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Boots!

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So today we’re talking all about boots. This might seem like a pretty simple topic, but there’s quite a bit to it. I am an Infantryman by background, this means that I am borderline obsessive about my feet. I will not accept anything which will cause them to be in anything other than top condition. If you spend any time on your feet you will rapidly find out how important the right footwear is.

The human foot is a biological masterpiece. Its strong, flexible, and functional design enables it to do its job well and without complaint—if you take care of it and don’t take it for granted. It contains within its relatively small size 26 bones (the two feet contain a quarter of all the bones in the body), 33 joints, and a network of more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments, to say nothing of blood vessels and nerves.

This is why getting the right boot for you is so important.

– The original Jungle Boots

Boots are a very personal thing. What is perfect for one person is not necessarily the best for another. I have had tons of different boots over the years. Always trying to find the perfect boot. I think I’m there now, but I am still looking just in case!

The first thing to be considered is the environment you are going to be wearing the boots in. Thick leather boots lined with a Gore-tex membrane are great in a northern European winter but not so great in the desert. Feet need to breathe otherwise they start to rot and cause you all sorts of problems.

The next thing you need to look at is your gender. Lots of manufacturers will market boots as being unisex. Avoid these at all costs if you are a woman. Womens’ feet are shaped differently from men. Rather than just being smaller proportionally. Womens’ feet are narrower at the heel and particularly at the arch, the lateral side of the foot, the first toe and the ball of the foot. Given these differences any boot that is manufactured to fit a man will not fit a woman properly. This can lead to obvious injuries such as blisters but also to more long term issues such as sensation loss and stress fractures. So quite simply if you are a woman, buy womens’ boots!

– The British Army recently undertook a trial for Female specific boots.

I also like to consider where I am going to be wearing my boots alongside the environment. This is specifically in terms of what other clothes I will be wearing. My aim is always to dress in a manner that does not attract attention. Therefore, wearing a pair of high leg army boots with shorts is not going to work. This will have implications for style and colour choice. What this will boil down to is that one pair of boots is not going to be enough.

The easiest way to give you an idea of what might work is to talk you through my boots.
I love Altberg boots! After many different pairs of boots these are the manufacturer that are my go-to.

– Old school Altberg

This is for a number of reasons;

As I have gotten older my feet have somewhat spread. Where as a young lad of 18 I wore a size nine I am now a 9.5. Altberg make ½ sizes. Many manufacturers do not, so straight away you will be buying a boot which does not fit properly. Altberg have consistent sizing across all their boot styles. They still hand-make their boots using an old fashioned last for each size. This means that I can simply order up the boot knowing that it will fit regardless of the style.

I also really like the range of boots that Altberg make. They make jungle boots, desert boots, lightweight patrolling boots and heavyweight winter boots, all in different colours. This means that they are a one stop shop for me. Finally, they replace the soles on their boots when they wear out. Because I like leather boots, and I bother to take care of them with regular cleaning and polishing, the uppers always outlast the soles. Given that their boots are over £100 it is a no-brainer to be able to get the soles replaced for about £40 rather than be forced to buy a whole new boot.

If you are feeling particularly flash, or like a mate of mine are oddly shaped, you can go to Altberg’s factory in Yorkshire and they will make a last of your feet so that your boots are truly custom made.

So now let me talk about boot types. Most days you will find me wearing jungle boots. Light and comfortable, with an aggressive tread pattern they are what I choose to wear provided I can wear trousers. I have these boots in black and brown. They are great for all day wear as they let your feet breathe. I also like them because they don’t draw attention when you are wearing a pair of jeans. Wherever I travel in the world I will travel in a pair of these boots. I have worn them in Kabul, London, Cape Town, Freetown and numerous other places around the world. There is enough leather in them that you can get wear them on a rainy day in the city without getting wet feet and enough fabric that you won’t rot your feet somewhere hot.

I also have a pair of desert boots. These I save for somewhere that is hot and dry. Given that I have spent quite a bit of time in Southern Iraq they are worth having for me, but unless you are going to this specific environment I would give them a swerve as they are pretty limited in use otherwise.

If I find myself somewhere with some more challenging terrain, I will wear a pair of all leather boots. This is simply to give me more ankle support than is offered by jungle boots. Again I try to keep these pretty lightweight. They are not 100% waterproof and I am happy to get my feet a bit wet because I know that with a change of socks and a pair of Gore-tex socks over the top I will be good to go. Along with a pair of gaiters I have not had any issue with wet feet so far though.

