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History of Combat Boots: a journey through the evolution of combat footwear

Today combat boots are one of the most important pieces of equipment in a soldier’s repertoire. They are subject to strict regulations, but with dozens of different options so that each military servicemember can find the perfect pair to support and protect their feet in the line of duty. But that wasn’t always the case. Read on as we go through the origins of military footwear, innovations over time, and how we got to the tactical boots of today. 


Origins of Combat Footwear

Footwear specifically designed for combat has been worn by soldiers since the Ancient Assyrians and Romans. The shoes of choice for soldiers in that age consisted of soft leather, with pieces of animal bones as fasteners. Caligae, boots worn by the Ancient Romans, would often have open toes or heels to aid in maneuverability, but these left feet more vulnerable in battle because they were exposed.

By the 1600’s shoes had progressed quite a ways. During the English Civil War, soldiers were issued three pairs of soft leather ankle boots that had rawhide soles and leather straps to keep them tied. The English soldiers would wear a different pair for every march to ensure that they were getting broken in at the same rate, and so that they would always have a pair ready to wear if they were needed in the war effort.

From the 1600’s to the 1800’s military boots were similar to civilian shoes, often with buckles instead of ties. When the American Revolutionary War arose in the late 1700’s, soldiers were generally not issued boots to wear, but instead had to procure their own footwear from what was available at the time. This meant that the boots and shoes men were wearing on the frontlines were generally subpar, and led to injuries, especially in cold weather. The painful struggle of soldiers in General George Washington’s Army during the winter of 1777 – 1778 is well-documented. 


The First Military Boots

The first boot specifically designed and made for the US military was the Jefferson Boot, first produced in 1816. The Jefferson boot was name after President Thomas Jefferson, who was famous for wearing similar lace-up style boots. These boots were distinctive in that they did not differentiate between the left and right foot, instead they would slowly mold to the wearer’s foot shape as they were worn. However, if you’ve ever attempted to break in a pair of ill-fitting boots, you can imagine how uncomfortable the Jefferson boots were. They were also only ankle-high, leaving the shins and the rest of the leg exposed. 

From the mid 1800’s until the start of World War I, Hessian style boots became popular for use in the military. These boots were nearly knee-high, with buckles on the back of the leg to keep them snug and in place. But the height of these boots made soldiers’ range of motion smaller, and they found it difficult to run or fight in them. So, by the time World War I began in 1914, ankle-height boots with buckles were once again the popular choice. 


Early 1900’s

World War I (WWI) brought an entirely new style of warfare, and with that was needed an entirely new style of combat boot. When the US entered WWI in 1917, they were issued the Pershing boot, named after General of the Armies, John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. These boots came to be known as “trench boots", as they were worn by soldiers in trenches along the front lines. The trench boot had an iron plate in the heel and a tanned cowhide sole, which made them significantly more protective than anything used in wars previously. But they still had fatal flaws: they were not waterproof or insulated.

Soldiers of WWI spent much of their time in the literal trenches, which were extremely muddy and cold. The combination of the wet and cold, with an inability to keep feet dry, quickly led to immersion foot syndrome, more commonly known as “trenchfoot", which can cause blisters, skin loss, intense itching, overwhelming pain, and infection. Soldiers attempted to combat this by ordering larger sized boots and wearing multiple thick layers of socks, but this only worked somewhat. Thousands of soldiers died during WWI because of complications from trenchfoot, and thousands more were forever debilitated by the condition, continuing to seek treatment for their feet as much as 30 years after the war had ended.

In 1918 a new Pershing boot was issued that used heavier leather, had a thicker sole, and had increased water resistance. While these boots were a vast improvement over their predecessor, they were significantly heavier, leading to their nickname, “little tanks".





