Published Jun 7, 2022 2:19 PM
The dictionary defines the word “tactical” as being of military purpose, but while tactical boots were originally designed for army and law enforcement use, they now fulfill a variety of roles from hiking to work wear. Boot makers have responded to demand by producing an enormous range of alternatives. As a result it can be difficult to know which are the best tactical boots for particular purposes.
This article looks at the key elements shared by all good tactical boots, but also considers what makes some a highly focussed solution for specialists, while others are a great choice as general-purpose boots or even as casual footwear. It should give you all the information necessary to find exactly the right pair for your needs.
Things to Consider Before Buying Tactical Boots
Looking at the following specific features will help focus on the right choice of tactical boots for your needs. We’ll then demonstrate how those features are applied with some real-world examples.
Most tactical boots are made from a combination of leather and nylon weave. Cordura is probably the best known of the latter. The material is measured in Denier (D), with higher numbers being stronger; 600D is usually the minimum, with 900D or 1000D being common. Leather has greater abrasion resistance. Nylon mesh is still tough, but a lot lighter. Its strategic use results in boots that are durable without being too heavy. This results in less fatigue if they need to be worn all day.
Inside the boot there may be a moisture-wicking liner that helps manage sweat and so prevent blisters. Cushioned insoles are popular, as are EVA foam midsoles which help absorb impacts. A shank may be used to reinforce the sole, preventing lateral twisting while still allowing the natural flex of walking.
Soles themselves are normally composite rubber or polyurethane, though high-density EVA is occasionally used. They are slip-resistant and usually have lugs (tread) designed for maximum traction while still allowing good maneuverability.
Tactical boots usually have a shaft of between 6 and 8 inches, which offers good protection for the lower leg. Tactical shoes exist, and we’ll take a closer look at those below, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
Tactical boots don’t provide the same kind of impact resistance as the best steel toed boots but heel and toe areas are often hardened or reinforced to protect the foot from bumps and knocks. There may also be ankle support, which helps prevent rollover injuries on difficult terrain.
Weather protection varies. Leather and nylon may be water resistant, but in order to be 100-percent waterproof, the boot needs a membrane like those made by GoreTex. Insulation may also be provided, but is rare.
Many tactical boots can be used as alternative military issue. In the U.S., the army standard is AR 670-1. They may also be Berry compliant, which requires them to be made in the US.
The flip side of tactical boots made to such high standards is a premium price tag. General-purpose tactical boots can be much more affordable, and as a patrol or work boot still offer good comfort and durability.
Why It Made The Cut
The Rocky S2V Predator tactical boot is tough enough to meet U.S. Army standards, offers several levels of comfort, and has specialist high-traction soles.
- Materials: Leather and 1000D Cordura
- Size Range: 3.5 to 15 (including wides)
- Weight (per boot): 18.4 ounces
- Tough but comfort-focused
- Flash- and water-resistant
- Made in the USA; Berry compliant
- Black version does not meet AR 670-1
- Need breaking in
The Rocky S2V is a military-grade tactical boot that meets the US Army’s AR 670-1 standard for operational camouflage pattern (OCP) use. There is also a black model, in addition to the coyote brown, but this does not meet the required standard. However, it is simply a question of the color. The construction is the same.
The upper is made of tough suede leather combined with 1000D Cordura. It is then coated in PTFE to make it both water-and flash-resistant so it offers some defense against fire and incendiary devices. The tall shaft offers protection well up the shin and calf, and a Lycra tongue ensures a snug fit to keep out debris. The ankle area has roll-stop reinforcement to reduce injuries.
Although the Rocky S2V isn’t 100-percent waterproof, it uses breathable “sieve” technology to draw air in and drain water out quickly. There is also a moisture-wicking, antibacterial liner that draws sweat away from the foot, and helps prevent blisters. The footbed uses Rocky’s ‘Airport’ cushioning for comfort. An impact absorbing polyurethane (PU) midsole is strengthened by a fiberglass shank that stops the boot from twisting laterally, and protects the arch. Soles are composite rubber from Italian specialist Vibram. Lugs (tread) extend around the side of the boot to increase traction and stability in all conditions.
The Rocky S2V tactical boot delivers exceptional performance. Weight is fairly typical. It does take a few days to become fully supple, but this is a reflection of its overall strength and durability.
Why It Made The Cut
The Nortiv 8 tactical boot combines durability with all-day comfort, creating versatile footwear for outdoor sports, work, or casual wear at a budget-friendly price.
- Materials: Leather and Nylon Mesh
- Size Range: 6.5 to 15 (including wides)
- Weight (per boot): 20 ounces
- 3-sole comfort system
- Zippered for easy on and off
- Very affordable
- A little heavy
- Occasional sole attachment issues
The Nortiv 8 is a tactical boot that uses the same construction methods as full-on military wear but is more appropriate for everyday use whether as a hiking or rucking boot, for motorcycling, or work wear.
