Before you can settle on a pair of boots for rucking, you need to understand what rucking is. Originally an army exercise, rucking (or ruck marching) increases endurance, improves core strength, and provides an excellent cardio-vascular workout. All you need is a ruck (rucksack or backpack), and a good pair of rucking boots.
Some people question that second element, and many wonder whether the hiking boots wouldn’t be just as good. It’s a good point, but with rucking you have a heavy pack on your back. You weigh considerably more. So both your physique and footwear are under increased stress. Many hiking boots are not designed to protect the wearer from the additional impact forces.
Good rucking boots provide the necessary support, and shock absorption. However, there is considerable variation to take into account different terrains and ruck weights. The following discusses the best boots for rucking performance across a variety of styles.
Things to Consider Before Buying Boots For Rucking
One of the main reasons rucking is favored over running is that the chances of injury are minimized, while overall fitness is increased. Running mostly uses muscle groups in the lower body while walking with a weighted pack exercises the upper body as well. Rucking also produces similar cardiovascular benefits to running.
There are a couple of provisos. First, nobody should go straight out, and try to ruck a 40 or 50 pound pack. Like any exercise it needs to be developed gradually. Second, without proper footwear the chances of ankle sprains, shin splints or knee ligament damage are still moderate to high. When choosing the best boots for rucking, good structure is a key factor.
Leather has long been the choice for all kinds of boots because of its toughness. Full-grain is strongest but can be stiff, requiring an initial break in period. Suede is softer, and still very durable. However, both are relatively heavy so abrasion-resistant synthetics like Cordura or similar nylon-based materials are often used in non-impact areas to make the boot lighter, and more supple without reducing strength.
The height of rucking boots varies considerably. The determining factor here is usually the kind of terrain encountered. An 8” or 9” boot is generally more supportive if the ground is uneven. It also offers greater lower leg protection in undergrowth. Shorter models offer more freedom of movement, which may be important for those who want to march more quickly on easier trails.
Zippers are popular for getting in and out of rucking boots quickly but when putting them on it’s still important to check that the laces are cinched properly to prevent rubbing. Note that boots with zippers do not qualify as armed forces uniform compliant to the DA Pam 670–1 standard.
If feet can’t breathe, they get sweaty. After miles of rucking the likely result is painful blisters. Leather has some natural breathability but synthetics often do not. A moisture-wicking liner is the solution. It draws perspiration away from the feet, keeping them cooler, and more comfortable for longer.
There’s a lot of debate over whether the best boots for rucking should be waterproof. Leather is not naturally waterproof so it either needs regular treatment, or to have a membrane fitted. The latter is what’s usually found in the best waterproof boots for men.
It seems a good idea to keep water out, but the problem is that if water does get in then the waterproof membrane can trap it inside, rather than allowing it to drain. Wet feet soon get very uncomfortable, and when rucking there is seldom the opportunity to dry them out. It is interesting to note that while most quality rucking boots have some degree of water-resistance, but are not fully waterproof.
The other key features inside the boot are the insole, and midsole. These provide a degree of cushioning and impact protection. Materials vary. EVA foam is popular, while orthotic insoles provide maximum comfort. It’s worth checking if the insole can be removed, giving the buyer the option to use a more foot-friendly alternative.
Soles are almost always composite rubber (technically synthetic rather than natural), which is hard-wearing but soft enough to provide good traction. Lugs (tread pattern) play an important part. Deep lugs provide increased grip in mud, and loose dirt, but are less comfortable on hard surfaces. Those who mostly ruck well-worn trails will probably want something less aggressive.
If you got this far and don’t think rucking boots are the right choice, check out our roundup of the best hiking boots instead.
Why It Made the Cut
The Smith & Wesson Breach boot is designed for rucking in all conditions. It offers the support and protection for tackling harsh terrain while remaining comfortable all day.
- Materials: Leather and 1000D nylon
- Sizes: 5 to 14 (including wides)
- Weight (each): 23 ounces
- Board-lasted construction
- Zipper for easy on and off
- Steel shank provides additional support
- Zipper prone to wear
- Insoles could be better
Given the variety of high-quality options available, choosing one brand as providing the overall best boots for rucking is quite a challenge. The Smith & Wesson Breach takes our award for delivering all-round performance that will suit rucking enthusiasts of all experience levels.
There is a choice of upper, either full-grain (which can be polished) or more pliable suede. This is combined with hard-wearing 1000-denier woven nylon. A gusseted tongue wraps the front of the foot, allowing a secure closure that keeps out dirt. A heavy-duty YKK zipper allows the Smith & Wesson Breach to be put on and taken off quickly. It’s an area that needs some care if used frequently, so that grit doesn’t eventually cause damage.
Insoles are removable, and frankly are of modest quality. However, they don’t detract from overall comfort which is consistently rated as excellent by independent experts. Part of this is because of an EVA foam midsole which provides cushioning and support. This combines with a steel shank running through the boot that prevents twisting, while still allowing the foot to flex backwards and forwards normally. It also offers good impact protection.
