Boot Up For Success

"Today, law enforcement personnel want a "duty" boot that is lightweight, comfortable and will hold up in all the various conditions these individuals find themselves in on a daily basis."

Scott Smith Bio Headshot

If your feet are cold and wet or your bunions are acting up, life can be bleak, indeed. In the world of police work, one of the most overlooked pieces of equipment is footwear. While hours of thought often go into the purchases of duty gear like vests, belts, firearms, batons, etc., footwear is often left in lonely last place. In reality it should be first. A beat officer can be on his or her feet for an entire eight-hour shift, at a vehicle accident for hours, or involved in a SWAT operation for anywhere from a matter of minutes a whole day. "Performance and safety are key when it comes to footwear for law enforcement officers," says Jon Kaplan, President and CEO of Hi-Tec Sports USA, parent company of Magnum." "Tactical footwear needs to be designed with optimum slip resistance and traction for those demanding situations that law enforcement personnel deal with on a daily basis." Cops aren't UPS drivers. Their lives can literally depend on the ability of their boots to keep them on their feet!

Quality footwear can help make the day go a little better and also help end the, "My aching back," "My feet are killing me," or the favorite of those up North, "I wish my feet could be warmer and drier." Modern technology can be a wonderous thing, especially when applied in the right location. If applied correctly, all of these problems can be handily fixed. "Today, law enforcement personnel want a "duty" boot that is lightweight, comfortable and will hold up in all the various conditions these individuals find themselves in on a daily basis," said Todd Dunaway of Original S.W.A.T. Footwear.

When looking for duty footwear, as with bullet-resistant vests and other gear, consider how it's going to be used and ask yourself, "How will I get the most for my dollar?"

As with anything else in life, you get what you pay for. It doesn't necessarily mean you have to bet your mortgage on a new pair of boots, but don't be shy about opening your checkbook!

What's Out There?

Fortunately, a wide variety of boots are available for the officer on the street. Some designs have a waterproof barrier in them like Gore-Tex, Sympatex, or the latest -tex of the day. "Thermal properties are important. Gore-Tex waterproof membranes let the boot breathe while keeping feet dry," according to Steve Francis, Director, Product Design from Bates Uniform Footwear.  Many are insulated, usually with Thinsulate, a lightweight, fast-drying insulative material made by DuPont. Generally, a good weight is 400 grams; that's also the heaviest gram weight DuPont manufacturers.

Many boots use a combination of leather and Cordura nylon in their construction. A Vibram sole wears well and is the industry standard. A quality sole should be attached to a stable shock-absorbing midsole, generally of an EVA compound (which is a rubber, shock-absorbing material) and compressed polyurethane. One manufacturer is now using an air unit similar to that of a popular athletic shoe company.  An important feature of some boots, like the Danner, is the fact they are easily resoleable. "When the outsole wears out you simply strip on a new one and it extends the life," said Renee Henry, Vice President of Sales for Danner Shoe Company. Sometimes the increased cost is justified because you can increase the life of the boot.

So what's out there for duty wear? Actually quite a bit, from a number of manufacturers. Boots can range in price from $75 to $200. Remember, your feet are going to be on-duty with the rest of you for at least eight hours a day . . . do the math.

Danner Shoe Manufacturing

Long known for its Gore-Tex boots, Danner Shoe Manufacturing Company has introduced the Trooper II to augment its duty line. Unlike like other boots in the duty/uniform line, the TrooperII has a glued-on sole instead of the welted, sewn-on type. This is said to reduce weight and make the boots a little more flexible. These Gore-Tex-lined boots are waterproof and feature a leather and Cordura upper portion - again to aid in making the boot lighter.

The TrooperII's aggressive sole provides excellent traction in all but the iciest of conditions.


For 2000, Hi-Tec/Magnum has redesigned the line of Magnum boots that have set the standard in lightweight duty boots. Said the company's Director of Marketing Pam Aberle, "Hi-Tec didn't want to change the successful Magnum line, only improve it." Of note, the soles are now the Vibram type as there were a number of complaints that Hi-Tec's soles were slippery in oily/wet road and sidewalk surfaces. It's a case of you asked for it and you got it.

A change that is important to those of us who walk all day, is the addition to M-Pact technology. Simply put, this is an outsole and an insole that absorbs the daily shock of walking, running, just plain old standing around and doing the daily office grind. Yes, the boots are still available in both Sympatex waterproof lined and unlined versions, to fit the needs of those in both Washington State and Arizona's deserts.

Rocky Shoes & Boots

Another standby in the world of uniform footwear is Rocky Shoes & Boots. Long known for the Eliminator, Rocky has introduced the Code Red series. These are available as 6- or 8-inch models and are incredibly lightweight. In reality they feel like a good pair of basketball shoes and are just as responsive on the street. The only major drawback to the Code Red is that they are not waterproof. For summer wear or for an administration officer who requires a good piece of duty footwear, while not wanting that "boot feel," these would be an excellent choice.


Bates Uniform Footwear

Another longtime player in uniform footwear is Bates Uniform Footwear. This year the company has made changes and additions to its line to include boots for amphibious and bicycle operations and for units that require them in brown.

