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Building a Better Boot

Advances in technology have produced an awe inspiring array of capabilities for today’s military.
But it’s the fundamentals that truly make a difference. A case in point: the lowly combat boot.
By Patrick Chisholm
Advances in technology have produced an awe-inspiring array of capabilities for today’s
military. But it’s the fundamentals that truly make a difference. A case in point: the lowly
combat boot.
Poorly designed, a boot can inure or even incapacitate the most well-e!uipped operator. As
one observer said, "#f the soldier’s feet fail, all of his high-tech e!uipment is useless.$
#t is vital that a warfighter’s combat gear includes boots that minimi%e pressure and inuries,
while ma&imi%ing comfort and functionality. #n addition, the boot needs to be rugged and
durable, able to withstand the demands of a lengthy deployment.
'ust as technology has improved weapons systems and other big-ticket items, progress has
been made in the development and design of boots. (ighter, longer-lasting and more
comfortable than ever, the ).*. military has a wide array of options to choose from when it
comes to outfitting soldiers.
#n fact, the Army is currently fielding several new and updated combat boots to *oldiers
deploying to both Afghanistan and #ra! as part of the P+, *oldier -apid .ielding #nitiative.
Beginning ,ctober /, 0112, two of the new boots3the Army 4ombat Boot 56emperate
7eather8 and the Army 4ombat Boot 59ot 7eather83are to be included in the clothing bag
standard for all Army soldiers. 6he new edition of these boots seeks to make the best of new
technology, combining comfort with support, and ma&imi%ing durability while maintaining
lightweight construction.
"*ome people will comment that it’s akin to a running shoe type of a feel, but it’s a combat
boot,$ said :ichael 9olthe, footwear proect engineer, Proect :anagement ,ffice-4lothing
and #ndividual +!uipment 5P:-4#+8 at the ).*. Army *oldier *ystems 4enter in ;atick, :A.
"#t’s a rugged durable combat boot but it feels very comfortable for !uick-paced movement.$
Although not recommended for daily physical training runs, the new boots do incorporate
many of the same principles used in designing !uality athletic shoes while maintaining the
durability re!uired for everyday use by the soldier.
6he end result will enhance the warfighter and their ability to fight. *aid 9olthe, "7e’ve
designed the soling system for better shock attenuation and durability. All of that is done
with the goal of getting the soldiers from the point where they are dropped off to where the
engagement is. #f we can get them to that point, less tired, less fatigued, where they need
less down-time, then they are in a better position to accomplish their mission.$
6he new temperate-weather boot is appro&imately two-and-a-half pounds, and the hot-
weather boot weighs in at around two pounds depending on the si%e3which is less than the
versions they are replacing. +ven a slight weight reduction can produce big results. "7e try
to decrease the weight every time we put out a new item or improve an e&isting one,$
remarked 9olthe. "#f we are able to take even a few ounces off of the feet, that can have a
significant impact on fatigue and other factors that can effect a soldier’s mission.$
6o better understand the demands placed on the boots being delivered, a team at P:-4#+
goes out to various locations to get feedback from soldiers, find out how the boots are being
used, and gauge how the footwear holds up to present tasks.
9e continued, "7e’ve got access to almost every environment that we can think of. 7e
have access to field environments all over the world including cold region testing centers,
temperate weather locations and both tropical and dry hot weather locations as well as some
of the harshest environments on the planet including rugged mountainous terrain and lava
rock. 7e try to test our boots in every applicable environment, so that when they actually
get out there in use, we know it’s a good item. .eedback from the soldier is invaluable to our
mission. +verything we do is to improve the !uality of life of the soldier and to help them
accomplish their mission no matter what the challenge.$
Basic training camps also offer a prime testing ground. "Basic trainees often get inured or
have stress-related inuries,$ pointed out 9olthe. "6esting has shown that the better-
designed boots we are currently fielding can reduce the incidence of lower leg inuries by
over <1 percent.$
Before the boots are tested in the field, 9olthe’s team does so in the lab. 7et-fle&ing to test
the waterproofness of temperate weather footwear, physical testing and shock attenuation
testing are all performed using a variety of e!uipment. "+verything we do in the lab is ust a
first step to ensure we are moving in the right direction. ;othing replaces field evaluation and
feedback from soldiers. #n the lab, we are also able to do such things as test the pressure on
the bottom of the foot to determine if there are hotspots or other uncomfortable areas that
need to be modified,$ he said.
