The Ultimate Mountain Hunting Boot System
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If you’re sick and tired of blistering your feet with poorly-fitted hunting boots, read on. I wish I knew years ago what I know now.
Last year, after writing the My Big Fat Italian Boot Fiasco, I thought I had my mountain footwear challenge dialed. I was pumped to be A) done blowing money on boots, and B) finished destroying my feet with boots that weren’t right for my feet. I’d settled on a pair of Kenetreks, and was happy with their pre-season performance and the way they treated me in the Brooks Range during the filming of last years’ sheep hunt video.
But that gratification faded over the course of the next eight months. During the time I spent laying boot rubber on the mountain during the sheep hunt, an archery elk hunt and while taking my wife bear hunting, the boots lost a great deal of their support. I have relatively high arches, and I like a good bit of torsional stability from a boot (you can feel this when you grab a boot by the toe and heel and twist it). The support and stiffness both took a big hit throughout those three hunts in addition to the hiking and hunting I did around home.
At first, I was a bit perplexed by this, considering that the boots weren’t that old. After a bit of research I learned that, despite the fact that Kenetrek makes a boot with good leather, the midsole used in their Mountain Extreme boot is one of the cheapest on the market. It’s little more than dense foam… and if you look at them, you’ll see what I mean.
Cut to the chase… I started looking for a different boot for the coming season, and I wanted to get my feet in a new pair in plenty of time to break them in properly. A number of guys I knew had just received the all-new Lathrop & Sons Mountain Hunter boots and seemed to like them, a lot. I was also intrigued that the company offered a 3D foot-mapping service, which includes a pair of custom total contact Synergy footbeds which, under load, intrinsically mold to your feet. So, I made a pest of myself, called them, and started taking notes to write this article. I figured, if the boots and the footbeds were as badass as they’re supposed to be, I’d want to share it with our readers.
What I got first was an education over the phone. A week later, I got a 3D foot-mapping kit in the mail. Fast forward another 10 days, and I received the sickest pair of boots I’ve ever had on my feet.
A cut above
Long before I put on a pair of these boots, it was evident there was something different about this company. First of all, when you call, you talk directly to Stephen or James Lathrop… the guys who designed these kicks. By the end of my first conversation with Stephen, I knew that the boots had to be something special, too. They are proud of them - and as I learned - for good reason.
The company currently makes two boots: the Mountain Hunter, which is 100% leather, and the Mountain Hunter Elite, which is roughly 50% leather and 50% synthetic. The boots are $448 and $454, respectively. Both are hand made in Italy for Lathrop and Sons… these are not a private-labelled boot. Stephen and James designed the boots based on years of hunting and professional orthotic experience (more on that later). They interviewed a number of different boot manufacturers before settling on one small shop nestled in the Italian Alps.
Full-grain leather is complimented by solid hardware, a Vibram sole, a custom designed midsole, and eVent waterproof membrane. They elected to go with Event because of the high evaporation rate and eVent's dry-transfer technology. This means that the sweat vapor is able to pass thru the membrane before saturation occurs. eVent membrane also has a very high abrasion resistance properties, lending itself perfectly to this category of boot.
The thick rubber rand used on the Mountain Hunter series boots means business. It’s super dense rubber and thick enough to handle anything I’ll dish out. One neat element that you can see in my un-boxing video is the bevel along the top edge of the rand. This bevel allows Lathrop to use a thicker-than-most rand without having a really sharp edge trying to snag on rocks and brush.
These boots are stiff, but not absurdly so. I’d say they fall in the middle of the scale when compared to all the mountain hunting boots on the market today. After putting about 50 miles on them so far, they haven’t lost any of their rigidity, for which I’m glad. They’re also what I’d call “average” in weight. They aren’t the lightest boots I’ve ever worn, but they’re definitely not the heaviest, either. The impression you’re left with is that your feet are indestructible while wearing them.
When a friend asked me what they felt like, the best explanation I could give him was that it felt a lot like sitting on the beach and burying your feet in the sand. Pack the sand down lightly, then wiggle your toes to create a little void around them. That’s how these boots feel. Nice, even contact everywhere, smooth as can be, and with a little extra room for your toes.
