When you go hunting, particularly hunting in the snow, you need boots. The wet feet aren’t necessarily problematic, but wet feet mean cold feet when you stop to glass. Hunting also, generally, takes you off the trail and across ridges and sidehills while carrying a heavy pack. Most people want more shoe or boot in either of these circumstances, to say nothing of both combined, but how much, and why?
When I drew my sheep tag last year I had short notice, and the snow fell early in the season. I needed waterproof boots, in a hurry, and was lucky that a local shoe had the La Sportiva Trango TRKs. I have a Sportiva foot; narrow (AA width), low volume, and an even narrower heel. They’ve messed with the lasts on their trail runners a lot in recent years, trying a more inclusive approach that often leaves me out, but the Trango TRKs fit me perfectly out of the box, something which has thankfully not changed in the past year. I can wear them with thin socks, and medium weight ones as needed, all with plenty of toe room, but a precise feel. Putting big miles on them packing out an elk earlier this season, with no foot problems at all, was the ultimate proof. I have a few niggling complaints, but overall they’ve been darn close to my ideal hunting boot.
It is by far the boot I’ve liked the most, of any I’ve owned.
The TRKs are a low and light (1.5 lbs per shoe in size 45) boot. The 100% synthetic upper is seamless, with laminated reinforcements, and quite flexible. It is mated to a stiff, burly sole with a full vibram sole. The boot doesn’t work with newmatic crampons, but is perfectly at home with full-strap rigs. Mountaineering bones with close to trail runner weight is the selling point, and is not an exaggeration.
La Sportiva does not hesitate to use softer rubber, and the Vibram on the TRKs is excellent. The tread has plenty of teeth, unlike the more scrambling oriented Boulder X Mid, I don’t mind the smooth climbing zone along the big toe, but do mind the lack of any center tread blocks in the heel. That big space in the middle has been responsible for some needlessly slippery moments in mud. As can be seen, wear has been perfectly acceptable.
The laminated reinforcements, and decent size rand, have been quite effective at deflecting abrasion thus far. They former are starting to peel in a number of places, raising longer term questions of weatherproofing, which brings me to the only objections I’ve had to the TRKs performance. Everytime I’ve had them out in protracted wet slop (deep rain soaked snow, snow and creek crossings churned up by horse traffic) they’ve leaked a decent amount through the tops of the toes. This leakage is truly minor, and not enough (yet) to be a big deal, but is less than ideal. My hope is that the sole wears out before the leaking becomes more pronounced.
La Sportiva does now have a leather version of the TRK, which I’d probably buy instead, now. The only footwear I’ve had which has been truly waterproof in the conditions described above has either been fully plastic ski boots, or fully leather hiking or climbing boots with plenty of snoseal baked in.
So why is the TRK so effective, for hunting in particular? First, because they’re so light. Footwear weight matters, a lot. I’m not sure the old adage of 1 pound of the foot worth 5 on the back is exactly right, but the spirit of the question is correct. Second, because they have excellent ankle flexibility. Ankles support in footwear is largely a myth, as a walkable boot and one which substantively adds to ankle rigidity are mutually exclusive. The TRK laces high enough to lock in the heel, without much more (I actually don’t use the upper pair of lace hooks). Third, the TRK is stiff where it needs to be, and padded just enough. Too much cush makes a shoe or boot wobbly, and too little rigidity relative to the load carried (and the strength of the user) strains the muscles too much. There is a fashion in the hunting world to use step-in compatible boots for just about everything, something I think promulgates if not outright creates weak legs and ankles. The name of the game is to have enough rigidity for you, but not too much. The stiffer the sole, the less efficient your stride, and the harder you’ll have to fight against heel lift, blisters and foot problems.
Fourth, and to go full circle, the TRKs fit me perfectly. A good fit gives your feet just enough room to swell, but not enough to flop around. Without that, all the other details don’t matter too much.