The Smith & Wesson Breach uses what’s called ‘board-lasted’ construction which offers high durability, gives good torsional resistance, and is claimed to reduce fatigue. The sole is slip-resistant composite rubber which helps absorb shocks. It has fairly aggressive lugs that provide good traction on a variety of surfaces, and won’t clog easily.
Why It Made the Cut
According to Bates, their Ultralite Tactical Sport Boot has long been popular with uniformed personnel. Given the combination of flexibility, comfort, and value it is easy to see why.
- Materials: Leather and 1680D nylon
- Sizes: 7.5 to 16 (including extra wides)
- Weight (each): 17 ounces
- Durable and lightweight
- Moisture-wicking liner
- Heavy-duty zipper
- Occasional quality control issues
- No wide fitting
The simple, classic look of the Bates Ultralite Tactical Sport Boot will appeal to many, and is a reflection of a design that has changed little in 15 years of production. For any boot to be on the market that long is unusual, but it underlines their performance and popularity.
The upper is made from leather which is combined with 1680 denier ‘ballistic’ nylon. This material takes its name from the extreme abrasion-resistance it provides. Although these boots are particularly light, they have the toughness demanded in many uniformed environments. A strong YKK zipper is used to allow them to be put on and taken off quickly.
The Bates Ultralite Tactical Sport Boot is high on comfort, with a moisture-wicking, breathable liner, a removable cushioned insole, and a shock-absorbing EVA midsole. The upper is bonded to the sole using cement construction. It is the same method used for high-end sports footwear, and combines strength with good flexibility. Soles are slip-resistant composite rubber, with a tread suited to trails, and urban surfaces rather than deep mud.
This is a great value boot, but unusually while there appear to be extra wide fittings we could not find wides. There have been a few reports of separation of the stitching around the upper heel area, although this doesn’t seem to be a consistent problem.
Why It Made The Cut
Many boot manufacturers produce smaller sizes aimed at women but fit and comfort can be poor. These Reebok boots are an affordable, female-focused solution.
- Materials: Leather and 1000D nylon
- Sizes: 6 to 12 (including wides)
- Weight (each): 14 ounces
- Conforms to the female foot
- Light and flexible
- Outstanding comfort
- Not fully waterproof
- Premium price
While women’s feet are typically smaller than mens, they are also structurally different. They tend to be wider at the front, and narrower in the heel, with a taller arch. While small sizes are often available in rucking boots, and they may be described as unisex, they can be a poor choice for women.
The Reebok Women’s Sublite has an upper that’s made of soft but durable leather, and Reebok’s 1000 denier ballistic nylon. There’s a tag on the side that says waterproof, but water-resistant is a better description. A substantial YKK zipper makes them quick to get on and off.
The inside has greater focus on comfort than any other rucking boot we’ve seen. There’s a moisture-wicking liner that manages sweat, and is anti-bacterial to control odor. The insole is what Reebok calls MemoryTech Massage. It is a kind of memory foam that provides cushioning, and shapes to the contours of the foot to improve support during exercise. There’s also an EVA midsole that adds further cushioning.
Soles are slip-resistant composite rubber. The grooved tread pattern allows terrific flexibility, though the low profile won’t absorb as much shock as some over broken terrain.
Why It Made the Cut
The Adidas GSG-9.7 Tactical Boot has been developed as all-terrain footwear that can tackle a variety of activities from urban combat to hiking and rucking.
- Materials: Full-Grain leather and Cordura
- Sizes: 4.5 to 14.5
- Weight (each): 21 ounces
- Excellent versatility
- Ortholite insole
- High traction sole
- Some initial stiffness
- No wide fittings
According to Adidas the GSG-9.7 Tactical Boot was developed in conjunction with military and law enforcement special forces in Europe. They are designed to perform in any kind of terrain, including urban. While generally we would be reluctant to recommend a hiking-style boot for rucking, this is an exception.
Tough, full-grain leather uppers also use 1000D Cordura that is resistant to tearing, and cuts as well as general abrasion. The toe area is reinforced with an Adidas material called ADITUFF, to increase durability, and resist shocks in the area most prone to heavy contact.
The Adidas GSG-9.7 Tactical Boot has a moisture-wicking liner. The insole comes from comfort specialists Ortholite. Unusually, there is a separate Adiprene pad under the heel for extra cushioning. The arch has additional support that spreads load, and absorbs shock, particularly when climbing is involved.
Composite rubber soles use another Adidas development called Traxion that is designed to offer grip and stability in all directions. However, like any rucking boot with relatively shallow lugs the performance is likely to be compromised by thick mud or wet vegetation.
Why It Made the Cut
The Rocky SV2 RKC050 Military and Tactical Boot is a full-on army-standard rucking boot made to take the toughest conditions while providing outstanding comfort.
