Minimalist Tactical Boot Guide
Updated: Feb 27
When we say the word tactical we tend to think military, but it actually also refers to police, riot control, firefighters, coast guard, security forces and people who are required to wear some form of tactical gear for their job.
This article is really unique because tactical gear and in particular tactical footwear are regulated by the military, law enforcement, or other government branches you may be part of. This can make it very difficult for tactical individuals who are looking for a more minimalist friendly boot option.
The military and any tactical forces such as firefighters, police, private security, first responders, coast guard, home front command, national guard (insert your position here) have lots of rules and regulations. In addition to the actual functional needs of a combat boot, i.e. water proof, heat resistant, puncture proof sole, there are regulations which require a certain standard.
Notice the Bellville Standard Red boots issued by the IDF in some of its units pictured below.
Before we delve in, we really wanted to hear the opinions and experiences from different armed forces from around the world. We personally served in the IDF as both an elite combat engineer and later on as part of the combat fitness corps, but most of our service was spent in the traditional IDF issued Black McRae - Belleville combat boots. We also have some major contributions to this article from Ron Cohen who served as an officer in the same unit I was in, as well as Jeffery Goff who served in the Marine Corps and is the founder of Naturathletics a Company specializing in Minimalist Cleats .
So without further ado lets dive in feet first!
If you just want help finding the best minimalist tactical boot alternative then you can click here to skip to the end of the article
Why is it so difficult to find a true minimalist combat boot?
Our colleague and friend Jeffery Goff, founder of Naturathletics and former marine, lends his wisdom here.
"The modern combat boot has been influenced around the world by the standards set in America. The last time standards were set for combat boots was in the mid 90s! The researchers were looking to find a way to cushion the blows of heel strike hiking while immobilizing the midfoot and ankles to prevent any chance of injury due to uneven terrain. Unsurprisingly, these researchers came to the conclusion that the needed a highly cushion outsole, a stiff supportive midsole/insole complex, and a 8 inch high boot shank. The only gait pattern tested was the heel striking gait pattern. The footwear tested were all of a “conventional” nature. As a Marine I started my career as a minimalist shoe runner. I was the second fastest Marine in my Officer Training Company, only bested by a 4x NCAA National Champion runner/Olympian. I started to notice that I was not falling prey to many of the same injuries taking down my fellow Officer Candidates because I had built a resilient movement system. Shin splints and stress fractures were wreaking havoc in our Company, especially the female Marines. Of note, 4 of the around 30 graduating women were held back from follow on training for up to 6 months to recover from stress fractures in their hips.
I started to question why injuries were taking down Marines as my career progressed and I saw ankle sprains, knee tears, shin splints, and stress fractures persisting with Marines I trained with and had under my command. I had ankle sprain problems myself while on training exercises the issued combat boots were robbing my feet of ground feedback, sensory input, and the proper alignment to combat unstable conditions. Even as a minimalist runner, spending almost all my time in issued combat boots was destroying my feet.
At 4 years in I resolved to do something to change the Marine Corps for the better, giving Marines the resilience in their feet to handle the rigors of combat and have a better quality of life after their service. When I started on my journey to reform the Marine Corps in 2015, I sought to make a combat boot that would adhere to minimalist standards of zero drop, wide toe box, flexible, and lacking a high ankle cuff. Later, I started to comb through peer reviewed research to write up a 27 page white paper on how combat boots were damaging Marines and how minimalist boots would provide a better way forward. Among some of the most damning findings from my research were how combat boots were creating movement dysfunction, instability, injury, and arthritis among service members. Service members had almost double the rate of osteoarthritis vs the general population and even 20% higher among female vs male service members.
Through my journey I had gained supporters in high places such as the Commanding General of USMC Training and Education Command and the head of the Warfighter Performance Center at the Naval Health Research Center. The problem was all these supporters were unable to derail two $42M boot programs that were years in the making at USMC Systems Command. I had arrived too late in the process at USMC SYSCOM and was shut out by the program manager because my efforts would have invalidated his sunk costs.
I still believe we can change the services for the better. The DoD is rooted in tradition and history, but the old form of the combat boot is one relic that should be done away with. Service Members deserve the best chance to succeed on the battlefield and in life after they leave their service. Switching to minimalist boots can further these goals. By putting the feet of Service Members in the right boots, and with proper training, the DoD can ensure that Service Members will stay combat effective, longer.
To see Jeff's favorite minimalist friendly combat boot alternatives you can click here.
