When it’s time to suit up for a tactical situation, whether that be guard duty, police work, or even combat, there is one thing most servicemen and law enforcement can agree on, and that’s the importance of tactical boots.
Not only do they give off the appearance that you aren’t about to take any crap from anybody, but they also ensure the safety and comfort of some of your most vital assets, your feet!
Tactical boots are an interesting breed of footwear.
They offer the support and stability that you’ll find in hiking boots mixed with a nice tacticool look to keep your uniform looking serious and professional. Many people rely on tactical boots and I highly recommend them to anyone working in security, law enforcement, or serving in the military. Tactical boots have a heavy focus on being low weight while offering breathability, stability, and additional protection exceeding what you’d find in shoes or hiking boots. That’s a tough order, though, as you usually only get two of those attributes while sacrificing the other two in traditional footwear.
In this guide, we’ll discuss what makes a boot a tactical boot, what they’re made of, what to look for, and then I’ll do the shopping legwork for you and compile a list of my personal favorites at the lowest prices I can seek out.
- Here Are the Best Tactical Boots (Listed by Price Range)
- 1. Malestrom Tac Force
- 2. Smith & Wesson Breach 2.0 Tactical Boots with Zipper
- 3. Pany Summer Ultra Light Desert Tactical
- 4. CQR Mid-Ankle Combat Tactical Boots
- 5. Bates Ultra-Lites
- 6. Free Soldier Tactical Boots
- 7. Battle Ops Soft Toe Tactical boots
- 8. 5.11 ATAC Jungle
- 9. 5.11 ATAC Storm
- 10. Danner Tachyon
- 11. Rocky Duty Modern Paraboot
- 12. Belleville TR550 Khyber
- 13. Bates Code 6
- 14. Bates GX-8
- 15. Corcoran 1500 Jump Boots
- 16. Corcoran PR Marauder
- 17. Merrell Moab 2 Tactical Series
- 18. Under Armour Infil Ops
- 19. Danner Acadia
- 20. Danner Mens Fort Lewis
- Tactical Boots Buying Guide – What Features to Look for
Do You Need Tactical Boots?
I love tactical stuff so much that I created an entire website based on tactical gear, so perhaps I’m a bit biased when it comes to this question. With that said, it’s fairly obvious that if you work in security or law enforcement and/or you’re a part of the military, you’ll need a sturdy set of tactical boots. Hiking boots are great too, but these jobs will likely require a more uniform appearance and there are certainly differences between the two aside from appearance as well.
If you’re simply looking for boots to walk around in, trek through the woods, or go camping in, I probably wouldn’t recommend tactical boots. Tactical boots often sacrifice comfort for protection and quick maneuverability, whereas hiking boots focus on long duration comfort and ruggedness. If you fall more into that second category, my guide on hiking boots here.
Aside from that, tactical boots really set off an all-encompassing professional appearance. I’ve noticed a lot of bar bouncers and retailer store security have started wearing tactical boots, and I think this is great as it increases the appearance of their authority. It acts as a deterrence, as it makes them appear well trained and more professional.
Aside from just appearance, tactical boots can certainly be much more comfortable than just black flat shoes, especially if you have to patrol a large area or stand for extremely long durations. Tactical boots also offer a great level of protection due to their high-quality build materials and added protective features, such as toe rands and ankle guards. Tactical boots can feature similar things as hiking boots, such as water resistance, breathability, arch support, stability support, and adjustable tightening, which can be great tools if used properly and offer the user far more versatility than a pair of shoes.
The number one piece of advice I can give you is this: Do your research and prepare to invest. If your job requires a set of neutral shoes or black shoes, high-quality tactical boots may be the best route to go and you’ll have them for many years to come.
The second piece of advise I can offer is that there is no “one size fits” all solution. Aside from just the number on the tongue, the actual boot itself needs to be purpose-built for your tactical situation. The tactical boot you would use to patrol a hospital would be far different than what you’d use to patrol a desert command base. If your job requires you to travel and endure multiple different situations, I would recommend purchasing several different types of tactical boots that give you an array of options instead of trying to focus on a middle ground for all situations. Tactical boots are a specific type of gear. Just like you wouldn’t take the scope off of your .22LR and slap it on your .50BMG, you wouldn’t expect your well-insulated cold weather tactical boots to perform well in the desert.
Having a nice set of tactical boots will also be a great addition to your bug out loadout. If you’re someone who wants to be prepared for anything, I’d say having a set of rugged tactical boots is a must. As a prepper myself, the first set of footwear I’d grab in the case of emergency or SHTF scenarios would be my tactical boots!
Remember, it’s better to have and not need than to need and not have!
It’s important to note that the very term “tactical boots” is more of a blanket statement that covers many different types and styles, so it’s important to study up before investing. As always, I highly recommend you to plan out how you’ll use them and then create a budget that encompasses the all mighty “buy once, cry once” mentality.
