There is perhaps no tougher test for a boot than being strapped to an elk guide’s foot. I’ve followed elk guides in the roaring darkness as we went up, up, trying to get ahead of bulls bugling on Rocky Mountain inclines. I have crossed streams in the high country and have climbed through acres of blow-downs with guides, always marveling, if at times cursing, their grit. Sure, elk guides are often young and they live a lifestyle we only try on now and then, but part of the reason for their stamina is their treads.
So I reached out to some of the hardest-hunting elk guides there are—all have been carefully vetted by NRAOutdoors.com—and found they don’t skimp on their boots. Experts can be an opinionated bunch and listening to elk guides talk about their boots is a little like hearing a loyal Ford F-150 fan downplay the Ram 1500, or vice versa, but guides do put hard miles on their boots. That said, most elk guides wear tall boots (8-10 inches high) to keep out water and debris. Nearly all of them choose heavy, tough, high-end mountain boots. They say most boots simply fall apart, so buying quality actually saves them money and spares them trouble.
Kenetrek Mountain Extreme boots cost $455 and elk guides are hardly a well-heeled bunch, but many said they wear nothing less. “I wear a non-insulated pair in the bow season and switch to a pair with 400 grams of Thinsulate when the weather turns cold,” said Utah elk guide Tyler Bowler. “They take a few weeks to break in, but they last.”
Chad “Savage” Lenz, an Alberta outfitter, said he and his guides always come back to Meindl boots because they don’t require any break-in time and they don’t leak. “Lowa and Schnee’s also have good reputations, but I’ve just never found anything as good as Meindls,” he noted. Cabela’s carries the Meindl “Perfekt” Hunter ($299.99) and several other models.
An outlier was Justin Richins with R&K Hunting Co. He wears the Merrell Moab 2, a $100 hiking boot. He admitted this lightweight hiker doesn’t last, but he accepts the tradeoff because it lets him stay on the move. The Moab 2 is quieter than mountain boots; Richins replaces as necessary. “I normally wear the non-insulated Moab 2, but I switch to a boot with 800 grams of Thinsulate later in the season,” he explained.