LL Bean Boots: Still A Good Buy in 2024?

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February 20, 2024  
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Categories: Gear Curious
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Nowadays, it is rare to see an all-American company like L.L. Bean. L.L. Bean has been making hunting and hiking gear for well over one hundred years and has remained in private hands through its entire run. L.L.Bean’s best-known product is the Bean Boot, sometimes called a duck boot. It is an iconic hunting boot that launched the L.L.Bean company all the way back in 1912 and it has no shortage of imitators. But in 2024, there is no shortage of quality hunting and outdoors-applicable boots available with the best waterproofing and insulating technology to keep you dry, warm, and comfortable in the field. The Bean Boot is still in production but compared to other boots on the market, its looks and features are vintage, if not outright dated. The Bean Boot continues to sell, but does that make it a good buy for the modern trekker?

A Brief History of the Bean Boot

Leon Leonwood Bean lived and hunted in the damp and cold winters of Maine at the turn of the twentieth century. Hunting for fur and meat was a fact of life and it was done with gear that was often suboptimal. In Bean’s case, he had to constantly maintain leather hunting boots to ward off the rain and slush while on the hunt. Leather required careful upkeep to maintain its waterproof characteristics, but even on the best day, water tended to seep through. By the end of the hunt, Bean was left with wet feet, a condition that could kill without going for warmth and shelter sooner rather than later.

To fix his woes, Bean developed his own hunting boots by coopting the leather calf section of existing boots with the foot of rubber rain boots. In 1912, Bean took on the emerging trend of cataloging his boots in mail-order advertisements and the rest is history.

The Bean Boot Today

The Bean Boot is available in both men’s and women’s sizes with plenty of variety to satisfy any perceived need. L.L. Bean sells a version with an abbreviated leather top called a gumshoe to their Maine Hunting Boot with a sixteen-inch top. The boot can be had either uninsulated or insulated with a combination of two-hundred grams of Thinsulate and shearling lamb fur. L.L. Bean even offers a version that is layered in Gore-Tex insulation.

The Bean Boot is available with a waxed canvas top, but most versions will have a full-grain triple stitched leather top paired with its characteristic rain boot bottoms that can be had in a few different color variations.

My Search for a Field Boot

I grew up hunting whitetail in south and central Louisiana and I’ve gone through quite a few hunting boots. This part of the country is not known for snow or frigid temperatures, but the temperature swings are wild, and, like Maine, it is wet as a rule. Modern Gore-Tex insulated rubber boots were just starting to come into vogue and it was expensive. I usually made do with rubber fishing boots with some homemade foam backing or doubled or tripled up wool socks for insulation. My father wore Bean Boots with waxed canvas tops for a time. I don’t recall his impressions of them, but I remembered they looked interesting compared to what I wore!

After a long hiatus, I returned to hunting and made do with leather work boots. The soles tended to separate, and they aren’t the warmed or most waterproof. There are plenty of good, rubberized boots like those from Mucks, but I never found them appealing for the price. After spotting some Academy-brand knock-offs of the Bean Boot, I found the real thing on a nearby shelf. I have gone on to wear these boots on all my outdoor adventures in both hot and cold conditions. While I think the Bean Boot is an excellent buy for me, I came to appreciate why it may not be the best for all situations.

ll bean boot

The Bean Boot is more waterproof and comfortable than they look.

Stealth

The smart combination of a waterproof rubber foot and a leather top makes for a uniquely quiet boot. All-rubberized boots tend to squeak or suck against the foot or calf on the walk. Whether you are still hunting or stalking, it is better that your approach is as quiet as possible. On my squirrel hunting trips, I’ve turned the trail on a few occasions to see a wary whitetail that was unaware.

Dryness

I was initially worried about the upkeep of the leather top as a point of ingress for rain or standing water. Although it is a lace-up boot, the leather top is one piece and treated to resist the rain. The stitchwork also superbly guards against water between the leather top and the boot bottom. While I didn’t make it a habit to stand in water for long periods of time, my boots were submerged near the top on more than one occasion as I walked but my feet never got wet. In any case, common puddles and runoff are deflected by the completely waterproof rubber half.

