Here at VICE, we may be more lovers than fighters, but we can always appreciate the rugged utility of a combat boot. While the style—as the name suggests—has military roots, it’s been a staple of countercultural wardrobes for decades. Alongside other Army/Navy surplus style icons like the M-65 field jacket (shout out to Freaks and Geeks’ Lindsay Weir and Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle) and the MA-1 bomber jacket, the combat boot has weaved through eras, styles, and subcultures but always retained its street aesthetic and cool-kid-behind-the-bleachers appeal.
The ancestor to the modern combat boot is over 100 years old, dating back roughly to the “trench boot” that adorned the feet of soldiers during World War I. With slight alterations that made the style more water-resistant (or waterproof), lightweight, and durable (thanks to a comfortable, longer-wearing sole), it wasn’t uncommon for GIs to return home with their boots still intact and with years of life left in them. By the mid-20th century, local Army/Navy surplus stores became destinations not just for outfitting servicemen and women, but also for young people looking to score durable, relatively affordable clothing. This accessibility and ubiquity is likely part of the reason that combat boots became an iconic part of punk fashion, from The Breakfast Club’s John Bender to The Clash’s Paul Simonon. (It doesn’t hurt that combat boots, with their serious and tough design, tend to look cool as hell).
Today, the spectrum of combat boots spans from practical to luxurious, from those that still uphold the style’s utilitarian, functional roots, to combat boots created with fashion at the fore. While actual combat boots are subject to specific restrictions depending on what branch of the military they’re meant for, there’s no denying that “combat boots” is now a shorthand term for an array of simplified, durable, lace-up boots with a hardy (likely lugged) sole. Regardless of your budget or what musicians you find holding residency on your Spotify playlists, we’ve selected a few of our favorite combat boot styles.
Dr. Martens 1460 Boot
Let’s face it: When someone says “combat boot,” a Dr. Martens silhouette is likely the one that pops into your mind. The brand itself dates back to 1947, when Germany Army physician Dr. Klaus Märtens injured his ankle and found his service boots to be too uncomfortable. In the fallout of the aftermath of WWII, Märtens swiped leather and materials to help create the predecessor to what would now be the brand’s iconic air-cushioned soles. After linking with British shoe manufacturer R. Griggs Group in 1959, the boots went from niche orthopedic shoes to a mass-market favorite. As various sectors of the British public—from blue collar workers to punks and skinheads (seen best in the cult-favorite film This Is England)—adopted the boot and styled it to fit their respective needs over the decades, Dr. Martens quickly became much more than just a boots brand. The 1460 boot—known for its smooth leather upper, 8-eye construction, yellow-threaded goodyear welt, and translucent, stacked, sole—has evolved from a hard-wearing work boot into an undisputed style icon. While the boot is offered in a dizzying array of colors, leather styles, and silhouettes, it’s hard to top the classic. If you score one boot on this list, make it a pair of 1460s.
1460 Boot (Smooth Leather)Danner Reckoning Coyote GTX Boot
Servicemen and women are well aware of the restrictions and requirements that apply to the uniform-ready boots they wear in the field, balancing modern-day footwear tech with simple-yet-functional aesthetics that ensure the last thing a soldier thinks about is what’s going on with their footwear. Those technical details trickle down to the general public, with many of the best American bootmakers offering those same durable boots to civilians. Danner—the Oregon-based bootmaker known for hard-wearing hiking and work boots—makes combat boots designed for modern-day needs. The Reckoning series is lightweight and flexible (in more ways than one), with each boot in the collection crafted to handle a variety of terrains, climates, and uniform requirements. There’s no denying that Danners are an investment; if you’re in search of a pair of boots that are literally duty-ready, Danner’s GTX EGA boot is a favorite in the series, marked by the Marines’ “Eagle, Globe and Anchor” logo on the heel. As the “GTX” implies, the model boasts a Gore-Tex upper (making the boots highly breathable and functionally waterproof), a lugged Danner All-Terrain sole platform (designed in collaboration with Vibram), and are Berry-compliant. As an added bonus, these boots aren’t just made in the U.S.; every component used in the boot is sourced from the 50 states. Even if you have no intention of going anywhere near an army base, these are the type of boots that look incredible with a pair of pants tucked into them. They’re part of a uniform! Don’t overthink it.
Filson Service Boots 2
When shopping for combat boots, you’’ll find that this realm of footwear falls into two categories (which sometimes overlap): the modern models, with contemporary designs and technology, and the more traditional, timeless styles (think something like the aforementioned Dr. Martens 1460 boot, albeit without all the brand’s signature branding hallmarks). A classic Americana brand in its own right, Filson offers (naturally) a take on the combat boot that’s classic and… well, traditional. Directly inspired by 20th-century military footwear, the upper is made of full-grain, oiled-smooth and roughout leathers. A Goodyear welt locks out any water from seeping into the boot (and makes it significantly easier to re-sole these with your local cobbler). Overall, the aesthetics make the boot look like something you might (excitedly) dig up in your grandparents’ closet. That said, these boots are anything but antiquated; with a modern Vibram lug sole and triple-stitching for durability, Filson’s Service Boot is ready for all day, all conditions wear.
Rhodes Footwear Portland Boot
Let’s say your vibe is more “dress boot” than “combat boot,” but you still want something that looks and feels rugged. Rhodes Footwear’s Portland Boot hits the mark with a silhouette that mirrors early-to-mid 20th-century combat boots; while these aren’t exactly something that you’d want to wear in, say, a trench, the Portland Boot is actually a lot tougher than it might appear at first glance. The upper’s suede is made from water-resistant Alfamex Bentley suede, anchored by a Vibram 430 outsole for all-weather grip. In a bit of a twist, the Portland—unlike the brand’s Darren Boot—is closer to a “mid-rise” silhouette; the end result should be slightly more casual (and less constricting) than other “combat boot” styles, despite still packing in all the functionality (shout out the speed lacing eyelets) that you’d hope for.
Portland Boot$250 at Huckberry
Prada Monolith Combat Boots with Pouch
OK, so we’ve ticked the boxes when it comes to heritage-inspired combat boots, techy boots, and even pop culture favorites. This style from Prada though… this is when you crank the style dial up to 11. While technically not that far from a traditional combat boot style and shape—it’s offered up in a smooth brushed leather, and featuring a fairly standard acing system on the shaft—the boot’s details transform it into a delightfully ostentatious fashion-forward piece. Set upon Prada’s oversized “Monolith” sole (which has appeared on everything from loafers to sneakers), » …