Why Buy Tactical Boots?
Some people gravitate toward wearing tactical boots. Other people don’t understand the appeal of this type of footwear.
For those who don’t, here’s why you should consider buying a pair of tactical boots.
1. First of all, when some people think of tactical boots, they think of the clunky all-leather boots worn by the military of yesteryear. Modern tactical boots are not like those! They are much lighter and more comfortable.
The current design for tactical boots came partially as a result of research by the military. The boots which were fine in Europe during WWII were completely unsuitable for Vietnam, which invited a reimagining of what military footwear should be. Eventually, comfort and utility won out over tradition, and tactical boots were born.
In fact, some people (such as myself) find modern boots more comfortable than shoes because of their height. The laces distribute weight over a wider area, from the foot up the leg, as opposed to concentrating all of the weight on top of the foot.
2. Tactical boots also offer great traction, comparable to hiking boots and superior to sneakers. Most also offer ankle support for when your feet do slip, but not so much ankle support that your body decides to give up on and weaken those muscles.
3. Plus, tactical boots are durable. The can handle jagged boulders, broken concrete, and motorcycle crashes.
Not everyone needs footwear that can protect their feet. Those who do, however, should seriously consider wearing tactical boots. Though these boots won’t be as tough as, say, linesman boots or construction boots, they’ll be much more comfortable.
It may seem like these boots are only for soldiers or police officers, but that’s not true. Anyone who needs to be on their feet throughout their day and doesn’t need specialized footwear, from postmen to package handlers, should consider tactical boots.
In short, tactical boots provide all-terrain traction and defense against environmental hazards while being light and comfortable enough to wear all day, every day.
How to Choose?
Most tactical boots have similar design features.
They lace up, have a high-traction sole, and have nylon panels between leather (or leather-like) portions.
But there’s a serious amount of variation within that definition. So, let’s look over some things to keep in mind as you’re shopping for tactical boots.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is how your boots fit. Poorly fitted boots are uncomfortable at best and can even cause injury. Well-fitted boots mean happy feet.
Here’s how to check new boots to make sure they fit properly:
- Try them on later in the day. Your feet swell during the day, so boots that fit in the morning may not fit in the evening.
- Wear the socks you plan on wearing with the boots.
- Put your feet into the boots, but don’t lace up yet. Nothing should feel too tight. You should be able to put a finger between your heel and the boot.
- Lace up and feel for grommets digging into your feet.
- Walk around a little, including a short sprint and some uphill/downhill movement if possible.
Watch out for these common problems:
- Pressure against the sides of your feet
- Toes touching the front of the boot
- Your heel slipping in the back of the boot
- Too much pressure against your Achilles tendon or down onto your instep
While light pressure can be fixed by breaking in the boots, and loose heels can be fixed by tightening down the laces, it’s generally a good idea to buy boots which don’t have these problems in the first place.
If everything still feels right, then you should be good to go!
Types of Tactical Boots
Tactical boots are a subset of combat boots, but it’s a wide subset. Basically, unless it’s specialized military footwear such as tanker boots or a paratrooper’s jump boots, it’s a tactical boot.
There are four basic types of tactical boots, though they often blur together. These are standard, desert, jungle, and cold weather boots.
Standard Tactical Boots
Most tactical boots fall under this category. They are relatively lightweight, durable, stable, and have good traction.
The vast majority of these boots are black, so they don’t catch the light. They also tend to be tall, at least 6 if not 8 inches tall. This hides your socks and keeps out debris.
Most tactical boots have leather and nylon, with more leather around the foot and more nylon the higher you go. The leather is tough and conforms to the shape of your foot. The nylon allows moisture to escape, keeping your feet cool.
The sole is always a tough rubber, either natural or synthetic, which offers good traction and protection against sharp objects.
You’ll also have to lace up tactical boots. Velcro is quick, but if a Velcro strap breaks, then the boot is a loss. Laces are easy to repair or replace.
The hot weather version of tactical boots, desert boots need to keep out sand while allowing your foot sweat to escape.
Oftentimes, the main difference between a desert boot and a tactical boot is the coloration. Desert boots will be light brown or tan, often called coyote brown.
Unlike desert boots, which are used in dry places, jungle boots have to deal with heat and a lot of moisture.
So, they are often more nylon than leather, to maximize breathability. They are also never waterproof.
That can seem surprising to some people, but it makes sense. Waterproofing keeps water in as well as out. Once you’ve sweated into your boots, you might as well have walked through a puddle. So, jungle boots often have drainage holes to allow water to escape instead of being waterproof.
