Virtually everyone should have a good pair of general purpose and outdoor boots. The ones you go to grab for a weekend camping, hunting, or training in the toughest conditions out there. In this article, we discuss how to think about boots and suggest some of the best tactical boots available today.
How to Evaluate Tactical Boots
Fit It or Quit It
Let’s start at the beginning. Firstly, fit is everything.I can’t reiterate this enough. If a boot looks great, or is made or great materials, or is an incredible value, it doesn’t mean anything if the fit isn’t right. So let’s make sure to get the fundamentals of fit down, and then we will move onto the finer points of boot selection.
First, pay attention that the heel fits snugly. The goal is to minimize heel slip, which will lead to blisters and, ultimately, put you in a world of hurt. If you’re feet aren’t happy and healthy, you’re almost guaranteed to be miserable, so start by making sure your heel fits well into the boot. Fabric on the interior of the boot can impact heel grab of the boot as well, which we discuss later.
Next, pay attention to the instep. Have it wrap your foot snugly and support your arch. How much support you need will vary on your needs, and there is generally a tradeoff between lightweight and fast boots (bordering on tactical tennis shoes) and stable supportive boots. Either way, they should support your arch, but pay special attention to this if your goal is to have a stable platform to ruck in. In that case, the instep should not only fit well (as always), but you’ll want to make sure the boot is durable enough to hold up to continual and heavy use by getting quality materials and well-made construction.
Also, think about the toe box. You’ll want a toe box that has plenty of room and doesn’t constrict your toes with a painful malformed torture device. Since this can vary based on the shape of your foot, err on choosing a larger toe box when in doubt.
Finally, when evaluating fit, when you try on boots to learn your size, make sure to wear the type of socks that you will actually be wearing. Thick wool socks will make the fit substantially different than if you’re trying them out in thin silk socks. Common sense dictates that you should just wear the type of sock you’ll actually be wearing in the boot. Along those same lines, if your feet size vary throughout the day, go when they are at the largest point. For most people, this is at the end of the day but your mileage may vary. Just make sure to either stand on your feet for a while or go for a run to get some blood flow down there so you don’t accidentally buy a size too small.
Tactical Boot Materials and Construction Points
As you’ll quickly see, there are tons of tactical (and tacticool) boots available these days. And that is great. The competition being this fierce means there is generally a great option for any conceivable need at a reasonable price. Unlike yesteryear, where limited models took on broad roles whether they were well suited to it or not. Let’s discuss some of the more popular materials and terms in use today for tactical, outdoor, and general boot construction.
Look for a full or gusseted tongue on your tactical boot. This will help you avoid things like debris accumulating in your shoe. This is still true even of lesser things like water. Either way, the last thing you want is unwanted crap in your boot. It also has the benefit of keeping the tongue consistently in the same spot, so it doesn’t get twisted and annoy or distract you from the job at hand.
Be careful when choosing an EVA midsole if you are looking for something stable and substantial. EVA is a great material for tennis shoes and trainers, but doesn’t always fit the bill if you need stability. Look for polyurethane to avoid over compression and a material that is stout enough to handle a heavy load out. Also, if it is an option, rotate between boots and don’t wear the same pair on consecutive days to reduce the wear on them.
The rocker shape, that curved design of the sole of the boot around the ball of the foot, of most boots makes it easier to user the boots and will fatigue your foot less since you won’t have to fight the boot shape as much with every step. Not all boots have this, and really either one can be a great boot, but generally, the heavier the boot and the more you will rely on it for stability, the more you’ll want that curve.
Speaking of, look for boots with a full shank to maximize protection. This is the piece in the midsole of the boot that will add a layer of protection between the outer sole of the boot and your foot. Some boots will have a shank made of steel, fiberglass, or other synthetic material that makes the shoe more rigid and will add another layer of protection. If you are worried about rocks potentially piercing the outsole of your boot, you definitely want to look for a full shank. If you are minimizing boot weight, your boots will likely have a half shank which will run from the heel to the midfoot.
