Looking for combat boots…

I’m looking for a good pair of combat boots. What should I be looking for?

I do the “happy feet” test on most shoes and boots I buy (“Are my feet happy in these? Why or Why Not?”), but my experience with combat boots has been that they ALWAYS fail that test. And yet hundreds of thousands of people wear them day-in and day-out, and a lot of those people can run, jump, wade, swim, and even sleep in them.

I assume, therefore, that the problem I have had in the past is twofold:
1) cheap, knock-off boots
2) Improper “breaking-in” of said boots.

So… counsel, anyone?

36 thoughts on “Looking for combat boots…”

  1. If you only wear them a couple of times a week, then they won’t break in. Military personnel in basic training issued their first pair wear them day in and day out, from the time they get up in the morning until the time they go to bed at night. When they wear out, the new ones are usually worn at least eight hours a day (at work).

    I recommend if you want a pair of combat boots, go to a surplus store and buy the real thing, then wear them at least eight hours a day.

    Finally: feet are never really happy in combat boots (there’s a reason foot injuries and illnesses are common in the military). If what you want is a durable pair of comfortable boots that protect your ankles, get yourself a good, expensive pair of hiking boots; you’ll likely pay as much for the combat boots (I seem to recall paying $65 or so for my second pair when I was in the Air Force) and you’ll enjoy wearing them more.

    1. I’ve been acting under the assumption that the boots will need to be broken in over a two-week period, so that’s not a problem.

      The “feet are never really happy” comment concerns me, though. Is it a lowest-bidder thing?

      1. I’ve been acting under the assumption that the boots will need to be broken in over a two-week period, so that’s not a problem.

        Six would be better.

        The “feet are never really happy” comment concerns me, though. Is it a lowest-bidder thing?

        Pretty much, yeah. They’ll get comfortable enough if you wear them often enough, but think of them like a pair of nice shoes you’d wear to work; even at their most comfortable, the first thing you want to do when you get home is take them off. MILSPEC doesn’t have much room for comfort.

      2. Oh — full disclosure time: it’s been 14 years since I’ve worn combat boots on a daily basis. There’s a possibility they’ve gotten better since then, so take what I have to say with at least a medium sized grain of salt.

        1. yeah, they’ve gotten better. I don’t wear them as my everydays myself (go Doc Martins!) but two of my mates do (they’re wearing NZ-military issue boots seeing as that’s where we live but whatever.) They took a bit longer to break in than my Docs as I remember from when my mate bought his, but they’re fine now, easily as good as any hiking boots, and look a lot better.

      3. Actually, if you get good orthotic insoles and the like, your feet can be VERY happy in properly-broken-in milspec combat boots. Mine were when I was in the Coast Guard.

        I have to put orthotics in regular shoes these days, since arch support seems to have fallen out of fasion.

        1. I just know that whatever the Navy issued in boot camp 6 years ago should get the boot designers shot in the crotch…

          You have no idea how much I loathed those things… Back of my heels were each one big blister, and I ended up getting 3 in-grown toe nails inside of 4 weeks…

          Some day, I shall have my revenge…

          1. Ahhh. You didn’t get the right size, then. Your boots were too long and not wide enough. Of course, it could be that the right size for you didn’t exist, or the guy digging through the sizes didn’t look well enough, or something. I never got ingrown toenails from my military footwear, and only got blisters the first few week or two I wore them.

  2. I am in love with Magnum Steel toed combat boots. Your local military surplus store should have them.

    I’ve also found that taking out the padding at the bottom and replacing it with some feet cushions from like, Dr. Scholls or the like helps a great deal

    1. I’ll second the Magnum boots. I’ve worn them for years and in that time I’ve found that they are sturdy and usually quite comfortable. Also compared to the prices for surplus DoD boots I have found, they are usually a bit cheaper. (Although I do live in NYC so that skews things somewhat). Thay also tend to break in quickly.