– Altberg Desert Micro-lights

I will deliberately try to avoid any boots with a Gore-tex type lining except for some specific circumstances. Firstly, they are very hot to wear. This means that your feet sweat a lot which means they stay wet, not good in terms of growing foot fungus and other pleasant things. This also encourages your socks to rub at your feet inside your boots making hotspots and causing blisters. My last reason is because if they get wet inside they stay wet! When I was a young soldier I had a pair of Gore-tex lined boots that I wore onto a week long Infantry exercise. On the first morning of the exercise we went through a waist deep swamp. My boots stayed wet for the whole exercise. Given that we couldn’t take boots off at night due to tactical constraints I wore wet boots for the whole exercise. My feet were rotten! As a rule, I have avoided Gore-tex lined boots ever since.

So having said why I don’t like Gore-tex boots, let me tell you all about my Gore-tex boots! I have a pair I use only in very specific circumstances. They are a pair of heavyweight winter boots. I wear them when I am going to be pretty much static and usually only when there is snow on the ground. Frankly in any of the other boots my feet would really suffer from the cold leading to a whole load of foot issues I can’t afford. Wet feet in that kind of weather makes you a write off!

I really dislike fabric boots. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, they lack robustness. If you are hard on your boots like I am you will soon end up with tears, rips and damaged fabric on the boot. Leather, or at least partially leather boots like jungle boots, can handle this without a loss or performance. Secondly they lack basic water proofing. Without a Gore-tex membrane, which I dislike, a simple walk through dew sodden grass will get your feet soaking. Equally the fabric will naturally retain water at the surface level which can leach the heat out of your feet on cold days and cause non-freezing cold injuries, even with a Gore-tex membrane. A well looked after pair of leather boots are much more robust, concomitantly giving your feet more protection, and shedding water at the surface level.

Once you find a pair of boots you like, buy another pair. Remember one is none and two is one. If your boots break while you are on task you won’t just be able to soldier on without doing your feet some damage. You will need a spare pair. I always have a spare pair of broken-in boots in my bergan when I am on task. Duct tape might have 1001 uses but serious boot repair isn’t one of them.

My final piece of wisdom on boots is that you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince! I don’t know how many different boots I have had over the years until I found the ones that were best for me. Finding the right boot is an expensive pass-time especially as the only way to tell they are right being to sling them on and cover some mileage. By the time you’ve done that there’s no chance of getting your money back for them being badly fitting. Persevere though, once you get it right you won’t look back.

Socks;

I also want to spend a bit of time talking about socks. Socks are just as important as boots! A decent sock is more than just a fabric tube to stop your toes getting cold. The way it fits to your foot and the material it is made of is of equal importance.

Firstly, it should fit your foot. This sounds like a no-brainer but if you take a close look at the socks you own you will find that they don’t really fit you. This is because socks are manufactured to meet a size range, unless you are at the upper end of that range, you will often find that they are quite baggy at the toe and at the heel. In terms of this then being inside your boot, this means that you have a potential issue with this excess fabric bunching up and rubbing your foot to cause blisters.

You will also find that some socks are pretty loose around the arch too. Same issue as with the excess fabric, it causes rubbing. When you buy socks check that they don’t have too much excess fabric at the toe and heel and that they contour snugly to your foot arch. When you are selecting socks to go in boots it is advisable to buy proper walking socks. Walking socks will have smaller size ranges and will be properly fitted to the contours of your foot.

Next make sure they are appropriate for your foot wear. If you wear high leg boots and ankle length socks guess what? Yep more rubbing! Think about what they are made of when you select your socks. Avoid synthetics if you can. Natural fabrics such as cotton and wool, regular and merino, are by far the best way to go. I personally love the British issue desert socks. They are all cotton, fit snugly, are long enough to wear with high leg boots and don’t have too much excess fabric.

The final point to consider is that socks wear out. If they go threadbare then they are not protecting your foot from the inside of your boot. Once they start going, get rid of them. Pay careful attention to them inside if they are plie lined. Some socks are filled with loads of thread loops to create a cushioning effect around your foot. After a while this all starts to breakdown and matt together turning into something that feels like a bit of sandpaper after a few miles. Once they start to go, get rid. Don’t wait until they cause you an injury. If you wash them inside out, not only will you get rid of all the dead skin and nasties that fester inside other people’s socks, but you will be able to spot more easily when your socks need to go in the bin.

This Kit Pest Review article was written by Ben O’Toole. Hopefully you enjoyed it and if you have any thoughts or comments related to this article then leave a comment!

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