Bean Boot vs. Maine Hunting Shoe: Which is Right for You?
Every year, like clockwork, when the weather starts to get bad millions of LL Bean “Bean Boots” get pulled out of the closet. It’s easy to see why – it’s a classic design, made in America, and is pretty affordable. At least, affordable compared to other classic, made-in-America shoes. Nobody could fault you for wanting to pick up a pair. Like countless others, you logged onto www.llbean.com with credit card in hand only to find two options. The Bean Boot and the Maine Hunting Shoe.
You have a choice, which is right for you?
What’s in a Name?
If you were to go back in time and ask this question to Mr. Leon Leonwood Bean, he would be pretty confused. His classic design – created by taking the bottom half of a rubber boot and sewing it to the top half of a leather one – was named the “Maine Hunting Shoe.”
There was no “Bean Boot.” In fact, there was nothing else, he only sold one product.
Over time that boot became a classic and the first thing to pop into your head when you thought of LL Bean. Sure, they sold other things (even other boots) but when someone told you they were getting a boot from LL Bean you always knew which one. It had become THE Bean Boot. The company changing the name to that was just a formality at that point.
It wasn’t just the name that changed, however. Over the years, LL Bean updated their boot to meet current fashion and market expectations. As with everything, however, not everyone liked the changes. To meet the demands of people who wanted something a little bit closer to the original LL Bean introduced a new product – with the old name – the Maine Hunting Shoe.
Just looking at the two, it’s hard to really tell what is different. Obviously, the Maine Hunting Shoe has a darker leather. However, the Bean Boot has been released in hundreds of colors according to the brand. Let’s dive in and see what really makes these different.
Speaking of that leather, the difference is more than just the color. While it might surprise anyone who purchased the Maine Hunting Shoe for it’s “premium leather,” the leather on the Bean Boot is actually a little bit thicker. The change comes not because LL Bean was looking to cheap out on one instead of the other, but because the thinner leather of the Maine Hunting Shoe is designed to better conform to your ankle – trading a bit of durability for a more form fitting material.
It also means that the pebbled leather on the Maine Hunting Shoe is much, much softer. In fact, once you’ve worn them a few times, the upper loses basically all of its structure. The Bean Boot does not. There is no right or wrong here – different people will prefer a different look.
It should be said, however, that neither of these shoes have leather that you’d want to write home about. Both are heavily corrected, and feel like bean had cost as a top priority. The design on the Maine Hunting Shoe is pressed in, not a natural skin variation.
The changes on the upper are not just limited to the leather. Compared to the Bean Boot, the eyelets come from the factory with a heavy patina on them. Further, the details on the upper – including the stitching and the laces – are dyed to match the brown of the upper. Overall, it’s trying to reach a much more subdued look.
At the time of writing, there is no overlap in height options for the two. Bean Boots are 8” and lower, Maine Hunting Shoes are 10” and higher. This is a recent change, traditionally there was overlap where you could get both in 10” and sometimes 12”. Only time will tell if this is a permanent change to the lineup.
A quick google search takes you to a number of forums that explain the only difference between the two shoes is the upper – but that just isn’t true. LL Bean themselves said that with the Maine Hunting Shoe they wanted to create a more “moccasin-like” feel. In order to achieve this, they have changed the rubber compound, if not the design.
Does it work? In a short answer: yes.
The rubber of the Maine Hunting Boots is significantly softer and more flexible than the Bean Boots. While I can’t believe that anyone is actually going hunting in either of these, you definitely feel more like you’re walking in a pair of sneakers than in the Bean Boots.
The changes are not limited to just the feel, either. Compared to the Bean Boots, the Maine Hunting Shoe rubber is a bit lighter in color. Additionally, it is less shiny than the Bean Boot. Again, there is no better here, just the buyers preference.
Take Away on Materials:
It may surprise people to hear, but the “Maine Hunting Shoe” is actually the less durable of the two. The leather on the upper is less robust – though I don’t think either will end up with holes – and the softer rubber on the outsole wears significantly quicker. If I had to guess, I would say they are wearing down nearly twice as fast as the Bean Boots.
In exchange, you get something that is much more comfortable – other than maybe trying to get them on due to the height. The upper is noticeably more comfortable out of the box, and the distance between it and the Bean Boot only improves with time. The softer rubber also makes them much more bearable on long distance walks.
The changes in materials also make for a different look on feet.
For some, the Bean Boot can be a bit “on the nose.” Like pants with whales embroidered on them, they can sometimes feel lifted directly from the Preppy Handbook. These people would argue that by making some slight changes – toning down the leather color and details, getting less of a shine on the rubber – you can get 90% of the look with 10% of the baggage.
On the other hand, some would say the whole reason you live with a 100-year-old design is because you want the design. If you want to go hunting or hiking, pick up a pair of Merrells. To this group, the Maine Hunting Shoe is at best a waste of the extra money.
Price & Buying
So, you’ve picked your camp in the Bean Boot vs. Maine Hunting Shoe war. Now what?
First, Bean Boots are going to be easier to find. As an example, at time of writing, all three LL Beans within a 45-minute drive from my home have multiple pairs available. It doesn’t stop there – the three local Nordstroms also each have my size available for pick up today.
For the Maine Hunting Shoe, only one LL Bean store has my size. If you live in an area with fewer options, it’s entirely possible that you might have to buy the Maine Hunting Shoe sight unseen. It’s hard to figure out if the extra comfort is worth the trade offs if you can’t feel the comfort first.
Both boots have a Gore-Tex/Thinsulate option as well as the base model, but the Bean Boots have even more choice. You can get a non-Gore-Tex Thinsulate option, a PrimaLoft option for something in between the base model and the Thinsulate, or the Shearling-Lined if you want to go for the warmest choice.
Traditionally, sizing has also been more limited on the Maine Hunting Shoe. LL Bean has been working to improve this, however, and it looks like now the only real difference is that the Bean Boot has narrow sizes, and the Maine Hunting Shoe does not.
When it comes to pricing, the Maine Hunting Shoe will be a few dollars dearer than the Bean Boot. In the base model you’ll be paying $10 more, for the Gore-Tex/Thinsulate model, double that. Of course, you also get the slightly higher height as well.
You’ve read through, and are still on the fence. Cost is no object – but you want the classic look of the Bean Boot with the comfort of the Maine Hunting Shoe. Well, there is good news.
LL Bean offers to resole bean boots when they wear out, and can put on either the harder or softer rubber if you ask nicely. For $39 dollars (plus shipping) they will remove the Bean Boot sole and attach a Maine Hunting Shoe one – or the other way around. You can do it when they are brand new, or after you’ve worn them for a few years.
With this, you can mix and match any combination of uppers and lower that you want. For less than $200, you can get a truly custom boot.