Combat boots have long been valued for their durability and ankle support. But are they suitable for hiking’s rugged terrains? Here’s an in-depth look at the pros, cons and expert recommendations on using combat boots for hiking:
Key Takeaways on Combat Boots for Hiking
- Combat boots provide sturdy ankle support and good traction, making them ideal for light to moderate day hikes. Their stiff structure also offers stability when carrying heavy loads.
- However, they lack breathability and their heavy weight can cause fatigue over long distances. Hiking-specific boots are better suited for multi-day backpacking trips.
- Waterproof combat boots with proper insoles provide the best experience, along with wearing suitable hiking socks to wick moisture. Breaking them in beforehand is also advised.
- While combat boots work for casual day hikes, serious outdoor enthusiasts recommend getting boots designed specifically for hiking’s demands.
The Case For Using Combat Boots for Hiking
Combat boots check several boxes that make them suitable for less intensive hiking activities:
- Made to last – Designed for military use, combat boots are extremely durable to withstand rugged environments. Materials like full-grain leather are hardy.
- Resist abrasions – Leather and reinforced toes mean they can hike over rough ground without much damage. Ideal for scrambling or bushwalking.
2. Ankle Support
- Prevent injury – Tall shanks with 6-8 inch uppers provide exceptional stability and support to prevent ankle rolls. Ideal for carrying packs.
- Reinforced structure – Materials rarely flex so ankles are held firmly in place. Multiple layers also prevent debris entering.
3. Traction & Grip
- Lugged rubber outsoles – Deep multidirectional lugs give traction like hiking boots on muddy, sandy or slippery terrain. Same Vibram/lugged soles are often used.
- Stability – Stiff soles also give lateral stability when hiking over uneven ground or loose rocks, preventing loss of balance.
Factors Making Combat Boots Less Ideal for Hiking
However, combat boots lag behind specialized hiking boots in some key areas:
1. Heavy Weight
- Full-grain leather, thick rubber soles and metal components add excess weight. Often weigh 2-3 lbs per boot.
- Fatiguing over long distances with elevation changes compared to lighter 1-2 lb hiking boots.
2. Lack of Breathability
- Durable leather and water-resistant materials lead to less ventilation and airflow.
- Feet get hotter and sweat more, leading to blisters on long summer hikes.
3. Break-In Period
- Brand new combat boots have extremely stiff structure that must flex to match feet’s shape.
- Requires wearing consistently to break them in fully before attempting long hikes.
4. No Moisture Wicking
- Leather doesn’t dry quickly after getting wet or absorb sweat from feet well.
- Increased blister risk without moisture wicking lining materials that hiking boots have.
Optimizing Combat Boots for Hiking Use
If choosing to hike in combat boots, optimize them for the task with these tips:
Get Properly Fitted Boots
Ill-fitting combat boots that are too loose or tight will be uncomfortable over miles. When getting fitted:
- Have a thumbs width in toe box for downhill strides
- Heels locked in place without slippage
- Consider sizing adjustments for downhill gravitation
Use Suitable Insoles & Socks
Replace standard insoles with:
- Supportive insoles – Increase cushioning and arch support for pronation prevention over uneven ground.
Use moisture wicking socks like merino wool to:
- Absorb sweat – Prevent skin maceration that causes blister formation.
Consider sealing or spraying leather with:
- Waterproofing compounds – Prevent water saturation when hiking through streams or rain. Feet stay drier.
Break Them In
Before attempting long hikes, break stiff new boots in with:
- Regular short walks – Gradual increased durations.
- Wearing indoors – Accelerate forming to feet’s shape.
- Stretching over shoe trees – Loosen structure.
Following those recommendations will provide the optimal hiking experience combat boots can realistically provide.
Hiking Boot Features Lacking in Combat Boots
However, even well-fitted and broken in combat boots fundamentally lack certain traits that hiking-specific boots possess that enhance the hiking experience:
- Lightweight – Hiking boots emphasized cutting weight using synthetic fabrics, reducing fatigue over miles. Modern boots are around 1-2 lbs per boot.
- Breathability – Fabrics actively ventilate feet and wick moisture better through drying linings.
- Flexibility – Soles and uppers move naturally with feet due to flex points. Reduced blistering.
- Cushioning – More shock absorbing midsoles lessen joint impact from hard surfaces.
- Traction optimized for trails – Lug patterns and sole stiffness tuned for natural dirt/rocky terrain.
While minor day hikes are certainly possible in combat boots, the advantages of those features really materialize on challenging, multi-day hiking trips.
Recommendations From Outdoor Gear Experts
Outdoor gear specialists generally suggest combat boots are serviceable footwear for easier day hikes, but lag behind purpose-built hiking boots for more demanding treks. As leading gear review site Switchback Travel notes:
“Combat boots can provide enough support for short day hikes. But the lack of breathability, flexibility, and weight savings of a hiking-specific boot makes them less than ideal for multi-day backpacking trips.”
Similarly, bootmaker Belleville cautions about sizing inconsistencies between combat boots and hiking boots:
For hardcore hiking purists, the inferior breathability and ankle flexibility also goes against best practices for blister prevention over repeated long days on the trail.
So while occasional day hikes are fine in combat boots, every expert we consulted recommended getting footwear designed specifically with a hiker’s needs in mind for serious backpacking trips.
The simple reality is combat boots represent a compromise not ideal for hiking’s demands. Hiking-specific boots engineered explicitly for trail use will provide vastly superior comfort, support and moisture wicking capabilities.
Final Recommendations: Who Combat Boots Work For
Here is our verdict on the best candidates able to use combat boots effectively for hiking purposes:
- Casual day hikers doing under 5 miles
- Bushwalkers doing off-trail terrain
- Those wanting ankle support with heavy packs
- Hikers staying mostly on flat dry ground
Not Ideal for:
- Multi-day backpackers
- Peak-baggers needing agility
- Hot weather humidity hikers
- Anyone risking joint pain over miles
So if you’re an avid hiker who loves spending whole weekends deep in nature’s beauty, we strongly advise getting boots purpose-built for those demands.
But for short scenic walks or keeping gear stable on your back, combat boots will serve just fine. Though perhaps not quite as comfortably!