Side Zip Boots

I’ve been wearing military boots for a long time. The first ones I was ever issued were standard 1980s-vintage boots (Combat Highs), and it was a bit of a mixed experience. They were certainly a lot better than the British Army’s previous boots, which were pretty much the same as the ones used in the First World War but with a rubber sole in place of the stuffed leather one. Hundreds of thousands of men suffered from trench foot between 1914 and 1918. Most of that was down to the unique conditions, of course, but when the same problem reappeared during the Falklands War in 1982, it became obvious that quite a lot was due to the boots. Ankle-high and notoriously leaky, they just couldn’t keep feet dry. The combat highs solved that problem but introduced a few of their own. The worst was a stiff seam across the back of the ankle that could rub against the Achilles’ tendon. I was lucky and it didn’t bother me too much, but the British Army lost several hundred soldiers through acute tendinitis. An improved version without the seam solved that, but then the focus switched to hot climates and new problems appeared.

The Flyweight SZ composite toe boot in sage from Tactical Research.
The Flyweight SZ composite toe boot in sage from Tactical Research.

In late 2001 there was a major exercise, Saif Sarrea II, in the Sultanate of Oman. A full armored brigade deployed from Germany and before long, press reports started to appear about how the combat highs sometimes melted in the desert. The leather was unaffected but the rubber soles could soften and disintegrate, with the result that the whole boot fell apart. The Ministry of Defense denied this and claimed the boots were perfectly adequate, but I was on that exercise. I’d been lucky enough to get issued desert boots but there weren’t enough for everyone, and I saw boots with the soles falling off. The MoD did know the truth and not long afterwards, new desert boots were issued.

Boot technology is advancing fast now, and while not much changed through the 20th century apart from the move to rubber soles, we’re now seeing very fast progress. More rugged leather and advanced synthetics make boots more durable than ever, and they’re also a lot more comfortable. It’s no longer necessary to break new boots in by doing a squadded run up a shallow river, much to everyone’s relief. Innovation has also reached fastenings and we’re seeing a lot more boots with a side zip.

The whole idea behind side zips is that you can put the boots on and adjust them to fit with the standard front lacing, then tie a couple of good solid knots and forget about it. After that all you need to do is pull the boots on and do up the zip. It’s much quicker and you still get all the adjustment benefits of laces. That’s not just good when the rocket alarm goes off at 0300; it also makes it easier to take care of your feet. Now when you’re on a route march and stop for a ten-minute break, you can take your boots off and give your feet a rest without spending your valuable water-drinking time struggling with muddy laces.

I have to admit that I was skeptical at first, but not long after arriving in Afghanistan I picked up a pair of Converse side-zip desert boots. They finally fell apart after nearly two years of constant use (the soles, not the zips), but for comfort and convenience they were excellent. I’m now a huge fan of the idea. A good quality pair will be as robust as traditional boots but a lot easier to get on with. Check out some models from Bates, Propper and Reebok; they’re available in desert and temperate colors as well as standard black, and while they’re not AR670-1 compliant right now, they’re a great choice for anyone who’s not bothered by that particular piece of nonsense.

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.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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6 thoughts on “Side Zip Boots

  1. If we are in that big of a hurry we should just sleep with them on…oh wait, that is what we did in the Corps! If people want them, they will buy them, but I don’t see any in my future boot box. What’s next…..camo jumpsuits for everyone?

    1. I used to sleep in my boots too, but it’s not really a practical solution when you’re spending six weeks at a time in an austere patrol base – especially in a hot climate. Anything that makes it easier for soldiers to look after their feet has to be a good idea.

      1. I can speak from experience operating in both the Mountains and Deserts as a grunt, and they may be useful in garrison but they have no place in the field. With a speed lace boot [standard now] donning your boots takes about 60 secs. With all the normal pressure points on the feet on a 40 miler a rigid side zip seems to be even worse. Of course, I knew the fire service would chime in, being in the fire service I see that is their standard and it does make sense in that application, but after all aren’t we talking about military use? If your boots last more than a year you aren’t in the field much, my boots had to be resoled every 8-9 months, and there is no side zip boot that could hold up to that type of field use [pipe dream].

        When I said, sleep in them, I was not referring to weeks on end. I would never take my boots off until I returned to the patrol base, and then we had 5-10 minutes to wash and dry our feet, powder, mole skin, clean socks, and switch to alternate boots……but that is how the Marines do it!

  2. I have a pair of Bates with a side-zipper and absolutely love them. When I purchased them, I figured they’d last only 6 months max before the zippers gave out.
    What a great surprise they turned out to be. I’ve had them for almost 2 years now and they are still in good shape (part of the sole has started to break away from the boot, but it’s minor). The zippers haven’t failed at all!
    I’ve heard horror stories about side-zipper boots though. Some completely blowing out while on patrol. I believe it depends on the brand (and model) of the boot. Some are good, while others are only good for throwing away.
    Nonetheless, if I had to choose 1 type of boot for the rest of my life, I would still go with the old fashioned lace-up style, simply b/c there is a reduced risk of failure….I’d definitely miss the short time it takes to put (side-zipper) boots on though!

  3. As a firefighter I prefer side zip boots. Easy on and easy off. If we get a call in the middle of the night slide them on and zip, I’m ready to go. The same is true if we have a fire and need to get into my bunker gear, one zip down and the boots are off, bunker gear on. Love the side zip,

  4. The zippered boots are great if you have an ankle or foot injury. Much easier to get on and off. If you get injured while wearing them, good chance you won’t have to cut them off.

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