    2. I’ll chime in support for these as well. I wore a pair as an armed guard and they served me well. I ran in them frequently when I was doing that job and while they weren’t running shoes (what with the steel toes) they worked just fine.

  3. http://www.haix.com/usa/firefighting_produktdetail_us.php?artikel=504008

    I’ve bought the predecessor of this model uhm about 10 years ago. Even to this date I know no better boot. 50.000 miles of motorcycling, countless gear shifts, usage in wintertime, at the sea shore, in heavy rain or searing sun… these boots will never let you down. Worth the money, well worth it.
    German made, unkaputtbar, steel sole, oil proof profile, in my case also with steel cap for combat boots +3, sturdiness +3

  4. If you can find them the most comfortable pair of military spec boot you will find are Israeli issue boots. They are more for desert wear and arn’t great in the cold or wet but are barely heavier than a pair of high tops and are comfy.

  5. Check out Magnum brand shoes. They’re not strictly combat boots (they’re tactical boots, made for more SWAT/Police purposes than military ones), however the Magnum Shields were by far the most comfortable and durable boots I’ve ever owned. They lasted 3 years as my only pair of shoes and were comfortable almost from day one… I was impressed. Sadly the shields are no longer made, but they do have other variations.

    Right now I’m wearing a construction/hiking combo that isn’t as comfortable but is definitely proving to take the abuse I throw at it.

    Obligatory link: http://www.magnumboots.com/

  6. http://www.dehner.com/

    Dehner makes custom military boots in various styles and configurations. This may be more spendy than you want, but would result in high-quality boots that fit you perfectly. Dehner also repairs their boots, so buying one really good pair of expensive boots might be better than suffering with several generations of lesser boots.

    I have not ordered my boots yet, but intend to do so. I have very large, wide, high-instep feet, so finding shoes that fit, much less good boots is a serious challenge.
    ~Rick

  7. If I may be pardoned for quoting this….it’s from a Punch cartoon, possibly Great War. A large group of recruits are being kitted out, under the guidance of a Sergeant (?)
    Now then! Them as ‘as boots as don’t fit ’em and don’t want ’em ‘and ’em over to them as ‘asn’t ‘oo does!

  8. If you’re not dead set on combat boots. . .

    I can’t speak much for combat boots specifically, but I’ve been wearing various styles of steel-toed construction boots for about ten years now, and can tell you you generally get what you pay for. My current boots are a pair of Timberlands I’ve had for about 18 months of heavy daily wear (walking on concrete floors, hauling gear up and down stairs, walking on joists to lay decks), and are still going strong.

    I originally avoided the Timberlands because of the price, but they’ve lasted longer and have been more comfortable than the various cheaper brands I tried before them. They’re also only available online in my area (the retail stores don’t carry the Industrial line), but they have a few “Logger” styles that are very similar in style to combat boots. I’ve got an insulated pair for outdoor work that’s put up with a pretty heavy beating. Also, the break in period was much shorter than most of the other boots.

    Also, I heartily recommend a good pair of insoles (you might try a few styles; some of the gel ones seem to hinder more than they help). The arch support makes all the difference in the world, particularly when you’re standing on concrete floors eight or ten hours straight.

    1. Re: If you’re not dead set on combat boots. . .

      I’d have to second my favour of construction boots. Personally, I swear by Redback Bobcats (USBOK if you don’t need a steel toe) as they’re much more comfortable (and cheaper) than Blundstones.

      1. Timberline are the worst

        They have just about the thinnest soles of any boot. Oh, the tread is thick enough, but widely spaced, and the part between the tread is really quite thin. I wouldn’t recommend them for actual construction under any circumstances under which you might accidentally step on something like a rusty nail, pointy root, or even a small sharp rock.. they’re that thin. Perhaps if they had a steel soled model, that’d be all right.

  9. What are you using them for?

    My husband swears by his 5.11 Tactical boots (I believe that’s what they’re called) that he gets from The Fire Store, which is happily just up the road from us. He pretty much has to live in his boots, sometimes on his feet for up to or over 48 hours at a stretch, so for him to be so pleased with them that he’ll go out of his way for a pair, I think he’s very very happy.

