Step up your stalking footwear: Chris Dalton investigates
Back-to-back stalks over rough terrain present the perfect opportunity to compare top-of-the-range boots and gaiters, discovers Chris Dalton
When I welcome new guests to Garryloop, I’m always intrigued to discuss what they consider the essential kit for stalking. I ended up chatting to one recent visitor about stalking footwear — and whether I prefer to stalk with high-leg boots or gaiters. While I have been using high-leg boots from Brandecosse recently, I have dabbled with gaiters in the past. In fact, having recently started to wear short boots for my summer stalking, I was already considering adding a pair of gaiters for those dewy early mornings.
Then my guest dropped the bombshell, “I saw a great-looking pair of gaiters for £200 the other day.” At first, I thought I had misheard. But I know that you get what you pay for, so I had to get my hands on some to really put them through their paces. With that in mind, a pair of these high-end leg protectors duly arrived in the form of Sitka Stormfront gaiters, retailing just shy of £200. (Read Chris Dalton’s advice on what to wear deer stalking.)
More on stalking footwear
There are folk who love gaiters and those who don’t. There are solid arguments for both but in my mind your choice will be affected by the ground you stalk. In my case, a high-leg boot is preferable, but I have also been trialling a third option; a boot with an integrated gaiter. Enter the Crispi Highland boots (RRP £525). This is a medium boot, completely enclosed within a sealed gaiter.
So, to assess and evaluate both of these new products, I decided to stalk the same area over two consecutive mornings to see how they felt in terms of comfort, protection, support and value for money.
One of the areas I manage sits on the edge of the Galloway Hills. The eastern side lies on the edge of a steep hillside, which was felled two years ago and replanted almost immediately — it is an absolute nightmare to stalk. The natural regeneration is now hiding large ruts, leftover brash and deep holes from the felling phase. Anyone who has tried to walk over a restock site will be aware of how much of an ankle-buster they can be. There are no shortcuts here; it is a circular route of around five miles and would provide an exacting test of the kit.
First on my list of stalking footwear to review were the Crispi boots, extremely comfortable and very snug from the off. I didn’t feel that ‘breaking in’ would be required. I particularly liked the twist dial system, which tightened and locked the boot around my foot. The Cordura uppers were simply extended up the leg and closed by a secure waterproof zip and Velcro.
Zosia was impatient to set off, clearly not interested in my new footwear. We headed off just before 5am, initially accessing the ground via a steep incline that led to a brilliant vantage point where I could glass the sheer face of the glen. It was breezy with broken clouds and the occasional drizzly shower, but the light was good.
Red and roe are plentiful in this area and I was hoping to catch up with the former. It’s early in the stag season and I was hopeful that some would be feeding here, drawn to the open ground and abundance of fresh growth. I paused on a ledge above a deep gully cut into the hillside by a small steam. The stream is a torrent when winter storms blow in from Ireland, but today it was a mere trickle that would not test the boots at all. However, scrambling down the steep sides to cross at the bottom would be a different matter altogether.
I stood and glassed for some time, looking carefully for movement or that reddish tinge that would indicate deer. My first scan missed them but a second more considered pass showed a group of heads peering out from the edge of a bank. They were facing away from me, into the prevailing wind. All were young stags. I ranged them at 450 yards. They were couched and appeared settled. (Read our guide to British deer species.)
For once it was an easy approach; I dropped down into the gully, followed it for 300 yards and crawled up to the top of the bank. There was no rush as I picked my way along the stream, negotiated a large fallen tree and eased up the bank above the stags. I always wonder at this point, having been out of sight of my quarry, if they are still there. Indeed they were — perfectly positioned and chilling in the cool of the morning, ears flicking away at some buzzing insects.
The three stags were all of a similar age but one had a misshapen head with white showing through the velvet where he had damaged the tip of one antler. Unbeknown to him, that would be his downfall. He hardly moved as the 6.5×55 round struck him, high neck, from the Sako Finnlight. After a hill gralloch, I started the hard work of the drag.
Admittedly my route was mostly downhill, but it was already hard enough through the undulating mess of brash to the point where I could approach with the Argocat. I confess that over the next hour of puffing and panting — focusing only on getting the beast back to the recovery point — I completely forgot about my stalking footwear. That, I think, speaks volumes of the comfort, grip and leg protection.
Lightweight and strong
The following morning, I was back on the same patch of land and geared up with the Sitka gaiters, paired with a pair of Brandecosse Stambecco boots. The Stormfronts are lightweight and strong, clearly well made. It is claimed they will “withstand anything thrown at them” — I was certainly on the right ground to test that theory. The upper portion is Gore-Tex fabric, which means they are breathable but also completely waterproof. The lower part is made from Hypalon, a synthetic, hard-wearing rubber designed for extreme conditions. Like the Highland boots, they fasten with a heavy-duty zip and Velcro strap, but what particularly impressed me was the clever adjustable strap that fits inside an internal hook system, removing the need for a standard external buckle.
From the off, they were very comfortable. I had wondered about noise as they brushed through the heather but they were not unduly disruptive. I dropped down to the same vantage point as the previous morning but there were no stags to be seen. I could, however, see the backs of a couple of roe deer at the top of the banking. They were a long way off and I was unable to identify the sex of either beast, but I was hopeful one would be a buck.
It was a long stalk as I negotiated the full length of the glen, but moving over the ground was comfortable. I liked the combination of lightweight boots and gaiters; they protected my legs as I moved through the brash and kept my legs dry.
As I moved closer, the gaiters sat securely on my leg — some gaiters slip and slide, so I was glad that they didn’t budge. I was also pleased that they kept my legs cool, as I had certainly raised my body temperature by the time I reached the top of the bank. From here, the roe were only 180 yards away and I was able to identify two does along with a kid. Zosia would have to go without her breakfast of kidneys for today.
Wandering back to the truck, I considered how the boots and gaiters measured up. I was extremely impressed by both products. In terms of price, neither are cheap, but with the gaiters you must also consider the cost of a pair of boots, so either way you are probably looking at a £500 outlay. That said, would I pay £200 for gaiters? I am not so sure — perhaps that’s just the Yorkshireman in me?
Their quality is indisputable, and for anyone who stalks farmland or broadleaf woodland, they are ideal. I also have regular stalking guests with bigger builds and thicker calves; they simply can’t get into a higher leg boot so a shorter boot with gaiters provides the perfect combination.
For my own stalking footwear requirements, the Crispi Highlands are superb, and I can well see why the brand is making a name for itself among the stalking fraternity.
Kit on test