The design of the sole should give you a design that will give you great traction in the environment you plan to operate in. Again, this will vary based on your use, but look at the sole to make sure it is appropriate for your intended use. You wouldn’t want all terrain tires on a Corvette or racing slicks on a Jeep. Know the role the boots will play and inspect the soled to make sure you are shopping accordingly. Further, the sole of the shoe can be stitched on and others are attached with an adhesive. In our opinion, we strongly prefer for boots to be stitched, or a combination of glued and stitched. Mainly, we think it is more durable to have a stitch job because we’ve had some boot soles come unglued prematurely. Also, you can always restitch the sole back on yourself if you have to (not that it is recommended).
A good rand, the rubberized part that connects the sole and the upper, is an additional benefit that will add to the durability of the boot overall. This is especially true around the area of the outsole that is around the toe. If nothing else, make sure the toe area has a good bumper, but consider getting one all around the sole.
Look for a comfortable padded cuff that will wear nicely on your legs. A full leather will be the most durable, but also consider a material that is breathable.
Full Grain Leather is durable and will handle rocky environments well. It’s generally awesome and has a fantastic characteristics for durability, and looks great. It’s downfall is being heavier than a lot of technical fabrics out there. Also, quality leather is expensive. However, cry once, buy once absolutely applies here. With leather, as with many things in life, you get what you pay for. A great leather from a reputable company like Danner can last forever, so you’re not buying boots every 6 months if you do it right. If full grain is cost prohibitive, Nubuck leather also works in this environment.
In extremely harsh environments, watch out for fabrics since they will tear on rocks. Having said that, if you are in a situation where you want comfort, flexibility, and speed, they may fit the bill. The other upside of fabrics is they tend to breathe, making them attractive options for places where the temperature get up there in the triple digits.
Regarding the interior of the boot, most constructions will either offer leather or a fabric. Fabric interiors and leather interiors are both good. Leather is better for durability, but breathes less. Fabric is breathable and can limit slippage more, but is less durable. Use your own judgement here about what is better suited to your individual needs.
Also, look for a comfortable insole. If you love the other aspects of a booth but do not like the insole, keep in mind that most insoles are replaceable. Something like Dr. Scholl’s, Superfeet Premium Insoles, etc going all the way to custom soles constructed around your foot shape.
Top 5 Tactical Boots
Belleville was founded in 1904 by five Belleville businessmen (Adolph Knobelock, H.E. Leunig, J.B. Reis, James Rentchler, and William Weidmann). The shoe company employed 50 workers when it first opened, which considering the time was actually a pretty impressive amount. The company was outputting 50 to 75 pairs of shoes in this time, which is a reasonable number considering the lack of advances that current day manufacturers have come to rely on. A fun fact about the company is that none of the five founders had any experience in the shoe making industry when they launched the company, they were just incredibly confident in their market.
The company’s daring launch paid off, and in just a few years after their inception they were selling shoes from coast to coast. However, it wasn’t until WWI that the company truly took off, as they were tasked with filling the military’s need for quality footwear. This enterprise transformed the company from a small enterprise into the large technology-driven business that we know today. Belleville actually received the coveted Army/Navy “E” Award in 1945. Only five of the 90 companies producing footwear during the war received the honor. The company received a similar award from the DLA in 1990, because of the 656,000 boots the company manufactured between 1989 and 1990 there was not a single one found to not meet government quality requirements.
Given the fact that these boots are good enough for our armed service men and women, it shouldn’t surprise you that they hold up just as well to civilian use. However, the question is: Are they the right fit for you (pun intended).
First off, these boots are made from full-grain cowhide leather. This is obviously going to inflate the cost substantially, but it’s also going to make the product more durable in the long run. Leather goods tend to hold up longer than their synthetic counterparts when given adequate care, so while there may be a higher initial investment the savings well pay off in the long run.
The sole of the boot is made by Vibram, a company which manufactures rubber soles for a wide variety of different companies. The soles made by this company are generally considered to be one of the better options available, and because of their widespread adoption and use by numerous companies they’ve garnered a reputation for producing a quality sole.
Another interesting inclusion of this boot in the anti-microbial and odor reducing inner lining. No one wants a stinky boot, and given that leather isn’t the most breathable material around the odor reducing properties of this lining will likely come in handy. Just as important is the cushioned mid-sole, which should help to reduce strain for those of you with high arches.
