“Dash it all!” Okay, I said something else, but the fact remained my old insulated hunting boots had failed–big time. Worn and banged silly from years spent chasing elk, deer, bears, and just about anything else which walks on all four or flies, had pounded this once proud foot gear into a mess. The waterproof membrane had given up the year before, and now the uppers had begun to tear at the seams. I had to do something, and fast. Fall would arrive in just months. When you get 50 – 60 percent of your yearly meat supply by hunting, skipping a season is not an option. I also had another problem, I didn’t have much money to devote to the project.
I spent a fruitless three weeks with all the local retailers but couldn’t find anything which fit both my feet and my wallet. Bother. I did what any red-blooded hunter in my position would do: sulked for a week and cursed the fates. I could find a support group, or I could just shop online. I chose the latter.
Who You Gonna Call?
Several online suppliers didn’t have any real options so I went to the old standby, Cabelas. I have bought boots from them in the past, and with one exception, been satisfied. Due to my budget constraints, I could count my available choices on one hand. The Iron Ridge boot line showed promise. I’m always skeptical when it comes to low-priced foot gear. Economics are economics and the lower the price, the lower the quality, in most cases. I clung to a forlorn these boots would hit the magic point between low price and just plain cheap all the way round. I rolled the dice and ordered up a pair with 800 grams Thinsulate brand insulation. My old boots had 400 grams and were well-nigh useless in temperatures below 25F.
The boots showed up in less than the promised time. I snatched them from their box with trepidation. What would I get for so little money?
My first impression? Not bad. The boots are all leather, except the tongues (more on that later). A nice change from the over-glorified pack cloth boot makers are in love with these days. Yes, they are heavy, but feather-light often requires heavy dollars. These are tall boots. They reach well up to my calves. The moisture wicking lining isn’t top drawer, but it doesn’t chafe either. Overall, they had a solid, well assembled look.
Fits and Starts
I believe boots should feel good the moment you put them on. These Iron Ridge stompers passed with a “B.” They went on smooth over my Cabelas polypropylene liner socks and Wigwam 40 Below woolies. I laced them all the way up and took a few, tentative steps. No jabs or bites. So far, so good. Then I found the weak spot.
To reduce the cost, whoever makes these boots for Cabelas made the tongues quite narrow at the very top. Not a bad thing until they come in contact with the top-most lacing hook. This medieval affair is riveted to the boot’s padded collar in such a way it curls inward toward your shin. The tongue can see what’s aimed at it as you lace the boots up and to save itself, squishes out from under the rivet. This leaves the leather and padding which protrudes from under the rivet’s edge aimed straight at your shin with an oh-too-firm point. Jab!
Break (In) Dancing
I wore the Iron Ridge boots in the house an hour at a time on several successive nights. The tongue/rivet business wouldn’t soften, let alone even bend a bit. I tossed them back in the box with a sigh and left them to contemplate their ways for a week.
When I returned to them, I decided to give them another go before I sent them packing. This time, I tried an old trick. I didn’t lace the top hooks, just wrapped the excess laces around the uppers below the collar. Ah-hah! This freed the not so well designed hooks from gouging my tender hide. I then set about a proper, month-long break in cycle.
Just Do It
September gave way to October and I had enough confidence to take the Iron Ridge boots for a prowl up the hill behind LocaCarnivore’s sprawling headquarters on a few cool days to hunt blue and ruffed grouse. As expected with this much insulation, they were a bit warm for active hiking in the 30 – 45F temperature range. They did, however, breath much better than expected, and I never returned with pickled feet.
General rifle season dawned with typical Northern Rockies weather: overcast, light rain, and a high around 40F. For some inexplicable reason, I had not drawn a antlerless whitetail tag this time round. The Boss, on the other hand, had such a golden ticket and we found ourselves scrunched into our portable ground blind (LocaCarnivore Test and Review: Ameristep Battlefield Ground Blind) with a light cross wind as the waning sunlight stabbed into our faces. As the bright afternoon faded into pre-dusk, the temperature slid down along with old Sol.
This is the real test for cold-weather boots. You can get away with much less insulation on your feet if you are active. Blood circulates in your tootsies to warm them, and your steps pumps the damp air from the boots which improves matters further. Not so when you’re in a tight tuck on a silly excuse for a camp stool. Your blood gets trapped in your feet, but they’re still warm enough to drive a light sweat through those pores. Without motion, the moisture just builds up and your body spends more energy heating this water film than heating flesh. Welcome to the suffer machine.
I didn’t suffer, though. The Iron Ridge boots did a fair job with this evil situation. After a few hours, my toes were just a touch cool, but at no time did think things would get worse. I warmed up when the deer beamed in from the treeline we had watched all day. The Boss put paid to a whitetail’s hopes for a comfortable pension and we packed up.
I wore those boots for the whole rifle season. They dealt well enough with near zero Fahrenheit temperatures and deep snow. My feet stayed as warm as one could hope for. The boots continued to break in better and better. Their air-bob soles worked well in mud, dirt, and snow, as well as on rocks and wet grass. After the season, I snowshoed with them for another three months. Their toe boxes are rigid enough to not collapse onto your feet under pressure from the bindings. All good.
What We Liked
- Good flex for this type boot once broken in
- Good lace adjustability
- Good traction on all surfaces except bare ice
- High quality for the price
- Work well with snowshoes
What We Didn’t Like
- Evil top hooks
- Poorly designed tongue
- A bit clunky
We give these Cabelas Iron Ridge 800 gram Thinsulate boots a 3.9 out of 5. They’ll get you through some rugged conditions. Yes, there are better boots out there, but not for the same money.