It's not enough to make a black boot and call it a law enforcement model anymore. Police officers are sophisticated consumers, and they know what they like. They also know there are many new features out there that can take their footwear to the next level of performance to meet their needs on the job. Manufacturers realize this, and they're up to the challenge.
Every foot is different. Two people who generally wear the same shoe size might still prefer different styles of shoes because of how they fit specific parts of the foot. Now companies are finding better ways to make their mass-produced footwear feel like they were made for the individual. The secret is allowing customers to make their own adjustments to fit their feet.
Three years ago, Bates debuted its Individual Comfort System (ICS), which allows the wearer to turn a disk in the shoe to make adjustments that customize the fit by controlling firmness, cushion, and inward and outward stability. What's new is that it's now easier to access the disk to make the adjustments, even selecting different settings on different days, if desired. "Instead of the disk being on the bottom of the midsole internally, it now sits on top," says Bates' Director of Marketing Andrew Fowler. "All you have to remove is the sock liner or footbed and lift out the disk itself."
A comfort trend seen in several companies' footwear offerings is adjustable lacing, not the typical "lace to toe." Both 5.11 Tactical and Danner provide this type of construction. This allows you to adjust the tension of individual sections of your boot to best fit each part of your foot's unique shape.
This feature is currently only available on 5.11 Tactical's new Taclite boot, but it will be available on the entire series, including eight- and six-inch models in black leather and tan suede. Danner's "variable lacing system," found on the company's DFA boot, consists of nylon ghillies placed in between the eyelets. According to Ryan Cade, product line manager for Danner, the multi-part system is "climbing inspired."
When it comes to climbing, for law enforcement that usually means walls or ropes, and features such as distinctive tread on the instep of a boot can aid in fast roping, especially important for tactical units and other teams that might need to rappel.
The GSG9S boot from Haix is intended for use by SRT or SWAT teams, so it's built with fast roping in mind. "It has a slimmer, more compact design and minimal seaming on the inside so you don't tear up the seams on the inside of your boots," says Sandy Longarzo, marketing administration manager for Haix North America. "The sole is constructed in such a way as to have fast breaking properties, too. It has a sharper edge so you can stop quickly when going down the rope."
To hold up to speedy descents, Danner's DFA boot features the company's patent pending V.I. outsole with Vertical Insertion Arrestor (VIA) technology, which utilizes the very hard Vibram V-4 ultra abrasion rubber compound that Cade says is "the highest abrasion-resistant compound they make." This material built into the medial side-arch of the outsole won't fall apart like EVA, says Cade. Danner also constructs its DFA boot with low oil-content nubuc leather. "Full-grain leather would foul the rope after multiple descents," Cade explains.
Magnum's biggest concern for operators fast roping is the heat created by friction between the boot and the rope, so its boots intended for this use feature a combination of a hard rubber compound underneath and a Superfabric upper to withstand the abuse. [PAGEBREAK]
"As you exit the aircraft and fast rope down, the inside of your instep on your boot can generate up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit of heat. And with that, most nylon, leather, or rubber would disintegrate," says Magnum CEO Bob Kaiser. "With our system, the Superfabric material can withstand up to 1,500 degrees before it starts to melt."
Whether you're sliding down a rope, walking, or running, it's easy for your feet to feel hot after sitting in boots for a while. Especially in warmer climes, innovations to alleviate such discomfort are welcome.
This is why the uppers on 5.11 Tactical's new Taclite boot feature a more progressive design incorporating less traditional materials. "Panels of breathable air mesh instead of Cordura Nylon give us windows of breathabililty," says Joel Alarcon, director of strategic business unit footwear for 5.11 Tactical. "And behind the airmesh we use a high-quality backing foam. None will absorb water."
Also focusing on materials used to lower foot temperatures, Haix boots feature Sun Reflect leather. "It's a specially treated leather that reflects sunlight so it keeps the leather, and in turn your feet, cooler," says Longarzo. Depending on where you live and work, one such simple feature can make a big difference in overall comfort throughout the day.
