The Jungle Boot Makes A Comeback

The Army's classic Jungle Boot dates back to nearly WWII, and it's gone through a lot of iterations over the years.

The Jungle Boot Makes A Comeback

The U.S. Army's Jungle Combat Boot (left) and the Vietnam-era Jungle Boot (right)

It doesn’t matter if you wore a pair yourself or saw them in a war movie — the classic U.S. Government-issue Jungle Boot in OD green is iconic. But most people don’t know that the search for a jungle boot started during World War II. 

As early as 1942, the Army was experimenting with “Tropical Combat Boots” featuring canvas panels on the uppers to replace leather in order to increase breathability in hot, wet environments and promote drying. Interestingly, even these early boots incorporated an insole made from Saran, a synthetic weave which would not absorb moisture and gave some offset between the foot and the sole in order to facilitate air circulation within the boot. 

They were worn by early forces sent to Vietnam and often referred to as the “Okinawa boot” because so many advisors came from the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) stationed there. They featured a dual buckle at the top of the boot like the WWII combat boots they were modeled after. Many wearers cut these off, and the “Boot, Hot Weather,” which came not much later, abandoned this feature. 

As division-sized forces deployed to Vietnam, there weren’t enough of the Tropical Combat Boots available, which left troops wearing leather boots that retained water and rotted. The services quickly adopted a Jungle Boot tested between 1962 and 1966, which was initially referred to as the “Boot, Combat, Tropical, Mildew-Resistant.” To the men who wore them, they were simply “Jungle Boots.” In addition to the Saran insole mentioned earlier, the new boots incorporated drainage to help fight jungle rot. They were lightweight and dried quickly. 

The Jungle Boot went through a series of refinements during the 1960s and 70s, improving durability through construction techniques and swapping out soles to what is now known as the Panama tread, designed to shed mud that quickly builds up on the soles of boots. This improved traction and mobility, reducing the weight of the boot by releasing the sticky mud. The Army also incorporated a so-called spike protective sole, essentially a metal plate in the sole to protect from punji stakes, which were expedient booby traps made from sharpened bamboo dipped in excrement favored by the Viet Cong. 

An interesting side note on the Panama tread, which was used for both desert and jungle variants, is that the molds for the direct-injection manufacturing process that attaches the upper and sole together were made by a company called RoSearch. Most companies leased these molds, which were sized, and returned them to RoSearch’s owner, Altama, when the military stopped buying Boots, Hot Weather and Desert Combat. However, McRae Industries bought their molds and maintain them to this day. 

At one point, a small run of experimental boots with soles that mimicked a bare human foot (also made by RoSearch) were tested for use by Special Forces operating in the North Vietnamese rear area. Unfortunately, they proved incapable of fooling trained trackers. 

Initially, what came to be known as the Boot, Hot Weather was intended for all hot environments, both wet and dry. However, in the 1980s, the basic design was adapted to become the “Desert Combat Boot” with tan suede uppers and Cordura nylon side panels. This integration of nylon side panels continues today, across almost every issue boot. 

During the early 90s, the military instituted slight improvements to the design and changed the color to all black for the renamed “Boot, Hot Weather, Black.” They also added speed pacing and a padded collar to the top of it, as well as the desert variant. This was not only for comfort but also to prevent debris from entering the top of the boot, although it proved to be more effective for desert use. Unfortunately, when worn in the jungle, this padding absorbed water, but since there were so few deployments to actual jungle and the boot became popular as a garrison and temperate optional wear boot, it was not removed from the design.   

Troops attending the Jungle Operations Training Center up until its closure in 1999 wore the Boot, Hot Weather. When the school was reopened in Hawaii in 2014, it requisitioned every pair of jungle boots stored at the Defense Logistics Agency for issue to students who no longer had access to footwear or uniforms optimized for their purpose. Naturally, they quickly ran through what little was left in inventory, and the Army set about seeking replacements. 

Almost retired from service during the transition from the Woodland camouflage pattern to various service-specific patterns, the Desert Combat Boot variant was worn for a period of time as an optional item in the Army due to its tan color. It was replaced with more advanced designs during the transition to the Operational Camouflage Pattern currently in use. 

It’s important to note that throughout their service life, both the Boot, Hot Weather and Desert Combat Boot were issued to all U.S. military services. Regardless of whether desert or jungle boot, they were issued based upon assignment and not handed out to everyone in the Army, Navy or Air Force. The Marine Corps, however, issued the Boot, Hot Weather to all recruits for a time. 

When it came time to reinvigorate the style, the Army and Marines set out in different directions. However, both chose boots in coyote brown made from suede leather. They all incorporate drainage systems. They also chose newer sole patterns that are similar to the tried-and-true Panama tread. 

Although the Army started first, the Marine Corps selected two different “Tropic Weather Boots” in 2019 for issue in hot wet environments. One is manufactured by Rocky Boots and the other by Danner. 

The Army’s solution is called the “Jungle Combat Boot.” Beginning in 2015, the Army tested multiple prototypes of footwear from industry at JOTC and settled in 2018 on a common government design as a general-issue boot designed for hot, wet environments but worn anywhere a soldier is stationed. 

Interestingly, two U.S. companies still manufacture the classic Vietnam-style boot: McRae Industries and Altama, complete with Panama tread. 

There are multiple modern jungle boot designs in addition to those selected by the Army and Marines. They are all available through their various manufacturers. 



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