Of major note to most of the officers on the street would be the Special Operations line of duty boots. Steve Francis, product design director for Bates, told Police, "These boots are cut more along the line of a speed hiker." He added that the boots are designed to handle most everything the day can dish out. They are available in either Gore-Tex-lined or unlined models. They have an aggressive outsole for traction in all weather conditions. Because of the duty boot design, these boots offer tremendous support to the ankles and feet, helping to prevent injuries.


Long known as a leader in the world of athletic shoes, Adidas has a tactical boot designed to meet the needs of GSG9, one of the world's leading anti-terrorist units. Accordingly, the boot is named the GSG9 for the unit. The 8-inch high boot is styled like many of the Astro-Turf football shoes of the NFL and NCAA.

The GSG9 is a lightweight, responsive boot designed for use by tactical teams. As such, it is water repellant, supportive, and has that running shoe feel. Because of the sole, the boot allows for quiet entries and approaches, yet affords good traction on most surfaces.

Altama Footwear

Not as well known as other players in the world of duty footwear are the made-in-the-USA boots from Altama Footwear. Those who have been in the military are familiar with the issue footwear that Altama makes for Uncle Sam. The Tactical line is not to be compared to those.

Altama's Tactical line offers a boot that is designed from the bottom up for duty wear, incorporating input from officers on the street, and is well suited for tactical teams.

These well-made boots have an athletic shoe fit with the foot and ankle support of a heavy-duty boot. The support comes from the use of a nylon and polypropylene shank, which is lighter than the usual metal shank. The Tactical boots afford good traction and are a quiet boot because of the polyurethane outsoles.

For greater versatility they are available in leather and Cordura, all leather, and with or without a waterproof Gore-Tex lining.

Ridge Boots

Another new player in the world of duty footwear is Ridge Boots. This company offers boots that feature one of the most innovative means of shock absorption in a duty boot today.

An air heel unit, similar to those used in a popular athletic shoe, cushions, while not sacrificing support.

Ridge Boots are available in a number of styles, from 6- to 8-inch models, with or without a waterproof lining, in all leather or a combination of leather and Cordura. Whichever you choose, the steel shank and rocker foot design, aided by the Air-Tac heel make the boot comfortable for all-day wear.

In the Final Analysis

All of these boots were subjected to totally non-scientific tests. We wore them in a variety of situations, including street work, on the firing range and during a tactical team training session. While the results were subjective, we believe they all performed well and would suit most officers' needs.

Points we considered included traction, noise on various surfaces and perceived comfort. We also evaluated whether the waterproof models actually were.

We felt that the Rocky Code Red would be a good boot for general use as it met all tasks well. The Bates and Hi-Tec boots were the boots to which all others have been compared and with this year's improvements should continue to fit most all of a patrol officer's needs. If support and waterproofing are requirements, Danner is ahead of the pack, while Ridge's AirTac heel unit was tough to beat for walking the beat. For overall performance, the Altama Tactical would be a good choice, as it would serve well as a duty boot. Because of the sole composition, it is quiet enough for special ops work.

If your budget allows it, the GSG9 would be the leader of the pack for special ops work. But it should be noted that the GSG9 boot is not a great all-day boot.

In the opinion of this author all of these boots should meet the officer's daily needs without breaking the bank. Given the chance, any of them will make the day a little better.

Not tested by Scott Smith, but surely to be included in any list of quality duty boots:

Original S.W.A.T. Footwear

Original S.W.A.T. Boots were developed because the company saw a demand for a law enforcement boot that would give the wearer the same fit, comfort and performance that an individual would only find in a pair of cross trainers or sneakers. "We realized that most law enforcement boot companies were producing boots that are still based after a military style of boot. This style of boot tends to be uncomfortable, heavy and does not provide a proper fit, said Todd Dunaway.

Thorogood by Weinbrenner

"Law Enforcement professionals need all-day comfort and performance from their footwear when the situation demands it, says Fred Girsky, vice president of sales for Weinbrenner, manufacturer of Thorogood Footwear. Thorogood Footwear builds in lightweight comfort with quality leathers or Cordura nylon, comfort weave linings and shock absorbing insoles. Thorogood soles and boot constructions can also stand up to the toughest duty.
-Leslie Maris, Publisher, POLICE

For more information:

(503) 972-2300 or

Altama Footwear:
(800) 437-9888 or

Bates Uniform Footwear:
(800) 253-2184 or

Danner Shoe Manufacturing Co.:
(800) 345-0430 or

(800) 558-8580 or

Original Footwear Company:
(888) 476-7700 or

(352) 357-2669 or

Rocky Shoes & Boots:
(740)753-1951 or

Spot Bilt, Saucony Inc.:
(978) 532-9000 or

Task Footwear:
(619) 232-9884

Thorogood Footwear by Weinbrenner:
(800) 826-0002.

Scott Smith is a medically retired warrant officer who has served in the U.S. Army in military law enforcement, as a member of an SRT team. He is currently a firearms instructor and occasionally works with firearms manufacturers. This is his first contribution to POLICE.

About the Author
Scott Smith Bio Headshot
Retired Army MP
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