Selecting appropriate footwear for any tactical or outdoor application can be a daunting task for some. There are many choices ranging from true tactical/combat boots to the various hiking boots and shoes that have emerged among the backpacking and hiking community. With all of that being said, there are a few simple criteria that can be used to select ideal footwear for a tactical application.
First, consider the weight of the boot. Any boot that is going to be worn for extended periods needs to be light. This in turn precludes steel, and in some cases composite toes. If a protected toe is not necessary you have immediately saved some weight and gained comfort while wearing that particular pair of boots or shoes.
Ankle support is kind of a buzz word for the footwear industry. The reality is that for tactical/combat applications we need quality ankle support, it is simply a non-negotiable. Look for boots that provide minimal ankle movement, and noticeable ankle protection. I cannot stress the importance of ankle protection enough in tactical applications. Consider the following: while conducting vehicle ops my co-worker (through total failure on behalf of the door locking mechanism) had a 255lb APC door slam into his ankle. The quality protection in our duty boots prevented at a best a broken ankle and at worst a possible amputation of his foot.
Further to the topic of ankle support, strong ankles win the day. Buy a wobble board. Yes, a wobble board. Do wobble exercises 2-3 times per week (I do this in front of the TV in fact.) This will strengthen the ankles. In addition for people with ligament damage a wobble board will help mitigate some of the damage, through the development of joint stabilization. As a final note on ankle support, ankle braces have a place in anyone’s kit (especially if you are older.) While I do not advocate ankle braces for everyone, they can be used if you have particularly weak ankles, or are wearing trail runners or another low cut shoe.
When looking at boots your next area of focus after ankle support, should be the sole. The sole should be stiff, as this will provide positive contact with the terrain, and protect your arches and other sensitive foot areas. Next, look at the laces. How difficult will it be to re-lace the boots? Does the design use any odd, or unique lace styles? Boots should not be difficult to re-lace, and laces should be readily available. Whenever you buy new boots buy 3-5 pairs of laces to place in your various gear bags.
The final quality I always look for is the mate of the upper to the sole. A common problem is usually in the toe area of a boot. With use, the upper and sole in some designs will begin to peel apart, effectively ending the life of the boot. Look for reinforcement along key stress points of the boot (e.g. double stitching.) Some boot designs (e.g. Keen and Solomon) use a one piece type design with no visible stitching, in the case both of the aforementioned manufacturers I have yet to hear of or experience any separation.
Following these guidelines you should be well on your way to purchasing a quality footwear for any tactical or outdoor application. Everyone is different so I would urge you to go to your local outdoor/tactical outfitters and try a few pairs on in order to find what’s comfortable for you.