Since I spend a lot of time outdoors, I have an affinity for good boots. Most of the time, rigid leather boots are ideal, but certain times they just don’t cut it. For example, late whitetail season, sitting in a treestand while the mercury dropped to minus 15 degrees. Or a few months later when I found myself trudging through snow drifts shooting cottontails. Later that spring I went ice fishing in northern BC. All these activities are a lot of fun to be sure, but all required some specialized footwear to remain comfortable. I, like most other winter outdoorsmen, have relied on pac boots to keep me comfortable in these rough conditions.
My pac boot field-testing began long ago with an oversized set of Moon boots. Ok, they are not quite pac boots by today’s standards but for a 13-year-old kid they were close enough. Through my teens and early 20’s, Sorel’s were the winter boot of choice, but when I realized my trusty pair of leather topped/rubber bottomed Sorel’s had about given up the ghost I decided I needed a new pair. Upon perusing the Cabela’s catalog I realized pac boots have come along way in the last few years. In fact, I didn’t even know where to begin to get the right product for my needs.
Picking the Boot for You
Luckily, working at Cabela’s, I am surrounded by guys who are experts in one outdoor field or another. I made a quick call to Phil Francone, one of Cabela’s footwear purchasing specialists, to get the low down on what to look for in a pac boot.
The first question he asked me was what I was going to be using them for. I thought about it a bit and said, "late season whitetail hunting, ice fishing, winter rabbit hunting and probably a bit of coyote calling."
"What you are doing, is often more important than how cold it is" Phil said. "You see, pac boot styles are easily divided between mobile or sedentary activity."
High Mobility Pac Boots
I could see this from looking at a few models he showed me. The mobile variety looked more like hiking boots pumped-up on steroids. They sported good traction, tight lacing and an ankle supporting design. "For any type of distance walking such as in rabbit hunting, or whitetail hunting, boots like the Rocky Pathfinder Extreme, Rocky Sport Utility Stalker, LaCrosse Buckmaster PFT™, or the Rocky Winter Rec boot are ideal. Not only do they give you the support and traction you need for a long day of trudging over ice-crusted fields and snowdrifts, but they have less insulation than other boots. Often guys buy pac boots solely on the cold rating, and like a sleeping bag, they buy the highest (coldest temperature) rating available. This is a mistake. If you are walking, your feet generate more heat as blood is pumped to them, and they will overheat and sweat which will make them even colder."
Pac Boots for Extremely Cold Conditions
"What about if I am ice fishing for perch or waiting in a treestand for a rut crazed buck?" I asked him.
"Well, that is a different story. In sedentary situations, such as ice fishing, you want a boot that is built solely for warmth, such as the Cabela’s Glacier Point™, Cabela’s Winter Range™ II, or the Cabela’s Polar Cap™ Pac boot. These boots will keep you warm regardless of the conditions, yet they still offer enough support and traction for walking into your stand or negotiating around on slippery ice. In addition, they all have a special pocket in the bottom of the liners to hold a chemical heat pack for those really cold days"
"So what you are saying is that I need two Pac boots if I am going to really get out and do a variety of things this winter?" I asked.
"Well yes and no, if you are going to be doing a lot of diverse activities, then two boots are really the way to go. You will be much more comfortable, and your feet will thank you. If you primarily sit in a tree stand and ice fish combined with a little bit of rabbit hunting, a single pair of cold weather pacs will work. The same is true if most of your winter sports involve a lot of walking and a little sedentary behavior; then a lightweight pair of pacs can also pull double duty."
Jack of All-Trade Boots
If I wanted to buy just one boot for multiple activities, there are a couple to choose from.
The Trans-Alaska™ III is probably the most advanced boot in this regard. With the unique quick-roller lacing system they are snug enough fitting for active movement but have 3 inches of layered protection between the soles of your feet and the ground as well as the Trans Alaska III liner which ensures warm feet even when the temperatures plummet with a built in heat pack pocket.
The Rocky SnowStalker® Extreme is another boot in this category. It is rated to -135 and sports enough traction and ankle support to be used for many diverse activities. It has a removable form fitting, EVA liner and 1,000 grams of Thinsulate™ for added warmth. This boot would work well as an all around winter boot.
"How are boots rated for cold? I have noticed the thermometer rating in the catalog is for much colder temperatures then I will ever experience. How does this guide relate to me?"
"Boots are rated much like sleeping bags, and it is hard to say how your individual feet will stand different temperatures. The rating has a lot to do with activity level, health and diet and socks worn. What the rating really does for you is allow you to compare the different boots against each other."
Cabela’s has established a comfort rating system that allows the consumer pick a boot that fits his need as well as compare it’s effectiveness against cold will all the boots that we carry. In short it is devised to be a standardization that allows consumers to compare apples to apples.
As a general rule 0 to -25 is good for mild temperatures around or slightly below the freezing point. Boots within this range are moderately insulated, making them a good choice for winter activities that require a great deal of exertion.
The -40 to -70 rating is good for temperatures well below the freezing mark. Boots within this range are typically heavily insulated and feature additional components that give extra protection from the elements.
The -80 to -135 boots provide the highest level of protection for extremely cold weather. They are constructed using multiple layers of insulation and heat retaining materials. They are best suited for sedentary cold-weather activities.
After talking with Phil it was easy to see that what I was doing combined with what kind of weather I could generally expect dictated the boot I would need. Since my winter outdoor activities spanned the spectrum from completely sedentary activities to highly mobile, I decided to go with two different boots to effectively cover my needs.