After countless seasons and many fond memories, my tired old hunting boots simply weren’t going to cut it for another year. It was time to put them out to pasture. (So long, trusty steeds, and farewell.) It was time to move on to some new kicks, so I decided to snatch up a pair of the Zamberlan 980 Outfitter GTX RR boots for my upcoming season of guiding elk hunts and give them a thorough review.
I’m a lifelong elk and deer hunter and current backcountry guide, so I take my hunting boots very seriously. The danger of heading into Colorado’s rugged backcountry without the proper footwear makes me more nervous than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
A second-rate pair of boots isn’t going to cut it for me, and I need footwear that’ll hold up under any condition, whether cold, sleet, snow, mud, scree, you name it. I refuse to allow myself to be undermined by crappy footwear and let my clients down in the process. Not happening, Bubs.
If you also demand the most from your hunting boots, stick around for my full review of the Zamberlan 980 Outfitter GTX RRs. I’ll dive into exactly how they performed for me and why you should take a hard look at them for your next rugged Western hunt.
Specs & Features
- Height – 11” Ankle Support
- Width – Technical fit
- Weight – 990 grams per boot (2.1 lbs)
- Upper Material – Nubuck Leather With Hydrobloc® Treatment
- Outsole – Zamberlan Vibram Star Trek
- Insulation – None
- Lining – GORETEX
Why I Chose the Zamberlan Outfitter Boots
Fate led me to the Zamberlan brand in the Spring of 2020. I was invited along on a last-minute 75-mile backpacking trip in Patagonia and was fortunate enough to get a pair of hand-me-down 996 Viox hiking boots to take along.
I was so impressed by how they performed that I took a deep dive and investigated this intriguing brand I knew nothing about.
Zamberlan has been making handcrafted and high-quality outdoor footwear since Guiseppe Zamberlan, a passionate lover of the mountains, and his wife Maria, a treasured Mother, machinist, and sewer, began making boots by hand in 1929.
That tradition has been passed down to future generations of the Zamberlan family. They’ve continued making the same high-end outdoor footwear for nearly a century now, by hand, and with the same high standards they’ve held for so long.
My hunting boots are an essential tool. And as a professional guide, I need professional-level tools. By going with a pedigree like Zamberlan, I knew I was getting a product that’s made to last (just like the century-old family business).
How I Put Them to the Test
The November weather in Colorado’s high country can be unpredictable. One day it’ll be sunny and 65 degrees, but within 24 hours, you could be buried in two feet of snow with sub-zero temperatures on the thermometer.
Western mule deer and elk hunting can also lead you into rugged high-country areas where you may have to climb up and down steep hills, over logs and rocks, and traverse through loose shale.
In other words, the Rocky Mountains would be the perfect setting to test out my new Zamberlan 980 Outfitters. So, I put my shiny new pair of boots through their paces while guiding several hunters for the second and third rifle seasons in the fall of 2022.
We chased elk and deer through Colorado’s merciless backcountry for several weeks. Here’s how they performed:
In the Mud With Dominic
The hellish conditions began before the season even started. Dominic, a 5th generation California coastal farmer, got his truck and trailer stuck in the ditch on his way up the 6-mile-long dirt road into camp.
A recent rain and sleeting snow had turned the roads into the consistency of mashed potatoes. Combine the mud with the steep incline, and Dominic’s rig was toast. However, thanks to the help of seven guys pushing (and a lot of grit), we were able to get him freed and moving in about an hour.
This situation was the first big test for my Zamberlan Outfitters. They kept my feet dry through a constant onslaught of moisture and mud. The road was slippery as all hell, but I pushed with firm footing thanks to the TPU heel stabilizer and the outsole’s downhill brake design.
In the Deep Snow With Steve
“I don’t know, Josh, there isn’t any sense in turning back now; this is the best chance we’ve had all week!” my Steve said while following a set of fresh tracks in the snow.
It was a slow start to the season. Steve, a Vietnam Veteran from Washington, had a mule deer and elk tag burning a hole in his pocket. We hadn’t seen so much as a chipmunk in four long days.
I shared his enthusiasm, but I was a bit on edge. It had snowed about 20 inches the night before, and the temperature was hovering around zero. At 75 years old, I was concerned Steve might be the animal I was packing out if we went any further up the mountain.
“Don’t worry about me; I’m here to hunt, and that’s what I’m going to do!” Steve said.
I was definitely worried, but as it turned out, for no reason. Steve was one tough S.O.B. and trucked through nearly six miles of frozen mountain terrain. I was impressed. We didn’t find any elk that day, but when it was all said and done, we didn’t mind. We later agreed it was a memorable high-country hunting adventure, possibly one of Steve’s last.