The combination of leather and synthetic mesh produces a tough but breathable upper. Nortiv 8 doesn’t give a precise specification, but it appears to be the usual hard-wearing nylon. For ease of putting on and taking off, a heavy-duty YKK zipper is included, with a hook and loop cover to prevent it coming undone under duress.
The boot uses what Nortiv 8 calls a 3-sole system for comfort. First is a cushioned insole. This can be removed and replaced with an orthotic footbed if necessary. Next is a shock-absorbing EVA foam midsole. Finally there is a composite rubber outsole that is oil- abrasion- and slip-resistant. This offers good flexibility, with a lug pattern designed for all-terrain use. The rubber wraps up around the heel, and the toughened toe area, for added impact protection.
We have read occasional reports of the outer sole coming loose, but fortunately this doesn’t seem to be a common problem. At around 20 ounces (depending on size), the Nortiv 8 tactical boot is heavier than some, though it isn’t intended for extreme use so this doesn’t impact wearability.
Why It Made The Cut
The Oakley SI Light Patrol Boot is a remarkably lightweight piece of tactical footwear, designed for those who need to move quickly over varied terrain.
- Materials: Leather and 1000D Cordura
- Size Range: 7 to 14
- Weight (per boot): 9.5 ounces
- One of the lightest boots available
- Toe and heel impact protection
- Loops for fast lacing
- Not for heavy-duty use
- No wide fittings
Like all the best tactical boots, the Oakley SI Light Patrol model is made of tough, durable leather, and hard-wearing, breathable Cordura. In this case, the leather is kept to a minimum in order to reduce weight. It still covers the toe to protect against abrasion, and warps around the heel where it offers additional support. The tall shank offers a comfortable closure around the leg, and helps prevent scratches from undergrowth. Nylon-coated lace loops make the Oakley Light Patrol boot easier to get in and out of than many similar models.
Inside the Oakley tactical boot there is a removable insole that is cushioned for comfort, and provides the first layer of impact protection. A EVA foam midsole offers further shock absorbing ability. The slip-resistant, low-profile composite rubber sole has a lug pattern designed for traction on hard, and soft surfaces.
It’s fair to say that this boot is intended for rapid progress rather than wading through thick mud. The sole does extend rearward, and up around the front of the toe to help protect feet against hard contacts.
Best All Terrain
Why It Made The Cut
The Salomon Forces Quest 4D GTX tactical shoe comes from a company that specializes in outdoor performance footwear, and provides unrivaled grip regardless of terrain or conditions.
- Materials: Leather and 1000D Nylon
- Size Range: 7.5 to 15
- Weight (per boot): 23 ounces
- Excellent traction on all surfaces
- Durable but highly flexible
- Tested in active tactical operations
- No wide fittings
Salomon has 75 years experience of making performance footwear for trail running, hiking, and tactical use. The Forces range reflects the fact that the Quest 4D GTX is tested by armed forces, and law enforcement professionals in operational conditions. While tactical shoes might typically offer less protection, this model is tall enough to offer support while still providing the flexibility for easy kneeling or sprinting.
As is common, the upper is tough leather, and abrasion-resistant 1000D nylon. At the top, a padded collar and speed loops provide a snug fit to keep out dirt. Where it meets the sole a rubber strap reinforces heel support, and rubber also wraps the toe to allow for what uniformed personnel call ‘tactical kicking’.
Salomon calls their comfort system SensiFit. It uses a molded sockliner from foot care specialists Ortholite, plus an EVA foam midsole to absorb impacts. The Contagrip sole is a major feature. It is designed for outstanding traction on all surfaces, is extremely durable, and has an additional layer for puncture-resistance.
At 23 ounces, the Salomon Forces Quest 4D GTX tactical boot is relatively heavy, particularly when compared to the Oakley Light Patrol boot. However, this is at the other end of the scale in terms of suitability for the hard use, and the most difficult terrain.
Why It Made The Cut
The Garamont T8 Bifida tactical boot was developed in conjunction with U.S. Special Forces, and is intended to provide all-day comfort in the toughest conditions.
- Materials: Leather and 600D Nylon
- Size Range: 4 to 15 (including wides)
- Weight (per boot): 19 ounces
- Meets US Army and Air Force standards
- Tough but comfortable
- Deep lugged, high traction sole
- Premium price
- Slow to put on and take off
Garmont is an Italian company from the mountainous Dolomite region. They have been making climbing and hiking boots since the 1960s, and developed the Garmont T8 Bifida tactical boot in conjunction with US Special Forces. It meets US Army AR 670-1, and US Air Force AFI 36-2903 standards as suitable for OCP use.
The upper uses split suede leather. It still offers good abrasion-resistance, but has improved flexibility. The 600D nylon isn’t technically quite as tough as 1000D alternatives, but additional webbing adds strength where necessary. While not 100-percent waterproof, the Garmont T8 Bifida tactical boot is well ventilated, and fast-drying. Laces lay flat to minimize pressure on the leg while offering secure closure.
