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The Great Debate: Wellies v boots

Wellies for shooting or boots?

shooting boots debate

There are two tribes you’ll see out in the field on a driven day and/or a walked up day. There are those that swear by wearing shooting wellies (read our list of the best choices for shooting wellies here) and those who will almost only ever wear shooting boots. 

shooters wearing wellies

On a muddy day many shooters swear by a stout pair of wellies

Wellies by Ben Samuelson

How can anyone possibly argue against the Wellington boot? When I think of the times that my favourite wellies and I have worked together to keep the lower limbs warm and dry, no matter what the elements have thrown at them …

On a purely functional front, there’s a hatful of reasons why wellies are better. When the weather is bad (and let’s be honest, it normally is) wellies offer much better waterproofing to a greater wading depth than boots do. It’s probably because I do a great deal of my shooting north of Watford Gap nowadays, but it’s a rare day indeed when I don’t sink a foot, with half a leg in close pursuit, into a cold wet puddle, stream or rut.

When you’re wearing shooting breeks, wellies keep your calves much warmer, and they offer much better protection against brambles, prickles and a pack of filthy labradors in the back of the gun bus.

And then there are the reasons of style. While anyone who knows me will be all too well aware I am not exactly a fashion guru, there is something about wearing boots with shooting socks that really, really doesn’t work. I think the problem is it makes even the owner of the most shapely calf look like a member of the Paramilitary Wing of the Ramblers’ Association, about to stage a militant, man-made fibre-clad stomp across someone’s grouse moor.

Finally, the clincher for me comes at the end of the day. While the welly wearers simply slip off their outside clobber and are at the gin and tonics in a matter of seconds, the boot wearers are still fiddling with laces caked in slime. (You might also like to take a look at what to wear shooting.)


Others would only ever wear shooting boots

Boots by Giles Catchpole

The issue of footwear is a vexed one. When walking-up grouse, for example, in perhaps September, rubber boots are too hot and shoes accumulate too much heather for comfort. So a short boot with a gaiter or puttees to keep out this detritus is the perfect compromise. And if you are shooting driven grouse, with double guns, from a commodious butt to which you have been delivered by a luxurious 4×4, then who needs wellies anyway?

A senior partridge keeper of my acquaintance always asserts that if you need to wear wellies to shoot partridges, then you shouldn’t be shooting partridges. And I am minded to agree with him. Sensible shoes are the thing for partridges. We all know the key to shooting well is footwork, and who can dance about on the stubbles in a great pair of galumphing wellies?

Later in the season, however, there may be mud and worse underfoot. What now, I hear you cry? Longer boots is the proper answer. Field boots. Dubbin will keep out the wet, a good tough commando sole will keep you stable and a slim fitting leather boot is ineffably elegant. When the snow comes in you can switch to the shearling lined winter boot for added warmth.

It is no coincidence that at the top end of almost every welly manufacturer’s range there is a premium product, which is leather inside and out. This is because a proper boot is made in leather. A gentleman should no more wear a rubber boot than he would wear polyester tweed.

And at the prices that some wellies come in at these days you might as well have a decent pair of boots made. The zips and buckles that adorn your premium welly will last a season or two with luck but a field boot, with care and attention, will last a lifetime and beyond to become a coveted family heirloom. (Read our list of the best shooting boots here.)

This piece was originally written in 2014 and has been updated.