Cheaping out on tactical boots is an ill-advised tactic, as you’ll likely be spending hundreds, if not thousands of hours wearing them and you’ll be relying on them in sticky situations that could be life-threatening. In my experience, choosing the right set of boots for the job is one of the most important gear related choices I’ve ever made and I am sure glad I’ve taken the time to study up and find the best fit for me!
The Tactical Aspect
What exactly makes a boot “tactical”? Ask around and you may get a lot of different answers, likely from people that have used tactical boots for a specific application. Since there are a handful of different applications you could use tactical boots for, their answers will likely vary widely.
Tactical boots come in many different flavors and before you choose your set of foot gloves, it’s important to know how they’ll be used. Of course, speed and maneuverability are almost always of great importance, so I’d say weight is likely the first thing you’ll be focusing on. If the task at hand requires you to walk great distances, for example, you’re a security guard patrolling a large area for a long amount of time, something lightweight and comfortable will likely be your go to. If you know you’ll be facing harsh elements, tough terrain, and the possibility of combat, something more sturdy and durable may take priority over comfortable and lightweight. Since there are so many different uses for tactical boots, it’s important to really sit down and consider how these boots are going to be used and the challenges they may face.
Tactical boots primarily encompass eight different attributes that you should consider. They are as follows: weight, comfort, durability, slippage, sound, breathability, flexibility, and materials.
Here Are the Best Tactical Boots (Listed by Price Range)
Alrighty, now that you’ve decided to tacticool your footwear choice, it’s time for the Marine Approved tactical boots buying guide! Here I’ll show you the boots that I personally like. It’s important to note that, as no one (even me) can tell YOU what boots work best for you. Buying boots is a very personal choice, there are far too many variables that are specific to you and your situation for someone else to be able to flawlessly recommend a pair of boots for you. After doing your due diligence and becoming well educated on what to look for, you have to make the choice yourself! I’m simply showing you some great deals on boots that work for me, personally.
1. Malestrom Tac Force
My review: Maelstrom has long been designing quality boots in the low priced area and to be honest, they always seem to impress, despite such ridiculously low prices. These particular boots are available in black or tan with a very neutral tactical style. They’re constructed of full-grain leather which allows them to naturally repel water and they include a moisture wicking lining to help dry out your sweaty feet!
As a bonus, Maelstrom donates $1 to the Boot Campaign, which is a non-profit charity tasked with aiding injured veterans and helping military families cope with their servicemembers long oversea’s stays.
2. Smith & Wesson Breach 2.0 Tactical Boots with Zipper
My review: I’m always surprised to hear that people don’t know about Smith & Wesson’s clothing line. They don’t have many options, but what is available is generally of great quality and just like their firearms, they’re well priced and get the job done. They aren’t fancy, but they are a very sleek and neutral tactical style that comes in black or tan and contains a lockable side zipper feature.
The link I’m providing sends you to an Amazon seller called “Direct Premium Buys”. When you purchase these boots, they donate a portion of the profit to Operation First Response.
3. Pany Summer Ultra Light Desert Tactical
My review: The cheap and easy option, the PANY Summer boots offer incredibly priced desert tactical boots that are breathable and available in four colors. These are perfect for those of you with a one-off need or short term requirements for desert related activities.
I wouldn’t recommend these as an end all be all desert boot solution, but if you only need boots for a short time and want to save some cash, these would be a great solution. They are cheap but they are also well designed and perfect for desert PT.
4. CQR Mid-Ankle Combat Tactical Boots
My review: The CQR tactical boots are among the best mid-ankle tactical boots I could find under a hundred bucks. They offer you everything you need and nothing you don’t in 10 different color schemes and a tactical law enforcement style. Breathable mesh with simple and short lugs make these great for hard surfaces like concrete and flooring. In terms of cheap, you can’t really go wrong with these!
5. Bates Ultra-Lites
My review: Another fantastic Bates product, the Ultra-Lites are one of my personal recommendations for those of you working in a security type role such as bar bouncers, university security, game staff, etc. They offer incredible levels of protection in the event things get hairy but remain lightweight and maneuverable. Being a high top, they offer a side zipper with a velcro zipper lock and the boots are available in either black or sage.
6. Free Soldier Tactical Boots
My review: These are some really slick looking suede leather military style boots. Available in black or tan, these have a very classic and neutral style. They’re constructed of 1000D Cordura fabric which makes them incredibly durable, especially at such a low price point. These are fantastic urban patrolling boots as they have short and lightweight lugs on the bottom.
7. Battle Ops Soft Toe Tactical boots
My review: Cheap, black, sleek, and a neutral tactical appearance. Nothing fancy, nothing extra, just a pair of nice boots that get the job done without breaking the bank. They’re constructed of both leather and synthetic nylon which makes them mostly water resistant but still breathable.
