Combat Boots

One of the most important items of personal equipment for the soldier in the field is the combat boot. Just as rations, water and ammo are essential to success in warfare on the ground, having each Soldier and Marine wearing a good set of boots is vitally important. Since World War II, combat boots have evolved through generations of development to be extremely well matched to the requirements of the 21st century military. Versions of the combat boot have been developed for each climate zone and weather condition.

A hot weather boot clamped in a whole shoe flexer machine for dry testing, U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, Natick, MA, 2003
A hot weather boot clamped in a whole shoe flexer machine for dry testing, U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, Natick, MA, 2003.

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Development of Combat Boots

Specialized boots for infantry originated during World War II, replacing the service shoes and leggings that prevailed before. Combat Boots, as they were named, filled the need for the Soldiers and Marines who made up the bulk of the armed services. Combat Boots came in forms for general use as well as optimized models for cold weather, hot weather, and wet weather as well as special applications such as tankers or paratroopers. They did not replace safety boots or boots for firefighters and other military occupations.

US Army trainees at basic uniform issue get fitted for combat boots at Fort Jackson, SC, 10 Aug 2006
US Army trainees at basic uniform issue get fitted for combat boots at Fort Jackson, SC, 10 Aug 2006.

At the beginning of Army and Marine basic training, every recruit is issued combat boots that are used for all training activities, other than group calisthentics and running. Following basic training, soldiers wear their boots for field exercises, garrison work, combat simulations, and ultimately actual combat. The combat boot is used in all circumstances in which specialized footwear (safety shoes, cold weather boots, hot weather boots, etc.) or dress footwear is not required or authorized.

Combat boots issued by the Army or Marine Corps differ from commercially available outdoor boots that are used primarily for hiking. Military boots are used for running, jumping, climbing, crawling, marching, hiking, as well as other activities. Also, hikers are largely expected to stay on trails and do some hill climbing on rocky surfaces, whereas Soldiers and Marines may be required to take off-trail routes through dense forest, brush, mud and water. In addition, issue boots are used in built-up areas featuring paved surfaces, stairways, and building interiors. Unlike hiking boots, the issue boots are used for a variety of physical activities performed in a wide range of environments.

Military issue combat boots must meet three levels of requirements:

  • Primary Functional Requirements:
    • Enhance locomotive capabilities of the wearer
    • Minimize the occurance of lower extremity injury or pain
    • Provide comfort
  • Seconday Physical Requirements:
    • Weight of the boot
    • Height of the boot
    • Design of the closure
    • Water resistance
    • Material durability
  • Tertiary Production Requirements:
    • Cost
    • Rate of production
    • Industrial base

Incorporating these and other requirements into a single item of footwear make development of Army boots a challenging undertaking.

Combat Boots for the Soldier and Marine

The design of military-issue boots makes a difference. In a 1992 study of long road marches, it was found that 24 percent of the marchers suffered one or more injuries, resulting in 44 days of limited duty. Foot blisters, generally caused by ill-fitting boots rubbing the skin, accounted for 35 percent of total injuries, the most common injury associated with the march.

Researchers have carefully studied physical details such as angles, motion, and impact forces associated with wearing combat boots and effects on the wearer such as repetitive stress and injury. Commercial boots have been compared to issued military boots and new designs in prototype, an ongoing effort led by Program Executive Office (PEO) Soldier and U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) in Natick, MA. Both mil-spec and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) boots are tested and evaluated, resulting in standards of durability and performance. In the 21st century, soldiers may purchase their individual boots to augment issued boots so long as the COTS boots meet performance and aesthetic standards. Regulation describing allowable boots can be quite complex to deal with all the options soldiers like in the COTS market.

In special situations, procurement can operate very rapidly in the Internet age. For example, troops in Afghanistan quickly determined that the standard issue boots were inadequate for the rocky ground there. Standard desert boots broke down almost right away. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) investigated COTS solutions and came up with the Bates 'Tora Bora Alpine Boot'. It was quickly approved for purchase and is highly prized by the troops.

U.S. Military Issue Combat Boots

Material on this page adapted from a comparison of issue boots, prototype boots and commercial boots prepared by the Military Performance Division, U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Natick, MA and published in their Technical Report T00-3, November 1999.

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