Just as importantly is the fact that these shoes utilize nylon. Nylon is both a very affordable and durable material, so it’s inclusion here is pretty notable. It helps to ensure that vulnerable areas (like the tongue of the boot) will hold up under the strain of regular use.
This boot was designed in conjunction with the special forces community, so it’s intended to function under conditions that would be incredibly destructive to similarly priced boots while remaining affordable.
The main concern with this boot is that because there isn’t a very thick lining the boots tend to have inner dimensions larger than what their size implies.
As far as durability is concerned these boots as being incredibly long lasting. The Belleville 390 Boots are incredibly durable. These boots are by no means cheap, but considering the fact that they will most likely last the average person for several years they are a pretty good purchase all things considered.
Unlike a lot of other industries, there’s a sharp divide between the two main varieties of tactical boots The first are those made with a non-professional consumer in mind. These boots tend to focus on comfort rather than durability, because in most settings the average person isn’t going to put a lot of strain on their footwear. Consumer grade shoes are generally intended for everyday light use to moderate outdoor applications (like what you’d encounter hiking and/or performing outdoor labor). They sacrifice durability to ensure that their boots are comfortable for extended periods of moderate use.
The second type are boots intended for professional circumstances. These boots are generally made for law enforcement and/or military applications. The tradeoff here is that those these boots are much more rugged and durable they aren’t quite as comfortable. There are varying ratios of comfort to durability, so it’s important to research before you buy.
With this in mind, the Maelstrom Men’s Tac Force 8 Inch offers a pleasing combination of both durability and comfort. To learn more about this boot continue reading the sections below (if you’re just looking for a quick summary to compare this to another product skip to the “In Conclusion” section).
The most important thing to note about this boot is that it’s geared towards law enforcement. This means that while it still emphasizes durability it does offer a degree of comfort, as opposed to other boots which largely disregard comfort in favor of durability.
These boots are made from a combination of leather and nylon. The leather used is able to be polished (this holds true for both finishes, black and tan). This is a huge bonus for those of you who are going to be using this boot in muddy or dusty locals, because it allows you to keep your boots looking sharp without having to purchase a boot made out of a less desirable material.
The leather portions of the boot surround the foot and heel (the heel also features a thermoplastic board to increase support in the heel). The ankle and lower calf sections are made from nylon. Nylon is one of the more durable synthetics out there, and is especially well suited to boots due to its flexibility. Leather also surrounds the lace eyelets, which helps to keep this portion of the boot stretching out from use.
The boot uses a combination zipper and lace system, which makes putting on/taking off these boots a breeze. The zipper also has a leather lining, which helps to offer a greater level of protection from the elements. The toe and collar of the boot are padded, which helps to make the boot a bit more comfortable. The lining of the boot is made from a moisture-wicking material, which offers an even great amount of protection from the elements.
Lastly, the boot also ships with a lightweight, shock-absorbing polyurethane molded midsole. This is a nice inclusion, though some of you may wish to replace it depending on your feet. However, the midsole itself is a quality addition to the boot even if it may not work for everyone.
For the price these boots are a quality purchase. It’s a great boot for mild climates because it’s durable and moderately comfortable. They aren’t completely waterproof, though they are water resistant. They also aren’t quite as feature rich as a more expensive boot, but while being utilitarian they will function perfectly fine in with light use or in urban settings.
The main consensus for this product is that the boots are remarkably light and offer a great deal of traction on a variety of surfaces. The only concern some seem to have with them is that the lining is a bit thin compared to other boots, though this is likely more of a matter of personal preference than anything.
The Maelstrom Men’s Tac Force 8 Inch offers a good middle ground between comfort and durability. It doesn’t have the features of more expensive boots, but it is priced very well for the quality it does offer.
If you’re familiar with the tactical world, you’ve probably heard the name 5.11 mentioned a few times. They are known as a leader in the space. And for good reasons. 5.11 products have garnered a bulletproof reputation because they have been making outstanding products for years. These boots are no exception.
5.11 Tactical has a commitment to ensuring human rights. Clearly outlined on their company’s website is a description of their policy to ensure that every part of their supply chain operates in an ethical manner. They don’t work with companies that don’t respect the rights of the individual.
