One of the main reasons we wear shoes is to provide protection for our feet. Hot sand or sharp debris are probably the main reasons the first primitive sandals were cut from scraps of hide. Today’s footwear is far more advanced, and so is the protection it offers, not only to the foot but to the ankle as well. But how do you know if the footwear you are choosing will offer the right level of support?
Walk through the shoe department of any store or browse your favorite website, and one thing is obvious – not all footwear is created equal. There are hundreds of styles, colors, designs, and features available. Some of these differences are merely a matter of style, but others are a matter of function. When it comes to ankle support, especially for tactical operations, the function is far more important than appearance.
What Features Provide Ankle Support?
Shoes can generally be divided into three cut or height categories: low, mid or high top. Many people believe that ankle support is simply a matter of shoe height… i.e. buy high top shoes, get more support. But that’s not necessarily true. While selecting a higher top does usually provide additional support, it is not the only factor to consider.
- Shape – the shape of the boot and how it fits your foot is a key aspect when it comes to how it supports your ankle. Select a boot that is too narrow, and it will pinch your foot and cause you to walk unnaturally, risking ankle injury. Wear a shoe that is too wide or larger than needed, and you may have increased comfort, but you lose stability and again increase risk of ankle injury.
- Arch – a stiffer arch offers increased ankle support, regardless of the cut or height of the shoe.
- Midsole – the midsole, or cushion, is not specifically designed to protect the ankle but does impact the overall support of the boot itself. More durable, responsive, midsole construction increases the support.
- Outsole – when it comes to the outsole and ankle support, it is not a matter of material as much as design. Although soles constructed of softer, more shock-absorbing materials can offer increased protection from trauma, it is more important to have a wide, flat sole due to the stability provided.
Ankle Support for Different Activities
Now that we have reviewed what features of a boot actually provide ankle support, it is time to answer your original question “what level of ankle support is best for your specific activity?” Let’s look at the most common activities and list of the features you will want to look for.
- Walking – look for good shock absorption, a wide flat sole, smooth tread, and flexibility. Low or mid height is all that is necessary, provided they are of good quality.
- Running – the shoes designed for running do not provide ankle support via height but through the stability, flexibility, and midsole cushioning that prevents ankle turning.
- Hiking – ankle support is a key feature of most tactical boots, and is generally provided through increased height. You will also want to look for padding around the ankle for increased comfort, adjustable closures, and increased traction to prevent injury-causing slips.
- Standing – if you will be standing post for long periods, it is important to have footwear that prevents the ankle from turning and provides comfort in the heel to reduce the need to move about and release pressure.
Translating This Into Tactical Boots
So right about now, you’ve read the previous section and are probably thinking “I do all of those activities” and believe that a good pair of tactical boots will cover all your needs.
That’s true. And it’s also very, very false.
Yes, you will find yourself standing post, hiking or walking great distances, and running in an urban or rural environment and across a variety of terrains. What you will not do is all of these at the same time, or even during the same shift. This means you will need a day-to-day tactical boot suitable for the most likely activities and have a second (or even third!) pair for use when deployed to specific areas or on specific missions.
Tactical boots, or boots in general for that matter, were not a common part of the U.S. military kit until World War I. Prior to that, soldiers were issued shoes of a very general design and limited sizing, or they were forced to purchase their own footwear. Upon entry to WWI, soldiers benefited from the vast supply of Trench Boots produced for allies. The boot’s high shank replaced pre-war gaiters, and hobnails were added for additional traction in muddy trenches. The first “special purpose” tactical boots were born.
Today’s soldier has an almost endless number of choices when it comes to tactical footwear. All claim to be the best available, and that may be correct, but few are the best for every situation. The top jump boot will be an unwelcome companion on a desert ruck march. Likewise, your favorite hikers would not offer the degree of traction needed for fast roping. In other words, your boot needs to match your mission – and it needs to give you the right support while doing so.
Standard Issue – the specific boot varies from time to time, but the general profile remains the same. These boots are a jack-of-all-trades type of footwear. The hardened leather construction and rubber sole provide a stable platform, and the high-top design provides increased ankle support by encompassing it 360 degrees. Additional support can be achieved by tightening the laces as needed. Overall, this boot is good for day-to-day wear or general hikers.
The good news is that current uniform regulations allow for some flexibility when it comes to “standard footwear.” In other words, you can buy your own boots and use them if they have been granted approval. This means that you can still buy a pair for long hikes (added protection against twisting and turning while carrying extra weight), motivational runs (extra shock absorption) or fast roping (heavy duty soles, protection during roping and against turning of the ankle).
Jump Boots – these are the standard for Airborne units, and not just because they look good either. Obviously, jumping out of airplanes involves a certain number of risks, one of which is a severe ankle injury. These boots are designed to lessen the chances that will happen. The taller shank and ankle reinforcements combine to hold the ankle tighter and straight. The deep, cupped heels hold the foot in place, and the thick rubber soles absorb more shock that would normally be transferred through the foot to the ankle. Many jump boots can also be used for general wear, replacing the standard issue boot.
Tanker Boots – this is another long-standing favorite born out of WW2, designed for a specific purpose and not very well suited for anything else. The high leather design is similar to standard issue boots, but you will quickly notice the laces have been replaced with a series of buckles (2 or 3 depending on the manufacturer). Once you put the boots on, you will notice another difference – the weight. This is due to the additional toe cap and heel-and-shank guard made of either metal or hard plastic. Each of these features is designed to protect the wearer.
The buckles remove the danger from loose laces becoming tangled in machinery, and the steel inserts protect from puncture or crushing injuries. While tanker boots offer a great deal of overall ankle support, especially when buckled tight from toe to calf, they are much too heavy for hiking or jump boot use.
Jungle Boot – these were obviously developed for use in wet, hot climates, and the majority of their features focus on keeping your feet dry or drying out quickly after they are wet. The canvas shank, which may be paired with a leather body, and rubber sole are lightweight and dry quickly. The addition of drain holes on the bottom increases water drainage. While jungle boots are suitable for hiking, the support they offer is minimal and primarily a result of the canvas high top being snugged around the foot and ankle area.
Desert Boots – this is the modern addition to the tactical boot family and, like the jungle boot, was a direct result of adapting to the terrain troops were fighting in. The desert is hot, and the terrain varies from soft sand to hard packed earth or rocky outcrops. Troops needed boots that would not only match the terrain in color but in functionality as well. Compared to the jungle boot, the modern desert boot has a rougher exterior, often due to the rough suede surface. The leather is usually paired with nylon to reduce weight; the steel shanks were removed to allow for better heat transfer, and the drain holes were also removed.
But other features were added. The already-reduced weight allowed designers to add additional padding in the shank, tongue, and ankle areas. The flat laces were also replaced with paracord laces and quick draw lacing systems. Both changes allowed for a more personal fit and increased ankle support, even with the use of nylon uppers.
So what boot will work best for you? Evaluate your activities and determine how much ankle support you need. Are you risking a turned ankle by wearing your everyday garrison boots for a ruck? Don’t make that mistake – invest in the right pair of boots for the occasion.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.