Propper International is one of the largest suppliers of uniform apparel to the United States military. The company boasts more than 120 million garments manufactured and delivered to the U.S. Department of Defense. Created in 1967 by William T Propper, the then fledgling company got its first military contract making Navy “Dixie Cups.” Almost 50 years later, the manufacturer continues to make quality products around the world to include distribution out of Tennessee, with manufacturing facilities in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Haiti and China.
Included as part of their vast apparel catalog are boots. Two of their popular selections are the Propper Bantam Lightweight Boot and the Propper Benning Lightweight Boot. I recently received a pair of each for evaluation and comparison. Pictured above, the Bantam on the left and Benning on the right.
Propper Benning and Bantam Boots: The Similarities
These boots were made for the United States Air Force. Both models fall into the lightweight, warm weather, 8 inch field boot category. They practically weigh in at the same weight. The Bantam weighs in at 2.2 lbs per pair, while the Benning is slightly heavier at 2.3 lbs. They look similar in appearance and they share the same sage green color. They also are made of the same materials which consist of lightweight suede leather uppers, a breathable nylon mesh tongue, a nylon heel tab/loop and 550 paracord laces. The laces fit through rust-resistant lacing hardware which allows for quick easy lace ups, reduces lace abrasion, and maintains strength in the field.
The lug design on both the Benning and Bantam is made of non-squeak rubber and both sport a full length EVA midsole cushioning and composite shank. The arches on each sole have a fine lug pattern to assist in fast roping. As both are lightweight, warm weather boots, they also feature ventilated air mesh lining to help wick away moisture.
Keeping with the need for ventilation, both boots have ventilation and drainage ports located on the inside arch of each foot. Each port has a non-rust mesh which prevents particles from getting into the boot while allowing water to escape. The boots are reinforced with double and triple rows of stitching throughout the boot design. Both soft toe boots feature moderate toe protection as the sole of the boot turns up and is held in place with a single line of stitching. Lastly, each boot comes with a breathable OrthoLite PU foot bed for additional comfort.
Propper Benning and Bantam Boots: The Differences
Viewed from the top, both boots are nearly indistinguishable. In fact, I was unable to discern any differences when looking at both boots from above. They appear to be identical. It is only when viewed from the side and at the sole do the differences become apparent.
The 8 inch upper on the Benning has a breathable mesh panels supported by a suede leather surround, while the Bantam upper panels are made of 1000 denier Cordura nylon and reinforced with nylon overlay straps for additional support. While both boots are breathable and both have ventilation ports, the Benning has two ports per boot, while the Bantam only has one each. This allows the Benning to drain and ventilate a little faster than the Bantam. The Benning offers slightly higher leather construction at the heel providing a bit more protection than the Bantam. I am assuming this additional amount of material contributes to the very slight weight increase of the Benning. Flipping the boots upside down revealed one of the largest noticeable differences… the soles.
The soles on the Benning boot are varied. The toe has three saw tooth patterns carved into the rubber for steep assents. The mid, side and rear of the sole have very large aggressive lugs. The outer lugs are in two smaller rows while the center lugs are larger and are siped similar to the tires on a car. This allows the larger treads to perform better on hard, wet surfaces. The heel of the Benning also has some siping and sports a large rear lug for descents.
The Bantam, on the other hand, departs from the larger, deep lugs in favor of a smaller tread pattern. The entire sole has a border of larger, yet shallow, lugs. Within the center of this border lies various sizes of honeycomb shaped lugs. Both the heel and the toe feature a saw-tooth pattern to aid in ascending and descending steep grades.
In the Field
Field evaluation for both boots took place over the course of a couple of weeks as summer turned to fall. The weather was fairly mild, in the low to mid 60s. The first rains had come and the ground was nice and compact, yet not too muddy. Tree leaves had started to fall and covered the ground with vibrant color. I took both pairs along the same evaluation trail on different occasions. The trail consists of hard pack dirt, gravel, fallen trees, mud, a small creek and pavement. The course also has steep grades and uneven terrain.
Both boots donned very easily thanks to the slick inner mesh and the heel loop. Lacing was simple and straightforward. I prefer to leave the top lace un-done and wrap the laces around the ankle and tied in a square knot. That is just my preference. I found that both pairs of boots were comfortable to wear, however it is my opinion that you should allow for a break in period before going on any long excursions. The soles on both pairs were somewhat stiff and walking felt a little “clunky” at first.
Both boots performed pretty much the same on the trail. Ironically, even though it is only a tenth of a pound less in weight, I did perceive that the Bantam model was lighter than the Benning. Both tread patterns held up well and I felt like I had a sure footing with both pairs. It wasn’t until I got to the steep grades that I noticed interior heel and toe slipping with both pairs. Boots need to have a happy medium of space inside. Too tight, circulation is lost and the boots become uncomfortable. Too much room and the feet will start to slip and move around creating hot spots, blisters and uneven footing. Even while wearing heavy hiking socks, I had to stop to unlace and relace both pairs of boots, making them tighter. This seemed to work for the most part and really helped reduce slippage on steep grades.
The soles of the Bantam felt lighter and swifter on the trail and hard pack, however the smaller tread pattern filled up with smaller bits of gravel which tended to stay clogged in the treads. It wasn’t noticeable until I hit pavement and heard the scraping sound as the gravel dragged along the pavement. It should be noted the Bantam did slip a little on the looser graveled slopes. The Benning tread, however, was rock solid on the before mentioned slopes. The larger lug pattern was better suited for biting into the ground providing slightly better footing.
During the mud portion of the course, I found some really deep and nasty goop. I was more interested in how the mud cleaned out than how the boots actually performed. Let’s face it; in really deep mud, most boots suck. There isn’t a solid surface to stand on and the material you are standing on is slipping every which way. The Propper offerings were no different. Each proved a bit dicey in the mud. I slipped pretty good in both, without falling mind you. There was a nearby creek which I quickly jumped in, letting the water flow over and around the boot.
The mud washed off the soles of both boots fairly easily without any additional assistance. There was some organic material that remained lodged in the soles of both pairs after the mud pit and additional dirt trail, but nothing that was grievous and hindered performance. Also, the suede leather of both boots took a nice mud bath and required cleaning after the evaluation.
Both boots are pretty comparable to one another. The hard pack performance advantage would go to the Bantam while the loose soil/gravel advantage would go to the Benning. This is primarily due to the differences in sole lug pattern. They both dried out quickly and were fairly water resistant in shallow water. Both Propper models felt swift on the trail and allowed for flexible and dynamic footwork. I will probably replace the manufacturer’s insole with one that provides a bit more arch support. This will better tailor the boot to my foot and I feel it will probably help with interior foot movement. I will continue to wear these boots and see how they hold up over time.
For the price they would be hard to beat, with US Patriot selling them for under $80 per pair.