Editor’s Note: At the time of this writing, the two boots in this article were not compliant with Army regulations AR670-1. The new compliant Nike SFB Field boot will be shipping in September 2014.
It may not be common knowledge, but Nike footwear can trace its roots back to World War II. Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman was a member of the 10th Mountain Division in Italy. After his return from the war, he became the track and field coach at the University of Oregon. During his time at U of O he began creating performance footwear for his athletes. The rest is history…
Nike continues to draw on its military and athletic backgrounds and has blended the two into a line of footwear specifically designed for today’s war fighters and first responders. This effort resulted in the development of the Nike Special Field Boot or SFB.
Even though the SFB was successful, Nike wasn’t satisfied and went to work improving the SFB. But before one can evaluate the new design, it is important to know where the SFB started with the Classic boot.
Classic SFB Breakdown
The original Nike SFB is a handsomely cut, lightweight, fast drying and flexible boot that almost feels like a pair of athletic shoes rather than a boot. This makes for a very desirable every day wear boot for everything from casual wear to PT workouts to field use. They weigh in at just under 16 oz, making the SFB the lightest boot Nike has ever produced.
The SFB is made with very durable and scuff-resistant synthetic leather and canvas breathable uppers that contribute to the light weight of the SFB and also help to keep debris out of the boot. The boot sports 8 inches of ankle coverage with a leather back strap. There is little ankle support due to the primarily non-rigid canvas upper – however, what you give up in rigidity is gained in flexibility and breathability. There are two ventilation holes right above the inside arch of the foot that allow for adequate ventilation in hot climates. This greatly aids in wicking away moisture and odors from the inside of the boot.
The boot laces utilize seven metal eyelets per side throughout the boot construction for fast and easy lacing. The metal eyelets have radiused edges to reduce the wear and tear on the laces. The materials are double and triple stitched throughout, adding to the durability of the boot. It should be noted that, due to the SFB materials and ventilation ports, it is not a waterproof boot, nor is it insulated. It was specifically designed to be a warm weather boot.
The footbed of the boot is genuine leather construction and the soles have a variety of tread patterns designed to allow the user to have excellent traction in most areas of operations. This is where Nike really shines with the SFB. Unlike a traditional boot that has a monolithic sole with a tread pattern stamped on it, the SFB sole is divided laterally by eight small valleys creating “flex zones” which result in a very agile sole for front and rear movement. This expedites and even eliminates the “break in period” which is so common to a traditional boot. These flex zones are then separated into four tread zones with three different tread patterns. The outsole features rubber lugs inspired by Nike’s proprietary Nike-FREE technology. This technology is used in Nike’s athletic shoes which allow the foot to have maximum flexibility and freedom of movement.
The outsole is divided into 6 smaller regions that move independently of one another, enhancing the flexibility of the sole in both the front to back movement as well as the side to side. The midsole is the softest part of the tread surface and is made from a more padded and pliable rubber. The midsole is divided into six flex zones. In contrast, the toes and heel are very rigid using a saw-tooth pattern for extra aggressive traction. The rigid toe aids in climbing. The heel is divided into four smaller flex zones and is useful in descending steep grades.
The Classic SFB comes with a removable insole that has a picture of the human foot in skeletal form. This image has a grid laid over it depicting the various flex zones of the sole. The insole also has additional padding at the heel and ball of the foot.
The Classic SFB is available in Black, Coyote Brown, Desert Tan and Sage Green and retails for $140.00. It should be noted these boots are made in China.
New 2014 Nike SFB Breakdown
The new redesigned Nike SFB has many of the same features as its older counterpart. It still utilizes the 8 inch high ankle with the synthetic leather and canvas material. The difference is there is more canvas area on the ankle for additional flexibility and breathability. The stitching pattern has changed some; however it still utilizes two and three lines of stitching. The two inside arch ventilation holes remain and are the same diameter and spacing as the Classic version. At the top of the boot there is less leather trim and they replaced the leather blackstrap with a canvas one. Nike did, however, add a double stitched canvas loop to the back of the ankle to aid in donning the boot. This is a welcome addition as it can sometimes be difficult to pull on boots without some sort of assistance.
Instead of the all-metal eyelets for the laces, Nike has added two wider lace loops at the top of the foot. This allows the laces to be distributed better over the top of the foot. This is important as it takes some of the “cutting” pressure from the laces off the top of the foot, resulting in added comfort. It was also noticed the laces on the new SFB are longer than the classic version. This lets the wearer to wrap the laces around the ankle and provides more tying options.
Additional rubber was added to the front of the toe kick as well as the heel strike to provide more reinforcement, durability and protection when walking on rugged terrain. The interior of the sole has a protective “rock shield” that protects the foot from punctures.
Where Nike really departed from the classic SFB is with a new tread design. They have done away with all the lateral “valleys” that made up the flex zones of the classic SFB. Instead, Nike uses a more monolithic sole; however, they still utilize four tread zones and now there are four unique tread patterns instead of three. Nike actually stamped the type of rubber and its thickness within their respective tread zones on the soles.
- The outsole has a new diamond shaped lugs that are stamped “0.44 Sticky Rubber.”
