As the buzzer went off, I sprang to my feet while clearing my Glock 34 from its concealed holster. Three targets were double-tapped in rapid succession prior to moving to the first of two points of cover. It was the state IDPA championship. The match had just resumed after a break for lunch and an hour-long rain delay. The weather had been superb for the morning stages, and I was on my way to a lead spot in my division.
Unfortunately for me, the downpour that occurred was successful in turning the hard clay surface of the range into a muddy, slippery mess. While moving to cover, my first mistake of the day became abundantly clear: I was not wearing the proper footwear for these conditions. As a result, I found myself moving to cover with slow, deliberate steps—adding critical time onto the clock.
For most people, it is common knowledge that the gear you choose is critical to the success of the mission, regardless of what that mission is. The gear that is chosen can give an individual that vital edge needed for success. On the day of that IDPA championship, I knew there was a good chance for rain, but I still chose to wear my old pair of cross trainers instead of footwear better suited to the elements. I learned a valuable lesson that day: Know your gear, and prepare for the worst-case scenario. Wearing the wrong footwear is a common mistake many people make. Whether you are running and gunning, defending our country or in pursuit of trophy game, a good pair of boots can make all the difference.
Picking a pair of boots can be a daunting task. The available style and material options seem to be almost limitless. In particular, boots that fall into the “tactical” category should have the added benefit of comfort and freedom of movement, as well as the support and protection one would expect from a more rugged boot.
If you’re searching for boots that fall into this category, here are five modern-day tactical boots to consider.
5.11 Tactical ATAC Storm
5.11 Tactical has a reputation for partnering with professional operators while developing its products. The knowledge the company gains by doing so certainly shines through. The ATAC Storm boot tested was the shortest of the group, measuring in at 6 inches high. The boot features an injection-molded Phylon (Phylon is a firmer EVA material that gives the boot added comfort while still having a responsive feel to it) midsole and nonmetallic shank between the upper and the oil- and slip-resistant rubber outsole. The combination of these materials allows the ATAC Storm to provide stability and comfort in uneven terrain while providing the feel of an athletic shoe. The ATAC Storm also features a breathable, waterproof upper with a moisture-wicking lining to help keep your feet dry and comfortable.
The boots provide generous room in the toe, as well as significant support around the ankle. Even on steep grades and uneven terrain, the ATAC Storm performs well. During testing, roots, rocks and other small obstacles were rarely felt underfoot, even while carrying a pack with 25 pounds of gear. Performance in wet and muddy conditions was also better than expected: I spent some time hiking through a shallow creek in 5 inches of water. The only time my foot got wet was when water flowed over the top of this shortened boot.
Pros: Despite the shortened height, this boot had the best ankle support of the group and provided outstanding comfort over uneven and rocky terrain.
Cons: The footbed lacks arch support. This boot might be a good candidate for an aftermarket orthotic.
Weight: 22.2 ounces (as tested in size 11½)
“Whether you are running and gunning, defending our country or in pursuit of trophy game, a good pair of boots can make all the difference.”
Altai MF Tactical
The first time I looked at Altai boots, my initial impression was that they were too large to offer the freedom of movement I would expect in a tactical boot. My preconceived notions quickly went out the window when I purchased a pair for the first time. These boots are light, weighing in at only 24.3 ounces. Altai uses its patented SuperFabric brand material to craft its boot uppers. Descriptors such as “protective,” “flexible,” and “abrasion and stain resistant” are used to characterize this material—and they are accurate. SuperFabric is made by taking fabric and overlaying it with tiny armor plates.
Altai recommends going down a half size for its boots, so I took that advice. After selecting a half size smaller, I found the fit was spot-on. The toe area is comfortable but not as roomy as I am used to.
The SuperFabric upper is joined to the Vibram rubber sole with an EVA midsole in the middle. This midsole provides just the right amount of shock absorption without making the boot feel too much like an athletic shoe. I was pleasantly surprised to feel how light these felt on my feet. The boots provide a good amount of support with the included insole, and after miles of hiking into rivers and through the woods, my feet were dry and ready for more.
Altai boots are not very widely available, but they are worth checking out.
Pros: The Altai boots were the lightest of the 8-inch boots tested. The SuperFabric upper performed impressively.
Cons: The boots still look large on the foot. While they don’t feel cumbersome, they look as if they are.
Weight: 24.3 ounces (size 11)
Danner Rivot TFX
Hunters and hikers know Danner, which is one of the few remaining boot makers still crafting a large portion of its catalog products here, in the United States. Danner crafts its boots with 1000 Denier nylon and leather upper and a time-tested Vibram outsole that extends beyond the dimensions of the boot. The sole provides a stable platform for moving and pivoting at an accelerated rate of speed, making this boot’s freedom of movement exceptional. The Rivot TFX offers good traction on multiple surfaces, and the combination of footbed, sole and fiberglass shank allows the boots to absorb shock well. While logging a few miles in this boot, my route took me through a shallow creek. I found the boots handled mud nicely.
