The right military boot can be the difference between a successful 12-miler, and a five-day profile for blisters. In military terms, it is a tool that aids the warfighter as they move to the sounds of fire and it allows them to be capable of accomplishing required tasks for mission success. The right wear, the right fit, and the right use all play a role in achieving success. This article is designed to provide tips and techniques to ensure that, when all factors are applied correctly, your feet are the last of your concerns.
Try before you buy
The first recognition must be that all feet are different, and an amazing boot to one person may fit awkwardly to another. Therefore, the first rule of boots is to never purchase what one has not tried on. Find opportunities to try different boot styles and brands, comparing sizes while walking on flat ground, angled terrain, side stepping and so on. This is the most important first step as it becomes the basis for all future elements of the boot.
Most people content themselves by trying on a pair of boots and walking for a dozen paces around a carpeted store. While this may be enough to validate the boot purchase for the individual who will spend the majority of their time at a desk behind a computer, the real concerns are for the service member who will be carrying heavy rucksacks through uneven terrain in constantly changing weather conditions.
It is therefore important to see how the boot feels to the foot while wearing the socks that are normally worn for ruck marches. This will identify where the boot holds the foot comfortable, or where the foot slides around inside. The boots should then be worn while walking around the store. Go through the motions that the feet are normally required to perform in boots. Everything from a lunge motion to transitioning to the toes only for standing taller. This will identify friction points within the boots that are not apparent when just standing still. If there are any rock formation props in the store, this is where your feet will appreciate the extra few minutes that you took to identify how the boots feel on uneven terrain.
If there are any friction points or spots that do not feel right, the first step is to identify if this is normal for the boot. It is not uncommon to find a stitching defect in an otherwise great military boot brand which can be fixed by swapping out for another pair. If the stitching is correct, immediately move on to the next brand. Selecting a boot that is worn uncomfortably in the store will only result in pain down the road. The same is true for fit. A tight boot will never stretch enough to fit comfortable, and a boot that is more than a half size too large will never shrink enough to fit right. Wearing extra socks is not the answer, getting the right boot is.
Breaking in your boots
Once the purchase is made, the next step is to go from the pretty close fit of the store to the comfortable wear in the field. This can be done multiple ways, but the best recommendation is always to take the time that is required to get it right before the stressors of the field cause unnecessary blisters.
This step is best performed by wearing the boots during day to day tasks. This may be as simple as around the office, to and from work, or out on a range. There should be no stress involved with this, and the application of ruck marching should be kept to a minimum. This validates the boots comfort level but also gives the feet an opportunity to start stretching out the leather in the boot in a somewhat controlled environment.
After a few days of this, the boot will begin to shape to the foot. This is most evident in the toes, the heel, and the top of the foot. During this phase I recommend playing with the lacing of the boot. Tight laces can apply undue pressure on the top of the foot resulting in uncomfortable wear most notably seen while walking up or down stairs. A solution to this is to cross the laces for the first few eye holes before the natural bend in the boot when the foot is flexed, at which point the laces skip crossing and instead go straight up to the next eye hole. After that, they continue to cross again up the remainder of the boot. This seemingly minor adjustment can have a significant effect on the comfort and wear of the boot over the long run.
Breaking in your boots with water
Some people like to dunk, drench, or fill boots with water in order to saturate the leather and provide a more form fitting feel to the foot. Any leather boot will respond to this process as the leather will shrink during the drying out process and form a tighter fit around the foot. If this is desired or necessary, the best way to perform this is to fill the boot with lean water and allow it to soak for a few minutes before draining the water out. A summer boot will respond differently than a winter boot due to the drainage holes on the side, so take this into consideration.
Afterwards, the boot should be placed onto the foot with the normal rucking socks and worn until the boots have dried out. This will take time and is best done on a sunny weekend when a nice walk outside will not be interrupted by competing work priorities. As the boots take time to dry, it may be necessary to switch socks and dry the feet during the process to preclude any chance of short term immersion foot issues. While unlikely to have any problems besides prune-like feet, it is always smart to play it safe.
Regardless of whether this step is desired or not, the next and most important element to the process is the gradual increase of usage. In other words, the first step should not be a 20-mile ruck march. It should be a one to two-mile movement with little to no weight worn, increased in both distance and weight to allow the feet to get used to the boots.
This is the fundamental most important thing to remember about breaking in boots. Whatever actions are performed to help the boots fit the foot correctly, at the end of the day it is the foot, ankle, and calf that needs to adjust to the boot to be worn comfortably. Trying to force boots onto unconditioned feet will only result in unnecessary pain and blistering.
Finally, as the process is continuing and the feet are becoming more accustomed to the new boots as weight and distance are increased, it is important to remember about the importance of foot care. Calluses should be sanded down or kept to a minimum, blisters should be properly cared for, and general hygiene should be the standard for the feet. Keeping them aired, dried, and allowing them appropriate time to rest after movements is important to maintaining both the boots, and the feet for future movements.
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.