Danner's DFA boot comes in a waterproof version, but the company also sells a "hot version" that is unlined and features spacer mesh lining. "It's not waterproof, but in hot weather environments, it's significantly more useful for an operator to promote foot health and allow for additional breathability," says Cade.
Instead of relying on materials to cool feet, other companies have developed systems that literally push air through and out of a boot. To deliver on customer requests for cooler, more breathable footwear, Bates developed its cross-channel circulation, or C3, technology.
"It's quite a challenge to make a boot extremely breathable and still retain the rigidity you need and the level of water repellency a customer needs," says Fowler. "But we built a system of channels through the sidewall of the midsole of the shoe, so the wearers as they walk and move can almost pump air into and out of the foot cavity."
To make room for this "portal system," designers had to use less lining materials behind the boot's nylon panels, which also significantly increased breathability. In fact, breathability can be measured in the lab with what is called the moisture vapor transfer rate, and a boot with C3 technology has twice the MVTR of the industry qualification standard of a "breathable" shoe.
Along the same lines, Magnum's Vent Guard is a one-way valve at the front of the boot near the little toe on the outside and on the back of the big toe on the inside. This allows air heated inside the boot by friction where the boot bends to leave through the vent as the wearer walks, creating what Kaiser jokingly refers to as "whooshing." Haix boots have a similar feature in the company's Climate System.[PAGEBREAK]
Not Getting Wet
Breathability is a concern for waterproof boots, as well. Many companies use breathable linings such as Gore-tex to create waterproof boots, which is popular and very effective. But Magnum's ion-mask technology takes the idea of waterproofing one step further, by impregnating the leather itself with hydrophobic ions. The boot is put in a chamber, where air is removed and the ion-mask material is injected into the space, where it adheres to the leather, nylon, and rubber at the molecular level and remains there. These ions repel water, keeping the boot lighter.
"Even with the old waterproof boot that keeps your foot dry, it doesn't do anything about keeping water from being soaked up by the fabric on the outside of the product, which makes it heavier and harder to walk," says Kaiser. "The ion-mask technology keeps a boot hydrophobic, and so lightweight."
Another advantage of this technology is that it prevents spilled oil, chemicals, or blood-borne pathogens from adhering to treated boots "to a large extent." Kaiser says Magnum will soon also offer ion-mask in other product categories.
With all of the improvements footwear manufacturers make to their product lines, the common goal is user satisfaction. Listening to law enforcement officers and considering their concerns and requests helps drive innovation in the industry, and might lead to developing a feature so popular it will please loyal customers and garner new fans.
Alarcon says a key feature of 5.11 Tactical's new Tactical Trainer 2.0 launching in July is a pull tab on the back of the boot engineered to stay flat. It's a detail specific to law enforcement that the company felt was important to include. "Often people want to yank on the heel to get shoe on or off quickly. The challenge is if you don't have some sort of mechanism to keep that tab flat, your pants catch on it, and that's a big problem with uniform professionalism," says Alarcon. "This tab will stay flat after you use it to pull on our boots."
Original S.W.A.T. actually puts customization in the hands of tactical officers with its "SWAT id" Website. "This way you can create the boot and design it exactly to the specs you want," says Cynthia Hartwig, marketing assistant for Original S.W.A.T. "You can also have your department logo and name on the tongue." In addition to individual purchases from officers, Hartwig says an agency in Florida is currently looking to place an order for its team of six people.
Danner also listened to its users and developed a "lace garage" in the top of the tongue of its DFA boot. "In the past, you had to tuck laces in your boot, which would create hot spots [of friction] around the ankle, but now you can tuck them into the tongue," says Cade.
It can be difficult to make law enforcement boots new while still meeting agencies' requirements. But companies are finding ways, and will continue to make adjustments to better meet officers' needs.
"There's a challenge for the manufacturer to continually bring innovation to the market," says Fowler of Bates Boots. "That's why it's invigorating to bring out patented technology like ICS and C3, measurable comfort stories within the constraints of eight- or six-inch black boots."