Reducing n!uries
Protecting against inury is typically the top concern of the boot designer, including stress-
related inuries such as shin splints, ankle inuries and tissue damage. "7hether you’re hiking,
hunting or climbing the hills in Afghanistan, by having proper support around your feet, you’re
preventing inuries that can radiate clear up your back,$ e&plained (aurie *haw, senior
marketing manager for =anner Boots.
*hock absorption and stability are two critical elements in designing a boot that reduces the
risk of inury for the feet and the body as a whole. An e&tremely rigid boot may be able to
provide perfect stability, but one’s entire skeletal system will be arred with every step. 6o
effectively deter ankle inuries, the boot needs to be soft enough to comfortably
accommodate normal activity, but sturdy enough to provide support and minimi%e the
likelihood of twists and sprains.
6here are trade-offs. =urability, weight, mission functionality and comfort all are factored in.
.or e&ample, it would be possible to build a boot that could last practically forever, but the
boot would be so rigid and uncomfortable that soldiers would be unable to complete everyday
functions. .ootwear construction is based on the idea the boot will, in fact, break down over
time. 6he ob of the engineer is to control that rate of breakdown and make sure that the
boot helps the soldier accomplish everything that is re!uired.
6his also holds true for blast protection. 7hile there are blast-protection boots for de-mining
engineers, standard boots offer no blast protection. =oing so "would most likely make the
functionality of the combat boot so bad that we’d be having more people suffering leg inuries
than from an actual blasts,$ said 9olthe. "7hat that would do is to decrease the capabilities
in the other areas, so again, it’s a trade-off. 6he state of current technology is not such to
be able to provide blast protection without significantly affecting the other physical
properties and protective features of the boot. 6here also has not been any re!uirement
generated asking for the everyday-use combat boot to be blast protective.$
6he same is true for safety toes. 7hile such boots e&ist for mechanics and others who need
them, the standard boots do not have them.
,n the opposite end of the spectrum, too soft and fle&ible also can be a problem. 'ason
Boyd, =anner’s product manager for its military and law enforcement line, e&plains, ".le&ibility
is important, but there’s a reason why soldiers are not out there in running shoes. >ou need
that support around your feet3the footboard and the outsole. 9ow have they been
constructed? #f you make the feet work too hard, it ultimately will fatigue you. A good pair of
boots actually supports your feet for the end use, whatever that may be, and keeps them
from fatiguing !uicker.$
A durable boot is key in areas where logistics may not be able to resupply as !uickly as
desired. 6he minimum re!uirement for boot durability is /01 days, as this has historically been
the timeframe for replenishing a unit with supplies. #n reality the boots typically last !uite a
bit longer, depending on walking habits, terrain and intensity of use.
6he soling systems of today’s boots are generally made of a combination polyurethane and
rubber. 6he rubber out-sole needs to be rugged, durable, and able to withstand abrasive
activities, whereas the softer, cushioned polyurethane mid-sole is there to provide the
support, comfort and shock absorption needed to protect the feet and legs from damage. 6o
prevent puncture wounds, some boots have an actual sheet of thin metal incorporated into
the sole.
6he upper portion of the boot typically consists of a mi& of leather and nylon. "7hen we’re
designing that leather, we’re able to control the chemistry that goes into the tanning process
of the hide and improve such features as water and oil resistance, soil release, and
breathability,$ e&plained 9olthe. ",ften it’s sophisticated technology that goes into the base
product that people don’t even know about.$
Boots have varying water-repelling capabilities, depending on the type of boot. 6he Army’s
cold- and temperate-weather boots are waterproof ducked to the ankles. 6he hot-weather
model, by contrast, is designed to !uickly move water out of the boot and then to dry
rapidly. 6he lack of water-proofing on the hot weather boot provides for more breathability in
warmer operating environments.
