On Veterans Day, it’s important to take stock of the sacrifices made by all the men and women who serve and have served in America’s armed forces and honor the work they do all over the world. Their service makes our comfortable lives on the homefront possible.
The US military is a huge organization, and the worldwide logistics of serving those who serve on the front lines is gargantuan. For every uniformed soldier on guard duty at the front line, every pilot on patrol, there is a brigade of fellow soldiers and civilians working to supply that service member. Getting fuel to all the vehicles, food to all the mess halls, and uniforms and supplies to all those who serve takes a lot of logistics and effort! Whole industries have sprung up to meet the needs of America’s military around the world, and the technical and technological solutions they develop to solve problems for soldiers in the field often find their way into civilian hands during peacetime. GPS navigation was originally developed for the military, for instance, as was the technology that went into the drone you fly at the park. Heck, even duct tape was developed for supplying soldiers during World War II.
Top Tactical Gear vs. Knock-Offs
The advancements of clothing and footwear made for soldiers has influenced civilian fashion in a million ways, large and small. One of the most obvious is the persistent popularity of combat boots and tactical boots in civilian life. It makes sense; manufacturers like Belleville Boots who supply footwear to the troops have to design and construct these boots to handle a variety of tough situations. They have to be durable, protective, and comfortable in the face of the long hours and grueling work that soldiers do.
But alongside the increased popularity of military boots among civilians has come a proliferation of cheap (and not-so-cheap) knock-offs. These boots look like military boots, they have “tactical” in their name, but wear a pair and it soon becomes clear that they really don’t cut it.
On the other hand, real military boots made by suppliers like Belleville Boots are available for civilian use. These are the same boots with which Belleville fills Defence Department orders (though not all military models are available for civilians), so they meet Defence Department standards and they’re Berry Amendment-compliant (not just Made in the USA, but made entirely from American components - even the leather comes exclusively from American cows). They’re popular with law enforcement, emergency medical services, firefighters, and workers with high-intensity jobs precisely because of the features that make them appropriate for combat duty.
Military boots come in a variety of types, each tailored to a particular set of needs. They’re often distinguished between “combat boots” and “tactical boots.” Belleville’s Tactical Research division specializes in the latter. Combat boots are designed for the field, for long marches and action on outdoor terrain. They’re optimized for endurance and will usually have an extra midsole layer of cushioning to care for the weary soldier’s feet. They’ll be standard military height (8-inches) and colored to the US military’s Operational Camouflage Patterns (OCP) specifications, which is why you see a lot of variations of brown combat boots. Tactical boots are more adapted to speed and traction in an urban environment. They’re lighter, thinner, more nimble, and more likely to be waterproof and resist blood-borne pathogens. They vary more in height - everything from standard military height to sneakers - and will often feature a safety toe. And they tend to be black, rather than matching with outdoor camouflage. It should be said, though, that the distinction between the two types is often blurry, and the best combat and tactical boots have many tried-and-true features in common.
Leather Combat Boots Designed for Actual Soldiers
Belleville has been making footwear for US service members since World War I. There’s a reason the Pentagon keeps coming back to them. They’ve learned and advanced a lot in that time. Let’s start with their most widely recognizable boot, the C390 Coyote Hot Weather Combat Boot. It’s not just strong but lightweight as well. The first thing you’ll notice is the material - you still can’t beat premium cattlehide leather for its perfect balance of toughness, flexibility, and breathability. The leather is broken up by patches of strong nylon fabric at specific points to promote ventilation and cut back on perspiration in the desert heat. Every cut of the C390’s upper is planned very deliberately to stand up to real-life wear patterns and needs. The 100% rubber Vibram Sierra outsole is designed to tackle rough terrain, with deep lugs and just enough flex, and works with a highly-cushioned midsole to absorb uneven shocks and impacts and disperse them around the foot.
Belleville’s C300 ST Coyote Hot Weather Combat Boot ticks a lot of the same boxes as the C390 - strategically-placed leather and nylon cuts, aggressive Sierra outsole, thick cushioning at the midsole - but has the added protection of a steel safety toe. Unlike a lot of steel toe work boots, the C300 manages this while remaining nicely low-profile and lightweight, and a lot of that has to do with the innovative method Belleville has for attaching their boots’ uppers to the soles. Traditionally there are two main methods - the Goodyear welt, in which the upper is effectively sewn tightly to the sole with the use of a fabric welt; and cement, in which the upper and sole are glued together. Goodyear welts are stronger but less flexible, and take up more space, while cement isn’t durable enough for what the military needs. So Belleville uses a direct-attach method, in which the midsole is molded and attached to the upper before drying and hardening, creating an extremely robust direct bond. This allows the C300 to serve as an excellent long-distance trekking boot and protect the wearer from onsite impact and compression hazards.
