What to Look for In a Military Boot Outsole

Most of the time when buying boots, comfort is the main criteria (after determining if they meet regulations). But the outsole of the boot – the actual part of the boot that meets the ground – is a critical factor when it comes to traction, safety, durability, and support. Before you make your next tactical boot purchase, you should spend some time examining the outsoles of the boots to determine if they’ll meet your needs.

There are two things you should consider when looking at boot soles: the tread or lug pattern, and the material the sole is made from.

The US military currently approves two different materials for use in outsole manufacturing: The first and most widely used is rubber, and the second is PU (polyurethane).

The Under Armour FNP on the left has PU outsoles with a flatter tread design and rounded heel. The OTB JungleLite on the right is made with rubber outsoles that feature deep lugs and a sharp heel.

Outsole Materials

Rubber is the best all-around material as it can be used for a variety of sole designs, including having aggressive lug patterns. It’s also the most durable of the two options. PU soles tend to have more rounded edges and lower profile designs (i.e., flatter soles).

This is the US standard issue rubber Vibram outsole. Note the lug configuration which is similar to many outdoor/hiking soles. This is the type of lug configuration you should look for in a boot.

A rubber sole is best for serious rocky and hilly terrain. It is also best for wet and muddy situations (i.e., jungle). You’ll find that most Jungle boots tend to have a breasted heel – a true, defined heel with a 90 degree angle, which is necessary for gripping the terrain when descending steep slopes.

Rubber is also best when fast roping out of a helicopter. You should use a sole that has rubber on the inside shank area. This rubber will protect the boot from becoming destroyed when zipping quickly down a rope.

PU soles are great for use in garrison, especially for jobs where traction is not a major issue. They tend to have tread patterns that are not very deep, so are best suited for use indoors or on dry, paved surfaces. The athletic-branded boots are great for use in the gym!

The Garmont NFS has inside fast rope guard where the rubber slightly wraps up on the inside of the boot.

The US Army regulation 670-1 does not allow for any rubber overlays on the toe or heel, for fear of these items delaminating and rendering the boot useless. The one time where an overlay can be used is in a mountain environment. In this case the Army Mountain Combat Hiker (image below), which does have an overlay, can be used, if approved by your CSM.

Many people ask about “Vibram” vs. other soles. Vibram is a branded rubber sole, however other companies make similar rubber without the “yellow label” of Vibram (for military applications, Vibram is colored coyote or black to meet regulations).

All in all, it comes down to what terrain will you be using your boot: if your job is outdoors and you need the best traction necessary, look for a rubber sole with a defined, breasted heel. If you’re looking for footwear for PT, choose a flatter, PU-soled boot.

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.

Dan Ellis

Dan Ellis

Dan has a wealth of footwear product development experience dating back to 1986 where he began his career with Saucony in their athletic shoes division. Following that, he worked as a Product Engineer for Adidas, and was recruited to Reebok where he was the Director of Product Development and the Sr. Director of Marketing Operations.

In 2005, his focus shifted from athletic footwear to tactical, after being asked by Natick Soldier Systems to work on a suite of footwear for the US Navy SEALs. It was also at this time he developed Blackhawk’s range of tactical footwear, most of which are still being sold today. Working with the Navy SEALs led to the ground-breaking Abyss water shoe, and OTB Boots was born.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Dan continued working in product development outside of OTB Boots. He helped develop the AKU Pilgrim boot for the Army’s Green Berets. This boot continues to be used by SF groups worldwide. He also helped the militaries of Switzerland and Jordan to redesign their combat boots, and in 2017, he developed all of Altama’s new tactical footwear, which was launched at the SHOT Show.

2018 sees a new path for Dan and OTB Boots, as he joins forces with US Patriot Tactical to bring the brand back to the forefront in tactical footwear. He will be focusing his efforts on adding dealers worldwide, along with continuing to develop unique tactical boots with the superior features that set OTB Boots apart from the competition.
Dan Ellis

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