Choosing the Right Hunting Boots & Socks

Hunting boots and socks are certainly some of the most important piece of hunting gear that you have, especially on an African hunting safari where you will be walking many miles a day in pursuit of enormous trophies. An unsuitable pair of hunting boots or socks can ruin an otherwise meticulously planned African hunting safari; blisters, pinched toes, sore heels or other injuries are just a few of the consequences. Conversely, a well-fitted quality pair of hunting boots and socks can add to the enjoyment of your African hunting experience in ways that you may not even recognize, because we don’t think much about sore feet and blisters when we aren’t suffering from them.


Hunting boots and shoes drying around campfire

Hunting shoes or hunting boots?
On hunts where you won’t be doing much walking, stalking or tracking you may only need a pair of low cut hunting shoes. There are some excellent and versatile shoes that will give you the added traction you'll need, without the weight of a hunting boot. However on hunts where you will be walking a lot, many miles a day, for many days or will be traversing particularly rugged terrain, the support of a solid pair of hunting boots is vital to prevent injury to you ankles. Generally speaking leather boots provide more support and protection than synthetic or canvas fabric boots.

Hunting boot materials
The upper of most good quality hunting boots is leather or a combination of both leather and synthetic materials. You may also find different grades of leather which may be confusing. Full grain leather is the thickest and most durable grade, which will provide the most support and protection, but is also quite stiff and may take some time to break in. Split grain leather has had the inner portion of the hide removed, leaving only a thinner layer for waterproofing. This type of leather is easy to break in, but does not provide the same durability and support of full grain leather.

tip If hunting in wet areas, your hunting boots should be made of fast drying synthetic materials made particularly for this purpose.

Hunting boot soles
The sole of the boot is what provides you with traction. There is wide variety of different patterns used, and most boot manufacturers have several different proprietary patterns. All are designed to work on any surface; however, some will work better on specific types of terrain than others. In general, look for a multidirectional tread pattern that will provide good traction on a wide variety of surfaces and under any conditions. Some quiet soles can be very useful when it comes to stalking, however might not be suitable for some types of terrain so try to find the best compromise. Thick, high quality soles can prevent thorns and cactus needles from penetrating them and going into your feet. It may sound improbable but I have seen African thorn tree needles go right through cheaper quality rubber soles.

Hunting boot fit
Boots should fit larger than most shoes. You will probably need to go at least a half size or more up from your normal shoe size. You should be able to move your toes, but you don't want too much room or your foot will slide around inside the boot. Fit is important and the only way to find the right hunting boot is to try it on. The best way to try on a pair of hunting boots is with the socks and liners that you intend to wear with the boots. If you can, try the boot out on an incline, make sure your foot does not slide forward when you're walking downhill. Walk around in the boots and spend as much time as possible in them before deciding. Make sure that your foot is not rubbing and your heel is not lifting too much off the insole. Remember boots may not seem comfortable at first. Especially full grain leather boots can be very stiff before being broken-in, so keep this in mind.

tip Your feet change size throughout a normal day and are largest later in the day. With this in mind, shopping for hunting boots later in the day is a good idea.

Lacing your hunting boots
Make sure your hunting boots are properly laced. A hunting boot that is not laced tight enough can cause your foot to move around quite a bit. On the other hand, lacing your hunting boots too tight can cause your feet to swell. Try playing around with your laces to get the right fit. Don't hesitate to adjust your laces after you have walked for some time as you may need to tighten or loosen them up a bit to get just the right fit.

tip If you have well broken-in hunting boots that fit your feet well but may have stretched out some over time, a solution for this is to use boot inserts to take up some of the extra room while still enjoying your favorite well worn boots.

My hunting boots
I personally have been wearing a pair of custom made Safari PH II with steel shanks and Vibram Air Bob soles from Russell Moccasin for many years and truly rely on them and cannot say enough good things about them. If you are not familiar with Russell Moccasin and their great products, this century old family owned company can be found online at www.russellmoccasin.com. Read their testimonials page to find out what other hunters have to say about their products http://www.russellmoccasin.com/testimonials.html.

I have also owned a pair of full grain oiled tanned leather uplander boots for what seems like forever from Filson which have served me tremendously well and which I love. You can find more about this great American company and their many products on their website at www.filson.com.

It is important to remember that just because a boot is recommended to you by me, a friend or even an experienced expert, it does not mean that it is the right hunting boot for YOU. Don't let yourself be talked into buying a pair of hunting boots that don't feel right! Take your time because a good pair of hunting boots should last you for years.

Once you've purchased your hunting boots remember to give them sufficient wear to break them in BEFORE you go on your African hunting safari. Take some long hikes; this will get both you and your boots in shape for your hunt.


Socks and liners
Buying a great pair of hunting boots will only get you half way there, equally important are the socks you wear them with. A crummy pair of socks will not provide you with the all of the potential benefits that your expensive new boots can provide. High quality hunting / hiking socks are usually wool blend with some nylon or lycra mixed in. Cheaper socks are usually made of acrylic, polyester or cotton. Good quality hunting socks can be a bit expensive, but are well worth the investment and should last you a long time.

I highly recommend liner socks be worn in combination with your regular socks. Liner socks are designed to be worn under your other sock, next to your skin. They are made of polypropylene which wicks perspiration away from your foot and transfers it to your other sock. Liner socks are a crucial piece of hunting gear for preventing blisters on long days on safari, as keeping your foot dry is half the battle.

My socks
There are numerous brands to choose from, and I certainly have not tried them all however, in my opinion, nothing comes close to Smartwool socks and liners for hunting. Smartwool socks are made from premium New Zealand merino wool. Because Smartwool socks are made from such high quality super fine fibers, they are incredibly soft and provide great cushioning. These amazing wool fibers contain thousands of air bubbles which not only keep your feet warm when it's cold but also cool when it's hot. This benefit alone makes Smartwool socks a superior choice for hunting in Africa as compared to a traditional hiking sock. I personally swear by Smartwool socks and liners and would not do without them when hunting in Africa. To find out more about Smartwool products visit www.smartwool.com.

Once you have decided which socks and liners are right for you, wear them with your hunting boots before you go on your African hunting safari.

How to prevent blisters
Blisters are truly the bane of any hunting safari. What begins as a small blister can grow into a very painful problem which can make for a miserable hunting safari experience. Blisters can get so bad as to slow down the pace or even interrupt your hunting safari.

The first thing you should know is that a well fitting, broken-in pair of hunting boot and great pair of hunting socks and liners can go a long way in preventing blisters. If one of these components is missing, your first line of defense will be compromised.

Your second line of defense should be knowing that moisture is the enemy and trying to prevent exposure to it at all costs. This means wearing a sock liner to wick away moisture and even bringing along a change of socks in your day pack if they become damp part way through the day.

Your third line is early detection, awareness is key. You should deal with minor hot spots or rubbing issues before they are allowed to develop into a real problem. Even if your hunting boots fit perfectly always carry Moleskins with you. If you are unfamiliar with Moleskins they are a special bandage made specifically for blisters. They go over the blister or hot spot to prevent further friction. Moleskins are inexpensive and easy to find at your local drug store or online.

tip Putting a piece of strong adhesive tape over the spot on your feet that is blister prone should prevent any blister from developing. Use strong tape designated as “waterproof”, it has a smooth, slippery surface that reduces surface friction. The mechanics behind this prophylaxis is instead of the sock rubbing back and forth over the skin and raising a blister, it slides harmlessly over the tape. This method may be preferable over using Moleskins as the tape is much thinner and you don’t even feel it’s there.

Prevention can help you enjoy your African hunting safari all the more...