8. 5.11 ATAC Jungle
My review: 5.11 is a fantastic brand and a known favorite among sportsmen, servicemen, and preppers. Their focus on design is impeccable as they interview thousands of real people for their input in the design and manufacturing of their products. The 5.11 Jungle boots are offered in brown or black with a very subtle and neutral appearance. These weren’t built to be flashy, these were built to take a beating and keep on trucking along. They’re constructed of suede leather and a nylon upper, which offers a great deal of water resistance and breathability.
9. 5.11 ATAC Storm
My review: I can’t recommend the 5.11 Jungle boots without also recommending the 5.11 Storm boots. These offer incredible resistance to water, oil, protrusions, and slipping. They come in any color you like, so long as you like black and feature a very sleek and simple design.
10. Danner Tachyon
My review: Danner is a pride and joy type of brand. These are built for those who care about the little things, true boot enthusiasts and that’s why I like them. These particular boots aren’t designed to stomp through the jungle or trek through a desert, they’re designed for those of you who in a more urban environment looking for protective boots without all the heavy off-road features. They’re light, breathable, and extremely flexible, making them some of the most comfortable boots our urban dwellers could ever choose.
11. Rocky Duty Modern Paraboot
My review: I had to offer you a nice and shiny set of high-top boots and these by Rocky Duty fit the criteria perfectly, without having to spend an arm and a leg. Simply put, they got a little flash, they got a little ruggedness, they got a lot of ankle, and they have a low price tag. All good things coming from Rocky Duty!
12. Belleville TR550 Khyber
My review: Starting to get into the big boy section now, the Khyber II’s offer that coveted Vibram IBEX outsole I mentioned in the guide and a very heft and durable construction. These are made out of full-grain leather, which m
13. Bates Code 6
My review: You’ll likely see Bates on this list several times and for good reason. I personally have owned several different pairs of Bates simply because they’re reasonably priced and fairly durable. These are shorter than most other boots on this page at 4” and stunt a law enforcement tactical style in black.
14. Bates GX-8
My review: Bates always impresses and for a little more than the previous models, you get a very nice combat style set of footwear. These are full leather construction except at the very top, where there’s a bit of nylon to help with breathability and weight. They come in four colors and feature a side zipper with a velcro flap lock.
15. Corcoran 1500 Jump Boots
My review: A little fun fact, the first company to manufacture jump boots for paratroopers was Corcoran back in WWII. These were designed by William Yarborough in 1941 for the 501st parachute Test Battalion. They became so popular that people started to refer to all jump boots simply as “Corcorans”.
Aside from history, the original design has come along way and Corcoran is still alive and well, offering us some pretty snazzy looking 10” jump boots. These are full mil-spec and reinforced with internal webbing for incredible ankle support
16. Corcoran PR Marauder
My review: If you didn’t like their jump boots, no worry, as they make other styles of high ankle boots as well. The full leather Marauders offer some serious stability while utilizing 3 ribbed shanks, a very stiff synthetic sole, and a steel bottom plate that makes the boots
17. Merrell Moab 2 Tactical Series
My review: The Merrell Moab makes a return from our hiking boots blog and comes through well offering us a tactical version of the ever so popular Moab hiking series. The Moab 2 Tactical offers the four main tactical colors schemes on an incredibly rugged and durable boot. The boot itself is completely waterproof due to a full leather construction. The Vibram technology lives on in the tactical series featuring a Vibram TC5+ outsole that is designed for traction across all surfaces, making this a perfect middle ground versatile boot. The Moab II also features the coveted RipStop uppe
18. Under Armour Infil Ops
My review: Under Armour has really impressed me with a very unique and feature-rich approach to the tactical boot design. This is dubbed “ankle boot” and really, the focus seems to be primarily on flexibility and maneuverability. This boot was purposefully designed to offer you the most movement in the lightest package while maintaining the “tactical” aspects of a tactical boot.
It’s certainly interesting and I don’t think I’d recommend it for those of you entering combat zones, however, for patrol related gigs that re
19. Danner Acadia
My review: Danner makes a return to our more expensive end of the spectrum with the brilliantly simplistic Acadia. They’re constructed completely of leather and high-strength Cordura nylon and like most of Danner products, they’re made in the USA. These boots are made to appear simple but withstand the test of time. They’re a bit more expensive due to the superior materials used and the incredible Airthotic footbed, which is by far one of the most comfortable footbeds that still manage to provide excellent stability where it counts most. The boot also uses a specially engineered fiberglass shank to increase the rigidity of the boot while still giving a nice and comfortable flex.
20. Danner Mens Fort Lewis
My review: These boots were specially designed with the input of two Military officials at Fort Lewis in Washington. These boots are FORSCOM approved and actually used by elite special operatives, so you already know what the price tag is for and that these boots contain tons of features. These boots are best used in cold climates, but perform well in spring type weather as well.