Danner makes no claim that its Rivot TFX boots are waterproof, so how did they fare? The upper repelled water to the best of its ability, but as expected, the breathable nylon and air vents on the side of the boot allow water to enter the boots rapidly. Despite damp feet, the boots drain water and dry quickly. Overall, Danner makes a solid boot and ranks among the best when rapid movement is necessary.
Pros: These boots are very comfortable, and the uppers are breathable. The Rivot TFX boots are ideal for warm climates and offer outstanding freedom of movement.
Cons: The leather and nylon uppers offer a good deal of flexibility but little in the way of ankle support on rocky and uneven surfaces and water resistance.
Weight: 29.7 ounces (size 11.5)
“You will likely be logging a lot of miles in the footwear you choose, so take your time, and try out a few.”
- Don’t purchase boots assuming that the ones you select will “break in.”
- Your boots should fit snugly — but not tightly– while still allowing your toes to move. Loose or tight-fitting boots will cause misery-inducing blisters.
- Most boots come with removable footbeds. If you are looking for more support, don’t be afraid to try aftermarket orthotics such as Superfeet.
- If you usually wear socks or orthotics, be sure to use them when you try on the boots.
- Our feet tend to swell throughout the day, so it’s always wise to try on footwear at the end of the day.
- Consider foot width and not just length. Many boot makers will offer narrow or wide widths, which will add to achieving the optimal fit.
- Walk; don’t just stand in the boots. Put both boots on your feet and walk in them. If possible, try walking on uneven surfaces with them to see if they offer the desired support.
Lowa Z-8S GTX
There is a boot maker across the pond r that has offered exceptional boots for more than 90 years. German company Lowa has been crafting boots for climbers, hikers and the British Special Forces for some time.
The upper on the Z-8s GTX boot is crafted with a combination of Cordura and leather and features a waterproof, breathable Gore-Tex lining. At the bottom, the boots feature a solid outsole and polyurethane midsole that protect and cradle the upper. Z-8S GTX boots are solidly built. Looking at their construction, I was surprised at how light they actually are. These boots hug the foot while giving the toes ample room to move.
However, the combined density of the sole and upper makes this boot the least flexible. With that being said, hiking and climbing on uneven terrain with these boots, even with a loaded pack, was accomplished with no discomfort.
Pros: Z-8S GTX boots feature solid construction with great support. These can be your go-to boots when you are carrying a heavy load. Gore-Tex lining keeps your feet dry through the wettest conditions.
Cons: The thick leather upper and robust sole limit the flexibility of this boot.
Weight: 30.5 ounces (Size 11½)
- Moisture can cause blisters. Keeping your feet as dry as possible is the ultimate goal.
- Try using a wool or wool-blend sock. Wool helps keep your feet warm in cool weather and cool in warm weather. It also wicks away moisture better than cotton.
- For added blister protection, try doubling up by using a polypropylene sock liner under your socks. Sock liners will help pull moisture away from the foot and into the outer sock.
- Socks are an investment in your comfort. Invest in high-quality crafted socks such as those from Wigwam Mills.
Rocky S2V Tactical
Rocky S2V boots are touted as the number-one combat boot on the market, so you cannot help having high expectations. The S2V series boots are made with 1000 Denier Cordura and leather uppers and feature moisture-wicking lining and Lycra tongues to help hug your foot. The popularity of these boots is evident as soon as you put them on. The upper and footbed are cradled into a high-walled Vibram sole that supports the foot and offers stability when moving through rugged terrain. The toe area is very generous, while still supporting the ball of the foot and preventing unwanted movement. The S2V Tactical line is not waterproof, but the boots are designed with an effective drainage system to expedite draining of any unwanted moisture. Tipping the scale at 31.3 ounces per boot, the Rocky S2V is the heaviest on our list, but you won’t notice this once you put them on.
While hiking, I was very aware of the ground beneath my feet, despite the boots’ heavy Vibram soles; rocks and roots protruding from the ground were more noticeable. I can imagine that this feeling would increase when carrying a heavy pack.
Overall, however, I was impressed with how nimble the boots were. Freedom of movement with the Rocky S2Vs is effortless, and because of that, these boots still remain a top choice.
Pros: These boots are made in the USA. They are light and nimble on the feet.
Cons: You can feel the ground through the soles, despite their density.
Weight: 31.3 ounces (size 11½)
It is clear that any of these tactical boots would have given me the edge I needed during the state IDPA Championship. All five styles provide stability, traction and offer the flexibility required for movement in a multitude of tactical environments. Selecting the perfect style can be a daunting task. As with shopping for your first handgun, it is important to handle a few and see how they feel in your hand. You will know when the fit is right.
The same goes for choosing the right pair of boots. You will likely be logging a lot of miles in the footwear you choose, so take your time and try out a few. Find out what features are important to you, and don’t be afraid to do a bit of research. The right one is out there.
Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2016 print issue of Gun World Magazine.