Many hunters and people in the Southern US have a pair of duck boots. The iconic hunting boot has been a staple for the rain and mud hunters encounter since the early 1900s, but you may wonder if they are good for hiking?
While they have features reminiscent of hiking boots, duck boots are not designed as hiking boots. Their long history as a hunting boot may leave you confused about how well they perform in the outdoors.
If you’re curious about how your Bean boots or Sorel duck boots will hold up to the trail, you’re in the right place.
Are duck boots bad for hiking?
Duck boots are not bad for hiking, they’re just far from the best option. Waterproof features and comfort may make it tempting to take them on hikes, but once you get into longer distances or need extra traction and support, they fall flat.
Duck boots perform spectacularly in rainy and muddy conditions like what Leon Bean faced in Maine when he designed them, but the rigors of hiking are a different animal.
While duck boots won’t perform poorly, they are not a good choice for many hikes. If possible, avoid taking your duck boots on your next hiking or backpacking trip.
For most of this article, I’ll be addressing this question as related to L.L. Bean duck boots, as they are the original duck boots, and known to be very high quality.
"Note that most duck boots will perform very similarly, if not worse than Bean boots."
Also Read: Are Logger Boots Good for Hiking?
The history of duck boots
These aesthetically odd boots began their history in 1911 when Maine hunter Leon Leonwood Bean grew tired of wet feet when hunting in western Maine.
Bean noticed the leather boots farmers wore to keep their feet dry, and he sewed the bottom of these to a leather upper of work boots to create a waterproof, durable product.
He began selling these custom made boots in 1912, dubbing them the “Maine hunting shoe”. 90% of the original models were returned but he improved the design over time.
Bean boots began to be known as a product for the outdoorsman and quickly became loved by anglers and hunters throughout the country.
The core design for all bean boots remains the same, and they are handmade in Maine to this day. Other companies offer very similar boots, styled with similar rubber lowers and leather uppers.
The story of the duck boot is directly tied to L.L. Bean, and while there are plenty of other options on the market, the Bean boot remains the premier and classic model.
Also Read: Are Timberlands Good for Hiking?
can you hike in duck boots?
To outright say duck boots can’t hike is a poor summary of their abilities. Duck boots can hike to a degree, they are just a poor option for someone who’s primarily a hiker, or who is seeking a hiking-centric boot.
The waterproof and warmth offered by the boots are spectacular, but these are not the only qualities you want out of a pair of hiking boots.
A day-hike r a 5-mile hike won’t hurt in these, you’ll just probably want a more suitable choice after a while.
Hiking-specific boots are made to provide ankle support, traction, and durability.
Duck boots are a durable option since they’re hunting boots, but can’t compete with a hiking boot when on the trail.
the good about hiking in duck boots
Duck boots are generally very comfortable. The waterproof design means no wet feet, and it also helps keep dirt, rocks, and other debris from entering your shoe.
While this comes down to preference, they are also less stiff than traditional hiking boots, which may be more comfortable for some users.
Many hiking boots are much heavier due to their fully leather construction.
Bean boots are incredibly light, so while they may lack stiffness and support, that pays off when you’ve got less weight to lug around.
Easy to put on and take off
Several styles of hiking boots require much longer periods to lace up compared to a pair of duck boots.
While they’re less secure than a pair of hiking boots, it’s much easier to slip them on and off in comparison to traditional hiking footwear.
Easy to clean/maintain
Since duck boots were designed to be used in rainy, muddy, New England wilderness, they are extraordinarily easy to take care of.
The rubber lower of the boot is easily wiped off with some water and a rag, and it does not require extra care like a leather pair of boots.
While it helps to use leather treatments, oils, or other products, there’s significantly less area to maintain compared to a full leather boot.
Also Read: Are Blundstones Good for Hiking?
The Bad About Hiking In Duck Boots
The leather upper of duck boots provides some ankle support, just nothing significant.
If you plan to hike in an especially rugged or rocky area you may face some trouble with their ankle support.
The leather upper is meant to be flexible for hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts who are expected to be moving and squatting consistently.
While this is good for the hunter, hikers may face problems with this design, especially those carrying heavy packs.
One of the primary features of duck boots is their waterproofing, but on a dry trail this just means you are wearing a product with little breathability.
The rubber lower means your feet can easily get warm, and when hiking in non-rainy and muddy conditions you will likely begin to have sweaty feet.
Traction and fit
Again, as a hunting product, duck boots offer a certain degree of traction, just not anything that can compare to many modern hiking boot designs.
Since they are meant to tackle mud and rain you can wear duck boots on a hike, but the traction will perform poorly on some hills and mountainous terrain.