With that fat price tag, you get Vibrams Kletterfit outsole, a full-grain leather construction encompassing GORE-TEX technology that ensures this boot is completely water resistant, Danners Double Stitch Down methods, 200G of Thinsulate, all manufactured in the good ol’ US of A. These boots are built to last and they’re even supported especially by Danner, with services that extend the life of the boots, reshape them, restitch, and replace components.
Tactical Boots Buying Guide – What Features to Look for
If your loadout includes a need for tactical boots, it’s pretty fair of me to assume you’re also carrying other gear, firearms, etc on you as well. That means every ounce matters and finding boots that keep your total load outs weight to a minimum is a big priority. Everyone becomes slow and sluggish with a huge burden of weight, not to mention the extra energy it requires to move about and patrol your area’s.
Of course, going too light may not be suitable for you. For example, if you’re patrolling late at night in sub-zero conditions where it’s snowing, you may need some insulation and maybe even water resistance, meaning a set of thicker and heavier boots might just be the difference between feeling your toes or not.
Weight will vary with the boots type of materials and also its stability mechanisms. The more rugged and tough a boot is, the more it’s going to weigh. If you want water resistance, you’re going to pay for it in additional weight. If you want extra toe protection, again, you’ll be paying the price of additional weight. It’s important to pick and choose what features you actually need while leaving out the ones you don’t, as a lightweight platform is also an important feature!
Let’s be real, I know you’re rough and tough and you can handle plenty of abuse without blinking an eye. At the end of the day, though, even the toughest men on the planet have to take care of their feet. Mangled feet and sore ankles hinder your athletic ability and if your boots leave your feet utterly wrecked at the end of each shift, the relationship you have with your boots will fade quickly. Since you’ll be spending a great deal of your life wearing these boots, it’s important they fit correctly and offer a great deal of comfort. Most people wearing tactical boots will likely be standing or walking for long durations of time. Many high-quality tactical boots offer great arch support and soles stiff enough to keep your feet healthy and happy.
When it comes to fit, you’ll need a few measurements to get it right. I know, it’s tempting to eyeball it or simply use the number on the shoes you already own. That’s a terrible idea, as tactical boots have a much different built configuration than other types of boots or other shoes. Take it from someone who has already made that mistake before, you NEED to figure out the size of TACTICAL boots you wear, and other sizes are irrelevant.
The stores that carry high-quality tactical boots and/or outdoor footwear will likely have staff and tools to help you take measurements, even if you don’t buy from them (buy on Amazon, it’ll save you time and you get much better return policies). The primary measurements you need include your foot’s overall width, length, arch length, arch lift, and foot volume.
Similarly to hiking and work boots, my main piece of advice, when considering fit, is to go big or go home. No, I’m not talking about how much you spend or how much you plan to kick butt (although I always recommend the highest level of kicking butt, duh), I’m talking about buying a size that is slightly more than what you need. A size too small is an utter deal breaker. There is nothing to remedy a boot that is inadequate in size. On the flip side, a boot that’s just a tad too large is an easy fix. Wear thicker socks and voila, crisis averted, which is likely what you’ll be doing anyway if you’re gearing up with high-quality tactical goodies.
Another thought on going big, keep in mind that after several miles of stomping around, your feet will swell up and will fill much more space than they do when you first wake up in the morning. After a little time on the beat, your feet can easily exceed that “perfect fit” you had in the store and before you know it, you’re more concerned about the clock running out and getting out of those boots than the possible threats headed your way. Now, I know you’re super tacticool and you can fix problems on your own, but unfortunately, modern boots with all their new features and build configurations cannot be effectively stretched without damaging them or compromising their structure.
I mentioned earlier how important it is to measure both length and width, but many people fail to realize that the number on the tongue is only one piece of the perfect fit puzzle. Watch out for models that are extra narrow or wide. Some people, like me for example, needs a narrower fit as my feet are long and skinny compared to the average persons. Once you have the number down, you’ll want to make sure you have the right structure as well.
Your foot’s skeletal structure and muscle composition are unique and lucky for us, manufacturers know this. There are options out there for everyone, so if I see you complaining in the comments section saying “No boots fit me” I’m going to tell you that you didn’t do your due diligence correctly! It took me a while to realize I needed a size 12 AND a “narrow” structure, so keep trying and never settle for anything less than a flawless fit.
Pro tip: Try on boots at the end of the day, after you’ve been on your feet for some time and have experienced a little wear and tear physically.
Pro tip #2: Don’t forget to include your orthotic mechanisms and/or aftermarket insoles if you have them as they will greatly impact the fit of the boot and what size you may need. Some boots will include their own mechanisms and may not work well or be easily replaced, so if you plan on using aftermarket inserts, do your research and make the tactical boot in question is compatible.
