The best elk hunting boots can make or break your hunt. Hit the hills with a sub-par pair of boots that blisters your feet and your hunt
The best elk hunting boots can make or break your hunt. Hit the hills with a sub-par pair of boots that blisters your feet and your hunt will be over before it begins. Elk hunters will spend days fretting over pack weight, obsessing over the accuracy of their weapon, and drop a small fortune on calls. But their boot choice gets neglected. I’ve seen boots blister feet so bad during my elk tenure that the hunter had to spend three days in camp nursing them just to get back to his truck.
If this fall marks your maiden voyage West, or if you’ve hit the elk hills and realized your boots were heavy, provided poor traction, and seemed to buckle under a heavy pack, take the time to adjust. The trick to finding the right pair of elk boots is to have an open mind, a reasonable budget, and pose questions to top-tier boot manufacturers. Having the right boot on your feet when you hit the Rockies may make the difference between notching a tag and going home empty-handed. At the very least, the right boot will keep you warm, dry, comfortable, and on the go. Get the best elk hunting boots for your adventure, and your hunt will be more enjoyable and successful.
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Things to Consider Before Buying Your Elk Boot
Like most gear items, picking the right boot is all about matching that boot to the terrain and weather conditions you will likely experience on your elk hunt. Combine this with the right materials and construction and you will have your ideal elk hunting boot. Here is a closer look at the important factors that go into my selections.
Make sure you have a solid grasp of the terrain you’ll be hunting, as knowing the terrain will help you understand what style of elk boot is best for you. Last September, I was hunting isolated timber pockets just below the timberline. I spent my days navigating shale rock shoots, boulder fields covered in snow, and wet, alpine meadows. This hunt demanded a boot with serious traction, warmth, and a hundred percent waterproof build. I was living out of a backpack, which meant toting 52 pounds on my shoulders and waist each day, and it required my boots to have solid uppers and provide excellent support.
In October, while chasing elk near my southeast Colorado home with my .280 Ackley Imp., I made a boot switch. Why? I was hunting dry, cedar-sprinkled country void of rock. The dirt was soft and covered with ankle-high prairie grass. I opted for a 7-inch tall, lightweight boot that sported a synthetic and leather build. The tread wasn’t nearly as aggressive, and because I was walking short distances before returning to my truck, the boots’ load-bearing nature wasn’t a concern.
Weather can be unpredictable, but you will know the time you plan to hunt and the historical trends of conditions. If colder temperatures and snow are probable, you’ll want a boot with no less than 600g of Thinsulate insulation, and it will need to have a Gore-Tex or some other form of waterproof technology. Nothing is worse than cold, wet feet. On the flip side, if you’re chasing bulls in Utah in August, insulation will make your feet sweat, dampen your socks, and lead to blisters and odor.
Materials and Construction
The right boots are tailored to specific conditions. This means that terrain and weather will also impact the constriction and design of your boots. High country hunts will require studier boots with more support and ruggedness. This most likely means heavy materials and a solid build. Lowcountry hunts might translate to lightweight boots with less protection. The boot materials are going to impact weight, support, toughness, mobility, comfort, and special features. Consider what your boot is made out of and how the design will affect your hunt.
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Why it Made The Cut
The Mountain Extreme has 400-grams of Thinsulate insulation, making it not too hot for early-season ventures, and will get you by in October and early November. The boots’ 10-inch height provides incredible ankle support and keeps debris and snow out. The upper is 2.8mm full-grain leather, and you won’t find a more exemplary overall boot build.
- 400-gram Thinsulate insulation
- Windtex waterproof membrane
- Ruber sole guard
- 10-inches tall
- Aggressive tread
If I had to pick one elk hunting boot for the rest of my days, it would be Kenetrek’s Moutain Extreme 400. My reason for going with the 400 over the non-insulated Mountain Extreme is we are going for an all-around elk boot, and there will be times when you’ll want some insulation. At 4.2 pounds, the boots are neither heavy nor light. If you treat the boots with Kenetrek boot care products once a year, they will hold their full-waterproof build and last you for multiple seasons. Hunters should know the K-Talon outsole provides incredible traction; however, when the legs get tired, and you start dragging your feet, that traction can almost be too much. The boots will feel stiff, as any good mountain hiker should, but there is no break-in period. When I wear these boots with a quality pair of Kenetrek socks like the Ultimate Liner Lightweight Over-The-Calf-Socks, blisters and comfort are never a worry.
