By Mike Willis
If you have ever had a boot “blow out” 10 miles from the truck, you likely know the value of good footwear. With only two feet to carry you home, this is a critical point of failure.
Kenetrek boots have become very popular over the years among expedition hunters and hiking enthusiasts. Kenetrek is known for its superior quality, which gives years of use in harsh environments.
Hoffman boots are not as well-known but are a favorite among sportsmen and women in the West. The Idaho-based company has created a loyal following among loggers, miners, and hunters alike. Known for their exceptional customer service, Hoffman is definitely putting a dent in this market.
The most popular Kenetrek hunting boot is the Mountain Extreme. The Italian-made boot boasts incredible quality but is painfully high-priced at $465.
Hoffman’s equivalent is the U.S. made 8” Explorer. Ringing in at $380, they command a closer look.
When looking for an exceptional hunting boot for this upcoming season, I began the process of researching my options. I have a wide foot and prefer a larger toe box to allow for thicker socks. Not only does this help with the cold, but it also provides much-needed cushion and blister control.
During my research, these two boots kept rising to the surface as the best options out there. While most people had opinions about which boot they preferred, few could articulate the differences between the two. With such a price difference, I had to know how they compared to one another. After all, who doesn’t like getting superior quality for less money?
I decided to take the store up on their 60-day return policy, and I purchased them both. That evening I walked around for hours, wearing one pair and then switching to the other. I carefully evaluated the quality of each boot and critiqued them against the competition. I continued to do this for a week before I felt that I had arrived at my conclusion.
Manufacturing quality of the boots
Both boots have a continuous rand (band of rubber that seals the stitching/ welt between the leather and the sole). While they appear to be identical, closer inspection reveals that the Kenetrek boots have a much thicker rand. The rand is very important for sealing out water and protecting the boot from rock shale when mountain climbing. Shale has extremely sharp edges and can easily shred leather.
Another observation was that Kenetrek had a much cleaner application of the rand. While the Hoffman rand is fully functional, it was not applied with the same care and attention as the Kenetrek boots.
The boots have identical “set eyelets” (first five holes for laces). These eyelets are exceptionally well-made. They are solid and not susceptible to crushing. The “speed hook” eyelets (top 5) are not the same between these two boots. Kenetrek utilized hooks made by the same manufacturer and thus maintains its structural integrity throughout all eyelets. Hoffman cut a corner here and used a cheaply made hook that could bend when coming in contact with rocks.
Bent speed hooks make it challenging to lace your boots. When speed hooks get crushed, you will have to find something to pry them back out. Not doing this could lead to cut or damaged laces.
I felt that the Kenetrek boots utilized a thicker gauge leather as well. Both were substantial when compared to regular boots, but the Kenetrek’s were better in this regard.
Comfort and performance
When test driving my new footwear, there were several noticeable differences between the two boots. The Hoffman boots fit like a tennis shoe straight out-of-the-box. I felt that I could go hiking in them that day. They had a very natural heel-to-toe roll when walking.
I felt the Hoffman’s had perfect weight distribution (no pressure points). This natural feel is crucial for blister and injury prevention as you can maintain natural movement in them.
The Hoffman insert created a more-cushioned footbed and was initially more pleasant to walk in.
The Kenetrek boots were more rigid out-of-the-box. They clearly will require a more extended break-in period before going on any long hikes. The insert was geared more toward long-distance performance over comfort. They are more rigid but are exceptional for keeping your foot aligned and in place.
Since the Kenetrek boots are more rigid, they have a more “mechanical” movement as you break them in. In my experience, I have found that having an initially stiff boot is not a deal-breaker. In fact, this typically means more long-term support throughout the life of the boot after the initial break-in period.
For those who value a generous toe box, the Kenetrek boots excelled in this area too. The Kenetrek’s had a wider and taller toe box, allowing for the addition of custom inserts and thick socks without issue.
Summary of findings:
For a person who is not going on extreme expedition hunts but still wants a quality boot to last for years, the Hoffman 8” Explorers will serve you well. With $85 of savings, these are great boots and do everything that most people would ever need them to do.
For the person who is heading out into the remote corners of the earth and can’t afford to sacrifice on quality, the Kenetrek’s are the way to go. While the cost of the boot is significantly more, the quality is on-par with the price increase.
In expedition-style hunts, gear failure is catastrophic and potentially life-threatening. While I believe that the Hoffman boots will serve someone well in these settings, I chose to keep my Kenetrek’s as my primary hunting boot for my upcoming adventures.