- The arch has field of sharp rubber “teeth” that is supposed to aid in fast roping as well as ladder, tree or rope climbing.
- The toes and heels are similar to the Classic except the angle of the toe tread has become more angular to better improve grip and the heel pattern is much deeper, with fewer “saw teeth.”
- Both the heel and the toe are stamped 0.68 hard rubber. There is also “Heel Strike Zone” stamped on the heel.
A removable insole is also provided with padding in the exact same areas as the Classic boot. The only difference is the new insole doesn’t have the graphic of the foot bone structure or grid.
The updated SFB is available in Black, Desert Tan and Sage Green. Coyote Brown will be available soon. The SFB retails for $160.00. It should be noted these boots are made in Vietnam.
Original Nike SFB vs. Redesigned SFB
The Classic and New SFB for this evaluation came in the Desert Tan color and a size 10.5. I found that these boots ran a half size small, which I am told is not uncommon for Nike shoes. This provided a more snug fit than I desired. I found that I wasn’t a fan of the insoles on either rendition of the boot as they are basically the same thing. The padding location at the balls of the foot was thick enough to push my foot up into the roof of the boot. With the already snug fit, this added discomfort; however, when the insoles were removed, it freed my feet up a little.
Another issue I had with the insoles is the additional padding on the balls of the feet made it feel like it wasn’t positioned properly. I would have preferred more padding and support under my arch and a bit less at the balls of my foot. Granted, everyone’s feet are different, so this may not be an issue for you. If you can’t try the boots on and are ordering these boots online, it may be a good idea to order a half size larger. That way there is a bit more room for thicker socks, or special aftermarket sole inserts if desired. In addition, US Patriot offers a 365-day satisfaction guarantee, so if they don’t fit, you can always send them back.
Both the classic and the new model felt pretty similar in terms of ankle support, which is minor at best. The new rear loop on the ankle is a great feature and the lacing system is much better on the new SFB. Not only do the leather loops help distribute the pressure better, they lock the laces in place when cinched down, providing a better, more secure fit.
As these boots were also designed around Nike’s athletic heritage, I did run in each pair. I felt, at least for my feet, the Classic SFB was slightly more comfortable to run in. This was primarily due to the more subdued tread pattern and better lateral flexibility. They felt more like running shoes than boots, which was nice. That’s not to say the newer version of the boot didn’t work well. They did, especially when compared to a more traditional, rigid boot.
As mentioned previously, the SFB are warm weather boots. Ironically, this evaluation was done in the Pacific Northwest in the middle of winter. The two week evaluation period had temperatures that ranged from the low teens to the low 30s. This allowed for a range of wet, muddy, cold and hard conditions for the SFB to work in. Bottom line, my feet froze in both versions of the boot, but understandably so. I am sure they will be welcomed in the warmer summer months, but for winter… not so much.
Both versions of the boot handled very well on pavement regardless if it was wet or dry. On the trail, both worked well, but the new SFB provided better traction than the Classic. This was primarily due to the more aggressive and deeper tread patterns. The downside of the deeper tread cuts is they accumulated much more organic material which became very evident in wetter, muddier conditions. Even still, the newer model has the advantage trekking uphill or down. I also felt the newer model had a more secure grip on the heel, meaning the foot didn’t lift while walking.
The new SFBs were also quieter than the classics. The material that makes up the ankles on both boots will crinkle and crunch, especially when running. The sound of the Classic SFB was more noticeable. This could be due to the fact that the boots are new and the material is stiffer. There is a good chance this phenomenon will go away over time as the material becomes more worn. It should be noted the synthetic leather will get dirty easily and is highly visible on the Desert Tan version.
” If you can’t try the boots on and are ordering these boots online, it may be a good idea to order a half size larger. That way there is a bit more room for thicker socks, or special aftermarket sole inserts if desired.”
Upon returning home after one trail session while wearing the new SFBs, I found out that my left boot had a nail in it. After extracting the nail I found out it was fairly large at about 5/8ths of an inch long. It had penetrated where the outsole tread and the toe tread meet. I am assuming the “rock shield” feature of the boot protected my feet which I am grateful for. Once the nail was removed, the rubber self-healed and sealed up the puncture.
While the new SFB has a more aggressive tread, I feel Nike lost some lateral flexibility by removing the “flex zones” found in the classic boot. This is very evident when I tried to flex each sole side to side. Longitudinal flexibility seems to be equal with both versions of the boot.
The upgrades to the Nike SFB are many and well thought out. They have taken most of the great features from the Classic version and enhanced them. Overall, the boot feels sturdier and more durable and it looks more aggressive than the classic, which is a win in my book. I like the way they protect my feet, while allowing me the flexibility to comfortably walk or run. I appreciate the feather lite weight as well. Color wise, I would have preferred Coyote Brown; however it was not available at the time of this writing. Due to the snug fit, I will be deep sixing the insoles in favor of some aftermarket ones that don’t crowd my feet as much and provide better arch support. Again, I feel if I had ordered a size 11, the snug fit wouldn’t be an issue. I am looking forward to getting more time with both pairs; however I think I will wait until the mercury rises some…