The company even uses a third-party auditing agency and a team of onsite experts to conduct social compliance audits. They do this to ensure that none of the companies involved in different aspects of their products commit human rights abuses of any kind, including human trafficking and slavery. They also require that these companies don’t outsource any of their work to countries who violate this policy. Their commitment also extends to ensuring that these factories are well ventilated and safe, regardless of which country these factories are based in.
Just as important, 5.11 Tactical also has a commitment to producing their products in an environmentally conscious fashion. This is an important thing to note if you share these values, as your choices of companies who do this are fairly limited.
While we know that not everyone shares these values, we do wish to commend 5.11 Tactical for their approach to these issues. It shows a dedication that extends beyond just manufacturing a product, which is rare among modern manufacturers.
These boots are comfortable. They have 5.11’s open cell foam cushion and a cushioned insole. Getting in the 8″ boot is relatively easy due to the side zip (which use high quality YKK zippers), which we can appreciate for an eight inch boot. There is also a “covert” tactical pocket on the outside of the boot near the cuff that you can store some small essentials in. The lining is also moisture wicking to keep your feet dry. The lining also says it has anti-microbial technology that inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria, but we still don’t recommend smelling them after a twelve or more hours on your feet.
The shank that adds strength to the midsole is non-metallic to save on weight. These boots are water resistant, but not water proof. The ATACs have an injection-molded Phylon midsole, and a oil and slip resistant outsole. This provides a nice stable platform that is also comfortable thanks to 5.11’s shock mitigation system.
The oil and slip resistant sole are an important inclusion on this boot, because this type of sole design is incredibly valuable for indoor labor applications. Things like factory work generally require a boot that’s both durable and offers an extreme level of traction due to the labor conditions involved.
Another thing to note about these boots is that they have side-zip access, meaning that they have a zipper on the side of the boot. This makes taking the boot on and removing a lot easier than boots that don’t include this feature. How much this benefits you is really going to depend on what you use them for. We can tell you that if you’re using these boots for work having a side zipper is going to be a lifesaver, because there’s nothing worse than having to pry off your boot at the end of a long shift.
The boots are also intended to be well ventilated and breathable, which further reinforces the impression of them being intended for light to moderate labor applications. Having boots that work to keep your feet cool is important if you’re going to be using them for long periods of time, because when your feet sweat you become more likely to develop blisters.
The 5.11 ATAC 8 Inches Men’s Boot is made from full-grain leather and nylon. The leather is able to be polished, which will help you keep your boots looking sharp. The use of nylon is a nice inclusion, because nylon is an incredibly durable synthetic well-suited to the rigors of regular use.
The only commonly mentioned con is that the inner padding is considered to be a bit light when compared to similarly priced boots, though your experience with this is going to depend on your needs and your personal preferences.
These boots also come with a warranty which guarantees that the product will be free from defects in workmanship and materials for the life of the product. Not included in this warranty is damage resulting from misuse, customer modification, and extended wear and tear.
The proportions of the boot are great. The outside is attractive suede in coyote brown (this same model also is available in black).
All in, these could be considered the industry standard, and with good reason.
So you basically want the most comfortable option? Get these. They are basically a tactical tennis shoe from Under Armour. They are not as supportive or as durable as a full leather shoe with a high cuff, but they are also cheaper, more breathable, and just generally comfortable. If comfort is at the top of your must have list, this is your shoe. The UA ClutchFit wraps your ankle well with a lightweight “second skin,” which feels good, but is not as supportive as a full larger boot.
Unlike your tennis shoes, the nylon on the Under Armours are made with ripstop nylon. The boot is 7″ tall and has a TPU toe cap. The top of the shoe is made with synthetic leather and textile upper with welded, abrasion-resistant film around the perimeter of the foot. The shoe looks good, and bonus cool guy points for the crossed blades insert on the insoles.
The midsole is has a TPU shank for mid-foot support. The rigidity is not as high as steel but is lighter weight. The sole is different than your standard cross training shoe also. The sole is oil resistant and slip resistant to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground. The low-profile rubber lug sole keeps the shoe relatively light. If you’re looking for a tactical tennis shoe, the Valsetz is the one.
