Whether you are stalking or dogging-in, we all need a good pair of boots, says Richard Negus
When spring arrives, most of us are equipped with clothing suited to the change in weather. The heavy-duty Gore-Tex coats and leggings that shrugged off sleet and gales now hang in the wardrobe, replaced by lightweight fleeces and cotton trousers. However, this yearly switch to summer order of dress rarely applies to footwear. It would be fair to say that trudging about to check on rat traps and feeders while sporting a pair of Lacoste sliders is hardly practical and winter wellies will leave you with tootsies like moist camembert in pretty short order. So here are some waterproof shooting boots to be thinking about when the temperatures rise and shadows shorten.
Shooting boots on test
Härkila’s Grove GTX boots are extremely light at a mere 681g, but, as you come to expect with this Swedish brand, markedly tough. They also reflect the turn Härkila has made towards a unique Scandi style — though they are made in China. For a hunting boot they are sufficiently smart and, with their cafe au lait colouring, you wouldn’t feel a fool wearing them to the pub.
The Gore-Tex membrane makes them both breathable and waterproof, while the polyester uppers are robust. I wore each pair of boots for a day’s hedge-laying, which I would argue is the roughest of test environments. For such lightweight boots, the Grove GTX withstood much of the scratching and tearing that you get from banks of hawthorn and blackthorn. Once or twice I winced as a particularly sharp prong got through the upper, but the Woodsman sole repelled the brash with aplomb and felt stable over rough going.
Summer-weight boots tend to be fairly short up the leg and I found an internal seam sat precisely on my ankle bone, which caused a slight rub where I had allowed my socks to become rumpled. But with careful sock adjustment, they are remarkably comfortable straight out of the box, easy to lace and a classy if slightly quirky boot that would stand up to normal sporting wear. They are perfect for woodland stalkers or to take the dog for a hike. Time will tell if the diaphanous material will withstand the battering I give boots in the longer term. 7.5/10
Beretta is the oldest and, many might argue, best gunmaker in the world. However, the Italian legend is more than prepared to break with tradition when it comes to its clothing range. This applies to the style of its Country GTX ankle boots. They are not bad boots, yet there is an uncharacteristic lack of refinement in some areas of the design. Like the Härkila, they are lightweight at 640g and are made in China — though designed at Brescia — using suede and Cordura with a Gore-Tex lining.
I take a narrow size 11 and found the dart of suede that arrows back from the toe seemed to dig in when I hyperflexed my toes. This then uncomfortably pinched against the first pair of eyelets. In the Country GTX’s defence they are extremely waterproof and happily withstood a dunking while I replaced a duck tube on one of the Flea Barn ponds.
The colours are subdued, as you would expect in a hunting boot, yet the splash of vibrant orange, visible on the inner of the tongue and ankle lining, plus the laces, may not be to everyone’s tastes. The Vibram soles on the boots are robust, yet you can still feel the ground you cross, a trait I particularly appreciate when trying to walk stealthily through woodland.
In the hedge-laying challenge, I found the Cordura plucked readily on blackthorn, but this material combined with suede over the eyelets largely saved me from laceration. Cleaning is simplicity itself, just blast them with a hose pipe and leave to drip dry. These are the cheapest of the boot quartet at around £130, and I have paid more money in the past for boots worse than this, but they just aren’t as good as the others in this test. 6/10
This brand has no shooting pedigree at all, but I think we may have been missing a trick. The Scarpa Ranger 2 is a very good summer-weight boot indeed. Scarpa is an Italian brand that has been making mountaineering boots since 1938, and the Ranger 2 certainly has a traditional look to it. A dark brown calf leather outer lies over a watertight Gore-Tex lining. Seams are kept to a minimum, lace eyelets are unfussy and seem to be fashioned from hardened steel.
The whole effect leaves you with the feeling that these boots would last longer than the average Italian government. They aren’t so lightweight as the Härkila or Beretta boots, at 1,578g, but seem to bounce over the ground thanks to the Viscoflex Activ fit insole that also boasts memory foam. This boot is not designed with shooting sports in mind and the Vibram sole is perhaps slightly too rigid for tiptoeing around woodland, but there is little to dislike about them. After a day’s hedge-laying the leather outers were markedly scuffed, but a buff up with boot wax took away the worst of the scars.
These Romanian-manufactured boots are something of a bargain. If the sole was slightly more flexible, they would be close to excellent. 8/10
I have, in the finest of traditions, left the best until last. It is rare I get excited now that I have turned 50, but Brandecosse has produced a boot that is truly worthy of celebration. The Fagiano may sound more Italian than Scottish, largely because while Brandecosse designs its boots at home in Dumfriesshire specifically for the vagaries of British terrain and climate, they are handmade by its colleagues at alpine bootmaker Diemme in Italy. The result is quite remarkable.
The Fagiano is made from 2.7mm mid-tan full-grain hydrophobic leather. After a day’s hedging, these boots too became scratched but after a rub over with the complimentary boot wax Brandecosse throws in, you would have thought I had never left my sitting room. The lining is a breathable Sympatex and completely waterproof. The eyelets are small works of art, each with a tiny ball-bearing roller that means the lace is unlikely to become worn from tightening.
Vibram soles are the lightweight Teton version, which are then alpine stitched and welted, meaning that you can replace a worn sole rather than throwing the boot away.
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These are the tallest boots of the four at 18cm and weigh in at 1,600g, but they are so comfortable that you don’t so much wear them, they embrace you. Being leather, they will need more care than man-made materials, but you will want to look after these boots because they are quite simply magnificent. They cost £259, every penny of which is justified, and Brandecosse offers a 0% finance offer through Swedish bank Klarna. I can assure you I have bought a pair of these boots and I recommend them without reservation. 10/10