Last Updated on December 30, 2022
Some hunters like to walk. A lot. You know the type — guys and gals who just can’t sit still because they’re convinced a trophy bull and his girlfriends lie in wait over that next ridge.
But it’s seldom as easy as walking over a ridgeline. Hunters must do a fair amount of bushwhacking and scrambling through thick brush, over rocks and fallen logs, and slogging through the mud when following their internal elk-spotting radar. And if the ground’s covered in snow, the challenge gets much trickier.
Enter the Zamberlan Guide LUX GTX RR, boots specifically designed for hunters who take those strolls through seriously challenging conditions.
I’ve faced such challenges before, so I recently laced up a pair of Zamberlan 971s and headed out into the snowy Colorado foothills to test how they’d handle muck, mud, and rugged terrain. Were they tough enough to become my go-to boots for backcountry hiking and hunting?
Here’s what I learned.
Zamberlan 971 Guide LUX Backcountry Boots
Specs & Features
- Height: 6 inches
- Weight: ~2 lbs a boot
- Upper Material: Tuscan full-grain leather
- Outsole: Zamberlan Vibram StarTrek II
- Insulation: None
- Waterproofing: GORE-TEX
The first thing you’ll notice when opening the Guide LUX GTX RR box is the rugged construction of these boots. Zamberlan clearly made them with the backcountry explorer in mind — 2.8mm Hydrobloc Tuscan full-grain leather uppers, hefty Vibram StarTrek II outsoles, and full rubber rands. Lace these up and you’ll get a tingle that you’ve finally become the fearless and sure-footed hunter of your dreams.
But superhero materials aren’t exactly light. Lifting the 971s out of the box, I instantly knew that these were not the lightweight hiking boots I’d used before, the ones that rarely lasted more than a year. These boots were beefy and sure to last many seasons.
Zamberlan’s build quality stands head and shoulders above the crowd. Their strong and beautiful Tuscan leather has precise, high-quality stitching, and the rugged soles immediately told me the 971s could handle anything I could throw at them.
Sure, these boots weigh a few ounces more, but that’s the price of protection and comfort. And after a full day of scrambling up hillsides, I knew these boots were an investment that would pay off big time over the years.
Comfort & Fit
Zamberlan has a reputation for making boots that don’t require long break-in times. The Guide LUX GTX RRs felt good right out of the box, but I also knew that after some break-in time, they’d mold to my feet and deliver full comfort.
When I first tried on these boots, I was impressed by how easily my foot slid into place. No force needed, no squeezing. The tongues opened wide, and I loved that. Who wants to start their backcountry day by wrestling with boots? Not me.
Once on, the toe box was immediately comfortable and roomy. My feet didn’t slide around, yet I could easily imagine wearing two pairs of socks inside without crowding.
These boots also felt solid but not stiff around my ankles, so I had no fears about sidestepping on a ridge or hill. It felt unlikely that I could roll an ankle on uneven terrain, which is the assurance I want from boots when bushwacking miles away from the trailhead.
As a test, I laced my boots extra tight and did feel some discomfort above my ankles. (My radical conclusion: “Don’t do that, in any boot.”) Besides, the 971 Guide LUX GTX RRs are made of 2.8mm leather that needs time to soften up. Who knows? A few more days in the backcountry and they might be as comfortable as (armored) camp slippers!
But enough about looks and fit. The question you want answered is how did the Zamberlan 971s perform in the field?
For my first field test, I wanted to see how these all-season boots performed in the cold muck of winter. Nature obliged with fresh-fallen snow that was just starting to melt, making for less-than-ideal conditions (unless you’re a boot reviewer).
First, I headed out to a river where I knew I’d find steep banks with terrain ranging from rocky riverbeds to slushy mud. Hiking through this would be an excellent real-world test, replicating the tricky conditions often encountered on hunts.
The 971 Guide LUX GTX RR handled it all, and then some.
Sole & Tread
I quickly came to appreciate the design of the forward rocker soles on the 971s. As you walk, your foot rolls back-to-front, which promotes comfort and grip. When I first read about this feature, I didn’t realize how much I’d come to notice and appreciate it.
When going up steep inclines, these soles allowed me to climb more easily. Zamberlan says this feature can help hunters pack out hefty loads of meat on steep slopes. I didn’t have anything in my meat sack that day, but I immediately felt the rocker’s effect.
Climbing hills felt solid due to my improved grip on loose or muddy terrain. Going uphill, the soles dug in and provided excellent traction, and when I headed downhill, the soles were anchored and non-slip.
Overall, the Vibram soles on the 971 Guide LUX GTX RR provide excellent all-weather grip while protecting your feet from rocks and fallen tree limbs. You’ll especially appreciate this when packing out a big load of venison.
Ruggedness & Durability
To test the Tuscan leather uppers and full-rubber rand, I purposely walked through stretches of thorny bushes, tall brown grass, and evergreen bushes. (Note to self: don’t make a habit of this.) Aside from a few light scratches in the leather, the boot didn’t snag or cause me to lose balance. The rand worked as intended, and I had no concerns about durability.
I threw three different kinds of water infiltration scenarios at the Zamerlans:
- I climbed through ankle-high snow;
- I splashed through deep, muddy puddles; and
- I crunched through thin ice in the shallows of a river, momentarily submerging the boots to just above the ankles.
No matter how I tried to get water to enter these boots, the H2O stayed out. The Hydrobloc treatment, the full-rubber rand, and the inner GORE-TEX layer kept my feet dry and comfortable.
Keep the water where it belongs: outside of your boots. You can count on the 971 Guide LUX GTX RRs to do just that.
Wrapping Up My Zamberlan 971 Guide LUX Review
Simply put, Zamberlan 971 Guide LUX GTX RRs are the nicest boots I’ve ever owned. They’re an excellent all-around boot for hunters who like to push deeper into the backcountry.
Yes, they cost a pretty little penny, but think of it this way — Buying boots is a bit like buying a car. You generally get more when you spend more; the 971s are no exception. Top-quality components like GORE-TEX waterproof liners, grippy Vibram soles, and beautiful and durable leather uppers make the 971s a solid investment in your future hunting pleasure.
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