When you start chukar hunting you learn fast how important good boots are, and what “good” really means. I’d bet if you asked 100 chukar hunters to list 3 adjectives describing their favorite chukar hunting boots, there’d be a high correlation. “Stiff,” “durable,” and “high” top my list.
But everyone’s feet are different, and old habits die hard. I’m not here to try to sell anyone boots, but to share what I’ve liked and disliked about some of the chukar hunting boots I’ve had.
My favorite pair of boots, ever, for anything, but especially for chukar hunting, are not made anymore, so it’s kind of pointless to say much about them. But I will anyway, mainly because, in my opinion, they’re the absolute ideal boot for chukar hunting. Asolo’s “Cotopaxi” boots — which I got as a fluke while randomly killing time in a Sierra Trading Post store in Boise, Idaho — were perfect in every way for me. I got them soon after I destroyed my left ankle and wanted something with lots of lateral stability and support, and these were ridiculously high (9″). Much higher than any boot I’d ever had. The boots I got hurt in — also Asolo — were the standard 7″ hiking boots, with a standard-width sole. The Cotopaxi sole was narrower, which I immediately liked for chukar hunting because of the peculiarities of foot placement on loose or unstable rocky slopes; it’s easier to pinpoint where your foot’s going with a narrower sole. I had hurt my ankle partly because the sole of my hiking boot landed about a half-inch from where I wanted it to (while jumping off a 4-foot-high rock), which rolled my ankle inward. (The other reason I hurt my ankle, to be fair to the boot, is that I idiotically thought I was still 18 years old.) Almost immediately, I noticed that the narrower Cotopaxi sole added to my sure-footedness at a time I needed it, and allowed me to hunt while trying to let the ankle heal.
At least as important as its narrow sole, the Cotopaxi featured a mountaineering-style stiffness both fore-aft and laterally. When you’re hiking on rocks, a boot whose sole flexes a bunch will torque your foot in unexpected ways and, over time, might cause stress fractures, muscle strains, and bone bruises. The mountaineering boot type of stiff sole on the Cotopaxi really protected my feet from all that, and I’d finish even long side-hill hunts on rocks with happy feet. In addition to sole stiffness, the lateral stiffness of this boot meant that the uppers didn’t allow the sole to turn sideways, which is murder on your ankles and lower leg muscles; if you’re side-hilling on a 45-degree slope, you want to keep the sole horizontal. The Cotopaxi and other mountaineering style boots keep close to that 90-degree angle between sole and upper, which is super important. And the Cotopaxi’s 9-inch height, combined with its lateral stiffness, made the boot almost like an ankle brace.
As for the sole, I’m a fan of Vibram soles. There might be better sole makers out there, but I trust Vibram and have never had a problem with them; they make tons of different kinds of soles with different treads and compounds, and the Cotopaxi’s soles had a harder compound than I’d have liked, but that meant they lasted longer than a tackier rubber would have. And it’s not like you have a choice on soles if you find the boot you want (wouldn’t that be nice?). Chukar boots also should have a rubber rand that goes completely around the boot to protect the leather just above the sole from getting torn and abraded by rocks. All mountaineering and many hiking boots feature this.
Finally, the other essential feature of these boots — as with all the boots I’ve used — is a Gore-Tex lining. Wet feet are bad feet. Knock on wood, but in the 25 years I’ve been wearing Gore-Tex boots, I’ve never once had wet feet (aside from some sweating). Walking through creeks, dew-drenched cheatgrass, whatever: Gore-Tex is the bomb.
This season was my 7th in the Cotopaxi, and the sole had become worn to the point where I was losing traction. I figure I put about 700 miles of chukar hunting on them, so I definitely got my money’s worth, but I was sad and reluctant to give them up. I tried to find them online in Europe, but to no avail. So the search for a new pair began. I’d heard good things about Kennetrek Mountain Boots, but I didn’t want to spend $450 (the Cotopaxi, when I got them at Sierra Trading Post, were $150, normally $400, and it was the only pair they had, which happened to be in my size), and the soles aren’t Vibram and are wider than the sole I wanted. So I looked at Sierra Trading Post online and found some Zamberlan boots that looked close: they were 10-inches high, but they were insulated, which I didn’t want. But they had Gore-Tex, a good Vibram sole – not as narrow as the Cotopaxi but not super-wide, either. The rand, weirdly, didn’t go completely around the boot, but left a couple inches open on the heel; not that big a deal. I’d had a pair of Zamberlan (an Italian company) hiking boots for years, so that helped stick these in my head. But I kept looking, yet couldn’t find any deals on a better boot, and with the discount at Sierra (if you sign up for their e-blasts they give you a code for a big discount) the boots were about $200, including shipping; retail on these was about $390. They’re not mountaineering stiff, either laterally or fore-aft, but they’re incredibly comfortable as long as I’m not doing a lot of scree-scrambling; my first outing in them was about 4 hours on moderate terrain and I had no issues or hot spots or blisters. Happy feet. But they do flex more than I’d like for Hells Canyon side-hill scree fests. I’ve worn these about 10 times now, and they’re still very comfortable. I was worried about the insulation being too hot on my feet, but even during some long and fairly warm outings (65+ degrees), I really didn’t notice undue foot heat. So I think they’ll work fine.
But because of my shoe fetish and the fact that I still want to hunt stupid stuff, I wanted another mountaineering style boot because I like hunting that crap in Hells Canyon, but don’t like the Zamberlans too much for that terrain. Again, I went to Sierra Trading Post’s website and found some boots from an Italian brand I’d never heard of, but that looked good. Then I did a bunch more research on other brands I knew that had good reputations for mountaineering boots, such as Lowa and La Sportiva. After reading reviews (both from consumers and trade magazines) and comparing prices I decided to take a shot on the AKU Montagnard Gore-Tex® Mountaineering Boots boots from Sierra Trading Post. Again, with the discount I got these for around $220 (retail listed at $530, which is nuts).
I’ve only worn them once, but was very happy with the stiffness. Traction was excellent, and after 3 hours my feet were happy, with no hot spots. Not bad for a super-stiff boot on the first outing. The only negative, so far, is that I wish they were higher (they’re listed at 8″; an inch actually makes a big difference). The sole is nice and narrow, and there’s no sharp heel step which helps prevent the heel from catching on rocks and turning you into a scree waterfall. Amazingly, too, they’re very lightweight for how stiff and robust they are. Time will tell if they become my go-to boot.
I ordered the two new boots I have from a website without seeing them or trying them on. I consider myself very lucky that they seem not just fine but actually very good, from fit (most important) to quality. I would much prefer to try things on before buying them, but this is the way of the world nowadays, especially for rural folks, and you can always ship stuff back (often for free) if it doesn’t work out.
So there’s way more than anyone needs about my personal preferences for what I think the characteristics are for the best chukar hunting boot. I hope some of the information is useful to somebody. I’d love to hear from others about their favorite boots.