  10. Don’t be afraid to spend a bit on a good pair of boots.

    Always have a comfortable bed and good pair of shoes. If you’re not in one, you’re in the other

    –Ben Franklin (I think)

    I worked on the flight line for 8 years, wearing the old style combat boots, and hated them. Even with after market insoles, my feet were unhappy. I’ve found even $30.00 work boots from K-Mart are more comfortable. As for really comfortable footwear, Merrell shoes and boots have really worked for me. I keep picked them up on closeout sales and such, usually for half price ($60-$80).

  11. My steelcap issue boots are Oliver “Rifeman”, very very comfy. My steelcap shoes are also Oliver. They fit my wide aussie foot very nicely. It pays to get a boot that fits your foot width as well as length.

    My Colorado casual shoes wore out where my little toe is because they are designed for narrow footed people.

  12. I tried a few different varieties before I found Danner‘s Acadia boots. Granted, they are darned expensive (though they can be found for under $200, and I get them through work so that’s not a concern for me) … but I wore my first pair through three or four years of casual wear, campus public safety work, emergency medical services, and wilderness search & rescue. I’m now on my second pair (two pairs of boots! in six years!) and they’re looking to be good for years to come. Eighty percent of the EMS and police folks in my area wear these boots, and for good reason. I love ’em to death, and I wouldn’t wear anything else.

  13. Engineer units usually require steel toes. Steel toes are little ovens in the desert and little refrigerators in winter. They do provide excellent protection, though. You probably don’t need them.

    I just got an issue of the new desert boot. It’s a cheap knockoff of the old desert boot. I’ll be returning all mine for a wider toe…IF they make a wider toe. If not, someone will be spending a lot of money on my behalf. After 21 years and 2 weeks of this dance, I intend that that will not be me. I can’t speak for the new ones, but the old ones were technically “roughout,” meaning the leather was simply reversed with the smooth side in. That increases strength and wear. Gail’s new boots fit her very well, however–mileage varies. I’ll note that her size is 7.5AAA and mine is 9.5EEE.

    The basic boots are good, but some of the aftermarket brands are better. You’re looking at $80-$150 for a good pair.

    Get good insoles, that’s critical. Either two thin pairs, one thick pair, or the air cushions or whatever works for you, and fit them well so there’s no corners your feet can sink into to get blistered. Start in one hour increments–you’re not a recruit being forced into a mold. One hour one day, couple of hours the next, and take them off sooner if your feet start protesting. Get up to 8 hours and go for a week or so, and they should be good enough for regular wear. Soften the leather with mink oil if they’re the old style. The roughout style will soften with sweat, but you’ll need to neutralize the salt periodically. I’ve still got two pairs from about 1990 (before that, the issue boots were torture devices and most people bought their own) that are as comfortable as tennis shoes, if a little heavier, though not much heavier in the canvas-sided hot weather style. (Okay, the 12″ steel-toed, steel-shanked lineman’s boots are a lot heavier.) I, too, prefer the all-leather in any but the hottest weather (swamps or deserts). I actually wear mine when callouses build up from my civilian shoes, because the sweat and leather soften them up.

  14. I don’t wear combat boots.

    I wear construction-site safety boots or tactical boots.
    I highly recommend the Red Wing composite toe for the first, and the Hi-Tek Magnum for the second.

    These are the only boots I’ve ever had that had a nearly-zero break-in period.

    (Oh, I also wear Birkenstock sandals if I’m not wearing the boots, so add that to your foot-wear recommendations table.)

  15. I’d second the above votes for Magnum boots; I’ve had a good pair of Hi-Tec Magnums for something like ten years, and while I don’t wear them every day, they’re good quality tactical boots and have held up very well. (I first got them when I was an EMT, and needed some decent boots for duty wear.)

