While they may not be the sexiest or most written about piece of equipment that we use daily, good boots can make a day more bearable and easier to deal with than bargain priced footwear from a discount store. Your boots support you, as well as all of the additional weight from your load of duty gear.
Good boots will cushion your feet from the impact as you walk a beat, keep them dry while directing traffic in a downpour, and will keep your toes warm on those blustery winter days. If you're going to wear them year-round, you need to look for boots that will do all of these things. But if you work in an area that has seasonal swings like we have in the northeast, you'll most likely want to find multiple pairs of boots that are season specific.
So what do I wear on duty and what do I see my crew wear? Boots range from 5.11 Tactical and Blackhawk to Thorogood and Timberland, and everything in the alphabet in between. From my experience, patrol and tactical boots tend to retail from $150 to $250 a pair; prices will vary from catalog to Internet to brick-and-mortar stores. This price range might sound painful, but since you'll wear them daily it factors out to literally pennies a day.
A lot of thought went into 5.11 Tactical's XPRT boot, from its waterproof SympaTex lining to its long-wearing aggressive outsole. The boot has a lot of ankle support thanks to the Yoke Stabilizer and Cinch systems; these basically wrap the ankle into the boot.
Another feature of the XPRT that a lot of the troops like is the kick toe. This is a composite toe that rolls up over the toes but only over the toenail area. You get the protection of the hard toe without the discomfort of those safety toed boots that cover most of the forefoot. The kick toe will protect your feet from getting stepped on during a clumsy moment dashing up stairs.
The cops I know who have been wearing the XPRT have found it to be a super boot. They like the way it fits, feels, and performs. What they also like is they can have the "tactical" version for night shift and SWAT assignments and the polishable version to keep the administration happy when on day shift—without sacrificing performance or comfort.
Bates Boots, a division of Wolverine World Wide, has been making uniform boots for what seems like forever. What got me excited about the Bates Recon 4 is that this lightweight tough boot was cut on a hiking/athletic last and uses the same outsole Bates uses for the ACU-approved desert boot.
The Recon 4's ankle-high size makes it ideal for foot patrol, bike patrol, desk work, etc. The only downside of this boot is the toe cap is not polishable; so if you are required to wear glossy boots these may not work. If, however, you are simply required to wear a black boot, this fills the bill.
Although the Recon 4 is a four-inch boot, the design of the outsole with its oval tread gives you support and stability in the muddiest of conditions. I wore mine on the range after a "monsoon" in Little Rock and the mud and debris came out as I walked, giving me good grip. The boots fit and feel great when on your feet for those long 12-hour shifts, yet if you have to get into a foot pursuit the Recon performs like a training shoe.
Blackhawk is known throughout the industry for high-quality tactical gear, but only recently ventured into footwear. The Warrior Wear division of Blackhawk has been outfitting war fighters and cops with footwear for the last three or so years. The boots I have worn from Blackhawk have all been comfortable, lightweight, and durable.
This year Blackhawk introduced the 7ZW, a seven-inch side-zipper boot. The 7ZW is a waterproof duty boot that feels like a pair of basketball shoes, allbeit on steroids. The boot's polyurethane midsole absorbs shock, and helps beat foot and leg fatigue. The Vibram Multisport TC4 outsole gives traction in all but the very slickest icy conditions; this sole even grabs in the red clay mud of North Carolina and Georgia.
As previously stated, the 7ZW feels like a basketball shoe. However, this athletic feeling boot will survive the rigors of war; many troops are using the desert tan or coyote tan version of the 7ZW and its taller cousin the Desert Ops Boot. I have worn the 7ZW in some of the ongoing biblical proportion rains here in southwestern Pennsylvania and they have kept my feet dry. They are built well enough that my feet don't ache at the end of a 12-hour shift.
I started wearing Danner boots nearly 30 years ago when I was on active duty in the Army. Today, Danner has many offerings to meet the demands of police, EMS, and the military. The Recon is one of the more traditional moderate climate boots in the uniform line. It's a full-grain leather boot with Gore-Tex liner to make it waterproof and lined with 200 grams of Thinsulate to keep you warm in cooler or colder climates.
The good thing about the Recon is its height. It is an eight-inch boot, giving your ankles support without adding the additional weight of some of the 10-inch boots. This makes a difference if you are on your feet all day; those extra ounces add up. The eight-inch shaft also is comfortable and functional for all-season wear.
Danner's Vibram Kletterlift sole is durable, gives good traction in a wide variety of terrains, and can be resoled. The midsole is a wedge style, which gives you good stability and comfort when worn for hours. Danner can even replace the outsole and the midsole through the company's recrafting service; this rebuilds your broken-in and comfortable boots, making them like new.
Magnum Boots is yet another company known for boots that are comfortable, affordable, and in many cases waterproof. The company's Viper II is one of those boots that has all these features. To see how the Viper II would survive harsh conditions, I had some friends test it out over the end of this past winter.