The boots really cradle my foot, which is no doubt partly due to the total contact custom Synergy footbed. There’s absolutely no rolling from side to side. For what it’s worth, Stephen convinced me to buy a size 11, even though every other boot, shoe or sneaker I own is a 10.5. I’m glad he did, too. The toes box has ample room for my toes without feeling the slightest bit loose.
As I break in these boots, they feel better and more secure by the day. As all leather boots will, the laces are slowly beginning to compress, or “train” the tongue, pulling the sides of the boots in and contouring to the exact shape of my foot.
The soles grip wet rock like a soft rubber compound would, yet don’t show any wear at all yet. I don’t know much about lug design, but the Lathrop brothers and Vibram must know a lot, because that’s the only way I can imagine that they provide this kind of traction with hard rubber.
The midsole, which was designed from the ground up at L&S, is probably the most unique feature. The midsole is the layer between the tread and the footbed. It’s the part with a splash of red on these particular boots. What’s surprising about them, when you’re really walking, is that the boots seem to propel you forward with each step. As soon as you roll off your heel and over the ball of your foot, the midsole seems to push you forward. Try as I might, I can’t visually find a pivot point in the ball of the sole. I think it’s black magic… or red and black magic in this case.
And if you’re planning on buying the Synergy footbed (and why wouldn’t you?) there’s more in store. The footbeds are made of a soft putty-like compound that feels amazing. There are no pressure points, just smooth, heavenly contact with your entire foot. The other day I jumped off a six-foot rock and didn’t feel any shock to my heels. The footbeds simply absorb all of it though their ability to dampen shock and shear forces.
Knowledge is power
So how is it that two dudes from southeast Illinois came up with a boot that rivals anything on the market from names like Kenetrek, Scarpa, Crispi and Zamberlan? Well, in addition to being lifelong outdoorsmen, these particular dudes have quite the foot-care resume.
Starting at a very young age, Stephen and James were raised in their father’s podiatry office, expected to sweep the floors, and as they grew, help in surgery. If you’re like me and don’t know what podiatry is, Wikipedia told me it’s a branch of medicine devoted to the study, diagnosis, and medical and surgical treatment of disorders of the foot, ankle and lower extremity. As young adults, they found their calling. They soon owned and operated custom orthotic laboratories and several specialized shoe stores. And that’s when the lightbulb came on.
With their passion for the outdoors and their obsession with archery hunting, they quickly realized that most of the products that they tried were lacking both in quality and comfort. This inspired the guys to create new footbeds and custom fit their own boots. Time passed, as it always does, and the business grew and evolved.
Lathrop and Sons Boots was formed, and soon they were offering many different models of backpacking boots from a variety of manufacturers that could be used by the mountain hunter. After years of literally fitting thousands of clients, Stephen and James jumped in with both feet (no pun intended) and in 2015, they enlisted the help of a well-known designer create their own boots line. The New L&S Mountain Hunter was born; a true mountain hunting boot… not a backpacking boot used for hunting. They’re made with only the finest materials, no expenses spared.
The 3D mapping kit process, the footbeds
The more L&S knows about you and your feet, the better the fit will be. Despite the fact that they have their own boot brand, they’re still happy to sell you a competitive brand if that’s what’s best for the shape of your foot or your intended us. Ultimately, their goal is to put you in the very best boot they can, regardless of what that entails.
There are two ways they figure out exactly what your foot needs. The less costly route – though less custom – is to speak with you on the phone. They ask questions like, What's your current brand, what kind of issues have you experienced, Where and when are you hunting? What kind of terrain? What's your pack weight? With this info, they can help select the correct boot and Synergy footbed combination for your application.
The second route is to purchase their custom, 3D Mapping Kit, which is what I did. This includes the pre-purchase phone call I described above, though way more involved, as well as a mapping kit, ample instructions, and a post-consultation phone call (or calls) to fine tune the boot fit and discuss break-in procedure. I’ll mention that the Mapping Kit comes with a pair of completely custom Synergy footbeds. L&S doesn’t just select these for you… they MAKE them for you.
