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Ask an infantry soldier what their most important piece of gear is, and you might be surprised. While a guy fresh out of basic might evoke Full Metal Jacket with a response about his rifle, more often than not an experienced grunt will say that it’s his boots.
The condition of your boots — and subsequently, your feet — will make or break you for any outdoor venture, training excursion, or bug-out situation. You can still fight without a weapon. But if you can’t walk, you’re effectively just another casualty sucking up the team’s attention and supplies.
To find out more we broke in two very different boots: a hunting boot and a tactical duty boot. We also asked a professional footwear designer for his insights on getting the most out of our footwear.
At first, we weren’t sure what to think of a French-made boot. But keeping in mind that we love their fries, and remembering Ricky Bobby's sudden revelation in Talladega Nights that crêpes are in fact just really thin pancakes, we decided to give them a shot.
Turns out that Le Chameau has been hand-crafting hunting boots since 1927. The company actually pioneered some of the leather-lined rubber boot styles we’re used to wearing on duck hunts in wet marshlands, or during invasive-boar hunts in the Florida Everglades.
We noticed a few things right off the bat. First, they’re about 30% lighter than most of the comparable hunting boots we’ve used. This is thanks to their use of an ultra-lightweight injected midsole, which makes a big difference at the end of a long day in the field. Second, there are the absolutely badass rubber outsoles designed by Michelin. Yes, the same Michelin that makes high-performance car and truck tires — another French company. The sole is incredibly grippy and slip-resistant, a plus if you’re having to walk over slick rocks in shallow water, or scramble up loose scree on a mountainside.
The break-in period for these boots was probably around 100 steps. This sounds completely ridiculous, although it’s slightly less ridiculous than the 10-or-so steps the manufacturer told us it would take. It sounds crazy but it’s true.
Le Chameau said that this is accomplished due to their upfront work and decades of experience in designing boots. In particular they said that it’s possible due to a large heel flexion notch and a loose middle eyelet construction, allowing the boot to flex where it wants to flex. We would normally call BS… but then we experienced it for ourselves. We still can’t understand how they did it.
In hindsight it might have been poor planning to research break-in methods using a boot which really didn’t require any additional break-in time. Unlike old-school leather Red Wing Iron Rangers which require dozens of foot-miles to break in, the Condor LCX was quite simply already there. However, in our defense, we really didn’t believe the hype when we were first told about the lack of break in.
What we can talk about for this boot, however, is the socks to use with it. We spoke with Lead Designer Benjamin Chapuis from Le Chameau for his insight:
Finally, a fighting man’s boot! For sure, we thought, this boot will give us blisters just like grandpa used to have. The Bifida boot from Tactical 8 was designed as a multi-terrain tactical boot — basically an updated version of the classic Vietnam jungle boot.
Although this boot is affordably priced, we were pleasantly surprised by the sturdy Vibram outsole and all-day wearing comfort. An asymmetrical cuff helps with the stability, and differential ankle pads securely lock the heel in place for precise fitting in support. From what we could tell these features allow the boot to feel extremely secure, without an uncomfortable stiff feeling like we’re used to with lesser boots.
We tried to break it in using the oldest method known to man — simply wearing it around the house. Lazy Saturday watching college football? Break-in time. Quick trip to the grocery store? Weirdo-in-aisle-6-wearing-the-combat-boots break-in time.
By combining many short-duration periods of wearing and walking in the boots, we were able to loosen up the fit and lacing to exactly where we wanted it before ever setting foot on the trail. The key to all of this, of course, is planning ahead. Manufacturers usually recommend at least two weeks of wearing prior to a long ruck. So don't order boots one week before your planned father-son first ascent of Black Friday Deals Mountain at the Mall of America.
Although the Bifida didn’t have quite the non-existent break-in period as Le Chameau’s Condor LCX, we were still pleasantly surprised that we didn’t have any foot pain or blisters. In part this is because we made sure to have a good starting fit. For both boots in this article, we ended up going down half a size below what we normally wear, so don’t ever feel locked into a certain size just because you’ve worn the same size Wolverines for decades.
Last, for breaking in (and long-term wearing) of both the Bifida and the Condor LCX boots, we used socks from Smartwool. They recently released a hunting-specific line of wool socks and were kind enough to provide some more tips on choosing the right sock. We hope these tips and reviews help you when selecting or breaking-in your next pair of boots, whether they’re for the mountainside or the job site.
Andrew Schrader is a licensed professional engineer and is certified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as an Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) Structures Specialist. His company, Recon Response Engineering LLC, advises state and federal government organizations on the subject of urban search and rescue and building collapse. He recently assisted the U.S. Department of State’s Italian Consulate in the development of their post-earthquake response and rescue protocol. Website: www.reconresponse.com Instagram: @reconresponse