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.)