Allow me the indulgence of breaking habit, and posting something athletic-footwear based on this blog. I’m aware there’s another sit for this kind of thing, but alas, at time-of-writing, all things army are tinged with controversy and matters of Ministry Of Defence military issue quality are deeply topical. I’ve been known to complain about build on a product, but when it’s a matter of life or death rather than cracked paint on the sole, it’s something else altogether.

As a result, the release of Nike’s Special Forces Boot earlier in the year was a subdued one rather than a bells and whistles affair.  So I thought I’d spotlight it here instead in a rare moment of product focus. I also think a lot of the writeups I’ve seen elsewhere have been pretty dry.

Seeing as I’m surrounded by the things, I don’t get very excited by shoes any more. The same happened when I work experienced in a comic book store – never bought another funny book after October 1993. The experience of retail and cost pricing taught me just how disposable they are. When it comes to shoes, it takes an awful lot to pique my interest to purchasing point rather than mere freeloading. The SFB is one of those times (and no, this isn’t payola-led). I’ve sung the praises of the glorious ACG Air Tarn here before, but I love the Baltoro, Air Rhyolite and the Air Superdome (not the terrible Max Superdome though, which deserves the purgatory of outlet store hell). Until Timberland staged a comeback lately, it seemed that the Goadome love could spread from Washington D.C. to anywhere the big boot look could thrive. But I wanted to see some progression beyond the vintage revisits that are substantially responsible for my frequent bouts of sneaker narcolepsy. I think the SFB brings it.

“Those are ugly!” is music to my ears when it comes to this kind of thing. Some of these shoes have the upper only an oddball could love, but they slap me out of snooze-mode. I’d been waiting for Nike to drop something like this after adidas’s age-old black-on-black GSG9 army model, often criticised for traction issues, but clean in appearance continued to shift units. I love tactical/army and desert boot design. The GSG9 even been followed with a sequel, the GSG9.2 that employs Climacool and adiPRENE into the model. It’s okay, but Oakley’s Elite Special Forces S.I. Assault Boot was a more exciting big-brand design – as I understand, Oakley’s army-standard verson was US-made, with a China-made civilian version. Britain’s Hi-Tec, who made the abominable Silver Shadow and Squash, enjoying brief success with hi-tops for those too poor to afford adidas Ewing Rivalrys before succumbing to cut-price shame had huge success with their Vibram soled Magnum line for police and military, but the Hi-Tec name is still a repellent for me, regardless of whether Kinetic Effect wore ’em for press shots circa. 1994.

We’re all preoocupied with all things rugged and old at present (I’m writing this in a pair of Mountain Lights), but progression can be necessary in military products. Boot design has taken vast leaps this decade taking chunks of tradition and performance breakthroughs too. I can only imagine the contempt anyone who’s signed up for combat would feel for the likes of me eulogising the aesthetics of army attire. I don’t care either. Specialist forums are riddled with reviews based on marches and tours of duty as well as a healthy contempt for posers. I speak only as a footwear fanboy. How many hoarders of Vans have touched a board in the last twenty years? The recent ALIFE 40 Below proves there’s plenty of life in the big boot movement, and those look pretty reserved compared to Nike’s offering.

Old styles like the German Para boot are a no-no, appropriated by too many trustafarians, but I firmly believe that the DNA of contemporary army footwear styles lie in two design classics – 1977s waterproof M77 boot from Alfa Skofabrik for the Norwegian army, still an army-issue there, and Israeli elite forces Commandos boots from Paladium with their hardwearing union of canvas and polyurethane.

Twinning an army desert boot upper with a sole that looks like the underrated Free Trail model, the faux-leather and polyester on the  SFB’s upper, approach to surface grip and flex, thermoplastic on the forefoot and real-leather/Kevlar protection lower down is an interesting adaptation of existing technologies.  They’re lightweight too as well as breathable, meaning trench foot chances are minimised. But a benefit to a serviceman but hinderance to a hipster doofus like me is that height. Those recoiling at the towering cut need to focus on what’s visible under denim – my aim wasn’t to rock them like a ‘Funk Your Head Up’ era Ultramagnetics affiliate, or to look like I’m making a field trip to Endor. Still, quick lacing or not, it’s a daily chore that’s a potential dealbreaker.

The chukka version might not fall in line with the full milspec intent, but after Hiroshi Fujiwara (who showcased a good black/purple high pair) and Hirofumi Kiyonaga got their hands on it, this tactical design was brought in line with their Uniform Experiment collection. I assumed that the UE ethos would omit anything quite this roughneck, but seemingly not. Trimmed down, it’s an easier wear, and black-on-black minimses any aesthetic concerns regarding the duality of a more rounded upper and futuristic jagged sole unit. It’s a less challenging wear, and one of the best things Nike have executed in years. I can forgive them for the ‘Year Of The Pig’ Air Max Footscape 360 and years of nondescript Max reworkings if standards remain this high.

Recently I’ve been taking a look at the army offerings from more conventional suppliers like Lowa, Belleville, Meindl, Garmont, Danner, 511, Zamberlan, Redback and Altberg. North Yorkshire’s Altberg rarely get the spotlight they deserve for their handcrafted output.

