, what terrain you’ll be hunting in and if you can afford more than one set of boots. After you’ve answered these questions, you’re well on your way to making a decision.
I’ve been using stiff boots (meaning almost zero flex) for about five years and have been super happy with this style, but I’d be fibbing if I said there haven’t been a few drawbacks. Trying to stalk/still hunt in a stiff set of boots isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do and you don’t have the same ninja type stealth as you do with a super flexible boot. You also tend to trip on things a bit more and anytime you’re walking in a dry climate, you may as well be yelling at the animals that you’re coming. You can obviously take your boots off for the final stalk, but sometimes, especially with elk, you don’t have that luxury. You do get used to these problems over time, but all of theses drawbacks are much easier to deal with in a flexible option.
When I use a flexible boot for day hunting, it feels as I’m walking on clouds! The break-in time is much less and I literally make half the noise when walking/stalking through the woods. I don’t have any issues backpack hunting with a more flexible option either, as long as I keep my pack weight below 45 lbs. The moment I start a steep climb or load heavy weight into my pack, I start missing my stiff boots pretty quickly. Also, a flexible boot is generally going to have about half the life of a stiff boot and will need to be replaced more frequently, That may not be an issue for some, but a decent flexible boot is going to cost you around $200, whereas a good stiff boot option will be $289-$400.
Another option, and usually the best for most hunters, is a middle of the road boot. This gives you a little of everything and definitely hits the “do-all” button for a lot of guys. It won’t be perfect at doing everything, but it will be pretty dang good at all things for the majority of hunters.
Choosing footwear is very subjective and I’m obviously doing a lot of generalizing in my comments to simplify the article. The one thing that can’t be argued is that the boot you choose must fit your foot. After that it’s going to be a matter of what you can deal with (pros and cons) on your final decision.