Aside from that, some more advanced fit related aspects include arch support, heel-to-toe drop, and ankle support. What you need is going to be dependant on you and the job at hand, so again, planning ahead and having an understanding of what the life of your tactical boots will look like is incredibly important. If you don’t know exactly what you’ll be doing, contact someone who is doing something similar to what you’ll be doing and ask them! General security job descriptions can be vague, you never know if you’ll be on your feet patrolling all night, have a nice little lookout point you can chill at, or what the circumstances will be. It’s easy to be told “go buy a pair of black tactical boots” by a hiring manager or supervisor but unfortunately, that doesn’t help you in your decision. Ask questions and figure out exactly what your job will entail.
Tactical boots have to be tough, otherwise, they aren’t tactical! But tough is subjected and difficult to really test before buying, but there are a few key attributes to look out for. Firstly, the materials have to match the situations you’ll be in. If your duty is light and you won’t be physically abused much, you probably don’t need extra thick material, however, if you’ll be tangling with tangos all day, you may want something thicker protecting your feet from getting stomped on.
Aside from getting your toes squashed, natures elements can take a heavy toll on any type of boots. If you know you’ll be patrolling rain or shine, and you live in a place that rains every day, I highly recommend getting material that fares well being wet. Some synthetic leathers don’t like being wet and can crack sometimes after being wet and drying out repeatedly. Some synthetics like nylon may not hold up well against intense heat or tough terrain. Again, it depends on the situation, so make sure you choose material that is durable and ready to handle what you need.
Often overlooked, tough laces are also a must. If your laces become compromised, your tactical boots turn into paperweights. There is definitely a difference in lace quality, and if the boots you love come with some standard shoelaces, you may want to upgrade to something stronger such as these from IronLace. I always have an extra set on these on hand in case the ones that came with my boots break. A lot of boots will come with kevlar laces, and although these are fairly decent laces, they aren’t nearly as strong as para-aramid fiber laces.
When shopping for tactical boots, you’ll notice many models coming in with a zipper system on the side. Personally, I really like this design as I feel it allows for a tighter ankle fit on those boots that have a high ankle wall. It’s not so fun, though, when those zippers fall apart. When buying tactical boots with zipper systems, make sure those zipper guides are nice and thick and run them up and down a few times to make sure they don’t catch. Cheap zipper systems can also slide down during use. Some boots come with a velcro strap at the top to hold the zipper in place, which I highly recommend if you’re going this route.
Always check the quality of stitching on any boots you buy. Nowadays, most boots are not hand stitched, which is a good thing because they’re now much cheaper to produce and part of those savings are passed on to you, but this can also be a bad thing as sometimes bad stitch jobs easily pass through quality control. It doesn’t matter if a brand has a well-known high reputation for being good quality, all manufacturers have hiccups from time to time and every so often, bad seeds get through. If you’re going to buy on Amazon, check every inch of the stitching for damage before you even put them on. If there is anything awry, send them back immediately. Simply put, bad stitching is the number one cause of premature tactical boot death, so check it over twice and make sure yours are stitched up tight. This also goes for where the material meets the rubber outsoles. Make sure everything is attached correctly, otherwise your rubber outsoles will be falling off just outside the period you can return them, as Murphys Law always gets ya!
I always wondered how those guys in riot gear could hold back crowds of hundreds of people without budging. Yeah, they have thick shields and tons of heavy gear on, but the primary piece of gear truly holding back those hordes of people is the boots on their feet. Slip-resistance is of the utmost importance in tactical boots, especially if you’ll be working in wet conditions. Do not compromise here, any set of tactical boots that don’t pay special attention to slip-resistance aren’t worth your time or money.
After all, it’d be pretty embarrassing approaching a combat zone or a traffic stop and having to pick yourself up off the ground in front of the enemy because you couldn’t handle a little ice or water. Keep moving without having to tiptoe around slick surfaces!
If you’ve played any first-person shooter campaign mode video games lately, it’s likely you’ve blown through the stealth aspect and ran in guns blazing. In real life, though, that’s usually a horrible decision and will likely get you and your partners killed. Having quiet soles can be a huge advantage in many situations where you’d be wearing tactical boots. If the people robbing the museum you’re patrolling can hear you squeaking a mile away, they’ll easily be able to avoid you!
This is actually more difficult than it sounds and sometimes, you might end up with a pair of boots that squeaks on a specific surface that you weren’t able to plan for. If that happens, there are a few things you can try to silence those squeakers. It’s important to note that most boots will likely make at least some noise when you first get them. If they’re still obnoxiously loud after a decent break-in period, there are a few remedies you could try.
First and probably the easiest method is to take some fine grain sandpaper and lightly sand the bottom of your boots. The idea here is the create tiny abrasions along the parts of the boot that make contact with the ground, helping the air escape out from underneath those grippy parts of the rubber and reducing the sound they make.
