Recently we’ve seen the Army toughen up its rules on the boots soldiers are authorized to wear, a move that’s sparked a lot of protests from troops who’re faced with not being able to use the footwear they prefer. There is some good news though, because a major program is under way to improve the issue jungle boot. With the Pentagon turning more of its attention to the Pacific, the chances of jungle operations are increasing, and the current JB is an old model that’s way behind the state of the art. Soldier Protection and Individual Equipment at Fort Belvoir, VA are developing specs for a new design that will match the performance of the current temperate and hot weather boots, along with delivering what it takes to perform well in the jungle.
The jungle is a unique environment, famed for its moisture and mud. The ideal boot for these conditions is lightweight and breathable for comfort, and dries out quickly after being fully immersed in water – which is going to happen sooner rather than later to anyone who heads under the jungle canopy. Durability is vital, to withstand repeatedly being soaked and drying out – the average leather boot will quickly crack and split when given that treatment. Exceptional grip is also needed to keep troops moving over slippery mud and wet vegetation.
Boot technology has moved on a lot since the last jungle boot design, and one of the biggest innovations is direct-attach outsoles. Modern glues let bootmakers glue the sole directly to the leather uppers instead of sewing them on, and that has a several advantages.
- Lighter weight boots: Up to half a pound per boot, in some cases. That means less fatigue for the soldier.
- More durability: Traditional stitching is vulnerable to rotting from dampness or being abraded by mud, which it’s going to be covered with in the jungle.
- No mud trap: In fact the welt where the sole and upper are sewn together is the ideal trap for mud, weighing down feet even as it attacks the stitching. The new designs eliminate this.
Jungle boots have always relied on fabrics to provide light, breathable, fast-drying uppers; new fabrics allow stronger boots that shed water faster and last longer.
The Army has also introduced new rules for boot sizes. In the past, sizing could vary between contractors, because each manufacturer used their own lasts to build boots. There are now standard Army lasts in each issue size which all contractors have to use for issue gear, so regardless of which company makes your boots, they’ll be sized consistently from now on. That will also make it much simpler to deliver new gear in the field when it’s required, because you’re guaranteed to get new boots that exactly match your old ones.
Of course there are always soldiers who find the issue boots don’t suit their feet, and since the crackdown on AR670-1, it’s gotten more difficult to find an acceptable alternative, but with luck the new jungle boot, when it arrives – trials are planned to start this summer – will work for almost everyone.