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
Belleville ABU Waterproof Combat
Lowa Desert Mid
Lowa Seeker Desert