Thursday, October 9, 2008

Gear review: Irish Setter women's boots

When I asked some of my female hunter friends about problems they’d had with hunting boots, I heard tales of woe: Too heavy. Not waterproof. Not enough insulation.

A new boot unveiled this summer by Irish Setter – a brand of Red Wing Shoes – may be what they’re looking for.

The Ladyhawk is a 7-inch waterproof boot that comes in three levels of insulation: none, 600 grams and 1000 grams. At 2.75-3.1 pounds per pair, the Ladyhawk is lighter than comparable waterproof women’s hunting boots, and at $105-120 (depending on insulation levels and the retailer), it is on the affordable end of that spectrum.

Since I do most of my big game hunting in fairly warm California weather, I got a pair of the uninsulated boots and tossed my Lowa hiking boots into the closet for the rest of my hunting season.

I’ve worn the Ladyhawks to the gun range, on two big-game hunts and in a tile-floored outdoor kitchen where I helped the cook with a marathon two-day wild game feast, and here’s what I’ve learned about these boots:

Waterproof: I haven’t hiked through snow, but I’ve given these boots two water tests.

The first was when I was dressing a Corsican ram in a skinning shed and the guide with the hose decided to wash down my shoes while he was cleaning the concrete floor. (Thanks, Bob!) A prolonged, hard squirt at close range didn’t penetrate the boots.

Somehow, though, I didn’t feel that was enough of a test. Given the drought in Northern California, it will be months before the ground here gets really wet, so I filled an old plastic tub with water and stood in it, wiggling my feet around and lifting my heels to stand on the balls of my feet – a good way to stress the fabric. Nothing came through.

Comfort: These boots definitely feel light, so weight was never an issue. But there were two other issues relating to comfort:

First, I have high arches, and while some shoes have decent arch support (my Lowas are fine, and my Dansko walking-around shoes are fantastic), the insoles in these boots were far too flat for me. A pair of SuperFeet arch supports fixed them right up, but if you’ve got high arches, doing that effectively adds $35 to the cost of these shoes. If you have normal or flat arches, though, you would probably be fine with the provided insoles.

Second, my feet were sweating a lot in these shoes, and I’m not the kind of person who normally has sweaty feet. After a couple hours at the gun range in these shoes on a 100-degree day, my socks were drenched. But the first time I took these boots on a hunt – traipsing about on a feral pig-rich piece of property – my feet felt a lot better.

And when I spent hours upon hours on a hard tile floor doing dishes and prep work at a wild game feed, it didn’t seem to be a problem either. Not only did my feet stay reasonably dry, but they felt pretty good at the end of the day, which is more than the cook could say about his feet.

The upshot? Moving around increases the breathability. Sitting still for a long time in hot weather, though, is no bueno. I won’t be wearing these to the gun range again.

Fit: I have narrow-to-normal heels, but my feet are wide in the front, and the fit on these boots felt fine. I tend to be a 9½ or 10, so I got these in 10s to accommodate wool socks, and the fit was very comfortable from Day One. I did have a little irritation at one spot on my heels that tends to be a problem in about half the shoes I buy, but it never got to the point of blistering – and I’ve taken a good hike up and down some steep hills in high-90s temperatures in these boots.

Flexibility: These shoes flex well at the balls of the feet, so it doesn’t feel like your feet are encased in tombs when you’re wearing them. The key question is whether that flexibility will translate into wear that diminishes the waterproofing – and that’s a question I can’t answer yet, having had them for only two months.

The real test: Sometimes I give away products that I’ve received free for review, but if I think they will be useful to me in my hunting, I keep them. These boots? I plan to keep them and wear them for fall deer and turkey hunting, because the provide better ankle support than my Lowas, and overall they’re pretty comfortable.

If price is an indication of quality, there may be better women’s hunting boots in this class. One of those friends of mine raves about the Kenetrek Women’s Mountain Extreme 400s that she just got, and says she’ll never wear anything else. But the Kenetreks retail for $325, three times as much as the cheapest Ladyhawks. If price is an issue for you, the Ladyhawks could be a better deal.

Click image to enlarge.

Click here to see my policy and disclosures concerning gear reviews.

© Holly A. Heyser 2008


sportingdays said...

I think hunting boot technology, fit and performance is improving but I think it generally lags WAY behind those manufactured for the hiking/backpacking/climbing crowd.

As a hunter, you always want to buy the camo boots and the hunting brands sold at Cabela's and other hunting outlets. But when it comes to top performance, comfort and fit, I've found much better boots at REI than Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's, etc.

Holly Heyser said...

Good point. Camo is like catnip to us.

Terry Scoville said...

You beat me to the punch on this review. I purchased a pair of the 600 gram insulated Ladyhawks 3 weeks ago, and love them. I stayed dry on my recent deer hunt crossing 2 ditches. It wasn't til I drug my deer out that I went over the tops and got soaked up to my knees. I found them to be comfortable, true to size and I also put in the green Superfeet insoles for arch support. I have been waiting and looking for 30 years for a boot like this! Thanks Irish Setter.

Holly Heyser said...

Can't wait to see your full review - we all view these things a little differently, and every viewpoint counts. A friend of mine is reviewing them for a magazine too, and her observations were different than mine - not contradictory - just different thigns she noticed.

Blessed said...

Thanks for the review Holly & I'll be watching for your review too Terry -

My boots are still holding up good so I guess I won't replace them yet but I have thought about sabotaging them so that I can get something lighter & more comfortable :)

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