    1. I’m with these guys. I’ve been a medic for a few years now and Magnums are great (I hear good things about the 5.11s that someone brought up earlier too, but haven’t tried them myself). They come in safety toe instead of steel toe; no metal bits that will set of alarms at airports or such so you don’t have to change shoes to travel. My only complaint is that the shank rubs up against the backs of my ankles when I run, but that might just be due to poor sizing.

      Link to the model I have: http://galls.com/style.html?assort=general_catalog&style=SP519
      The zipper complaints mystify me, nobody I know has ever experienced a Magnum boot falling apart.

  16. I had a pair of Wolverine durashoks for 10 years, had Gortex lining that worked very comfortable and survived daily wear. They were rated down to -20F and worked well.

    I have not found that particular model since and have not had the funds to try their replacement models.

    “Men’s Wolverine DuraShocks® Gore-Tex® 8″ Composite Toe”

    Would be the closest

  17. Having just bought two pairs of workboots, I can say a few things.

    1) Go to the stores with lots and lots of shoes. Gander Mountain, Academy, Oshmans, whatever. _try them on_.
    2) If they aren’t reasonably comfortable without ‘breaking them in’, don’t buy them. They probably will never be fully comfortable. The exception to this rule is if they aren’t comfortable because you actually have full arch supports on either side of the feet (some Vans do this. Worth the $70 every six months or so)
    3) ‘Work boots’, ‘Combat boots’, and ‘Hiking boots’ are the same damned thing – just in different materials.
    4) Almost every pair of boots out there is for a flatfoot.

    I bought Brazos, Premium Series, with steel toe. (for a construction site)
    Wolverine was recommended by one of the construction supervisors, but had limited arch support.

    Pay extra to _not_ have to get orthotics in the boots. You’ll keep forgetting to put them in/take them out (for cleaning), and they’ll creep around the shoe.

    If you need the boots from South Africa, let me know, and I’ll ask one of my customers to have his family buy some and ship them over.

  18. Combat Boots

    The types of combat boots I’ve worn:

    Standard Black Combat Boots (The Army no longer issues these)

    I love these boots. They are not the most comfortable when you put them on, but they do form to your foot after a while and give you good support. You need about two to three weeks to break them in good, and that’s wearing them all the time. I’ve also been told, you can soak them in hot water, put them on, and then wear them until they are dry. But that lowers their longevity or so I’m told by others.

    Desert Combat Boots (Summer)

    These are extremely light boots, lighter than the basic black. They however, have some problems I don’t like. The color doesn’t go with anything but the uniform I wear or jeans. The damn air vent holes poke me and rub against the sides of the balls of my feet. And if you get them dirty with anything that stains… Basic Black, if it gets dirty or scratched, a bit of polish and spit fix it. You can’t do that with these. They are light, and a lot of the guys I trained with loved them.

    Desert Combat Boots (Winter)

    Although heavier and warmer than the Summers, these are the MOST COMFORTABLE boots I’ve ever worn. Excellent support and padding. My feet never got sore or blistered on marches when we wore these. They have the same cleaning and color problems that I stated above. But if you can deal with that, by all means, these are a great investment for your feet and all ten of your piggies.

    There are other types of boots that some of the guys wear and swear by. But these three simple types are the most comfortable and best all around, in my opinion. If you want the happy feet feeling, go with the Desert Combat Boot (Winter) types.

    ~Jera

  19. Rockys

    I’m a long time hunter, and I’d swear by my rockys http://www.rockyboots.com I grew up on a farm and they were by *far* my favorite footwear. They had great arch and ankle support, were incredibly durable (the first pair survived 4 years of hard use every day, and they only died once I wore the tread smooth, the rest of the boot was intact). I checked their page, and they also make tactical boots, which I’d imagine would be of the same excellent quality.

    Lastly, tossing on a couple things about boots in general; if you are actually planning on like, doing things that you need boots for (not just getting em for their looks) get some with some goretex paneling; this will do wonders for helping your feet breath, which in turn will let you go a *lot* farther without having to change out your socks.

    -Doc

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