Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who are so hard on boots that I had pretty much given up finding a good, long-lasting pair. Consider some of my experiences: On the second day of a mule deer hunt in New Mexico the sole stitching of a boot gave out. I finished the hunt with a generous winding of duct tape holding the sole on. While on an Anticosti Island whitetail hunt, the upper separated from the lower on one of my “pac”-style boots essentially leaving me with a rubber slipper in a very soggy environment. The only waterproof boots available at Port Menier were fisherman style—in Kermit the frog green. They got me through the hunt, but I felt silly in the airport as I also had to wear them home.
The “welded” on sole of another boot came off during a Coues deer hunt in Arizona. A side seam ripped open on another pair of boots during an aoudad hunt in Texas. The list goes on. Stitching, soles, seams, toes all blow out on me with such predictable regularity that I considered boots a consumable pretty much on the level of a box of ammunition to replace each hunting season. I had even begun buying cheap boots because I destroy them so quickly, but that was really a false economy. Boots are like furniture--you get what you pay for.
With the exception of the Anticosti hunt, I had also been buying the wrong kinds of boots. Where I was hunting in the Southwest, it’s hot, dry desert where you need a boot that breathes so your feet don’t get soggy with sweat and the terrain is some of the harshest, most unforgiving there is so you need a boot that’s tough. I was buying garden-variety hunting or hiking boots with various levels of insulation and excessive stitching that was more of a fashion statement than a practical feature.
This hunting season, I tried something different. Last fall, SCI’s Corporate Sponsor Kenetrek sent SCI members an e-blast and that led me to their website where I found a “Desert Guide” boot that looked like it could be the answer to my footwear woes. “The Desert Guide was brought on by the need for a lightweight but extremely durable boot and something that breathes really well,” says Kenetrek’s Wyatt Nielson when telling me how the Desert Guide boot came to be. “Our ideal customer [for the Desert Guide] is either a hunting guide who spends a lot of time down in that desert climate or just your regular [desert] hunter… somebody who really needs a tough, durable boot that is going to last in that kind of climate and is going to breathe well so their feet don’t overheat.”
Nielson went on to explain how the Desert Guide is an adaptation of Kenetrek’s Hardscrabble Hiker with changes that came about from actual field experience. “We build boots for hunters because we are hunters,” Nielson explains. “With our experience hunting, our boots have been tested all around the world so I feel like that gives us a pretty big advantage when it comes to building boots. If we can’t trust them on our hunts, we wouldn’t try and sell them to the public.”
It’s obvious that experience goes a long way toward getting a boot right, too. For example, the rocky desert terrain is too tough for many boot soles, so for the Desert Guide, Kenetrek switched from its standard K-Talon sole to Vibram Vertige that stands up better to the sharp rocks and wide temperature extremes without coming unglued or wearing out early. It also retains the crampon toe cleat not because Kenetrek expects a freak glacier in the desert, but as Nielson explains, it “adds to the durability factor when you’re climbing up steep rocks and kicking your toe into the dirt and the rock.”
There is no waterproof membrane because it’s generally not necessary in the desert, making this boot breathable so your feet don’t sweat. For toughness, the Desert Guide features 2.8mm-thick leather uppers with reinforced double-and triple-stitching in high wear areas.
When I first slipped my feet into the Desert Guides, it was immediately obvious that these were very different from what I was used to. Naturally, they were comfortable, but that’s to be expected with a high-end, quality boot. The stand out differences were that the boot is formed so that it grips firmly around your Achilles tendon so your heel can’t ride up and down and cause a blister, and the boot is very stiff—almost like a ski boot. Because it’s stiff, there’s extra padding in the collar so your shin and calf don’t bruise, and a special flex notch design allows some flex while maintaining exceptional ankle support.
The stiffness is a little weird at first but it's a great feature that was explained to me by my guide on a mountain goat hunt. With such a stiff boot, not only is each step like stepping on a flat surface, but you also have the ankle support needed when you’re wading through a field of softball-sized ankle rollers well hidden by waist-high grass.
Over the course of this past hunting season, I’ve used the Desert Guide boots on an early Missouri whitetail hunt, several jackrabbit hunts with my son leading up to guiding him on a successful Coues deer hunt on the Mexican border, as well as a couple of less successful javelina hunts in the same area. I came away with a real appreciation for the comfort and design features incorporated into these boots. With the exception of a few scuffs, they still look new, too. The soles aren’t starting to peel along the edges like I’ve experienced with other boots, and there are no seams to worry about splitting from dust grinding into the threads. I didn’t experience any rubbing or hot spots resulting in sore feet and, they lived up to their lightweight objective.
In stark contrast to the $20-$50 boots I had been buying, the Desert Guides are a major investment starting at $410. “There’s no doubt that our boots are expensive, but there’s a reason they are,” says Neilson when explaining how quality materials and design don’t come cheap. “We could make a less expensive boot, but does that mean we should compromise quality to do so? We don't really think so. It’s our quality, comfort and support that have made us the company that we are.”
With respect to Neilson’s reference to support, he’s not just talking about footwear, but customer service as Kenetrek takes care of its customers throughout the whole buying process of research and buying. You can call them up and say you’re going on a specific type of hunt and get set up with the exact boot you need because most of their customer service reps have either been on that hunt, knows somebody who has or simply knows enough about it and can walk you through the selection process. And if you buy and have any problems, they have a full repair shop in Bozeman, MT where you can send your boots for servicing.
Desert Guide Features:
- 2.8mm thick full grain 7-inch upper
- Reinforced double and triple stitching in high wear areas
- Extra padded soft collars
- Flex notch upper
- Protective rubber toe cap
- Non-insulated and no waterproof membrane for maximum breathability
- Vibram Vertige high traction outsoles
- Men’s sizes (whole and half) medium, 7-12, 13, 14
- Price: $410