Altberg Desert Microlite

Redback Terra Combat

Zamberlan Wild GT

511 Desert

Belleville ABU Waterproof Combat

Danner Acadia

Lowa Desert Mid

Lowa Seeker Desert

Meindl Desert


  1. Bit more info on the Nike SFB from a sale on ebay:

    Four years ago, Nike’s Innovation Kitchen was given a new mission: Develop a 21st century boot to meet the needs of this century’s elite level athletes in need of elite level performance innovation. The SFB represents Nike’s continued pursuit of delivering the most technically innovative and lightweight product to meet the needs of athletes the world over. The SFB was developed over the course of four years by a team of innovators led by Nike Innovation Manager Tobie Hatfield, while paying homage to the service and inspiration of Nike’s first designer and Co-Founder, Major Bill Bowerman. Before Bowerman became the University of Oregon Track & Field Coach, he served as a founding member of the 10th Mountain Division of the United States Army. Utilizing the lessons learned both from his service and his years coaching, Bowerman’s footwear design legacy would serve as a guide for Tobie and his team, a premium was placed on creating shoes that were lighter, making use of the foot’s natural motion, while decreasing the addition of heavy overbuilding which traditionally yields boots that are stiffer, hotter, heavier and less breathable. From day one, Bowerman knew there was “might in light”. The SFB is undeniable evidence. The SFB breaks new ground in lightweight athletic boot delivering innovation for athletes in any environment. The SFB, perfect for warm weather conditions, is the lightest, fastest drying, natural motion boot on the planet. It features a Natural Motion Cushioning unit that helps with optimal support and speed, allowing for quick flexible movement in any direction while drastically reducing the weight of conventional boots. Offering unparalleled traction, the SFB’s outsole is fitted with a directional traction heel sole that utilizes reverse tread bars and a slightly raised heel for better traction going downhill. The Sticky Rubber forefoot were placed to allow exceptional agility and traction in any terrain. Coming equipped with a puncture-resistant thermoplastic forefoot shield and genuine leather with Kevlar sheath, these assets offer protection to the wearer from jagged rocky terrain. Highly protective while light and flexible, the SFB’s upper is comprised of a polyester woven shell wrapped in synthetic leather overlays which offers no “break-in” time associated with most other boots. A Speed Lacing System made of 550 cord run through metal speed-lacing eyelets keep the foot securely locked down to the base unit while also making the SFB easy to get in or out of. Simply put, this boot was built for comfort, speed, agility – and it was built to last.

      1. I really like the Nike SFB. I couldn’t see myself actually wearing them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like them, does it?

        Things like this are the reason I like footwear, and Nike especially. Innovation and interestingness, something that is largely missing today. An actual story rather than a made up “wax jacket pack” or somesuch.

        Much as I love a pair of Vans, I do miss the times when technical pieces could be recontextualised by the wearer, and people didn’t need the go-ahead of a double name cosign to do so.

        For me as for you, the tech spec of these things have absolutely no bearing on me or my life, but knowing about it somehow makes all the difference, and makes them all the more interesting.

        I love how the Free-style sole works on these. Meaningful hybridity rather than the thrown together vibe of so many contemporary hybrid models. Again, I realise the ridiculousness of my position: it shouldn’t need to make sense, it should just need to look alright. I tend to think more deeply about these things.

        The Uniform Experiment numbers have been switched up to the point I would definitely wear them, and I think they look tremendous, but by my mind’s reckoning (see above) they have been made less appealing by the (grown-up) streetwear co-sign.

  2. As you well know, I dig this kind of shit as much as the next man, but it’s still got to look nice and the balance on the full length SFB is just all out of whack.

    The chucks is a FAR better shoe, just looks much more wearable.

    Altberg are, most definitely the shit, as are meindl.

    We really should give an honourable mention to the Rocky S2V as well – a friend who wear tests these sorts of things for money wore them to the Sahara, Namibia and Borneo in one year, and said they are the best mil-spec boots he has ever used.

    I have to believe him, otherwise he might blowdart me in the face.

  3. Gary brilliant journalism as we’ve all come to expect from you bro but still these SFB’s aren’t aesthetically pleasing to the eye despite all the research that has gone into their development.
    I agree with Dommy the balance is wrong on the full length and that the chukka looks better but I still would go for a Rhyolite, Baltoro, Lava Dome, Ashiko etc. over these. If you have any of those Nikes in your wardrobe why would you need to put such monstrosities on my feet.
    The first time I saw these I had a flashback to the Hi-Tec Magnum that you mention. I agree they sucked but with these being virtually the twin are we expected to appreciate them just because of the name and the people behind them? Also I believe the Magnum could have been the inspiration for the SFB’s characteristics. As you state and I recall Hi-Tec had a phenomenal response and success with the Magnum. They were exceptional in terms of performance but lacking in looks. Weren’t they S.W.A.T. standard issue at one point? With Nike performance has always been number one but sadly in recent years their aesthetic standards have generally fallen off. I’m sure the SFB will show no comprise and perform admirably under extreme duress but to go down the pub with a pair on for me would be a firm no.
    The other examples of military footwear you highlight, have superior handsome qualities especially the Meindl Desert, Belleville ABU Waterproof Combat & 511 Desert.
    This winter though I will be wearing my 40 Belows, denim tucked in ala Chris Lighty 1989.

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