Even though your feet are what get you to where you’re going, footwear for the western hunter is often overlooked. I can understand why, as a set of boots isn’t as exciting or illustrious as a new bow, binoculars, or rifle, but again, your feet and footwear will be what get you to your destination!
One of the first things you’ll need to decide on when choosing a boot is how much flex or stiffness will be needed or wanted. There are many schools of thought to this decision and each person, as well as their hunting style, will be different.
Flexible boots have lots of things going for them and in some cases are a great decision; they are easier to break in, make less noise when stalking and in some cases, won’t be as prone to causing blisters. On the flip side, a flexible boot will stretch out easier causing hot spots on off cambered terrain, won’t generally be as durable, causes more leg fatigue when climbing and can also cause long term damage to your feet when packing heavy loads.
When looking at a stiff boot, you pretty much get the exact opposite of the flexible option; they are generally more durable, work great for heavy load hauling, cause less leg fatigue when climbing and when fit correctly, cause fewer hot-spots in rough terrain. Now for the bad stuff; stiff footwear can be extremely loud when stalking, are an epic pain in the ass to break in or even find a set that fit you and when they aren’t fitted correctly, can pretty much rub your entire heal off in one day of hunting.
So what’s the right choice for you? The first thing you’ll want to do is look at the terrain you’ll be hunting, the style of hunting you prefer and how susceptible you are to foot issues (plantar fasciitis, blistering and ankle issues to name a few). If you’re the type of guy that prefers backpack hunting in the high country, packs heavy loads and has the potential for foot problems, a stiff boot would be my suggestion. On the other hand, if you day hunt from the truck, have tough feet and hate taking your boots off for a stalk, then a flexible set of boots is right for you.
I personally prefer a stiff boot for mountain hunting, but a few years ago I got caught up in the idea that a super flexible boot would be a better option. This had more to do with me listening to what other people had to say instead of listening to what my body (feet in this case) were telling me. The end result of me using flexible footwear for a season of backpack hunting was a solid case of Plantar Fasciitis, dropped arches in my feet and many hard lessons learned. This doesn’t mean that stiff boots are the right choice for everyone, but I strongly suggest you assess your hunting style and listen to what your feet and body are telling you and make a final decision from there.