Best Low-Country Elk Hunting Boot
Why it Made The Cut
These boots feature a suede and breathable synthetic build that boosts air circulation to keep your feet dry and comfortable.
- Water repellent
- Speed Lacing System
- Elastoflex EVA midsole
- Removable footbed
- .95 pounds
- Water repellent upper
- Speed Lacing System
If you haven’t slid your feet in a pair of Crispi’s, you should treat yourself, and the Attiva Mid GTX is some of the boot maker’s finest work. This boot was made for the on-the-go bowhunter that wants to hunt fast and light. The upper is leather/synthetic, and it’s incredibly comfortable. I am also a fan of the removable footbed. As good of circulation as these boots promote, you will still sweat during archery elk season, especially when hunting at lower elevations. Crispi’s Thermo Wire Technology provides strong ankle support, and I’ve packed plenty of meat while wearing these boots. The sole is solid—not too aggressive but not one that won’t grip the terrain. I am not a big fan of the speed lacing system. It hasn’t failed me, and it works fine, but I am a control freak and find I can get a just-right around-the-ankle fit if I can’t fully control the tension on the laces.
Best High Country Elk Hunting Boot
Why it Made The Cut
The Nubuck leather with Hydrobloc Treatment is bulletproof, and the Flex 4mm + PE insole is super comfortable. It is ideal for high country elk hunts.
- Rubber toebox rand
- BOA lacing system
- Vibram 3D Camo outsole
- Zamberlan Flex System
A Cadillac for your feet, these boots feature an aggressive sole that provides traction in any terrain, and you’ll love the just-right tightness around the ankle that the BOA system offers. Gore-Tex married with a Hydrobloc Treatment on the Nubuck Leather makes these boots one hundred percent waterproof, and Zamberlan’s Flex System lets the upper portion of the boot break forward in a comfortable manner without taking away from lateral support—an essential feature when side-hilling. The addition of the rubber band around the toe areas increases boot longevity, and I love the total foot protection I get from this mid-high boot build. You don’t find many boots that offer a perfect blend of strength and weight, but Zamberlan has hit a home run in this department. When you do wear the soles down, and you will, as comfortable as these boots are to walk in, send them back to the manufacturer and get new soles put on.
Best Budget Elk Hunting Boots
Why it Made The Cut
The majority of the boot is comprised of rubber and synthetic, but there is plenty of Nubuck leather to go around. The boots, at 2.9 pounds, are light, and the Gore-Tex liner keeps moisture out.
- DuraFit heel cup
- Hexguard toe
- Break-in period
- Lack of ankle support
When you think of LaCrosse, you likely envision rubber boots for whitetails, but this western boot build is good and will keep some coin in your wallet. The Lodestar boots are generally comfortable as long as you break them in, and I applaud the DuraFit Heel Cup, which locks the heel in place to prevent rubbing and lack of feel with the ground. I’ve used these boots from the high country to the low country for two years, and they’ve proved durable. The Vibram Lodestar Outsole has no problem grabbing the terrain, and the comfort of the Eva Midsole is evident when you have a load of meat and horns on your back. The boots are light and uninsulated. My only issue with them is the ankle support, which I feel is lacking. But for the money, you can’t go wrong with these 7-inch tall elk hunting boots.
Best Lightweight Elk Hunting Boots
Why it Made The Cut
The Mud Contragrip grabs shale rock as well as it does loose dirt, and the full-grain Nubuck leather build boosts longevity. The boots are Gore-Tex lined, and Salomon went the extra mile and coated them with a special treatment that prevents the fabric from absorbing water.
- Eva foam for shock
- Gusseted tongue
- 4D advanced chassis
- Traditional lacing system
- OrthoLite sockliner
- Lack of cushion
- Ultra-aggressive sole
This lightweight boot has become a favorite for elk hunters. Designed for technical trails and off-the-beaten-path ventures, I like the soft, breathable textile lining, and once your feet are inside, the foot feels well supported. Blisters and hotspots are never a worry, and this is a boot you can snag at the sporting goods store and head directly to the mountain with. The molded OrthoLite insole provides decent cushioning but conforms to your foot. I would like to see Salomon offer the boot in a model with a slightly less aggressive tread.