Because of the rubber lower, duck boots are meant to fit somewhat loosely since they are not very breathable.
While this is fine for many uses, the spaciousness means that the hiker will encounter extra friction inside the boots.
Friction leads to heat and blistering, so on distance hikes especially, the looser fit may become problematic.
If you suddenly find yourself on an unplanned hike with friends, your boots will hold up just fine, but your feet may suffer. I would recommend that you only wear them on hikes below 3 miles.
Mellow terrain and well-kept trails won’t cause you any problems, but the lack of support and traction will begin to show beyond that.
A consistently maintained park trail or casual amble in the woods won’t cause discomfort.
Once you venture into challenging terrain and longer hikes, you’ll begin to notice a decline in performance compared to many modern style hiking footwear.
Also Read: Are Converse Good For Hiking?
How to make duck boots good for hiking?
If you end up on a hike with your duck boots, don't stress about it! While they aren’t ideal, duck boots are a comfortable outdoor product, so you’ll still be able to hike just fine.
To make them a bit more suitable for hiking, I would recommend wearing a thicker pair of socks to reduce movement.
This is the major problem you’ll likely have in duck boots, the looser design helps breathability, but on longer hikes this will be uncomfortable.
I also recommend tightly lacing them to reduce movement and slipping.
When can you hike in duck boots?
While they’re not good for hiking, that doesn’t mean duck boots are a waste of money. Other outdoor activities like hunting, camping, and fishing are perfect for these boots.
If you need a pair of boots to wear when the weather is rainy and the ground is muddy, few products can look so fashionable and maintain function.
Their comfort means that they work just fine as a day-to-day rain boot, and plenty of people choose to purchase duck boots purely for aesthetic reasons.
There’s no reason to feel that duck boots are a waste of money, and I would recommend that everyone try a pair at least once.
I got a pair of duck boots in high school, and while I don’t use them on the trail, they’re still serving me well in rain, snow or shine.
Also Read: Are Doc Martens Good For Hiking?
Duck boot features
The base model duck boot is generally constructed with a rubber bottom and leather upper.
I will be basing the features list on L.L. Bean’s 8” boot, since it is the most common and classic model on the market, as well as being highly rated.
The boots feature a full-grain leather upper, triple stitched to a rubber lower to enhance durability. The company says the uniquely shaped foot offers comfort and stability.
A steel shank gives the boots extra support as well. Generally, most duck boots offer similar construction, materials, and waterproof capability.
A hidden strength: L.L. Bean’s warranties
If you purchase a pair of L.L. Bean duck boots, in my opinion the warranty and manufacturing process are also highly ranking features. Each pair of boots is hand made in Maine, hand sewn by expert employees.
The current warranty offer states that if you are not 100% satisfied within a year of purchase, you can return your boots unless you have misused them or otherwise violated this policy.
After this period, if there are any product or manufacturing defects, returns or exchange will be considered.
If you purchased a pair of Bean boots before February 9th, 2018, the policy extends to lifetime coverage.
Are duck boots worth the cost?
Duck boots are a great investment, however I recommend that you research them further and see if they fit your specific needs if you plan to buy a pair.
Few boots on the market have such a rich history, offer modern American manufacturing, and still hold up as a spectacular product.
If you’re looking for a historic product that offers waterproof construction and a timeless look, then these may be the boots for you. For the pure hiker, duck boots are probably not the best fit.
While they’re a good outdoor product, this does not mean they will fit the needs of hardcore hikers and backpackers.
For the short-distance and occasional hiker who generally hunts, then duck boots could be a great tool for your needs.
Duck boots are generally well made, durable, waterproof boots. If you love historic outdoor gear, you enjoy hunting in wet environments, or just want a well made rainboot, then you should pick up a pair.
For hiking, they are not a good fit. You could easily end up with blisters, twisted ankles, or discomfort on the trail.
While I’m a fan of duck boots, you should always seek out footwear that fits the needs of your activities.
Duck boots are great, but they are not designed for hikers. Despite their heritage as outdoor sport equipment, they are outclassed by hiking specific boots and shoes.
A heritage hunting boot does not compare to the lug-soled, gore-tex, supportive footwear that can be found on the market.
All of that being said, if you’re dead set on using duck boots for hiking, and they’re comfortable to you, then try it out.
If you’ve only got your duck boots with you and want to take a short hike, you probably won’t have any problems.
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About the Author
Hussain is a passionate hiker and traveler that love the outdoor and enjoys what nature has to give, whenever he can he love to write and give tips & honest reviews to help others get out there and just seek more unforgettable experiences.