Bass Pro Shops & Cabela’s Canada

Buying The Best Hunting Boots

We have all likely gone into a big box store (whether it be a major hunting retailer, such as Cabelas or Bass Pro Shops, or Mountain Equipment Coop) looking for new hunting boots. You stand in front of a wall filled with so many different options with varying price ranges and styles. How does one go about picking the boot that is right for them? Is it as simple as trying them on in store and picking the most comfortable? Are there different features that provide more support, higher comfort, better traction?

This is where most people will typically engage one of the salespersons to assist them (unless you are my wife, then you talk to no one). I have been in this scenario and when you begin to explain some of your concerns and what you are planning on using the boots for and some past experiences, it is common to be met with a blank stare.

Please do not take this as me bashing the salespeople at these stores, they can only assist you based on their experiences, knowledge, and training and I haven’t come across many super knowledgable ones. After hunting for a few years and buying and choosing boots using this method, I was constantly dealing with hot spots, blisters, soreness and even black toenails from the pressure. 

All of these issues came from high-end mountain boots with prices all well above $300! Although, going the MEC route was a savior for the last set… only because of their rock solid guarantee where I was able to return a set of boots after a summer of use and issues. This is not the case with Cabelas or Bass Pro Shops, which I have found out first hand with a nice set of $300 boots still sitting on a shelf at home, unusable.

So what is a guy/gal to do? Just accept that there is going to be discomfort? Or hope to get lucky and not waste hundreds of dollars in the process. Some poeple have had great success with the first boot they try off the shelf, but I think those people are few and far between.

I want to highlight my latest boot buying experience… which is one that I hope all of us can have one day!

After having all these issues, a friend mentioned a shop in Calgary, AB called Norseman Outdoor Specialist. They are a local shop dedicated to cross-country skiing, hiking, backpacking, and climbing. It was worth the drive down there to hopefully get “fitted” for a boot vs. being brought sizes to try on.

I was helped by Anthony who is an avid climber and backpacker. When discussing the stressors of hiking mountains in the summer, carrying heavy loads for backpacking and hauling meat out, and the uneven terrain involved hunting coulees he was very quick to suggest staying with a stiff boot. This I something that I had realized from my own experiences as well. This is where the experience changed.

Prior to trying on any boots, Anthony examined my foot. He was looking at heel width, how the arch and forefoot respond to pressure and weight, and even the ankle bone shape.

Then came the education, Anthony explained the 3 common mistakes when fitting a hiking boot, which are:

  1. Toe fit. Unlike typical shoes, having even slight toe contact in the store will lead to lost toenails and pain when going downhill, especially when matched with heavy packs.
  2. Heel fit. Having any heel lift while walking on an incline (which they have places in store to test this) will not go away and is the main cause of blisters.
  3. Boot width and pressure points. The higher end hiking boots typically have a rubber rand (rubber+band) surrounding the base of the boot right above the sole which helps with waterproofing and durability. This area of the boot will not stretch out like the leather upper meaning that if the boot is a bit narrow in the store it will be painful when walking under load. Finally, any pressure point that is pushing down on the top of your foot from the lacing style or grommets is another thing that will not disappear. If you feel any of these, try a different boot!

Once I was given all of this totally FREE and incredibly useful information, he explained how I can utilize the small rocky ramp that they have in store to mimic the rigours of hiking uneven terrain in order to identify any potential issues. 

wall of boots

At this point, he brought out two boots which he felt would be best suited for my foot and my usage. After trying the first boot on, I noticed some slight heel lift and no lacing style would eliminate it. He mentioned that based on how the boot flexed when I moved he could tell that it was a poor fit. The second boot fit quite well with the standard lacing method and locked in my heel better than any boot I have ever tried on (which is about every one Cabelas and MEC carry – I have photos of the blisters to prove that). He then showed me a lacing method that would lock my heels down even more!

new boots

At this point, I asked his thoughts on replacing the stock insole with an aftermarket one. He pulled out the stock insole and I was surprised to see how flimsy and cheap these insoles were. This is not brand specific because due to the uniqueness of each individuals foot shape it is impossible for a company to create a proper stock insole that would fit most, so it is just a cheap piece of foam and fabric. An aftermarket insole will provide a custom feel to your boot by providing support where you need it and most provide some additional padding to assist with load transfer that can help mitigate the hot spots cause by shearing forces when walking on uneven terrain.

Again, this is where going to a dedicated shop really pays off. They have the equipment to determine what insole is correct for your style of foot based on arch height, foot width, and arch location on your foot. Using a heat transfer pad to show pressure and understanding the effects of heavy weight packs we selected an insole that would support the arch under heavy pack-outs without being so intrusive that it would cause pain.

Once we had the style of insole, Anthony noticed that the recommended size based on my “boot size” had the arch sitting too far back on my foot. I had to go up a size in order to fit the arch support of the insole flush with my arch. Why is that important? Imagine walking with a slight bump under the front of your heel, over time it would no doubt cause cramping of the foot muscle and eventually pain.

Considering that our boots are what carries and supports us on all of our adventures I highly recommend finding a local specialty shop. Where the staff is trained and experienced in fitting footwear so that you can enjoy the outdoors as much as possible!

Anthony and Norsemen will have my business for much more than just footwear from now on as it is rare when buying products to get so much education as well!

Happy feet lead to longer and more rewarding adventures!


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