- Materials: Leather and 1000D nylon
- Sizes: 3 to 15 (including wides)
- Weight (each): 30 ounces
- Military uniform compliant (DA Pam 670–1)
- Drainage vents to expel water
- Berry-compliant US manufacture
- Heavier than most
Like most of the best boots for rucking, the Rocky RKC050 Military and Tactical Boot is made of hard-wearing leather and nylon. What sets this one apart is the military-spec construction. It complies with DA Pam 670–1, which means it can be purchased as an optional uniform item by members of the US armed forces. It is also considered suitable for all OCP (operational camouflage pattern) variations.
The upper isn’t just tough, it is coated in PTFE to make it flame-resistant. While it is water-resistant rather than fully waterproof, unique ‘sieve’ technology moves air around the boot so it works like a moisture-wicking liner. It not only keeps the feet cool, but also drains water away. The ankle area is reinforced to help prevent roll-over injuries.
Comfort is excellent with a Rocky ‘Air-Port’ cushioned insole, and a fiberglass shank to prevent twisting. Soles are composite rubber and come from Italian specialist Vibram. They offer outstanding durability, and tremendous traction regardless of conditions or the type of surface.
Some people find the lack of a defined heel a little unusual, and these are not the best boots for climbing ladders, but for rucking a big pack they are hard to beat. The only downside, apart from the price, is that all that strength, support, and protection does make them heavier than most competitors.
Why It Made The Cut
Originally designed for adventure and trail running, the Salomon XA Pro 3D has the structural strength, and durability to make an excellent rucking shoe.
- Materials: 100% synthetic
- Sizes: 7 to 14
- Weight (each): 16 ounces
- Tough yet light
- Reinforced toe
- Excellent traction
- Tend to be narrow
- There are better shoes for running
While boots are generally more popular than rucking shoes, some people want the additional freedom of movement, and are unlikely to stray far from well-worn trails while exercising. Despite the low top the Salomon Xa Pro 3D is structurally strong, and offers good protection in important areas.
Salomon doesn’t give details of the material used in the upper, beyond saying it is synthetic textile. The 3D chassis certainly provides good stability, and our impression that the materials are durable is supported by a number of independent reviews. The toe has been reinforced for added protection.
The lacing system is quick and easy, and makes the foot feel very secure. The insole offers cushioning that is best described as adequate, though there is good arch support. There is also a rock plate (like a shank) to protect the underside of the foot.
In running circles the Salomon Xa Pro 3D is criticized for its weight but by rucking standards it isn’t heavy, and there’s a reassuring rigidity about this shoe. Although it isn’t really footwear for all-terrain rucking, the composite rubber sole offers excellent traction in wet and slippery conditions.
How I Made My Picks
I spend a good deal of time in the great outdoors, often with a pack on my back. To some extent I’ve been rucking without really thinking about it. I certainly understand the major difference good boots can make.
Looking into boots specifically focused on this increasingly popular sport was an interesting process. I spent quite a lot of time researching the leading manufacturers, and the opinions of fitness experts, as well as those from military backgrounds.
When selecting the top six best boots for rucking to include in this article I wanted to cover as much variety as possible. Each boot showcases particular features that will suit different individuals. So there is a rucking boot (or rucking shoe) here for just about everyone.
Price is always important, but there are no cheap rucking boots in this list. In my opinion cutting corners is not an option for those who want to enjoy their rucking, and not risk unnecessary injury. That said, while each of the boots chosen comes from a top manufacturer I believe they all provide excellent value.
Q: How should boots fit for rucking?
Boot fit for rucking should be snug but not so tight it prevents flexibility. Loose boots will cause blisters. A firm hold around the heel, and good ankle support are both benefits. All of the key features to look for in a good rucking boot are covered above.
Q: How much do the best boots for rucking cost?
The best boots for rucking we found range from around $75 up to $300 per pair. We would caution against buying cheap boots for rucking which rarely provide the durability or support required.
Q: What do you wear to a ruck march?
What you wear on a ruck march largely depends on the style of rucking. In addition to good rucking boots you need clothing that is tough enough to withstand the environment while allowing your body to breathe, plus a ruck that fits properly, and doesn’t rub.
Q: Should I wear boots when rucking?
Most experts will advise you to wear boots for rucking. While rucking shoes like the Salomon Xa Pro are adequate for light trails, boots provide greater support on uneven terrain where the risk of twisting or muscle tear injury is greater.
Q: What should I look for in a good pair of rucking boots?
Key features to look for in a good pair of rucking boots are support, durability, traction, comfort, and low weight. The benefits of each of these is discussed in detail above.
Q: How do I lace boots for ruck marches?
There are several ways to lace boots for ruck marches, and it’s worth experimenting to find one that gives you the comfort and support you prefer. Bear in mind that while military lacing styles are often favored, it will take longer to put on your rucking boots and take them off.
The Smith & Wesson Breach is an outstanding piece of footwear, and offers all the strength and durability most ruck marchers will ever need. It is protective, supportive, lightweight, and affordable. The Bates Ultralite Military Boot is another top-rated model having been proven in military and law enforcement environments. It is tremendously popular, and very good value.