One of the most important aspects of a soldier’s uniform has to be their boots. You don’t walk on your hands right? The feet see the most daily action of any part of the body, and that’s definitely true for operators out in the field. Over the years, combat boots issued to the US Armed Forces have experienced several different revisions in design. These include updates to overall comfort, as well as functional accommodation of the environment in which the wearer is deployed.
The first true modern combat boot was the M-1943, used by the US Army. They were a modified version of the service shoes worn by soldiers of the time, made of rough out leather with a “double buckle” cuff added to the top of the boot.
The double buckle cuff proved to be a much more convenient alternative to the standard leggings and service shoe combo, providing something that served the same purpose as the aforementioned accessories in a more efficient one-piece design.
Up until the early 1940s, standard combat boots were made of straight leather. Leather may be fine and dandy for overall durability, but it offers next to no ventilation, and when it’s wet it is WET. Pretty soon your feet are soggy and covered in heat blisters, which was not cool if you were a soldier serving in hot jungle or swamp environments.
Enter the M-1942, better known as the jungle boot. The original design featured Saran ventilating insoles made of canvas and rubber that allowed water and perspiration to escape, while the rest of the boot prevented the entry of insects, mud, and sand. Around the time of the Vietnam War, drainage holes were added to the upper near the sole to help speed this process along.
In 1944, US Army Sergeant Raymond Dobie developed the famed Panama sole for which the jungle boot is known. This revolutionary design used a series of angled rubber lugs that pushed mud and other debris out of the sole, providing improved traction on treacherous surfaces. The Panama sole was developed too late to see action in World War II, though it would prove useful to troops who would later serve in the mucky jungles of Vietnam.
Modern versions of the desert boot featuring the traditional direct molded sole and camel-skin beige color like we see today didn’t come around until the 1970s, when they were first fielded by the Royal Saudi Land Force.
In the advent of the First Gulf War in 1989, the initiative to develop an American desert boot was backed by Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, the Commander of CENTCOM at the time. The inspiration for what would become the American desert boot came directly from Schwarzkopf’s personal testing of the Saudi-made boot in the field. He concluded his field tests of the Saudi boot in September of 1990, and requested that the new American version be made with a suede and nylon upper in tan, a ten eyelet Speed-Lacing system, and the Panama sole tread pattern used on the jungle boot. By 1993, the Army had adopted the desert boot in large quantity during operations in Somalia, while the traditional all black combat boot was regulated to stateside deployment and overseas bases in Europe.
When the 2000s rolled around and US Forces began deployment into Afghanistan, the Marine Corps became the first to completely abandon the all black combat boot in favor of simple tan hot weather boots manufactured by the Belleville Boot Company, and later coyote brown. The Army followed suit a few years later with the introduction of the UCP ACU, and by 2014 with the introduction of the new OCP ACU began to also make the switch from tan boots to coyote brown boots.
USMC RAT Boots
In 2009, the United States Marine Corps was officially issued the Rugged All-Terrain boot, or “RAT” for short. The first models issued to the Corps were made by Bates, and they brought with them a few detrimental issues. One of which had to do with the RAT’s overall durability not exactly living up to the “rugged” part of its name, as the soles began to separate from the boots and the eyelets were falling off, causing the Marine Corps to recall over 8,000 of the pairs made by Bates. The other issue was the fact that the boots took forever to dry, which was a big problem for troops wading through streams in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2014, the USMC issued a separate contract to Danner, the original maker of the RAT, to manufacture an improved version of the boot and solve the problems experienced with the Bates models. The new models now feature a quicker drying nylon ankle strap as opposed to leather, and nylon gusseting connecting the tongue rather than leather. By October 2016, the Marine Corps expects to outfit every troop with the new and improved Danner RAT.
Enhanced Jungle Boot
Looking to increase their presence in the Pacific, the Army sought a boot as breathable as the present “hot weather” boot that also dried and drained water more quickly. So in 2014, the soldiers stationed in Hawaii began testing an enhanced version of the jungle boot by Rocky Brand, which company officials say is more comfortable and provides better protection against enemy booby traps.
This improved revival of the legendary boot utilized during the Vietnam Era features some updated ancestral traits, such as a layer of protection against Punji traps made of a lighter weight and puncture resistant material rather than steel, and a Panama outsole with larger angled lugs to better shed mud and debris as well as a heel to more easily traverse steep pitch and navigate wet, muddy environments as opposed to the flat outsole of its Vietnam Era relative. The Enhanced Jungle Boot also features faster, lighter, flame-resistant laces, which require just one pull for soldiers to tighten rather than the two to three that the original jungle boot required. The lighter laces also cut these boots down to just 1.5 pounds each, which is super beneficial for agility out in the field.