The reports back from the guys wearing the Viper were all good. The boots kept their feet warm and dry; the slip-resistant sole did not slip except on glare smooth ice, and the boots never got stiff like some leather boots do when it's cold and nasty.
The troops also reported back that the liner dries fast; and the moisture is from sweat, not leaks. This is important if you only have one pair of boots for duty because you'll need them the next day.
An often overlooked feature of a boot like the Viper is that it looks good. Oftentimes duty footwear makes us look like we are wearing Frankenstein boots. This isn't the case with the Viper. It looks and feels as good as it performs; a pretty good package.
Oakley has been making inroads with its footwear line for the last few years. The boots have gone through some changes and today are being worn by both military and law enforcement.
Oakley's Assault Boot SI in its desert configuration is approved by the Army for wear with the ACU. I know several members of units assigned to USSOCOM who wore the boots for the summer months in Afghanistan and Iraq; and they tell me they held up well. If the boots can survive combat, I think they can survive daily duty.
I have found the Oakley SI in its six-inch version to be a great boot for summer wear. It is lightweight, fits like my favorite running shoes, and polishes up very well—the last being important in keeping the front office happy.
New for 2008, Original S.W.A.T.'s Air M.T. Tactical continues a tradition of comfort, affordability, and performance.
The Air M.T. Tactical is a nine-inch boot with a side zipper for easy on and off, a waterproof liner, oil- and slip-resistant outsole, and air cushion injected midsole to soften the pounding when walking a beat all day. The Air M.T. is truly lightweight at 44 ounces a pair, which reduces stress on the legs over a long shift.
Like other boots in this review, the Air M.T. cut its teeth during the torrential downpours of June in Pennsylvania. This is most unusual for this area but was perfect for seeing if the waterproof boots truly were. The Air M.T. kept the feet of my partner in crime—or is that crime prevention?—dry even when doing traffic details. It is orange cone season and several departments' officers are out directing traffic, even in a downpour. The Air M.T. shrugged off the rain just like a duck's back does. Air M.T.s will handle the elements that we encounter daily.
The latest addition to Rocky's line of duty boots is the S2V, a boot inspired by the U.S. Navy SEALs. S2V draws its name from the SEAL motto: "Stealth plus silence equals victory." The boots were designed for military special units that operate in a variety of terrains as well as jump out of helicopters and rappel down cliffs. But Rocky also thinks they will be a hit with first responders and SWAT.
S2V boots have 1,000-denier Cordura nylon sides and panels treated with PTEE flame retardant. They also feature a flash- and water-resistant leather upper. The sole is a proprietary high-walled design constructed of Vibram; this improves traction and stability on all terrains. SuperFabric instep panels prevent cuts, abrasions, punctures, and animal bites. The S2V boots also have a Dri-Lex lining that wicks away moisture. For comfort, the boots feature a cushioned, perforated footbed and polyurethane mid-sole.
The S2V is available in black, tan, sage green, or olive leather and sells for $139.99.
It was a pleasant surprise to see Timberland introduce the Pro Series at the 2008 SHOT Show. To me these boots were somewhat revolutionary as they are streamlined and lightweight and use many modern materials. The Pro Series Warhawk, for example, is a big change from the tan Timberland hunting boots I wore as a teenager.
What impressed me about the Warhawk boot I tried was just how flexible and light the boot is. It felt like a running shoe. If you are walking up and down steps or standing all day on a beat, this saves the legs and feet from getting tired. Couple that with the fact that the boots weigh just over a pound per shoe and your body will thank you.
Because of its style and design, the Timberland Warhawk can serve in a number of roles. It will function well for use on bike patrol because it is sleek and narrow and its aggressive non-marking outsole gives good traction on the trails and in the park.
The Timberland Pro Warhawk is also waterproof thanks to a Gore-Tex liner and will keep your feet cool in the summer with its mesh and leather upper. It's available in six-inch or eight-inch versions.
This by far doesn't cover all the boots on the market; it's just a sample of what's new. Other players like Adidas with its GSG9-2 make an excellent boot for tactical teams and assignments where a comfortable lightweight boot is required. Thorogood continues to create traditional hard use boots. Haix and Lowa bring to the table boots built to survive the rigors of fires and mountaineering. OTB Boots' water-to-land footwear and new Land Series provide Navy SEALs-inspired designs.
Because of the wide range of styles and boots designed for specific climates, uses, and terrains, take your time looking for a pair of boots for duty. Don't wait until the last minute and be stuck with the only boot in your size at the uniform shop. Lastly, dare I say, have a couple pairs of boots, so you can rotate them. The boots will last longer and switching boots gives your feet a break. No two pairs of boots fits the same.
Your feet take more pounding than anything else on your body during a shift. Give your body a break and don't save a few pennies on a boot. Quality duty footwear will make your day a lot easier.
Scott Smith is a disabled veteran who served as an active-duty Army MP and in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard as a security policeman. Today he serves as a federal police officer for the Department of Veterans' Affairs.