Sometimes inserts are the source of the noise, in which case you can remove them, coat the parts of the boots that the insert contacts with baby powder or baking powder, and then put the insert back into place. This should create a slight barrier between the insert and the materials inside your boots. Thick laces are usually recommended, but they too can cause some friction with the tongue of the boots, thus using the same powder technique can alleviate this noise.
If your boots were silent but after some heavy abuse they’ve started giving your position away, you need to conduct a full inspection. Sometimes cracks in the leather or rubber are the culprit and of course, buying new boots would be your best option here. With that said, you might be able to get some more miles out of them by using something like super glue or Shoe Goo, which can be found here. The Idea is to fill those gaps and repair your shoes, eliminating the gaps and friction between the pieces of material affected by the damage. When you glue them, I’d recommend using clamps or something heavy to ensure the gap is as tightly sealed as possible.
Some fancy tactical boots may have really hard heel pads that make tapping or clicking sounds as you walk. Honestly, my only recommendation here is to simply choose tactical boots that don’t have these.
Wet feet suck, plain and simple. If you can avoid water, that’s great, but you still have moisture coming off your nasty sweaty feet and since most people wearing tactical boots will likely be working in shifts of several hours, you won’t be able to take your boots off and let your smelly sweaty feet air out. Buying tactical boots that emphasize breathable materials or channels that allow air to flow freely from inside the boot will greatly increase how dry the inside of your boot remains. If you’re having to constantly move, keeping your feet cool will increase your comfort level as well.
It’s important to note that water-resistant boots will have very low levels of breathability. With waterproofing, you’re essentially sealing up the boot, which is good to repel water but works both ways, meaning it’ll keep in water too. The sweat off your feet or the water that may trickle in from the top of the boot won’t be able to easily exit the boot, making them absolutely miserable to continue wearing and also adds to the weight of the boot. Personally, I try to stay away from waterproof boots as I don’t like that tradeoff. I prefer less weight and higher breathability, but there certainly are situations that I would have benefited from having water resistance. Again, plan ahead and choose wisely, everything decision you make has tradeoffs.
Sturdiness Versus Flexibility
Choosing the right set of tactical boots comes with many choices, which can be horrible if you’re a first-time buyer, but if you know what to look for, you’ll be able to fine-tune your tactical feet experiences.
Tactical boots that are constructed with flexibility in mind are especially nice for comfort and fast-paced movement. You won’t want an incredibly stiff platform if you have to run long distance or sprint, as the increased flexibility allows the ankle and the foot to conform better to the ground, giving you better ground contact and improved power to the ground. The tradeoff, though, is that navigating rough terrain or steep angles becomes significantly more difficult without the stability of a sturdy and stiff platform.
Furthermore, sturdiness also encompasses protection. Tactical boots with high levels of ankle support and a lot of material covering your ankles will provide much greater protection from athletic related injuries as well as protrusions and physical impact. Boots created with flexibility at the forefront of their basis will lack this protection in order to give you a higher level of maneuverability.
For probably the hundredth time in this article, it’s up to you to decide and plan ahead. If you know the job will require you to move quickly and your life depends on you moving positions and being quick on your toes, you may want additional flexibility. If you think you’ll be engaging harsh terrain and people that don’t have your best interests in mind, you may want additional sturdiness and protection. Fortunately for us, there is a middle ground as well, which is usually where I find my favorite sets of tactical boots.
Materials lives matter! They matter so much, in fact, that the material you choose will be the basis for just about every aforementioned attribute we’ve talked about so far. From water resistance to weight to durability to comfort, materials are the starting point for each of those conversations.
Let’s work our way down, starting with the shiny fancy part at the top, the boots upper component. This includes everything you see when you slap those bad boys on your feet and look down at them. The portion that wraps around your ankle, the top piece that may or may not protect you from heavy objects, where your laces call home, the tongue, the toe, etc.
Boot Upper Components
Full-grain leather is likely the most popular material construction used in tactical boots and offers a high level of durability due to its abrasion resistance. Naturally, full-grain leather is incredibly water resistant, however, is also one of the more heavier and expensive materials used. Leather tactical boots also require a lengthy break-in period where they may feel uncomfortable and difficult to use. After properly being broke in, however, these are some of the best form fitting boots available and tend to hold their shape the longest. If you can afford full-grain leather boots and you don’t mind the extra weight, these are likely the best choice for most people.
Split-grain leather is a material construction method that combines traditional leather with other materials. Basically, the manufacturer will remove the tough and stiff portions of the leather and instead use a more flexible and lighter material in its place. The idea here is to find a good middle ground between durability, weight, and breathability. In today’s market, the best combinations thus far look to be a leather liner used in conjunction with a mesh or nylon woven upper component to create a cost-effective middle ground with decent performance across the board.
