Elk NetworkHow to Select Your Next Pair of Elk Hunting Boots

Gear 101 | October 1, 2018

As any seasoned elk hunter knows, boot selection shouldn’t be taken lightly. Next to your firearm, your boots can make the difference between going all day and going nowhere.  

According to the footwear experts at Irish Setter, a Minnesota-based maker of boots for serious hunters since 1950, there are six factors that elk hunters should consider when selecting hunting boots.

  • Seasonality;
  • Fit and Comfort;
  • Stability;
  • Moisture management;
  • Temperature management; and
  • Boot material. 

Right Boot for the Season

When shopping for elk hunting boots, consider seasonal conditions. If you hunt from early in the season through November or December, you may need more than one pair of elk hunting boots to accommodate temperature fluctuations and other weather conditions as the season progresses. For example, bowhunting in the early part of the season may require a less insulated, lighter weight boot for chasing rutting bulls. But the cooler temperatures of October and November may require a heavier insulated boot to provide the warmth you’ll need in higher elevations.

Right Fit

Some boots offer comfort right out of the box. Other boots, such as those made with high quality leather, may require a break-in period to feel really comfortable.

What really matters is choosing a boot that allows you to go all day, anywhere you want to. That could mean covering 10 to 20 miles a day during the heat of the rut. The key is to avoid experiencing foot discomfort such as hotspots or blisters.

You’ll want to consider that as you walk throughout the day, your feet can actually swell—sometimes up to a full size larger. That’s because as you’re walking, your feet flatten and lengthen. So for example, if you normally wear a size 9 in a casual shoe, you may want to consider a 9-1/2 in a hunting boot.

When you shop for boots at a local retailer, try them on in the late afternoon, when your feet will be at their largest. Look for a snug fit around the ankle, heel (no slipping) and instep. You should also be able to wiggle your toes. And don’t forget to buy early enough in the season to give yourself the time to walk in your boots and break them in. Even boots that feel comfortable right out of the box may need some breaking in.

The other part of the equation is socks. When trying on boots, wear socks that you would actually wear on a hunt. Don’t wear cotton athletic socks. Cotton does not wick sweat away; it actually retains it. Many experienced elk hunters tend to wear a very thin liner with a sock made of merino wool over that. You’ll want to wear moisture-wicking socks of the appropriate length for the boot height that you’re considering (at least a half-inch above to top of the boot).


Experienced elk hunters know that terrain can vary wildly over the course of a day’s hike. From navigating deadfall to traversing shale slopes, a hunter can encounter a litany of obstacles. That’s not to forget cacti, yucca, wet grass, briars and thistles, creeks and streams, sand and mud, gravel and dust. The bottom line: you’ll need a boot that’s ready for just about anything.  So consider boots tall enough to support your ankle if you unexpectedly step into a rut or hole or you startle a rattler. For example, Irish Setter Elk Tracker boots, come in heights of 10- and 12-inches while the Ravine model comes in heights of 7- and 9-inches.

Don’t overlook the soles, which provide traction, shock absorption, lateral stability and under-the-foot comfort. Balance your need for flexibility on uneven terrain, with durability for sure footing over time.

Tread pattern and lug shape are critical when selecting a boot. A shallow tread limits mud and debris accumulation. A deeper, more aggressive tread pattern, available on Irish Setter’s Elk Tracker boot, is best for rugged terrain, including loose shale and boulders.

Keeping Your Feet Dry 

Nothing ruins a hunt faster than wet feet. Whether it’s walking through dewy fields, crossing a creek or traversing a slope covered in freshly fallen snow, maintaining dry feet is the litmus test for elk hunting boots. Irish Settter utilizes Ultradry waterproofing technology, a moisture management lining that complements the other waterproof components of the boot to keep feet dry.

Keeping Your Feet Warm

Another major consideration in your footwear selection is insulation. Insulated boots typically are built with a layer of insulating material, which is measured in grams. Insulation typically ranges from 0 to 2,000 grams.

Choose your insulation level based on the temperature range in which you’ll be hunting and how much hiking you’ll do during your hunt. For example, an early season bowhunting trip may require an uninsulated boot.

For a late season hunt, or hunts at higher elevations where you’ll encounter colder temperatures and wind, you’ll want boots that keep your toes warm and toasty as you push through snow. Consider a boot with 600 to 2,000 grams of insulation for those conditions.

Boot Materials 

Take a close look at the quality of the materials used to make your boots. You’re not just buying a pair for your next hunting trip, you’re buying one for years of use, depending on how often you hunt. 

The boot upper is the part that’s above the sole. It supports your ankle and protects your foot and ankle against abrasions from sticks, thistles, rocks and barbed wire.

Upper materials are usually made of all leather or leather combined with synthetic fabric. Leather provides support and protection and will be sturdier than most fabrics in rocky conditions. Leather quality can vary quite a bit. The top of the line is a full grain waterproof or water-resistant leather. Lower priced boots often incorporate less durable materials or split leathers.

Fabric panels, which frequently incorporate popular camouflage patterns to complement hunting clothes, can help make a boot more lightweight, flexible and affordable.

Buy for the Long-Term

Hunting boots play a critical role in the enjoyment and success of your elk hunting experience. Take time to find the right hunting boot so you won’t need to think about your boots during your hunt or when you’re hauling a hindquarter back to camp. Look for a boot that not only looks good but offers go-all-day comfort and go-anywhere performance.

To learn more about elk hunting boots by Irish Setter, visit irishsetterboots.com or stop by your nearest Irish Settler retailer.