Like a lot of other manufacturers of tactical boots, Rocky knows what it takes to develop a boot that can keep up with an active lifestyle. The brand has a dedication to providing a quality product that’s made from the most durable and environmentally sustainable products that the company can find.
Rocky has also partnered with members of the armed forces in order to update their designs to be able to cope with almost any situation imaginable. By seeking contributions from the men and women who use boots to their fullest in some of the most difficult situations imaginable, the company is able to make a boot that offers a viable solution to a wide degree of different situations.
A perfect example of the company’s dedication is the Rock Men’s C4T Tactical Boot, which is an affordable boot that offers an array of great features.
The most important thing to note about these boots is that they’re made entirely from synthetic materials. This isn’t likely to be important to the majority of you, but it does mean that these boots are one of the few options available for people looking for a vegan boot option (one that doesn’t involve animal products at any stage of the manufacturing process). The Amazon store page lists this boot as utilizing leather in its design, though this is likely a mistake because this is not reflected on the company’s personal website.
The material utilized in this boot is a 900-denier nylon and polyurethane blend. Denier is one of the measurement systems used to describe the linear mass density of fibers. Linear density is the measure of a characteristic value per unit of length. In layman’s terms, a higher denier indicates a higher level of durability (depending on the material of course). The great thing about this material is that it’s incredibly easy to polish, as opposed to leather which can take a bit more muscle.
Another key feature of this boot is that it’s intended to be light, which is important if you’re planning on using the boot to hike and/or walk for long distances. By using a lighter boot you’re reducing the amount of strain placed on your muscles, which will result in a more pleasant experience. However, the con to this boot being so light is that it’s going to be less durable than a thicker boot. So if you plan on doing heavy outdoor labor this may not be an ideal choice. The boots also feature ventilated holes in order to encourage airflow, which somewhat limits their utility for wetter areas. It should be noted that these boots are water resistant, not water proof. So while they may resist getting wet they will not keep your feet completely dry.
These boots are available in three distinct colors: Sage, Desert Tan, and Sage Green. Each of these designs have the same features and are made from the same materials, so the only difference between them is the color.
Be warned, you should probably purchase a half size bigger than your actual boot size, though this is obviously going to vary based on the dimensions of your feet.
The Rock Men’s C4T Tactical Boot offers an affordable option for a lightweight boot that are guaranteed by the manufacturer for one year after the original date of purchase.
Bonus: The Best Tactical Running Shoe
These shoes are for the exceptionally high speed and low drag type. When speed is critical, this may be the tactical shoe for you. As this article by Popular Mechanics notes, these shoes are a favorite of the special operations community.
Salomon is a company that spent years honing their ability to create a sleek and affordable shoe that can keep up with the strain of daily running and use. The Salomon XA Pro 3D Trail running shoe is a continuation of the company’s ethos, and it provides a great value for anyone looking for a durable and attractive running shoe.
The most notable feature of this shoe is that it abandons traditional laces in favor of a “Quicklace” system. This system works similarly to that of a tightening strap on a backpack. You depress the button and pull the laces back to tighten the shoe, and to release it you depress the button and allow the mechanism to return to its earlier position. The cords involved are made from a high-quality polyester, which helps to increase their durability.
The Sensifit configuration is also a nice inclusion, because it allows the shoe to wrap around the bottom of your foot for a precise, secure, and most of all comfortable fit. This can actually help to reduce chafing as well, because loose shoes tend to cause more irritation than those that fit well.
The shoe is made from a combination of synthetic and textile materials, which helps to balance the durability to cost ration and increase the company’s ability to utilize sustainable materials in their products. The heel itself is also made from a durable synthetic, which consistent runners will surely appreciate. The heel also offers a pleasing amount of traction, which is sure to be a blessing for off-trail runners.
The only concern about these shoes is that they tend to be a bit slim and that the material utilizes has a tendency to let in more than an ideal amount of dust. You can always move up to a larger size, but depending on how wide your feet are a size large enough to fit your feet may be a bit unwieldy in the toe. The shoes letting in dust is less of a concern, because that’s the tradeoff inherent to breathable designs. If it lets stuff out it’s probably going to let stuff in, so a less breathable shoe might actually be ideal if you live in a very dusty climate.
Thanks for reading, and be safe out there!