Boyd sees antibacterial linings becoming more prevalent, a natural e&tension of the boot
designer’s efforts to reduce inury. ">ou’re starting to see a lot of antibacterial components,
whether it be @-*tatic 5a fiber that provides permanent odor protection by inhibiting the
growth of odor-causing bacteria in the fabric8, or the use of silver components to control
foot rot. #f your feet go bad on you, a lot of things can go bad, and it is really about keeping
your feet as healthy as possible.$
"#oldier Proof$ Boots
*everal different companies are currently contracted to produce a set number of the boots
each month. Addison Boots, Altama .ootwear, Bates )niform .ootwear, Belleville *hoe
:anufacturing, :c-ae .ootwear, -ocky *hoes and Boots, and 7ellco +nterprises all hold
current contracts to produce either the new A4B5678 or A4B5978. +ach company builds the
complete shoe based on the specifications provided by P:-4#+.
9olthe and his team are constantly working with the boot industry to improve on the
product. 7hile the commercial off-the-shelf products are generally of a very high !uality,
they are often not what he calls "soldier proof.$ 9olthe goes on, ",ur ob is to bring new
technology to the Army and tell them what it can do for them and what the benefits are. #f
there’s a new capability or material that we want to give the soldiers, we work with industry
to make sure that it meets the durability re!uirements that our soldiers need.$
;o matter its individual capabilities, 9olthe has one goal in mind3no complaints. As 9olthe
e&plains, ")ltimately the ideal situation for me is if the soldier in the field is not even thinking
about their boots. 6he last thing they need to worry about while out there doing an
operation is to have to be concerned about boots. >ou know if they have nothing to
complain about, they’re not thinking about it.$
Brandon Klingler contributed to this article.
Army Combat Boot (Temperate Weather)
6he A4B5678 has been improved to increase breathability and decrease heat retention.
#mproved safety features include limited flame resistance, and protection from conductive
heat and li!uid fuel penetration.
6his boot will be introduced into the clothing issue bag in ,ctober 0112 along with the
A4B5978.
4haracteristics:
A 7ater resistantBbreathable tan leather and 4ordura nylon uppers
A 7aterproof-breathable membrane package with durable wicking fabric inner lining
A 4ombination speed lace and eyelet lacing system
A (eather comfort collar
A (eather pull tab for ease of donning
A ;on-marking, oil and flame resistant, durable Cibram rubber outsole
A *hock-absorbing polyether polyurethane midsole for comfort and inury reduction
A (imited flame and conductive heat resistance
A (i!uid fuel penetration protection
A 7eighs 0.2 pounds per boot
A 4osts DE2.F1
Prime 4ontractors: Addison Boots, Belleville *hoe :anufacturing, -ocky *hoes and Boots, and
7ellco +nterprises.
Army 4ombat Boot 59ot 7eather8
6he A4B5978 has been redesigned in order to provide enhanced comfort, protection,
usability and durability in the rugged environments of current and potential areas of
operation. Gey design changes include an improved soling system and a redesigned upper for
improved fit, enhanced breathability and faster drying. 6he new soling system was designed
for inury reduction, shock attenuation and traction in multiple environments.
4haracteristics:
A Breathable tan leather and 4ordura nylon uppers
A 4ombination speed lace and eyelet lacing system
A Padded comfort collar
A ;on-marking, oil and flame resistant, durable Cibram rubber outsole
A *hock absorbing polyether polyurethane midsole for comfort and inury reduction
A :odified drainage eyelets for use in all environments
A *afety toe variants will be available for those populations re!uiring safety footwear
A 7eighs 0 pounds per boot
A 4osts DHH.H1
Prime 4ontractors: Altama .ootwear, Belleville *hoe :anufacturing, :c-ae #ndustries and
7ellco +nterprises.
,ther Boot 6ypes
=esert 4ombat Boot
+&treme 4old 7eather Boot, white and black
9ot 7eather Boot 5ungle boot8
:ounted 4rewman Boot
Plastic *hell *ki Boot
:ildew and water resistant combat boot
*ource: .act sheet issued by Product :anager-4lothing and #ndividual +!uipmentI P+,
*oldier.