Cold Weather Boots
Your footwear demands change when the temperature drops below freezing. You need improved traction on snow and ice, and since your feet won’t be sweating, you need to keep that moisture away from your feet.
So, most cold weather tactical boots will have a waterproof lining. They also tend to have more padding than other types for insulation, and others even have their own insulative lining.
Most tactical boots are 6 or 8 inches tall. Unless you work for a department with certain height regulations, the choice comes down to personal preference.
Six-inch boots are shorter and lighter. Some people find them more comfortable. They can also be easier to put on.
Eight-inch boots are taller and keep out debris better. You can also tuck your pants legs into them for even better protection against debris. Waterproof 8-inch boots can also handle deeper water before it flows into the top of the boot.
I favor 8-inch boots, but many people are more comfortable with 6-inch boots. I would recommend trying out both heights to see which work best for you!
Tactical boots generally are made from leather and nylon.
Leather is tough, handles wear well, and conforms to the shape of your foot.
However, it also doesn’t breathe well and is sometimes uncomfortable before it loosens and adapts to your feet.
Nylon is also tough, but it’s very breathable. It’s also very lightweight but can’t maintain a boot’s shape by itself and so has to be supported by another material.
Synthetic leather is lighter and more breathable than genuine leather, but at a cost. It’s not as durable and won’t last as long.
All tactical boots will have nylon. They’ll also have either leather or synthetic leather. You’ll need to decide if you want to save on weight or wear more durable boots.
Breathability and Water Resistance
Another factor is not only what type of material forms the boot but where that material is located.
The more nylon is down in the foot section of the boot, the more breathable it’ll be, at the expense of water resistance.
Some tactical boots are all leather until you hit the ankle. Those are better for people with colder feet, but hot-footed people will be sweaty and uncomfortable.
Also, adding a waterproof lining will make the boots less breathable. Modern waterproof membranes are much more breathable than a plastic sack around your foot. However, only a limited amount of moisture can escape at a time.
Unless you’ll be using the boots in snow, I would recommend avoiding waterproofing. That way, your feet will stay cooler, and if they do get wet, they’ll be able to dry out quickly.
When and where will you be wearing these boots?
Tactical boots generally are good all-around boots, but it’s still a good idea to keep in mind how you’ll be using them.
If it’s going to be cold and snowy outside, then you’ll want a warmer, waterproof boot.
However, those will cause your feet to overheat in hot weather.
Also, will you be wearing these in the city or in the wilderness? You don’t need to pay for hiking-boot-level traction in the city, and large lugs tend to collect mud out in the wild.
Laces and Zippers
As mentioned before, all tactical boots have laces. Not all of them have the same types of eyelets, though.
Generally, some sort of speed-lacing system is a good idea. These are vertical eyelets through which you can pull the laces quickly or hooks to catch the lace.
Traditional eyelets offer more friction and will slow down tying your boots. This does, however, increase your lace’s ability to stay in position, so ignore fast lacing boots if that’s important.
A zipper along the inside of the boot is a common feature of tactical boots. These can generally let you get into and out of your boots more quickly. Some even let you lace your boots up once so you never have to mess with them again!
However, size zippers can be uncomfortable for some people. They are also another point of failure, so make sure the boot in question uses high-quality zippers, such as those made by YKK.
Top Tactical Boot Brands
If you’ve been in security, the military, or law enforcement, chances are you’ve worn an article of clothing by 5.11 Tactical.
Oddly enough, 5.11 Tactical was first a rock-climbing clothing company. Royal Robbins, a rock climber in California, wore trousers unsuitable for rock climbing and decided to make his own.
Even the name is based on rock climbing; 5.11 was the most difficult climbing difficulty grade at the time.
Eventually, 5.11 Tactical noticed their pants were popular amongst FBI students at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and they decided to go full in on the law enforcement side of things.
Most 5.11 Tactical clothing maintains the goal of being durable and flexible, which makes them great for tactical use as well.
5.11 products are also used by recreational shooters and outdoorsmen who appreciate boots, clothes, and other gear that can handle demanding tasks.
Formed in 1885 by Andrew Jackson Bates, the Bates footwear company has been providing boots for police, soldiers, and civilians for over 130 years.
Bates wasn’t a small fry during this time, either. They manufactured over one million boots for the US during WWII and have continued to sell more since.
So, they know quite a bit about how to make a good tactical boot.
In fact, in 2003 they came out with the Ultra-Lite model. Though over 15 years old now, they are still one of the best-selling, most-used tactical boots in the world.
But they don’t just sell tactical boots. They also produce work boots and motorcycle boots for both men and women.
Bates is currently owned by Wolverine Worldwide, which also owns Caterpillar and Merrell boots. Bates, however, is the best of the tactical boot lot.