Soldiers spend a lot of time on their feet, but they also need the ability to maneuver and scramble around on the ground or up rock faces. Combat boots like Belleville’s C333 Sabre Hot Weather Hybrid Assault Boot manage that need with a wrap-around sole. The exclusive Vibram Ibex outsole absolutely dominates on rugged terrain, holding fast on loose rocks and dirt to keep soldiers on their feet. When it’s time to scale a steep incline or get down in the weeds, it’s got treads reaching up the heel and the toe so a soldier can gain purchase with the front or back of their foot.
For colder climates, combat boots need to do two things. They need to stay breathable, wicking away sweat like the hot weather gear above, but they also need to keep cold and wetness outside from getting in. Belleville’s C795 Insulated Waterproof Combat Boots accomplishes this without adding a lot of bulk or weight to the design with 200g of Thinsulate insulation and a Gore-Tex waterproof lining enveloping a soldier’s foot. To aid in traction, Belleville utilizes a special outsole, Vibram’s Fire and Ice compound outsole, that digs into wet ice and is specially formulated to resist hardening in the cold, retaining its flexible, “sticky” qualities even in the freezing elements.
Lightweight Tactical Boots For Deadly-Serious Jobs
Meanwhile, over at Belleville’s Tactical Research division, we can see some great examples of some of the advancements made in tactical boots. While there are some important commonalities - high-quality cattlehide leather spliced just so with nylon fabric, robust lacing and molded insoles so everything fits securely - tactical boots are designed with slightly different priorities. The Tactical Research Chrome TR998Z WP CT Waterproof Side-Zip Composite Toe Tactical Boot (I know, it’s a mouthful. Now I know why the military loves acronyms so much) is a perfect example. The Chrome, like many good tactical boots, features a side zipper with a security overlay, making it easy to get securely on and off in a hurry. It’s also waterproof (WP) and features a membrane resistant to bloodborne pathogens, making this a popular style with fast-moving EMTs. The Chrome has a composite safety toe, which offers the same protection as steel with less weight, and is built with an innovative Exo-Skeletal frame so your whole foot has some additional impact protection. The mesh lining inside is beefed up a bit to accommodate long shifts of high-intensity work and sweat. One of the important differences between combat boots and tactical boots is visible on the outsoles - the outsole on the Chrome TR998WPCT has lugs for digging in and grabbing onto terrain, but the lugs aren’t as sharp; they’re flatter to maximize surface area on wet concrete or asphalt, the better to resist slipping.
The beefier MAXX 8Z Maximalist Tactical Boot really pushes the envelope of what a lightweight tactical boot can do. Designed for pounding pavement over long stints, Tactical Research really packs in the cushioning, including the addition of a unique Fatt Maxx midsole that’s thicker, softer, and 25-55% more rebounding than other midsoles, fighting not just soreness but fatigue. The Vibram Ballistic outsole is perfectly dialed in for keeping you on your feet in an urban environment, with wide, deep treads to squeeze water out from under them like a long-haul semi’s tires. With a heel-to-toe drop of 6mm, it fits on your foot like a running shoe - an extremely strong, armored tank of a running shoe.
My personal favorite of Tactical Research’s offerings, however, has to be the Khyber TR960ZWP Lightweight Waterproof Side-Zip Tactical Boot. It’s really a fantastic blend of the qualities you look for in a combat boot and in a tactical boot. Black cattlehide leather and nylon with laces and a very low-profile curved side zipper (it’s also available in a lace-only design), it’s waterproof and blood-borne pathogen-resistant. It breathes easy with an Air Mesh moisture-wicking liner inside. And it features its own low-profile version of the amazing Vibram Ibex outsole, with treads reaching up the toe and heel for scrambling and climbing. With a premium TR-1 orthotic insole on top of a reinforced midsole, the Khyber gives you the best of both worlds and has proven popular with law enforcement for its versatility.
Field-Tested Quality Over Marketing
Innovating technology for veterans and law enforcement professionals in The Suck has produced some really advanced footwear, and Belleville continues to develop new designs and refine existing ones based on countless hours of testing and real-world application in the field. The fruits of those advancements - everything from combat and tactical boots to medical treatment and methods for combating PTSD - is more and more available to those of us back home. And that’s a good thing! But when it comes to products marketed as “combat-ready” or “tactical,” it’s important to read the fine print. Only serious designers like Belleville truly deliver on those terms. And if boots are actually designed for service members and all they have to deal with, you should be very pleased with how they serve on your feet.
Photographs by Jared Tamez Photography (all but the black boot photo).