Throughout the whole ordeal, I wasn’t once worried about my feet. They stayed warm, toasty, and completely dry even though I broke the trail through knee-deep snow for several hours.
The 2.8mm Hydrobloc Tuscon nubuck leather uppers on the Outfitter boots kept brush, debris, snow, ice, and moisture out of my boots at all times.
Packing Out an Elk With Dixon
The real test of a quality boot suitable for an outfitter or guide is how well they perform while carrying a heavy load. I put these babies to the ultimate test thanks to Dixon, a sharp-shooting 73-year-old from Pennsylvania.
Dixon was on his first-ever elk hunt, and this was the first time he’d ever stepped foot in the high country. Usually, with an old timer like this, I’ll put them up in a nice cushy tree stand or ground blind. But Dixon wasn’t having it.
“I want to walk and find an elk and sneak in and shoot him. I have zero interest in shooting fish in a barrel.”
And walk he did. After glassing a legal bull about two miles away with our binos at sunrise, the stalk was on. The following two hours were filled with us crossing intense blowdown, deep snow, and prickly oak scrub.
But I’ll be damned if our plan didn’t work. We crested the final hill, and right there in the open was a bull standing up among a herd bedded down on the saddle. BAM. Like that, Dixon had shot an elk on his first hunt, and he made it look easy, too.
As every hunter knows, when the animal drops, the real work begins. Thank goodness I decided to review these boots and not a sub-par set of brogans. I’d have been in a world of sh*t.
My boots performed stunningly well during one of the most brutal uphill pack-outs I’ve had in a long time. We climbed two miles straight up mud, blown down aspens, and deep mushy snow. My pack weighed down with the organs and a rear quarter that tipped the scales at over 90 pounds when I returned to camp.
The Outfitters have dual insoles: one for comfort and one for support. After a pack-out like this, my poor dogs are usually barkin’, but I surprisingly had zero soreness in the arches of my feet or my ankles when I got back to the cabin.
After putting some serious miles on these puppies, I now know exactly what they’re capable of in the rugged, unforgiving conditions of the Colorado backcountry. Here’s a quick summary of their strengths and weaknesses:
What I Liked
- Comfort – I walk hundreds of miles in the mountains every year. The 980 Outfitter is hands down the most comfortable boot I’ve worn in this terrain.
- Break-in period – Echoing the sentiment of many online reviews of this boot, I can attest to the fact the break-in period is minimal, and these are pretty much good to go straight out of the box.
- Stability – A solid platform on the unsolid ground is critical for every mule deer, elk, or sheep hunter. The stable and rigid Vibram soles gripped tight to most surfaces and kept my foot locked into place when maneuvering over obstacles.
- Weather Resistance – Thanks to a GORETEX membrane, Hydrobloc Tuscan nubuck leather, and a ¾ Rubber Rand System, these boots will keep your tootsies dry, no matter what you step in.
What I Didn’t Like
- Warmth in Sub-Zero Temps – 95% of the time, these boots, combined with a nice pair of insulating wool hunting socks, were warm enough down to the negative temps. However, my toes began to get cold while I was glassing mountain tops for hours and not moving around much.
- Warmer Alternative: My feet run relatively warm, and a good pair of hunting socks is usually enough for me. Check out the 1005 Hunter Pro EVO GTX insulated hunting boots if you have poor circulation or naturally have cold feet. While too toasty for me, they may be perfect for you if you’re worried about the bitter cold of the late seasons.
- Precision – I understand you’ll lose some dexterity when you have a boot as sturdy and stable as the Outfitter. I don’t see myself wearing these boots during my September archery hunts, as they’re a bit too bulky and rigid for me to stalk in on prey.
- More Precise Alternative: I don’t wear big, burly boots during archery because I want to be as stealthy as possible. For that reason, I’ve had my eye on the 215 Salathe GTX RR trail shoes for next year. They apparently have the stability of a hiking boot, with the agility of a trail shoe, and I’ll most likely be reviewing them in 2023!
Are the Outfitter Boots Right for You?
A good pair of hunting boots are irreplaceable. And you can’t help but grow fond of a trusty set. This is especially true when you make memories as I did with Dominic, Steve, and Dixon this year while reviewing the Zamberlan 980 Outfitter GTX RR hunting boots.
Someday, I’ll be that old man walking up that hill chasing elk tracks through the snow one last time. Until then, I plan to take advantage of the great outdoors and its bounty while making memories for years to come in these boots.
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Last Updated on August 15, 2023