Inside the boot comfort is a priority. The breathable PU insole is injection molded for optimum foot support and cushioning. A heel retention system prevents the foot sliding around, thus reducing blisters. Together the two provide excellent shock absorbing while still allowing natural foot movement.
The sole is from specialist manufacturer Vibram. The composite rubber is known for its durability, and performance in all weathers. The lug design gives outstanding traction without reducing maneuverability. Despite what looks like heavy-duty construction, the Garmont T8 Bifida tactical boot weighs a very competitive 19 ounces.
Why It Made the Cut
The high-tech membrane fitted inside the Tactical Research Khyber WP tactical boot isn’t just waterproof it also protects against blood borne pathogens, and other biohazards.
- Materials: Full-Grain Leather and Nylon Mesh
- Size Range: 3 to 15 (including wides)
- Weight (per boot): 14 ounces
- Waterproof and BBP-proof membrane
- Zipper for fast entry and exit
- Tremendous range of sizes
- Occasional zipper failures
- Need breaking in
Tactical Research may not be a particularly well-known brand but they are part of Belleville, a high-quality boot maker with a history that goes back to 1904. This range is specifically targeted at law enforcement, EMS, security and corrections personnel.
The upper is cattle hide leather which is particularly tough, and covers much of the exterior. This gives outstanding durability, but does take a few days to break in. Lightweight Destination P mesh is also used. Tactical Research doesn’t provide a specification for this, but it’s almost certainly another abrasion-resistant nylon. Both materials provide breathability that helps keep feet cool when the temperature rises. A zipper makes them easy to put on and take off.
The Tactical Research Khyber tactical boot has a moisture wicking lining, and a membrane that makes it 100-percent waterproof. This membrane also protects against a number of non-acidic hazardous liquids, and blood borne pathogens (BBPs). The orthotic insole is designed for high load bearing, and great comfort. There is also a cushioned, shock absorbing PU midsole.
A Vibram Ibex composite rubber sole is fitted. It is named for a type of mountain goat known for its ability to climb almost vertical cliffs. Durability and all-surface traction are outstanding. All-day wearability is helped by a weight of just 14 ounces.
How We Made Our Picks
As you can imagine, we see a huge variety of boots here at Field & Stream. Choosing the best tactical boots for this article was an interesting challenge because some of the hiking, rucking, and work boots we have seen could easily fit into the tactical category, or vice versa. We tried to be as specific as possible, although some overlap is not only inevitable, it also adds versatility. In addition to the considerations above, choice and value were key elements.
Choice: As we’ve said, the term “tactical” now covers a wide range of footwear. We tried to provide solutions for all needs, so there are full-on military boots, and there are others that can be used for work, walking, motorcycling, etc. These still share many of the traits of the best tactical boots, but aren’t quite so focused. As a result they are generally more affordable.
Value: Cheap tactical boots are always available, but low cost can often mean the boots don’t last, or are uncomfortable even after a reasonable breaking-in period. Each of the tactical boots we chose comes from a recognized brand. They may cost a little more, but they provide better value in the long run. That said, there is still a broad range of prices here, and some of the best tactical boots are very affordable.
Q: How much do tactical boots cost?
How much tactical boots cost varies. Materials and quality of construction have an impact, and some leading brand names come at a premium. Good value tactical boots start at around $50. High-end military-grade models can top $200.
Q: What’s the difference between combat and tactical boots?
Generally speaking, the difference between combat and tactical boots is that combat boots are heavy-duty and highly protective. Tactical boots tend to be lighter—designed for great speed and maneuverability. However, the terms are fairly interchangeable, and it’s not unusual to see footwear described as tactical combat boots. It’s important to investigate the individual features to judge whether they are suitable for your needs.
Q: Are tactical boots good for everyday use?
Some tactical boots are good for everyday use, others are more task specific. It’s not that they can’t be worn every day but rather that service personal, for example, will often have different boots for different roles. The Rocky S2V and Garmont T8 are not boots for casual or general work wear, but the Nortiv 8 and Tactical Research models could be.
Q: Are tactical boots comfortable?
Yes, tactical boots should be comfortable. Most are intended for all day wear, and often for covering considerable distances. We discuss specific comfort features in the article above.
Q: Are tactical boots durable?
Tactical boots are usually very durable, but the wide choice available means that some are better suited to harsh conditions than others. The information above will help you find those that are most suitable for your needs. Proper care also has an impact, and boot cleaners (link) are great for everyday use.
Q: Are tactical boots good in snow?
Some tactical boots are good in snow, but it does depend on snow depth and length of exposure. Many of the best tactical boots are waterproof, but few have the insulation required for extreme conditions.
The Rocky S2V Predator is a superb boot on several levels. It is made to US Army standards. While the black model isn’t AR 670-1 compliant, construction quality is the same. The focus on comfort is exceptional. It’s even flame-retardant. However, it is a lot of money if you’re not buying it for military use. The Nortiv 8 is the tactical boot for most of the rest of us. It’s high on comfort and durability, versatile, and very affordable.
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