How do you lace tactical boots?
Proper boot lacing can be an article of its own. However, here are a few methods you can use to lace up your boots. What’s comfortable for you will be different from what’s comfortable for me, so be sure to try several methods out before settling on one!
This is the standard lacing method known by most people. It’s when you cross the laces in the middle and push them through the eyelets from the inside out.
Cross-cross lacing is simple and comfortable.
A variant on the cross-cross, over-under lacing alternates between going inside-out and outside-in.
Boots with an even number of eyelets need to start by going inside the bottom eyelets. If your boots have an odd number of eyelets, then the starting section needs to go out the eyelets.
So, the lace goes outward through the first outlet, crosses the other lace, then goes inward. Make sure the other lace is at the same point in the pattern.
Over-under lacing provides less friction, so it’s faster to lace but also won’t hold as tight.
This lacing method is intended for full-leather combat boots but can still be used when flexibility is very important.
Army lacing is the opposite of over-under when it comes to the first eyelet pair; start on the inside for an even number of eyelets and on the outside for an odd number of eyelets.
When lacing up your boots, cross the laces if they’re on the inside and move them directly up one set of eyelets if they’re on the outside.
Army lacing is harder to tighten and provides a looser fit, but it is also very flexible and less likely to get caught on the brush.
Sometimes you want tighter lacing with most of the boot but there’s one spot where you need extra flexibility. In this case, when the laces go out of the eyelets, send them directly up one pair before going through and crossing again.
I do this with my MiniMils for even better ankle flexibility. I’ve also seen it used to relieve instep hot spots.
On the other hand, sometimes you need a certain section to hold a bit tighter. In this case, when you cross the laces, twist the laces around each other an extra time or two. Friction will hold them in place better than other methods.
How do you clean tactical boots?
Keeping your boots in good condition will save you money in the long run. Boots are expensive, but cleaning supplies are cheap.
Your boots should be cleaned whenever they become dirty from mud, salt stains, or other contaminants.
Here’s how to clean dirt:
- Remove the laces.
- Use a soft brush to remove most of the dirt.
- Use a damp towel to clean off light dirtiness.
- Use a leather soap if water doesn’t work.
- Recondition your boots.
Use the following to remove specific stains:
- Salt stains—vinegar
- Grease—corn starch
- Ink—rubbing alcohol
After cleaning your boots with soap or removing a stain, you’ll need to recondition them. Follow the directions on your chosen leather conditioner. If your boots were a polished black, you’ll need to polish them as well.
How do you waterproof your boots?
After cleaning your boots, you’ll want to waterproof the leather. This isn’t the same as making your boots waterproof but will keep your leather in good shape.
When you waterproof leather boots, you don’t necessarily make them waterproof in the “no water will get to your feet” sense. You need a waterproof membrane for that.
Instead, you’re waterproofing the leather itself to protect it from stains and rot.
Waterproofing sprays are useless. Ignore those. Instead, use a waterproofing oil or grease.
I favor non-animal oils because they are less likely to go rancid. My favorite is Huberd’s Original Shoe Grease, a beeswax-based blend with pine tar. It conditions and waterproofs the leather in one go and can be applied by hand.
Make sure to check out our full guide to cleaning and waterproofing your leather boots.
How do you break in tactical boots?
Though tactical boots have less of a break-in period than do most leather boots, you’ll still need to break them in before you can wear them all day.
There are two methods of doing this: wet and dry.
This is the fastest method of breaking in boots if you have an entire day at home.
- Soak the boots in a bathtub or sink, inside and out.
- Pour the water out of the boots.
- Put on two pairs of socks.
- Put on the boots.
- Wear them all day while moving occasionally.
- After you take them off in the evening, remove the insole.
- Dry the boots outside or in front of a fan.
Wet leather will turn soft then both shrink and stretch.
Not everyone can commit to a full day of wet feet, though, so a dry break-in period may be required.
You also can’t use the wet method with high-gloss dress boots.
The dry method sees you wearing the boots for slowly increasing periods of time. Start with one hour then adding another hour each day until you reach a full day.
You may need to use moleskin to prevent blistering during the break-in period, though.
Can you hike in tactical boots?
Some stores would like you to believe you need separate boots for hiking and for tactical purposes.
That’s not true.
Modern tactical boots are good for both urban and wild environments. They’re basically a hybrid of combat boots and hiking boots, so if you feel comfortable taking your tactical boots on the train, they’ll work well.
I hunt in my MiniMil boots. They work great on Alaskan mountains, even better than some hiking boots I’ve tried!
If you are mainly using boots for hunting, you might want to check out our best hunting boots guide instead.