Many people take their footwear for granted, selecting what they put on their feet based on style – not function or comfort. But, if you spend much of your day on your feet walking a beat, directing traffic, or chasing suspects, style finds itself much further down the list. Don’t believe me? Wait until you purchase your first pair of “cool but uncomfortable” boots. Of course, it would be easiest just to avoid buying the wrong pair to begin with, so here are some tips and advice that will help you make sure your next pair of patrol footwear is the right pair.
Types of Duty Footwear
The first step in choosing the right pair of duty footwear is deciding what type you need. You will notice I said NEED, not want. Style should be decided by functionality and meeting the requirements of your mission, not whether or not they look cool. Boots are by far the most popular style of patrol footwear, but there are others available. There are also times when something other than boots are best for the situation at hand.
Shoes – oxfords, shoes or low quarters were once the standard when it came to patrol footwear. Starched shirts and pants, black socks, and spit-shined black low quarters were the only uniform you found in the station. Over time, boots evolved in both style and performance, and soon found themselves taking the top of the market share. But that does not mean there is not a time when shoes might be better than boots.
For example, when walking a beat or standing post, low-cut shoes may provide an increased level of comfort and reduce overall fatigue. They are lighter and allow more flexibility in the ankle. There are also times when shoes offer a more professional appearance, including for detectives, when wearing suits, or those wearing ceremonial uniforms.
Boots – as stated before, boots have undoubtedly reached the top when it comes to popularity for patrol footwear. The advances in style and design mean that you are no longer required to make due with a pair of surplus combat duties. There are dozens of styles and colors of duty boots available, including those made for specific assignments ranging from walking a beat to tactical teams.
Chances are, you can find a pair that will not only match your uniform requirements, but your mission requirements as well. If you are someone who does not enjoy the feeling of a tall boot around your lower leg but still want the performance and protection a traditional boot offers, consider 6-inch boots instead.
Special Designs – although shoes and boots are capable of tackling the majority of patrol duty requirements, there are times when neither is the right call. Those assigned to special duties such as bike patrol, marine patrol, or dive rescue units will want to seek out footwear specially designed to meet the needs of these types of missions. Many of this footwear will be specially constructed to withstand the specific rigors of the assignment. For example, they will dry quickly or be made for use with special equipment such as swim fins or bicycles.
Features of Patrol Boots and Shoes
Once you have decided on a type of footwear, it is time to evaluate your favorites. By comparing the following features, you will be better able to determine which will perform best, last the longest, be most comfortable, and in the long run, be the best investment.
The most important aspect in determining long term performance is durability, which is directly attributable to the materials used and how the footwear is constructed. Regardless of how stylish or trendy a particular pair of footwear may be, you are wasting your money if they will not withstand the rigors of patrol duty. Plenty of manufacturers claim their footwear is the best, and plenty have been proven wrong on the streets. This is why you need to examine the boots or shoes you are buying with a proverbal microscope.
Materials – The first thing you will want to examine is the materials the boots or shoes are made of. Canvas, mesh, and similar lightweight materials are generally not the first choice for duty footwear. Although they allow for reduced weight and dry quickly, they lack the durability necessary. Leather is usually considered the best material in terms of strength and durability, but can be heavier and require more routine care. The compromise is to merge the two together. Many of the most popular brands are a combination of leather, suede or nubuck, and canvas or mesh. The leather material is used in areas where extra strength or abrasion protection is needed, and the mesh or canvas is added as filler in-between.
Construction – The next thing to look at should be the workmanship. Examine the stitching, hardware, and seams for signs of imperfections or shoddy construction. Next, determine if the thread and hardware are of an equal quality material as the rest of the boot. Do not forget to pay close attention to any interior lining and the tongue alignment. You should expect the same attention to detail as on the exterior components.