Nubuck leather is a variant of full-grain leather. After being industrially treated, this type of leather largely resembles suede and offers a much higher level of flexibility and comfort than their traditional full-grain leather counterparts. They too have some pretty high levels of water resistance and a decent level of durability. Just like full-grain leather, you’ll need to participate in a lengthy break-in period, however, nubuck tends to break in a bit faster than full-grain leather.
Synthetic materials are a rather new boot material method and generally consist of polyester, nylon mesh, woven nylon, and synthetic leather. Using these allows for manufacturers to greatly reduce the cost of construction, however, these boots with their lower more attractive price tags generally come with subpar levels of durability. With that said, however, some of the lightest and most maneuverable boots on the market are in this category and generally require the smallest amount of time to break in if they even need a break in period at all. Technology is improving quickly, though, and I wouldn’t count out synthetically constructed boots as they do have their advantages over the other materials on this list. They didn’t use to contain any water resistance, but we’re starting to see some rather nice synthetic boots at attractive price points that do contain water resistance technology among other great features.
Switching from the top to the bottom, the outsole is the portion of the boot that comes into contact with the ground (and faces, sometimes). The grip of the boot is just as important as the rest of the boot. If you’re sliding around or stomping your way through harsh conditions, the outsole of your boot may be the difference between falling back (or on your butt) and standing your ground. The heel brake is the portion of the outsole that sits under your heel and the lug pattern is the type of grip used on the outsole. Both of these will determine what elements the grip performs well on so it’s important to choose wisely.
Outsoles generally consist of just one material, and you probably already guessed it! Rubber is really all you get here. Generally speaking, a harder rubber construction offers a more firm and stable platform while a softer rubber increased traction and grip. Most of you will likely want something in the middle. Too hard and you’ll be slipping and sliding, too soft and you won’t be able to deliver power to the ground effectively because your boots outsole will be caving in and not offering you any support.
Vibram outsoles are manufactured in Italy and have become an incredibly popular outsole solution in just about all categories of boots, including tactical boots. Usually, there will be a yellow tag on the bottom of the boot indicating its equipped with Vibram technology. These outsoles are made of high-quality rubber and are resistant to industrial chemicals, slippage, are non-marking, and offer incredibly lightweight designs.
The midsole of the boot is the portion of the platform providing a bed for your feet. This is the buffer between you and that rubber grip on the bottom, which isn’t any fun to stand on so it’s important you find a high-quality midsole. Midsoles are available in many different stiffness configurations with the tradeoff here being between stability and comfort. For low impact usage, I’d recommend a softer midsole, for high impact usage, I’d recommend a stiffer midsole. Midsole materials come in two flavors: EVA and Polyurethane.
Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA) is an incredibly versatile material that allows for different levels of stiffness. Basically, how thick it is will determine how stiff it is and boots are offered all over the place with different levels of EVA thickness. EVA is also the most cost-effective material to build midsoles out of, and thus likely the most popular that you’ll come across.
Polyurethane is typically found in boots that focus on firmness and provides incredible levels of stability at the cost of a little comfort. Polyurethane is by far more durable than EVA and will hold its shape far better while stepping on uneven or sharp surfaces, of course, at the cost of, you guessed it, more cost.
A toe rand is a piece of hard rubber, composite material, metal, or plastic wrapped about the front of the boot to provide additional protection at the cost of weight and sometimes comfort. It’s important to note that thick toe rands, especially metal ones, will greatly increase how stiff the front of the boot is and are typically not “healthy” to wear for long durations. It’s also not healthy to have all of your toes broken either, so if the job requires it, a toe rand may be the difference between you staying in the fight and you being carted off the field.
Achieving Mission Ready Fitment
I’m not a foot expert, so we won’t go into incredible depth on how to properly find the correct size here, however, I do have some good tips to help you along the way.
First, you should be wearing socks that resemble the socks you’d likely wear with your boots. Socks do play a huge role as they take up a lot of space inside the boot. Furthermore, socks can actually change the dynamic of how the boot wears and breaks in.
After slipping into potential candidates but before tightening up the laces, slide a finger down the back of your leg to test how much space there is between your leg and the back of the boot. The finger should have enough room to slip in between the boot and your leg.
As you tighten the laces, the heel of the boot should position itself in accordance with your foot and should firmly match up with your heel. If the boots aren’t tight enough on top but feel too tight around the heel, you may need a wider model.
Take your finger and place it perpendicular to the front of the boot. Do your toes exceed where your finger is? If so, they’re too short and of course, if your toes contact the front of the boot in any way, they aren’t a good fit.
Walk in the boot and judge how well the heel of the boot operates with the heel of your foot. If it moves in opposite directions of your heel or you feel like the two are fighting each other, that model may not be right for you. The heel of the boot should move in unison with your heel. You may also try a different lacing configuration as well.
