Tactical boots, sometimes referred to as combat or military boots, are an alternative to hiking boots and hiking shoes if you want footwear with more range.
Since they’re designed for military and law enforcement use, tactical boots are designed with more ruggedness, durability, and versatility than traditional hiking boots.
The balanced design of combat boots makes them a popular choice of footwear, even for those who don’t operate as military personnel.
That said, can you really use military boots for hiking? Below, we’ll take a quick dive into tactical footwear to see how well it holds up against more standard options.
What are Tactical Boots?
Tactical boots are specialized footwear for those who serve in law enforcement.
Unlike hiking shoes, hiking boots and trail runners, which specialize in certain conditions based on their outsoles, weight, and support, tactical boots are made to have consistent performance in all conditions, without having an advantage in any one terrain.
What sets tactical boots apart from other footwear, is that due to the harsh conditions military personnel has to perform in, they’re designed with more premium features.
This includes full grain and nubuck leathers, water-resistant layers, high ankle support, arch support, and cushioned insoles.
However, even with their well-rounded design, tactical boots have a somewhat limited degree of flexibility since the uppers and midsole are stiff. This gives them a bit of a break-in period, requiring some time for your agility and nimbleness to peak.
Fortunately, even though they’re made for the benefit of those with military backgrounds, they can be worn by anyone for nearly anything.
Can you Hike in Military Boots?
You can hike in military boots, but it’s still important to know the demands of your trail beforehand. Tactical boots are made with strong leather uppers, making them long-lasting, resistant to damage, and protective of the entire foot.
This is also complemented by the high-cut collars, which provide great ankle support for hiking and added stability on uneven terrain. Most tactical boots are made with their own hard rubber outsoles, but some brands do use Vibram.
Even still, a military boot is just as good as a traditional hiking boot when it comes to traction. The outsole is made to withstand all-terrain conditions, allowing them to be used almost anywhere.
Outside of their durability, traction, and ankle support, military boots have a good level of comfortability, which is surprising given their rugged designs. The midsoles are stiff, but made with a soft EVA or PU cushioning to cradle the feet.
This makes the boots wearable for longer periods while outdoors. Combined with the waterproofing, this footwear comes with nearly all the bells and whistles of regular hiking boots.
What Are the Best Military Boots for Hiking?
Nortiv 8 Military Tactical Boots
The Nortiv 8 Military Tactical Boots are footwear made with durable, waterproof leather and mesh uppers, which are also breathable.
The rubber outsole features a multi-directional tread that has excellent stability and gives good traction on rough terrain.
This is in addition to the padded ankle collar, which provides added protection and support with a 6mm shaft height.
Also, since this boot features a removable insole, you can replace the foam cushioning to fit your needs. Finally, the closure system consists of laces, an adjustable strap, and side zipper.
Overall, these tactical boots are well-made for mountaineering, camping, climbing, and other daily indoor or outdoor activities.
FREE SOLDIER Men’s Tactical Boots
The FREE SOLDIER Men’s Tactical Boot is a lightweight military boot made for hiking, running, climbing, and casual outdoor settings.
The uppers are made with suede leather and a 1000D Cordura fabric, which keeps the boot breathable and flexible, while also draining all moisture.
The FREE SOLDIER boots also have an 8in. collar height and a gusseted tongue that keeps debris from getting inside.
As far as support and protection go, the anti-collision toe cap protects the toes from hard impacts, and the heel cup is reinforced with more padding.
Unlike the Nortiv 8’s omnidirectional tread, the FREE SOLDIER only has an anti-skid sole, which is grippy and slip-resistant, but probably not as versatile.
5.11 ATAC 2.0 8″ Military Tactical Boot
The 5.11 ATAC 2.0 is a hardcore military boot designed to handle challenging terrain, thanks to its full-grain leather and nylon uppers.
The ATAC 2.0 is similar to most hiking boots in terms of durability, support, and comfort.
The insole is made with an Ortholite dual-density foam layer that conforms to the shape of your underfoot, and the Achilles heel flexes for an increased range of motion.
For those who like to carry a useful tool or some form of protection on a hike, the ATAC features a hidden knife pocket for storage.
Out of the other footwear on this list, the ATAC does better at blending the best parts of tactical and hiking boots together.
Advantages of Using Tactical Boots for Hiking
The uppers of military boots are incredibly strong. Since they’re commonly made with leather uppers, they have a long lifespan in addition to being wear-resistant.
The premium uppers also make wearing combat boots for hiking a good option due to how well they protect the feet from harsh conditions.
The durability of traditional combat boots is probably higher than what you’d see in a pair of hiking boots, since military boots are made to be exposed to elements that would degrade most other footwear.