Warranty – Finally, consider whether or not the company offers a warranty. Having a warranty is about more than being able to return a pair of footwear you decide does not fit right or can’t accommodate your two left feet. When a company offers a warranty, preferably one which is hassle-free and extends more than a couple of months, it says they stand behind their product. While they are willing to replace or repair faulty products, the real purpose of the warranty is to show their commitment to that product. They do not expect you to need the warranty to begin with because they believe their product will perform as advertised.
Some brands with great warranties are Condor (lifetime), Haix (1 year), Original SWAT (lifetime), Lowa (1 year), Rocky (1 year), Salomon (2 years), and Timberland (1 year, plus a 30 day comfort guarantee).
Make Sure Your Duty Boots Are Comfortable
Performance is not the end-all when it comes to selecting a pair of patrol footwear. You also need to consider comfort. It sounds like common sense, but far too many officers will purchase the popular brand or style and suffer – either because they want to look tacticool or do not know any better. They actually think duty boots/shoes are supposed to be uncomfortable.
They could not be more wrong.
No shoe or boot is designed to be uncomfortable. Yes, there is some footwear (especially those designed for special purposes) where comfort is not the top concern, but patrol footwear should not be in this category. Every day, police officers face the possibility of spending a great deal of time on their feet and manufacturers know this. The footwear marketed to LEOs not only considers comfort level important, it is a major factor.
Simply put, if your patrol footwear is uncomfortable, you have the wrong footwear.
You will want to select footwear that provides the proper balance of support, breathability, and water resistance, while not weighing so much that simply wearing them causes unnecessary fatigue. Although it could be considered an unrelated feature, traction is also in this category, and I will explain why in a second.
Sole Support – the sole is the foundation on which the rest of the boot is built, and, as with a house, a weak foundation leads to a weak overall structure. Most patrol footwear will require a heavy tread for traction and slip resistance, and a stiff shank for added support as well as protection from sharp objects penetrating through the bottoms of the boots. But, because you spend so much time on your feet or even running short distances, you also need some flexibility.
Impact Support – whether running a sprint, jumping down off a ledge, or walking a beat, every step produces impact energy. Your footwear can either absorb that impact or disperse it into your body. When shopping for patrol footwear, you definitely want that shock absorbed by the sole, otherwise you will risk fatigue (short term) or muscle and joint injury (long term).
Shaft Support – the shaft is any part of the footwear that extends above the sole, all the way to the collar. For boots this could be 6”, 8” or 10” while shoes will generally be “ankle” height or “above the ankle” (also called low cut shoes). A properly fitted pair of boots or shoes will keep the foot, ankle, and lower leg stable without causing unnecessary restriction. Most will provide some padding around the collar for increased comfort.
Breathability – feet sweat and having footwear that will provide the right level of breathability is a key component of comfort. But preventing sweating is about more than avoiding swampfoot; it is also about core body temperature management. Your feet sweat as part of your overall body temperature control, so keeping your feet cool will increase comfort on several levels. Mesh panels and ventilation ports go a long way to allowing air to circulate around your foot.
Water Resistance – there are many options that are fully waterproof, but not everyone wants or needs 100% protection from water. However, everyone should have patrol footwear that offers some degree of water resistance, otherwise a puddle on the street will ruin the rest of your day. Know what level of protection you need and select a design that meets those needs. More importantly, understand what, if anything, you need to do to maintain this protection.
Traction – traction is not always a function of comfort, but when you work on varying terrains, having the right traction is what will keep you from slipping and sliding with every step. For some, a lack of traction is a nuisance. For LEOs, it can lead to increased injury and inability to complete the mission.
Weight – footwear that is too heavy will cause premature leg fatigue; footwear that is too light will not provide the overall protection needed. Look for a pair that offers a compromise by dropping weight through the use of composite or synthetic materials that are still rip, tear, and wear resistant.
Hopefully this guide and the tips we provided will help you select your next pair of patrol footwear. More importantly, we hope it will help you select the last pair you will need to buy for a long time. After all, the true test of a pair of footwear is not whether you can wear them but how much you are willing to wear them.
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.