When trying them on in the store, it’s important to find uneven surfaces. If the store has a staircase, test how your heel reacts with the heel of the boot when standing and pivoting on a stair, testing multiple angles if possible. Testing boots on an even surface can give false hope of fitment, so do your best to find as many different surfaces and angles as possible inside the store, even if it means you have to stand on the edge of a chair or a bench.
Grab the boot and act like you’re going to wring a wet towel. Do they twist easily? If yes, this means they’re extremely flexible. If no, this means they’re really stiff. It can be hard to tell this by simply trying them on in the store, as these things usually impact your feet over a bit of time.
Try to bend just the back portion of the heel brake. Can you fold it? Does it hold strong? This indicates how supportive the heel brake is. You’ll want to look for a decent amount of heel support, so I wouldn’t recommend any boots where the heel brake is foldable with light to moderate pressure from your hands.
Stick one hand inside the boot and put the other along the bottom of the boot. Begin tapping your fingers with the hand that’s inside the boot. How well can you feel the vibration? If your outside hand can tell the exact position the taps are coming from, this may indicate that the midsole and outsole aren’t thick enough to offer much protection from sharp objects and uneven terrain. Soles that offer a lot of protection should evenly disperse the vibration over several inches.
If you’re buying online, which I do recommend although it can be a hassle, accept the fact that you may have to return a few boots before you find the perfect fit. Amazon is a fantastic service that pretty much allows returns for any boots, so long as you haven’t abused them. Be gentle, keep them clean, but if they don’t fit right, have no shame in sending them back immediately! I can give you tips all day on how to find a good fit, but at the end of the day, it comes down to personal preference and a little trial and error.
Break In Period
Now that we’ve spoken about the different materials and I’ve mentioned how some of those material constructions require break-in periods, let’s talk about that! Some materials, as previously noted, will require different break-in periods and if you need boots ready to go out of the box, I wouldn’t choose full-grain leather. If you have a little time to break them in, though, full-grain leather boots offer a lot of benefits above their synthetic.
Before we get started in this discussion, I want to make one thing extremely clear. A boot that doesn’t fit right will always not fit right. Period. No amount of breaking in is going to give you an extra half size or increase the width if your feet are too wide. Breaking boots in simply makes them easier to use and work with, and will not fix a bad choice in size. For newcomers to boots, it can be difficult to decide whether or not the discomfort is from being too stiff and not broken in or from being the wrong size.
Simply put, if your toes are rubbing against the front of the boot, your foot has too much room to slide back and forth, or your feet are feeling crushed against the side of the boot, the boot is the wrong size. If the boots arch support, tongue, and ankle collar simply feel stiff, they likely just need to be broken in.
So, what does breaking in actually entail? Is there any break in hacks that actually work? Do I really need to break in my boots?
These are all great questions and honestly, a lot of this comes down to personal preference. If your motive behind buying a new set of tactical boots is to wear them on 12-hour shifts, I would most definitely break them in before deploying them in the field, as that 12-hour period is going to be incredibly uncomfortable and filled with uncertainties.
First and foremost, breaking in boots just means you’re wearing down that factory stiffness and introducing your boots to your feet and how you walk. The manufacturer cannot create boots that fit your foot flawlessly, all they can do is provide the correct length and width and allow your foot to form fit itself. The boot, after a few hours of wear and tear, will begin to mold to your foot and the outsole will start to wear according to how you walk. The boot will begin to loosen up in the areas that your foot applies great amounts of pressure and the overall boot will be easier to work with, especially regarding leather boots.
The amount of time it takes to break in a boot is completely subjective. If you want to embrace the suck and break them in quickly, slap them on and go run around the neighborhood. If you want to save yourself from some discomfort, simply put them on for a few hours a day around the house where you’re not constantly standing on them. Simply wearing them can help them begin forming around the shape of your feet. You can also sit on the porch and watch the sunset will using your hands to lightly bend the boots and fidget with the collar and tongue to try and work out some of that factory-new stiffness. It’s really up to you in how you choose to break in your boots, just understand that they will fit more comfortably after they are broken in!
Break-in periods are also a good indicator of how and what socks you should wear. If you went big as I suggested before, you may want to invest in a few different thick socks or try doubling up on socks to see what works best. Remember, socks play a huge role in how a boot fits so don’t underestimate the power of the sock! I have also written a little handy dandy guide on wool socks, you can check that out here.
Corporal Wabo is a former Infantry Squad Leader with 3rd Bn 4th Marines that specialized in Mortars. As an outdoor enthusiast, he has been testing outdoor and tactical style gear for over 20 years. He started this website while transitioning out of the Marines, and since has recruited several other Marines to help him work on the Marine Approved website. We are currently looking for former Marines that like to talk tactical gear, survival gear, hiking supplies, etc. For more information about us or to join the team, check out the “About Us” tab.