A Story of a Barefoot Officer
Another friend and colleague, Ron Cohen, who is also is a 2 times podcast guest, is a barefoot runner, barefoot educator, and barefoot running coach. He served as an officer in the elite combat engineering corps as a sapper and provides his perspective as well. What makes Ron's story so unique is that he drafted to army as a barefooter as well.
"The year before my army service was dedicated for learning and for training. I had a lot of free time on my hands, so even though I was an experienced athlete, every time I would run I would get hurt. I would sleep 10 hours a night, eat high nutrient density food, I mobilized every day, I would do ice for recovery, and I even tried expensive insoles but nothing helped. I was on the verge of giving up on my dream of drafting to an elite unit. Towards the end of the year I spoke to my Sensei who said "can't hurt to try barefoot." I read Born to Run and understood and incorporated the concept of barefoot running. 12 years later I have not had any running related injuries and I have run 4 barefoot marathons since."
"I drafted in 2011 with a whole month experience of barefoot running, during a time when barefoot running was unheard of. My minimalist running shoe for when I wasn't barefoot was the New Balance Minimus ( I wish they still made this model). I remember on the first week we got off , we were all handed shoe vouchers and told how to pick a shoe based on pronation/supination etc. Then someone asked how come Ron is different and the officers didn't know what to say (shows the armies priorities). I remember seeing everyone around me suffer from every injury possible and I became hyper aware of the constant heel striking and the loud stomping noise of the people running around me. Even the unit's physical therapist after meeting with me after our traditional ruck to finish the first phase of training said, "As a PT, I don't know enough about this world but it sounds interesting so let me look into it." (See Sean's story who drafted 2 years after me to see where the physical therapist took it). Seeing everyone around me get injured made me want to have a personal impact on the people around me. So I began giving lectures to my team, my platoon, and even in Officers School I would give a lecture on barefoot running and then go for a barefoot run together. Still to this day people are now barefoot runners because of me. During runs I would wear the new balance Minumus, and whenever I would get off for the weekend I would take my shoes off, but majority of the time I would still wear the boots as required. At a certain point in my training my boots were hurting so much that I would ask my officer if I can take them off and go for a barefoot run as a "physical therapy" session. As I progressed throughout my service and I had more intendance as a staff sergeant for the new recruits, as well as later an officer in the Sapper Corps, I would take my soldiers on their weekly runs while I would run barefoot and of course at a certain point it rubbed off on them as well.
(My Team and I running in the local city's marathon)
When I was released. I asked myself how can I take this journey I was on and turn it into something greater. 12 years later and I'm now a barefoot running coach and speak all around Israel about it. For the Reserves, I teach in the commanders course and because we are in civilian clothing I favor my Zuzu sandals, and if I have the occasional field time I wear hiking shoes because I firmly believe that it's more about being barefoot than just wearing barefoot shoes. I also would ask myself and advise all tactical athletes out there, if war were to break out, would you spend a full 2 months in the shoes you choose to wear for combat? Regarding the only available boot today that meets the standards is the Mini Mel with a 2mm drop, since a firmer and slightly elevated heel is a necessary option at times to kick open a door or other aggressive measures."
(Sean, after being tired of wearing restrictive combat boots for 3 years)
Lastly, my story about minimalist shoes and the military.
Having served in the military in the Elite Combat Engineering Corps, I spent about 3 years of my life in high ankle, thick soled, restrictive combat boots. The plus was that because they had to accommodate all foot volume/sizes they were quite wide. What I also experienced alongside everyone else was stress fractures, sprained ankles, shin splints all while getting poor sleep, enduring rigorous training and without appropriate caloric or quality nutrition intake. During my service, I was introduced to the minimalist shoe world. ( I wish I had met Ron at this point. Fortunately, I had the privilege to meet him this past year and enjoy many collaborations with him.) Our unit's physical therapist wore barefoot shoes (Vibrams 5 fingers) Ron from our previous story was the one who got him on the train! When I asked him about running and what kind of sneaker I should get since mine were completely ruined after running 100s of kilometers in them during training, he said, "The sole thickness doesn't matter, it's your foot that has to get stronger." Keep in mind while we did wear our combat boots in our day to day, when we went on longer runs or at the gym training we usually wore conventional sneakers. Flashforward to where I am about 10 years later, little did I know what an impact his words would make on me.
Our navigational instructor also ran in a super minimal sandal (which I know now as the Xero Genesis). I used to always look at him oddly when he would set out on his runs. When we completed our training, we were allowed to wear rugged hiking boots around the base and in the field. I suppose if I wore a rugged boot like the Tracker or the Ibex no one would of noticed.
