The latest waterproof leather boot from Irish Setter, the Elk Tracker XD hits the perfect balance of weight, comfort, and rugged construction with a terrain-choking grip that won’t let you down (literally!)
by Rob Reaser
I’m an incorrigible boot nut. Can’t tell you the last time I wore a pair of sneakers. The wife wonders why. I tell her, “If a bear comes after me, I want to be wearing real shoes.” She says, “Yeah, well…we’re in a parking lot.”
Eh…whatever. Hikers and low boots are my thing, 365.
For the last year, I have been wearing Irish Setter’s Pinnacle 7-inch boots, which I reviewed last year, practically every day. They proved to be comfortable right out of the box, and have served me throughout archery season, spring turkey, every range trip, and all field work in-between. The only downside is they are not insulated, so during the cold outings, I reached for the heavy stuff.
Understandably, I was excited to get a heads-up this past January that Irish Setter would have a new waterproof leather boot available for fall 2023. I put my name on the list, and the new Elk Tracker XDs arrived a couple months ago. So far, I’ve put them to the daily grind, hoofed the Appalachians for pre-season scouting, and left their mark on the shooting range. Once again, Irish Setter delivered a boot that took absolutely no breaking-in time. I didn’t even suffer the typical few days of sore spots on my ankles and lower calves. That’s something for an 8-inch boot.
There are three models of the Elk Tracker XD, and they are easily distinguished from the original Irish Setter Elk Tracker (an impressive, classic-style boot that you should also check out). There are two 8-inch models, one insulated and the other un-insulated, and an un-insulated 10-inch model. This go-around, I opted for the 8-inch insulated version so I could wear the boots during cold hunts.
As with the Pinnacle, the Elk Tracker XDs boast a top-grain U.S. steer Nubuck leather upper crafted by S.B. Foot tanning company out of Red Wing, Minnesota. I love this leather because its soft, supple, and almost suede-like finish adds a touch of audible stealth when slipping through brush. It also looks good even after extended wear. Furthermore, the leather incorporates a subtle camo pattern that aids in concealability.
The Elk Tracker XD comes out of the box ready to wear, with no break-in required. This is due partly to the pliability of the Nubuck leather but also to several comfort features. The back portion of the upper hosts a stretch panel that eliminates pressure on your leg even with the boots fully laced. Combined with a gusseted tongue and the CuShin four-way stretch nylon across the top of the tongue, the Elk Tracker XD offers good ankle support without the top of the boot digging into your leg.
One of the features I appreciated on the Pinnacle that is also present on the Elk Tracker XD is this specially designed lace hook positioned near the top of the foot. This hook has small, integrated protrusions that lock the lace into place. This means that you can adjust the laces to the preferred tension along the top of the foot and have a different lace tension along the upper portion. In other words, you can tighten the laces to your precise comfort and support levels instead of the entire lacing being one tension level. For example, I can’t suffer tight lacing across the top of my foot but want the lacing a bit snugger on my lower shin. This system allows you to do that, or vice versa.
Although the Elk Tracker XD’s upper construction is awesome, equally impressive is the Vibram outsole. The tread pattern on this outsole is a genuine terrain-grabber, with heavy, multi-profile lugs intelligently designed and logically placed along with ample high-void areas to allow the lugs to bite into and grip whatever surface you find yourself on. Blend this with the pliable rubber formulation (not hard and slick like most of today’s outsoles), and you have a boot that will keep you upright in conditions where most boots will induce a Curly Shuffle.
Overlaying the upper is Irish Setter’s Armatec — a rugged, rubber rand that wraps around the boot. The rand offers a measure of support, of course, but the bigger value is that it protects the leather upper in the areas where abrasions and punctures are most likely to occur. The result is a boot that not only offers good support on unruly terrain, but one that will withstand plenty of hard use.
All Elk Tracker XDs feature the UltraDry waterproof lining. While I haven’t yet given these boots the “soaking wet” test, I have done so with the Pinnacles. That boot also comes with the Ultra Dry waterproof lining, and they’ve stayed dry in everything I’ve subjected them to — rain, wet vegetation, and submersion. I expect nothing less from the Elk Tracker XDs.
The #3981 Elk Tracker XDs come with 200 grams of PrimaLoft insulation. This is a material designed to exhibit good loft (ability to maintain air pockets) and trap heat even when compressed. It is also moisture-repelling, so high moisture content, say, from sweat, should not significantly impact its insulating properties. I’ll know more about how well this works in a month or two when hunting season arrives.
The Elk Tracker XD from Irish Setter starts at $249.99 (MSRP) for the 8-inch uninsulated model and runs $259.99 for the insulated version and 10-inch uninsulated version. You can order directly from Irish Setter or find them at your local sporting goods or footwear retailer.