U.S. Military Desert Boots

The Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) required a large ground force to operate in desert conditions, an environment that was not encountered by U.S. troops since the North African campaign early in World War II. The combat boots available at the beginning of the Gulf War were not suited to the desert. The Jungle Boot, intended for hot-wet climate conditions like Vietnam, was the closest match so the Jungle Boot was modified for the hot-dry desert. The resulting Tan-colored Boots, Hot Weather (generally known as Desert Boots) were used extensively in the 1990s and formed the basis for the hot weather Army and Marine Corps Combat Boots of the 2000s.

Desert Boots, NSN 8430-01-325-6484 (Size 7-1/2 R).  Photo: eBay seller centexauction
Desert Boots, NSN 8430-01-325-6484 (Size 7-1/2 R). Photo: eBay seller centexauction.

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Development of U.S. Military Desert Boots

Marines of C Co, 3rd Tank Bn, 1st Marine Div, assigned to Task Force Ripper, try on newly-issued Desert Boots during Operation Desert Storm, 19 Feb 1991
Marines of C Co, 3rd Tank Bn, 1st Marine Div, assigned to Task Force Ripper, try on newly-issued Desert Boots during Operation Desert Storm, 19 Feb 1991.

In 1989, Wellco Enterprises (North Carolina) was awarded a development contract by the U.S. Army Natick laboratory to assist with a new desert boot concept, an initiative backed by General Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf region. At the time, Wellco was making the all-leather black combat boot for the military. They shipped several rounds of prototype improved desert boots to Natick under the development contract.

On 2 August 1990, Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait, the hostile act that precipitated the Persian Gulf War. Operation Desert Shield was launched 7 August as personnel were sent to protect Saudi Arabia, equipped with standard black combat boots or the black/green Vietnam-era Jungle Boots. By September 1990, a decision was made to modify the Jungle Boot for desert use with some quick fix changes:

  • Desert Tan color overall
  • Eliminate the steel plate (conducted heat to the foot in hot sand)
  • Eliminate vent eyelets (let sand into the boot)

At the same time, the high rate of mobilization called for increased orders for the standard Jungle Boot, as well as black combat boots, with overlapping manufacturing of the older models and development of the new. By November 1990, the rate of use in the Gulf was so high that an all-out acceleration of the Desert Boot was demanded from Wellco. Working almost around the clock, by December a pair of prototype boots was finished and delivered personally to Gen. Schwarzkopf (size 11 1/2R) along with commitments to high-rate manufacturing in the coming months.

Gen. Schwarzkopf was not happy with the prototype Desert Boots he received from Wellco or with other commercial models and prototypes reviewed. The Desert Boot was briefly frozen while waiting for a decision on how to proceed. Finally, the Wellco ND914 was chosen from nine contenders and, during December 1990 and early January 1991, procurement gears began to turn with the first 5,000 pairs delivered 15 Jan 1991. Eventually all of Gen. Schwarzkopf's concerns were met and an updated version of the Desert Boot was made by four manufacturers.

Desert Boots After Gulf War

The Desert Boots, based on the Wellco design as further modified to meet Gen. Schwarzkopf's demands and by experience in the Gulf War, were produced by:

  • Wellco Enterprises
  • Altama Delta Corp. (Georgia)
  • Belleville Shoe (Illinois)
  • McRae Industries (North Carolina)

These boots were procured for use in the Persian Gulf region for continuing operations after the war as well as in other hot weather regions, although the standard boots of the time were still the black leather Infantry Combat Boot or the Jungle Boot. The suede Desert Boots of Operation Desert Storm were the first change after forty years of shined black boots. But with the introduction of the digital camouflage uniforms (the ABU and MCCUU) in the U.S. military in the 2000s, there was also a changeover to tan rough-texture Army and Marine Combat Boots. The Hot Weather version of the new boot was based on the successful design of the Desert Boot.

Desert Boots Specifications and Stock Numbers

The Desert Boot is defined by a modification to MIL-B-43154, the Jungle Boot specification. The specification was modified 15 February 1991 to include two options:

  • Type I: Traditional Jungle Boot, for hot-wet conditions, Black/OG107 or all Black color.
  • Type II: The Desert Boot, for hot-dry conditions, all Tan color.

Revision MIL-B-43154L (15 Feb 1991, called Boots, Hot Weather) includes important new features, changes, and a host of minor revisions. A final version of the spec, MIL-B-43154M (26 Jun 1992) made additional minor changes. The differences from the original Jungle Boot include:

  • Desert Tan suede leather, nylon upper and sole, Tan 495 laces
  • Nylon upper with leather ankle reinforcement
  • Replaces steel shank with cushioning thermal barrier and fiberglass shank (not spike protective)
  • Partial speed lace assembly
  • Foam padded nylon cloth collar
  • Knit CoolMax liner to wick moisture away from the skin
  • No drainage/ventilation eyelets
  • Removable molded cushion insole

The basic 10-inch boot's design, including a Panama Sole, was retained from its Jungle Boot origin.

The Desert Tan (Type II) MIL-B-43154 boots are identified by NSN 8430-01-325-6451 to 8430-01-325-6552. Within the range of NSNs there are a large number of sizes and widths stocked in an attempt to try to match the soldier's foot as closely as possible. Commercial mil-spec Desert Boots are available through Amazon.com at the link.

Desert Boots Instruction Tag

Desert Boots (Boots, Hot Weather) are issued with a buff colored instruction tag containing the following text, specified in MIL-B-43154L for Type II boots. Paragraph 5 was removed in MIL-B-43154 Revision M.

1. Wear with: 1 Pair socks, wool, cushion sole. 1 Pair insoles, ventilating, cushioning. 2. Sizes. The boot is supplied in whole and half sizes 3 through 14 in all widths except sizes 3XN and 3–1/2XN, 3N and 3-1/2N, 3R and 3–1/2R, 3W and 3-1/2W, and 4XN and 4-1/2XN. In some instances it may be necessary to make a size adjustment in order to obtain an adequate fit due to normal swelling of the feet and the use of ventilating insoles. 3. Pull on boot, seating heel firmly into place, then lace. Boots should fit snugly, but not tightly. There should be approximately 1/2 inch additional length at toe. 4. Carry extra socks with you. Change socks often, at least once daily. Remove boots,and dry feet as often as possible. Neglect of the feet can make you a casualty. 5. Remove cushion ventilating insoles, wash insoles in warm (not boiling) soapy water and shake out to dry. 6. Brush mud and excessive dust off boots. These boots have a sueded surface and are not designed to be polished. 7. Wipe inside of boots occasionally with a moist soapy rag, and let dry. 8. As frequently as possible, dry boots and insoles in the sun. Do not place near intense heat as this will destroy nylon, leather, and plastic. 9. Before putting on boots in snake, insect, scorpion, or spider infested areas, carefully inspect the inside of the boots to avoid painful and disabling bites and stings.

NSN 8430-01-325-6504 Instruction Tag.  Photo: eBay seller mandamilas
NSN 8430-01-325-6504 Instruction Tag. Photo: eBay seller mandamilas.


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