Before the days of Salomon, Merrell, Oakley (all of which I own and love) and the endless list of boot options available to soldiers (at least in the SOF community), and the “after market” desert boots available to all, there was one venerable, unchallenged boot for the grunt. Few items conjure a nostalgia like seeing a pair of beat-to-all-hell jungle boots. And the attachment a gunslinger develops for a broken-in pair of jungles is unlike any kind of affection you will find many other places in the military.
I was lucky enough to get to appreciate these boots my first years in the Regiment, as the hiking boot hadn’t been fully adopted. And to this day I still take them out when I know its going to get messy. They are still, and I think always will be, my go-to boots when the environment calls for them. So let’s go back and see where they came from and why they lasted for so many generations of grunts while being so beloved. Not many Government Issue items can say that. Except the Poncho Liner, codenamed “woobie.”
The jungle boot came to be before World War 2 in Panama, with the Panama Experimental Platoon. Adopted in 1942, the design of the Jungle Boot was based on the idea that no boot could possibly keep out water and still provide sufficient ventilation to the feet in a jungle or swamp environment. Instead, the Jungle Boot was designed to permit water and perspiration to drain, drying the feet while preventing the entry of insects, mud, or sand. And that it does, very well. The M-1942 Jungle Boots were found to dry much quicker than traditional boots of the era by circulating air though eyelets to the Saran mesh insole reducing blisters and tropical ulcers. After positive reports from these small units they were issued to a few Army and Marine units including U.S. Army forces in New Guinea and the Philippines, and in Burma with Merrill’s Marauders, the 1st Air Commando Group and the MARS Task Force. Originally they were attached to infantryman’s packs to be worn while encountering wet conditions or muddy terrain.
The famous sole of the jungle’s, the “Panama sole” was developed in 1944 by U.S. Army Sergeant Raymond Dobie, which used a series of angled rubber lugs in the soles to push soft mud from the soles, clearing them and providing much better grip in greasy clay or mud. The sole was too late to be used in WW2, and all efforts to further the boots design was not picked up again until 1965. During the French Indochina War the French military issued a similar type boot, but the sole was reversed to facilitate retreating. (Before I get some French dude sending me hate mail, it’s a joke, and you deserve it.)
Cue the Vietnam conflict. During the first years many Army units were still issued the WW2 version of the jungle boot. However, in 1965, a boot that incorporated most of the improvements developed since the end of World War II for tropical climates was adopted by the U.S. military. Known as the M-1966 Jungle Boot. In this improved boot, the upper was made of cotton canvas duck, with leather for the toe and heel, and nylon reinforcements for the neck of the boot. The new Jungle boot originally used a Vibram-type lugged composition rubber sole strongly vulcanized to the leather toe and heel. Water drains (screened eyelets) were added to the canvas top near the sole to quickly drain water from the inside of the boot. Removable ventilating insoles made of fused layers of Saran plastic screen, first invented in 1942, were issued with the Jungle boot. In May 1966 there were numerous reports of soldiers being injured by the ever annoying Punji stakes (lookin’ at you, Ho Chi Minh, you jackass) so a stainless steel plate was incorporated into the sole. More improvements were made such as nylon canvas tops and the Panama sole as well as nylon webbing to reinforce the canvas.
Our allies in the Australian and New Zealand Army were very fond of the jungles. Making trades for them to replace their antiquated all leather boots and other models not at all suited for jungle warfare.
It’s easy to see why these boots gained such cult popularity. They were incredibly simple and effective. Broken in they were just as comfortable as any house shoe you could want. They worked. Plain and simple. And the Joes loved them for it. As they do to this day.
The boot however, wasn’t done in Vietnam. The jungle boot is the father of the modern desert combat boot. If you look at them side by side you can see how it spawned from the jungle boot. During the 80s the Panama sole was replaced again with the Vibram sole. Which again proved to not perform as well as the Panama sole in muddy environments, but still had its place and is better for general purpose use. Over time the jungle boot was phased out in favor of the desert combat boot when the Army and Air Force adopted the ACU and ABU respectively. But that hate filled rant will be for another day, because anyone involved in the acceptance of the ACU has a special seat in the 7th level of Hell. Which guess what, was chosen because recruits thought it looked cooler and was used as a recruiting gimmick. Not because it worked. Because, unless you’re rolling around a gravel pit, it doesn’t. I wouldn’t ask a recruit for his opinion on whether he thought a turd smelled bad, let alone what I would wear into combat. I do not possess the restraint or non foul vocabulary to fully describe my feelings about that. So lets leave it there.
The Marine Corps officially retired the jungle boot in 2005 in favor of the Infantry Combat Boot and Hot Weather Boot. Two companies, Altama and Wellco still produce the jungle boot to this day with a Cordura upper and speedlace eyelet lacing system. I still have a couple of pairs I use pretty frequently. If you don’t have a pair or two broken in jungles lying around, you are just plain wrong. These things earned their reputation and the adoration of some of the hardest gunfighters in modern history. There is just something nostalgically American and badass about them. Frankly, there isn’t a boot in existence today I would trust my feet with in a jungle, muddy, or swamp environment other than the jungle boot. They can still be seen being worn by select 1SGs, and salty Platoon Sergeants in the Regiment. I know some SEALs that still love them and run them. I’m sure many others do as well. They served Rangers from Merrill’s Marauders to the GWOT boogeymen of today and almost every other combat unit around. They really have earned their place in the American Warfighter Hall of Fame (lets pretend that’s a thing.)
(featured image courtesy of airsoftforum.com)