I’ll keep my description of the kit short, because you can watch the video we made about the kit made a few weeks ago, here. But the kit allows L&S to see an exact carbon copy of your foot, even to the point of determining how your foot distributes bodyweight across your print. A set of pictures that you can take with your phone helps further by showing how high your arches are, and if you have any areas on your foot that may be of particular concern. They knew it long before I told them, but my heels have a bit of a bump where my Achilles tendon ties into my calcaneus… yeah I Googled that one, too.
I received my boots about 10 days after I sent the mapping kit back to L&S. But before I went on my first hike, they called to go over the finer points of the fit, and proper break in procedure…
The break in
One huge difference between L&S and any other boot company I’ve ever dealt with is their post-purchase consultation. Stephen and James are adamant about speaking with you as soon as you get your new boots.
When Stephen told me he wanted to go over lacing and break in procedure, I thought to myself, “Dude, I’ve worn a few pairs of boots in my day… but you know what, you’re the pro.”
So we talked, and I learned. The first 40 miles on a pair of boots are formative ones, so don’t take them lightly. Make sure your tongue is perfectly centered. You can go as tight on the lower half of the laces as you want, but courtesy of the lace lock on the Mountain Hunter boots, you can leave the upper half of the boot a bit looser, which allows you the ability to truly customize and tailor your fit to specific problems during break-in.
We stayed on the phone as I put on a pair of socks that I’d be likely to hunt in. Walking around the house, he asked if there were any pressure point, and how much heel lift I had, if any. I had neither. He made sure they weren’t too tight, because after a long day of hiking, your feet will swell. He also confirmed that I didn’t have contact between my toes and the front of the toe box. This provides some room for your foot to sheer forward slightly on steep descents, especially when loaded with a big pack.
As far as break-in procedure is concerned, it’s not an exact science, but you need to allow the boot to conform to your foot, and vice versa, before doing any really long or heavy hikes. In a perfect world, here’s how Stephen breaks down the process:
Week 1: Limit yourself to two-miles hikes. No pack.
Week 2: Limit yourself two-mile hikes with 40 pounds in a pack.
Week 3 and beyond: Start taking longer hikes, as often as your schedule permits. Also, add 10-15 pounds per week.
Admittedly, I followed his instructions only until Week 4. My wife tells me I have no patience whatsoever, and this exercise confirmed that she’s right… as usual. I strapped 80 pounds into the ruck and started bombing around some of the ugliest terrain in our area. While I do not suggest this, I haven’t had a single problem.
If I had experienced any irritation at any point, Stephen wanted me to call him right away, while also starting the process over at Week 1 again. As I mentioned, I have about 50 miles on these boots so far, and they only started to show signs of breaking in at about mile 30.
If you invest in a pair of boots like this, you ought to treat them properly. I bought a bottle of Granger’s water-based Footwear Repel from L&S. Stephen told me to hike for a week before applying the first treatment, then clean them and apply. If any leather boot starts to squeak, it’s time to treat them again.
Always treat a damp boot, as it will help the leather absorb the waterproofer. Also, always use a water-based treatment, for two reasons; oil-based treatments can clog the natural pores in the leather, and then you may as well be wearing a rubber boot. Also, some treatments can cause premature separation of the rubber rand and sole.
Give it a shot
These boots aren’t cheap. Nothing great ever is. I blew about $1,000 on boots last year, buying, trying, and reselling at second-hand prices. So this time I wanted to speak to a few other folks about L&S before buying.
While elk hunting last year, I met a doctor from Texas who was sporting a pair of Mountain Hunters. I got his number, and called him this spring to learn more about his experience. He was thrilled with his boots, and explained how L&S had solved a lot of problems he’s wrestled with for decades. He also understood their process from a medical point of view. In addition from what I’d heard from a few hunters online, that was enough for me.
If you’re so inclined, ask Stephen or James for a reference or two. You can find them at www.LathropAndSons.com. Best of luck this year. Take care of your feet!
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