Learn more about why special forces wear hiking boots.
Most combat boots are made with hard rubber outsoles, but sometimes they can be made with a high-quality Vibram outsole.
The outsole of a combat boot is made to have a reliable grip in sand, rain, snow, and gravel.
Another advantage in this area is that most combat boots even have crampon compatibility.
So, if you need the increased tread from something like a microspike, a military boot may have that option, unlike some hiking boots.
Military boots have great support, especially on the ankles and heels.
Tactical boots are meant to keep soldiers on their feet for long periods of time, and considering that most military footwear has Ortholite insoles, cushioned heel cups, and high ankle collars, you can get a lot of mileage out of them.
On a hiking trail with varied terrain, a military boot would display consistent performance and stability, including on areas with sharp ascents and descents.
Combat boots tend to sit in the lightweight tier, weighing 2lbs. per pair on average, but no more than 2.5lbs.
This gives them the same bulkiness as most traditional hiking boots. Since they weigh around the same, when deciding on the best footwear to use for hiking, it all comes down to personal preference.
However, keep in mind that the effectiveness of a hiking boot, or combat boot, comes down to how specialized your footwear needs to be for your pack load and terrain.
Disadvantages of Using Tactical Boots for Hiking
Even though tactical boots are made with uppers that are supposed to be well-ventilated, some of them don’t have good airflow.
This is a problem shared with some styles of hiking boots. In warmer weather, it’s easier for these types of boots to trap heat or release it very slowly.
In some cases, this could lead to sweaty feet on the trail. As such, it’s not really recommended to wear combat boots for multiple days on a hike without a proper break.
It’s not uncommon for military boots to be made with water-resistant uppers instead of waterproof membranes like hiking boots.
The disadvantage is that water-resistance is a little less reliable than waterproofing. If the coating of the boot is overwhelmed from constant exposure to moisture, it eventually loses its ability to keep water out.
It takes some time for this to happen, but for its overall lifespan, it could be a problem on a wet hike.
Some combat boots are made with softer uppers or leathers that are better at contouring to the shape of your feet.
However, in most cases, due to the rigid design of a military boot and the conditions that most law enforcement wears them in, they’re incredibly stiff.
Unlike hiking boots and trail runners, which have short break-in periods, military boots tend to require longer to get accustomed to.
Additionally, military boots wear more like mountaineering boots, which may be an unfamiliar feeling to less experienced hikers.
Military boots are designed to be worn in harsh climates, such as hot deserts, rainy forests, and snowy mountains.
Even though they can be worn for almost any outdoor occasion, the features they’re made with make them overkill for casual hikers and simple trails.
While this isn’t entirely bad, it would probably be better to use footwear that’s tailored specifically to the trail you plan to hike. This lowers the chances of something going wrong when you’re on the move.
Do We Recommend Combat Boots for Hiking?
Everything considered, we do recommend wearing combat boots for hiking. Combat boots are just as versatile as regular hiking boots and come with the benefits of being even more durable and just as supportive.
However, due to their lack of flexibility and over-specialization for casual hiking trails, it’s not recommended to use them outside of some of the most demanding hikes.
Although, as footwear that’s made to withstand conditions most common travelers wouldn’t find themselves in, tactical boots are great for mid-tier hikers that are looking to increase the intensity of their adventures.
With that in mind, if you’re interested in checking out other types of footwear, then take a look at our following articles:
- Best Hiking Boots For Ankle Support
- Best Hiking Boots for Flat Feet
- Best Hiking Boots For Wide Feet
- Best Barefoot Hiking Boots
- Best Hiking Boots for Plantar Fasciitis
- Best Lightweight Hiking Boots
- Best Waterproof Hiking Boots
Combat boots do work as hiking boots. Combat boots are made with sturdy uppers, soft insoles, grippy outsoles, and other protective features that would make them ideal for hiking on varied terrain.
Tactical boots are used to give individuals who serve as military personnel or law enforcement an edge in the field. The all-purpose utility of a tactical boot makes it reliable for various outdoor and urban settings.
The difference between tactical boots and hiking boots is that tactical boots are meant to be used in harsh urban and combat settings, while hiking boots specialize in moderate outdoor conditions.
Combat boots do offer ankle support to prevent injuries while hiking. The mid and high-top variants of combat boots have collars that stabilize the ankles, in addition to heel cups that provide shock absorption and lower the chances of ankle rolling.
Some of the specific conditions or environments where combat boots excel are in rocky, wet, muddy, and slushy terrain. The uppers and outsoles of combat boots provide consistent protection and grip in all terrain.
Military boots are lightweight enough to hike with, especially since they tend to weigh no more than 2.5lbs per pair. This makes them nearly identical to most regular hiking boots.