What you need to know about your Boots in the British Armed Forces
The importance of well-fitted and suitable boots for military service (or indeed, any front line service) cannot be overemphasised. A soldier that cannot carry the kit, equipment and ammunition required due to a foot injury is next to useless and can no longer contribute fully to the team effort. They are a liability and put other lives at risk. It is for this reason that the humble boot becomes one of the most important items of equipment any soldier in an armed force will ever own, and therefore a soldier’s boots need to be well-looked after so that they will provide the protection, support and comfort necessary at all times.
Transition from civvy to squaddie
Before a person enlists in the armed forces, they will most probably be used to wearing sports trainers or running shoes. Soft and lightweight, this sort of footwear is comfortable, breathable and well cushioned, often utilising state of the art technology from global sports companies. Unfortunately, this luxury is not extended towards new footwear for recruits. Army boots are made entirely of leather, making them tough and durable, but hardly luxurious sportswear. It is up to the individual to adapt to this new footwear and to look after this most important item of equipment.
Once you have successfully completed your training, and your feet and joints have learned to accept the rigours of military training, you will get posted to your unit and then might be able to purchase a pair of jungle or desert boots, or a pair of good quality and acceptable civilian boots used by the military which will feel wonderful compared to your issued boots. But you do need to adapt fully and train your feet first.
Correct Boot Fitting is Crucial
The most important thing to get right upon being issued your new boots is to make sure they fit comfortably while wearing a pair of army issue socks. Do this immediately, as it will be near impossible to get them changed later on. Your new boots should be spacious and comfortable, with no rubbing occurring when you are walking around normally in them. Blisters and incorrect sizing are your enemy.
You should get issued with two pairs of identical boots. Keep one pair for training, yomping or tabbing, and keep the other as your ‘good’ pair that you only use for drill and ceremonial purposes. Or if you are unlucky enough to be put on a remedial show parade… you’ll need them here too. In other words, one pair to get battered in the field and on the ranges, and another pair to stay perfectly presentable.
How to Break in your new boots
Next, you need to ‘break in’ your new boots so that the leather material moulds as much as possible around the unique shape of your feet. The simplest way to do this is to make sure you have cut your toenails so that they don’t snag or catch on the boot from inside and just make sure that you wear army issue socks, and not thin sports socks as you go about your business around camp. As a new recruit you will be rushed from one training session or lecture to the next all day, every day, so there will be little chance for you to worry about much else.
If you had two days to yourself over the weekend you could try breaking in your boots with water. To do this, you soak the shoes for a couple of hours in a bath so that they are totally drenched with water, inside and out. Then simply wear your soaking boots over army issue socks and walk them dry over the course of the day, changing socks from time to time. This softens up the leather without discolouring it, and allows the shoe to dry to the shape of your foot.
I wouldn’t recommend using any foot oils to soften up the leather though, or any of the other wives tales that exist, or you will just end up with stinking boots that don’t polish up properly and still need breaking in. The best method of toughening up your feet and softening up the boot leather is simply with constant patience and common sense with no shortcuts.
Administration skills are essential
Soon enough, you will probably start doing speed marches with weight. This puts a lot more pressure on your feet, and you will need to be prepared for this. Again, self administration skills are important, and if you pick up a problem with your footwear or your feet, it needs sorting immediately, otherwise you may pick up a serious injury and get back-squadded to another platoon, thereby unnecessarily extending the length of your training.
Make sure you look after your toenails and feet, cover any blisters with zinc oxide tape and listen to your commanders with regards to any advice they give you – they know what they are talking about. Your feet will adapt to spending hours on end in boots in no time.