Best Newcomer Elk Hunting Boot
Why It Made The Cut
The Hanwag Makra Trex GTX is light, comfortable, and ready to handle any terrain you throw at it.
- Strength to weight ratio
- Ghilly lacing
- Codura build
- Reinforced seams
- Light sole construction
- Low build toward the ankle
I haven’t tested these boots personally, but I’ve talked with more than one elk hunter who has, and all have nothing but good things to say. The boots’ Cordura build with reinforced seams make them German-tank tough, and Hanwag used Gore-Tex, which is always a plus. From what I’ve been told, the boots are water-resistant and breathable, comfortable, and provide a great foot-to-ground feel. They aren’t fully waterproof, but still water resistant. The ghilly lacing in the toe area ensures custom tightness, and the tread pattern seems perfect for any elk terrain.
Best Cold Weather Elk Hunting Boot
Why it Made The Cut
These boots are comfortable, lightweight for their insulation, and have never given me a single blister or hot spot. While these boots are built for cold weather, I’ve worn them with a liner sock multiple times during October and November and have been very comfortable.
- 10-inches tall
- 7mm nylon midsoles
- 1,000g Thinsulate
- Durable leather uppers
- Windtex waterproof
- Sole is a tad too aggressive
Yes, these boots are expensive, but I’ve walked hundreds of miles in them across the Rockies and have used them when riding horseback. Despite the thick sole and heavy insulation, the boots feel light are on the feet and provide a good feel on the ground. I appreciate the 7mm nylon midsoles, which provide exceptional support when toting a heavy pack, and the sole guard protects the lower leather from abrasion. The K-Talon outsole is a bit too aggressive for me, but I do like the traction I get. My only quarrel with the sole is when I’m tired and dragging my feet, I often catch the sole on the ground. This is the best cold weather elk boot I’ve ever used. I’ve had my pair for four years, and if you take the time to apply Kenetrek boot care products, these stomps will last you a very long time.
Every boot recommended in this story has been worn and tested thoroughly in the elk woods. Boots were tested in different landscapes and weather conditions, and notes of each adventure—positives and negatives were recorded. I spend an immense amount of time each fall in the elk woods. I’ve experienced hunting with excellent boots as well as ones that aren’t worth a second look. Here is the criteria I based my selections on.
- Comfort: Are the boots comfortable enough to be worn day after day in the elk woods?
- Durability: Are the boots durable enough to withstand the tough terrain and conditions of elk hunting?
- Weight: How heavy are the boots? How does the weight affect your style of hunting?
- Construction: What materials are the boots made of? Are they waterproof?
- Price: Are the boots worth what you are paying for them?
Q: What Boots Do I Wear For Elk Hunting?
Choosing a boot is very personal, and I recommend not worrying about what anybody else wears and finding the exact fit for you that matches your style of elk hunting. If I had to pick, though, it would be anything made by Kenetrek.
Q: Do Elk Boots Need To Be Waterproof?
Yes. Of course, there are some dry locales in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada where having a waterproof boot isn’t a staple, but it sure doesn’t hurt. Mountain elk hunters can expect rain showers almost every afternoon, and I’ve yet to go on an elk adventure where I didn’t cross multiple streams and rivers each day. You can’t overlook those damp morning mountain meadows, either. One stroll through calf-high grass and your feet can be soaked before your day even gets started.
Q: How Heavy Should Elk Hunting Boots Be?
My opinion is the lighter, the better. However, most of my elk hunts are during archery season. The weather typically isn’t brutal, and I’m walking miles and miles each day. Late-season elk hunters shouldn’t worry about weight, especially those that hunt areas where snow is required to push herds out of the high country. These hunts are more sit-and-wait, and warmth is more important than weight.
Don’t be the elk hunter who isn’t afraid to drop money on a top-tier flagship bow and neglects to purchase a solid pair of boots. Nothing in the elk woods is more important than your feet. If you can’t walk, you can’t go after a bull. Elk hunting is hard enough, and the last thing you want is to be fighting wet feet dotted with blisters. Find a boot that provides you with a great fit, feel, and confidence—spend the money, and add it to your elk arsenal.