The only concern I had as it relates to keeping my feet dry is that the uninsulated Bean Boot does not wick away body moisture. Gore-Tex insulation does this extremely well, but my feet tended to sweat and wet my first layer of socks after several hours of walking in my unadorned boots.

Warmth

I initially envisioned my Bean Boots as a good companion for the range on hot, flooded days first and winter hunts second. In any case, I could always double up my socks to make up the difference on cold days. That is why I opted for the uninsulated Bean Boot. There is only a thin layer of cushioning foam and canvas backing in the inside of the boot outside the sole itself.

No matter the day, I could reliably get six hours of constant use in a day before my feet could sweat. That condition did not change, whether it was the rest of me sweating bullets with the temperature past 100 degrees with 100 percent humidity or down into the mid-teens.

ll bean boot uninsulated interior

The inside of my uninsulated eight-inch boots.

All in all, it was a comfortable boot for all weather, but I was legitimately surprised by how warm these uninsulated boots were with only a single heavy wool sock on each foot. Bean Boots tend to run a size large, and it is recommended you order one size smaller when using a midweight sock. I wear a size 14 boot and the size 13 Bean Boot fits well with just enough room to move my foot. That movement kept my toes warm as did my usual heavy socks.

My feet stayed warm as I was active in icy conditions, but I am sure the insulated versions would be of greater value if you are still hunting at temperatures below 15 degrees, especially with damp air in the mix.

Traction

Bean Boots are sometimes criticized as being too cold when hunting for prolonged periods compared to other boots. But the most universal criticism is the outdated tread pattern that gives the Bean Boot below average traction in the field. The rubber boot bottom has a shallow scalloped tread that make it quiet in the bush, but this older rubber boot design lacks the deep tread and sharp corners that excel on slick surfaces.

ll bean boot sole

The sole of the Bean Boot has never been updated. I found it to be mostly secure, but in some terrain it could be too slick. Yes, the Bean Boot is still made in Maine.

I had no trouble walking through crushable ice on the forest floor or across gravel, but I did slip once an iced driveway. In the field, I had no issues with slippage, but most of the milage I put on my Bean Boots was across flat grass and muddy inclines. I could imagine the outdoorsman struggling in rocky terrain after a hard freeze. I will certainly say that the Bean Boot, as much of a fashion statement it is, is not safe to wear in the concrete jungle during winter conditions.

bean boot squirrel hunt

The inclusion of my Browning SA-22 on this November squirrel hunt fits the 1910s aesthetic of the L.L. Bean duck boot.

The Bean Boot: Over 100 Years On

When it was a new item, the Bean Boot was the boot to wear by those who wanted the latest and greatest. It became a status symbol that permeated into the well-to-do university system in the Northeast to become a hipster icon. But when L.L. Bean came up with his boot, fashion was a distant second to function. The Bean Boot beat the alternatives by the mile and allowed the hunter to carry on hunting for longer with less worry.

The hunting boot market has evolved by leaps and bounds since 1912. L.L.Bean keeps making the same old boot that we all recognize but has smartly included upgrades and additions to appeal to the modern hunter. But even in its most unadorned, uninsulated form, the Bean Boot is still a worthy buy. It does help that it looks good too.

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James Hebert

James Hebert

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3 Comments

  1. Chuck

    The only problem with Bean is that a couple of years ago they went PC and dropped the rest of their hunting line. Now their line aside from their iconic boots is completely urban wannabe outdoorsmen. I stopped buying their line when they went PC.

  2. Uncle Buck

    Mine only see the football stadium much anymore. I bought them to stand on the sideline watching soccer games in monsoon-like conditions after getting soaked in sneakers 20 years ago. Keep my feet dry and really happy with the 7″ boot. (I had the small moc style in college but the first big puddle you step in your foot is wet all day!)

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