Well enough of nostalgic army stories. It's 2022 and a true minimalist combat military boot does not exist yet... Or does it? In our unit the standard infantry boot is the Belville High Black Combat boot They also come in a red or tan color and certain special ops will use their own boots.
These are an example of the standard issue boots we wore after training. They were stiff, heeled, narrow toe box, ankle restrictive etc. We also had the option of a variety of brands like Asolo, Meindel, mostly with Vibram soles. I don't remember what brand these are below are but this is what I wore in the field after my training was complete
After the touching tales of 3 soldiers, let's give you what you seek, a true minimalist tactical boot.
Disclaimer: Some of these are are affiliate links.
1. Mini Mil - Note this is the only true tactical boot that is potentially allowed by the military regulations, it is the same brand that most tactical boots are from, but you will have to check within your individual branch to be certain they are allowed. A true minimalist boot featuring a 2mm “drop” between the heel and forefoot, the Belleville MINI-MiL® TR102 is designed specifically for the conditioned warrior athlete currently training in minimalistic athletic footwear. Equipped with an exclusive VIBRAM® Tarsus slip resistant outsole, this quick-drying unlined boot is both highly breathable and lightweight too - weighing less 16 oz per half pair.
Ok now what about the rest of us with more relaxed rules serving in the reserves and just searching for a really rugged boot.
Here are our favorites:
2. Freet Ibex/Tundra. This is a personal favorite of mine. I wear it while in reserves. Here in Israel we do reserves until the age of 40. The tundra is the same shoe but a vegan option.
Freet's shoes can be found here
Discount code Is TBSR10 for 10% off.
3. Softstar Switchback: The huge plus here is the fabric is puncture proof and slash proof. There is also a leather version in the works.
When we say this material is virtually indestructible, we mean it! Performance is enhanced through the configuration of tiny armored plates that provide resistance to a variety of harsh elements. An environmentally friendly solvent-free curing method is used to make this material: no water or phthalates are used and no VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds) are produced during the process. While these are water-resistant hiking boots, keep in mind they are not fully waterproof.
They can be found here.
Similar to the Ibex, these are quite a rugged shoe and are completely waterproof. If you need an extremely grippy rugged sole for more difficult terrains you can check out the Esc sole. In particular, they have a nice green model which I have worn in reserves at times before switching to the Ibex.
They can be found here.
You can use our discount code TBSR10 to save 10% on all Vivobarefoot shoes.
Pack up and head out with Lone Peak ALL-WTHR Mid. This ground-stomper is thru-hike-ready with an eVent™ weather-resistant bootie construction, a grippy DuraTread™ outsole, and a soft yet responsive Altra EGO™ midsole. From day hikes to thru-hikes and everything in between, the Lone Peak ALL-WTHR Mid is ready to romp.
Can be found here.
4. Ahinsa Jay Winter boot: This one in particular, despite sharing a somewhat similar aesthetic to a traditional combat boot, is actually not rugged enough or capable to withstand the rigors of combat or similar. With a similar aesthetic, it resembles a former model the IDF used for non combat positions, cooks, logistics, human resources etc...again not functional for the rigors of combat. It can be a great substitute if you need the aesthetic alone, be it reserves, news interview, or hell at your local cosplay event, in fact we used it very well when we dressed up as Darth maul ;) You bet we won every cos contest in town!
You can find it here and you can use out discount code TBSR10 for 10% off. Sith lords are tactical right?
All of these can be a replacement for the combat boot, yet in the evening or whenever you are able to, freeing your feet, spreading your toes and switching to even more minimal shoes is ideal.
For those drafting soon or in the near future:
Spend as much time as you need transitioning to minimalist footwear and enjoy all the health benefits that come with it. Get used to running in minimalist sneakers in the field, particularly on rocky terrain. If you come with a strong base of strength, you will be able to cope with the restrictive footwear the army gives you. Don't rely on the shoes or the lack of them for strength, and for your runs if you can run in minimalist footwear.
Its likely you will be spending most of your service in these highly restrictive boots, so view them as an essential part of your uniform, kind of like a football helmet, but take it off every opportunity you can be it during the night, free time, runs and gym sessions, and of course when off for the weekend. Take time to restore foot function, splay the toes, and release the fascia with a lacrosse ball. If you want a little more hands on help you can check out our our online programs for barefooters, we have both a Barefoot Transition Course, a Strength & Mobility program for barefoot runners and hikers, and a 6 month tactical prep program. You can find all our programs here
Know of another minimalist friendly tactical boot that did not make the list? Shoot us an email @firstname.lastname@example.org
Would love to hear feedback and thank you for your service!