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9/1/05 - I first heard about Lathrop & Sons and Hanwag boots from Mel Terkla of Kifaru. He had heard rave reviews from people on the Kifaru hunting board who had used Hanwag boots with L&S custom footbeds. L&S operate two podiatric facilities and are well versed in the biomechanics of the foot. They make orthotics for patients with all kinds of foot maladies, and apply their extensive knowledge, expertise and experience to ensuring proper fit and performance of their boot systems. They came up with custom hunting boot systems - utilizing technical boots from certain manufacturers and offering a custom fitted footbed matched to the boot. The systems also include socks, boot-care paste wax for leather, and boot dryers. Of course, you can purchase all of these items separately. They also offer a military/tactical boot system. Anyone who has spent some miles on their feet in rugged terrain knows that proper footwear makes all the difference between an enjoyable time or agony. No matter what Gucci kit or super pack you have, you couldn't care less about them the moment your feet start having problems.
Mel got a pair of Hanwag Special Forces boots (he picked the non-Goretex version) with High Country Custom footbeds and said that they were by far the most comfortable and supportive boots he'd ever owned and felt he could go farther in these than any other. This isn't light praise from Mel, who frequently does ruck workouts while he develops and tests Kifaru's military line of packs. Even though the boots are lined completely with glove leather, he said that his feet stayed drier than any other boot he'd worn.
Mel got me in touch with Stephen Lathrop and Dusty and we started the process of getting me into a pair of Hanwags with their High Country Footbed. First, I followed the sizing instructions on the L&S website - making a tracing of my feet and taking a series of photos as shown below (I put a tape measure in the pics as a reference). We also had a couple of phone conversations where Dusty asked me some questions about my weight, build, feet, intended usage (hiking/backpacking) etc. From the information I gave him, he fitted the Footbeds to the boots that I chose (Hanwag Mountain Light GTX) and customized them to fit my feet.
High Country Footbed - It was difficult to tell from the photos on the L&S website what the High Country footbeds were made of , or whether they were hard or soft, so I didn't know what to expect. When I received the boots, I removed the High Country footbeds (the original felt footbeds were also included in the box) to check them out. They look like the gel inserts I've seen, and feel similar. The bottom surface is tacky and there is NO WAY it will ever slip inside the boot. There is no hard plastic stiffener like that found on Superfeet - the entire footbed is made of the same material. Immediately noticeable are the 'wings' or flanges that wrap around the arch and outside of the foot. This is where material is 'shaved off' and shaped to customize it to the customer's feet, based on the photos provided.
The main features of the High Country Footbed are as follows:
To help me with this writeup, I sent L&S a bunch of questions that a layman (me) might ask. My questions and their answers will be in the grey boxes in this writeup.
I also asked L&S some general boot questions:
For an educational primer on hiking boots written from a techinical standpoint from a series of articles by members of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, read this article.
Hanwag Mountain Light GTX
- L&S selected certain models of Hanwag boots to include in their
line of custom boot systems. Hanwag boots are made in Europe and is
a German firm. Here's the link to Hanwag
UK since it's in English. I asked L&S why they picked Hanwag
boots and they answered, "Hanwag boots do
not fall into the mass produced category, they are manufactured by hand
thus allowing a stricter attention to detail. Also, the designers of
their mountaineering line display a greater knowledge of the necessary
components needed for a boot and foot to achieve optimal performance
in harsh terrain."
Hanwag Mountain Light GTX Specs:
Initial Impression - When I first received the Mountain Lights and tried them on, I was amazed at how comfortable they were. When I tightened them up, it felt like my feet were completely surrounded by soft padding, with absolutely no crease, seam or any particular spot having a lot more pressure than the rest. Usually, I can pick out certain spots which get much tighter than the rest (sometimes on the top of my foot or ankle), but no matter how much I tightened the boot, the pressure felt uniform. The High Country footbed completely cradled and wrapped around the bottom of my feet, providing just the right amount of arch support. I can honestly say that the boots and footbeds opened my eyes to a new level of comfort when it came to boots. It changed my point of reference - I hadn't known what 'comfort' really meant until now.
Right out of the box, I thought they felt a bit long (since they were 9 instead of my normal size 8.5), with maybe about 3/4" to 1" of room in the front of the boot. I was used to having them fit a bit more snugly in the toebox. I questioned Dusty about this and he said that the extra room shouldn't be a problem, and to just to try them out, and if they still felt too long, to return them. After walking around for a few miles and trying them out on some low hills in my neighbourhood and I found that Dusty had been right - the boots felt just fine. As I broke in the uppers a bit (very little break-in was needed - maybe about 5 miles) and they conformed to my feet, the boots snugged up more and no longer felt too long. Having a wide foot, I really appreciated having the extra volume in the forefoot.