World War I brought hard lessons about the state of military footwear and its design needing to be specific to its environment. When the United States entered World War II (WWII), there was a greater understanding that new forces would need new and innovative boots. One of these new forces were paratroopers, members of the Armed Forces who were trained to drop out of airplanes with parachutes to enter an active military operations. The 82nd Airborne Division and 101st Airborne Division were the first paratroopers, and they were authorized to wear all-leather boots, colloquially known as “jump boots"

The Vietnam War era brought US forces to another new environment: the tropics. The Armed Forces had actually been testing a “jungle boot” designed specifically for warm and wet climates, prior to WWII. Tested in Panama and formally adopted by the US Army in 1942, the first jungle boot was a lightweight boot comprised of a rubber sole with layers of fused Saran or PVDC (Polyvinylidene chloride) which created a unique ventilated mesh that allowed moisture to drain, but importantly, prevented mud, sand, or insects from entering the boots. The iterations in use by the time the Vietnam War began were the M-1942, a canvas and rubber jungle boot, and the M-1945 tropical combat boot. These first versions of jungle boots did the job, but they still decayed quickly in the humid environment. Improvements to the design incorporated a nylon mesh reinforcement in the neck of the boot, along with leather for the toe and heel, and removable/replaceable insoles. This boot was called the M-1966, or M-66

Also in the 1960’s, the US Military began issuing shined black combat boots, which were thick, leather, calf-high boots with laces and rubber soles. These were vastly different from the rough-out brown leather that had been previously used, and revolutionized combat gear at that time. They were considered to be the most comfortable and durable boots to have been developed by the military up to that point. Soldiers were issued two pairs: one pair to wear out in the field, which could get beat up during training exercises, and one pair to wear for inspection, parades, or garrison duty. These polished boots are famous for being “spit-shined” and could also be worn as part of the dress uniform.  


Late 1900’s – Present

When the first Gulf War began in 1990, the US Military opted to shift from polished black boots to “coyote” colored boots because that shade of tan blended better with the landscape of Iraq. They also relaxed the requirement to have these boots polished, which allowed for them to be more breathable, comfortable, and easier to maintain. By the mid-2000’s, the US Army had fully transitioned away from the jungle boots of the Vietnam-era, in favor of desert-style boots better suited to the current conflict. 

Today, there are a plethora of different types of boots in use by the US military and it’s servicemembers. Section AR670-1.18.4 in the U.S. Army manual defines what boots may be allowed within the US Army ranks. Each soldier is issued two pairs of hot weather boots along with one set of temperate weather boots. Hot weather boots have increased breathability compared to their temperate counterparts. At their discretion, soldiers may acquire additional pairs of boots, but they must meet several requirements:

  • Be “coyote” tan colored
  • Made from genuine cow or cattle-hide leather 
  • Measure 8 – 10 inches tall 
  • Equipped with a rubber or polyether polyurethane sole

Most soldiers today will opt to obtain their own boots rather than use the ones issued by the military. Not only does this allow for different support needs to be met with different boots, but it also allows some level of personal preference and style with an otherwise very rigid uniform. As long as they are compliant with section AR670-1, Army soldiers have dozens of different options to choose from.

There are also variations of boots developed for different environments and specific jobs within the Armed Forces. For example, “flight boots” for use in the Air Force are required to flame-resistant, while others, such as in the Navy, are required to wear steel or composite-toe boots to protect their feet from heavy equipment. There are also much-improved cold weather boots for troops in Alaska and the mountains of Afghanistan. The cold-weather boots issued by the military are nicknamed “Mickey Mouse” boots because they look large due to the layers of insulation, and they’re stark white to blend in with the snow. These boots can keep feet warm in temperatures as low as negative 60 degrees Fahrenheit and have three layers of polyester foam which is hermetically sealed within an inner and outer layer of rubber. The boots even have a pressure-release valve to adjust internal air pressure when operations take soldiers into high-altitudes. They’re a far cry from the multiple layers of socks used to insulate during WWI! 

Shoe technology today in general is vastly improved over what was available in the early and mid-1900’s. Modern military boots have shock-resistant rubber soles, breathable leather, increased flexibility, and superior ankle and arch support. Some even feature lightweight waterproofing like GORE-TEX, a fabric soldiers could have only dreamed of in WWI and WWII. Many countries have followed the United States’ lead in switching to tan, mid-calf boots because they have proven to be the highest quality boot design. And tactical boots have even inspired modern fashion! From the 1980’s grunge scene, where people wore combat boots that they bought from military surplus stores, to current trends of combat and military-inspired lace-up boots being offered by the likes of Dr. Marten, Converse, and many more. 

Garmont T8 NFS 670



Our Tactical Collection was designed with the Armed Forces in mind, built to withstand tough terrain and demanding field conditions without compromising on comfort.

Whether you need boots to support you across vast terrain, keep you quick and agile on your feet, or protect you from the elements, we have the ideal boot for you! And you can be sure that any method of lacing your boots will work great on a pair of Garmonts!