Giving the boots a workout - On 8/13/05, To give the boots (and me) a proper workout, my wife and I went along with some friends who were training for a Mt. Whitney trip. We did a moderate/strenuous hike in some mountains not too far from us, starting at 6000' and going up to the summit at over 10,000'; round trip was about 7 miles. It was pretty much all climbing and descencing, with practically no flat trails. Trail conditions were generally good, but included a variety of terrain including a lot of loose sharp rocks, some boulders, rock hopping, and some pretty steep and rocky parts with good ankle-twisting potential.
Usually on this type of hike, my feet will experience some sort of strain, ache or fatigue, for whatever reason. Hot or tight spots would develop and there'd usually be one part folding in or poking my foot, Achilles hell or ankle. I thought that that was normal to experience that after a while. None of that with the Hanwags. On the ascent, I experience no slippage on the footbed or heel lift, and no discomfort on top of my ankle (which I get sometimes when the laces cut in when you bend your ankle). The boot upper flexed enough at the pivot point, thanks to the softer glove leather flex point. I've got 'weak' ankles, and have sprained them badly twice before on hikes over the years (once in jungle boots, the other in low-cut boots in Scotland). The Mtn Lights gave my ankles great support at all times without my having to overtighten them. On descents, the heel notch is cut low enough (and is flexible enough) not to dig into the Achilles tendon/bottom of the calf and did not cause any discomfort. The high rand came in handy as I stubbed my toe a few times on the occasional rock or tree root.
At the summit, I re-tightened my laces for the descent, which we quite steep in parts with a lot of loose rock at the beginning and end. I was very thankful for the extra length in the front of the boots because never once did my toes move slip and smash against the front of the boots during the entire descent, during which we did a lot of downhill running/scrambling. This was sometimes quite jarring and the footbed absorbed shock very well. My Oregon Aero insoles I use for running absorb shock quite well, but provide no support. The Green Superfeet insoles I have in most of my boots add stability and support, but very little shock absorption. My feet also tend to slip on them a bit inside the boot. The L&S footbed provided BOTH shock absorption AND wrap-around support. I wouldn't have expected anything less from custom footbeds. L&S did their job well. I never felt my feet slip or slide on them. Not cheap, but a worthy investment for those want the comfort and support that an off-the-shelf/non-custom footbed can't provide.
The Vibram soles provided excellent traction going up and coming down. Despite a lot of sharp rocks and gravel, the boots had no noticeable cuts or scuffs on the soles or uppers, which were well protected by the rubber rand. The boot was also high enough to prevent sand and small pebbles from entering the tops, something that happened to some others with lower cut boots and shoes.
The hike gave my legs a good workout, and my feet felt great the entire time and after. No marks or redness, blisters or rubbing whatsoever. No pain in the heels or toes from running downhill or foot fatigue from uneven terrain and rocks. Totally awesome. I was impressed. Finally, a boot and footbed combination that I felt I could do some serious hiking or longer distances without worrying about my feet. I'll have to qualify that statement by saying that this is the first pair of mountaineering/backpacking boots I've owned; all others are combat boots or light-mid hikers and not necessarily designed for this use.
The next weekend of 8/20/05, we did the same hike over again, and the boots performed just as well. Again, no noticeable wear or tear, and complete comfort for my feet. I wore medium-thickness Smartwool hiking socks both times with very good results. Feet stayed dry and the Smartwools stayed snugger on my foot than some other types, which have tended to loosen up after a few miles and required pulling up or readjustment inside the boot. I'm looking forward to more comfortable miles in these boots.
If you're serious about your feet and footwear, definitely give Lathrop & Sons a yell and try out their boot systems.
9/10/05 - Went on the same hike again - this time it was colder, so I packed some warmer clothing. The Mountain Lights didn't look out of place with military-looking gear, as you can see below.
4/25/06 - Did this same hike in the snow with crampons. The Mtn Lights performed wonderfully the whole time - my feet were completely dry and comfortable. I can truthfully say that not once did my feet cause me any concern during the entire hike. Read the photo-essay here.
11/20/07 - When Dan Ellis from OTB Boots contacted me back in February of 2007 to let me know about his company and line of boots, I can't say I was overly excited right off the bat until I took a look at the OTB website, since I'm neither a diver nor do I spend much time in and around the water. When he mentioned boots for 'water operations', I imagined mesh tennis shoes or some kind of neoprene diving boot with a boot sole. However, what I saw on the website piqued my interest, as I saw footwear that had been completely designed from the ground up for water operations, and not just adaptations of ground-based footwear with drain holes punched in them. Over the years, Dan has worked with the SOF community on different types of specialty footwear, and was approached by the U.S. Navy SEALs to develop a line of boots for use in and around water. The result from this request and focus groups with SEALs was the line of boots named OTB, the military acronym for "Over The Beach". Although OTB was initially formed to provide tactical footwear only, they've expanded their line of footwear to include civilian applications as well such as diving, fishing and hunting. Note that these are not water-proof boots; they are not designed to keep water out. They're not rain gear - step in a puddle and your feet will get wet. Rather, they are designed to let water out as efficiently as possible, following complete submersion of the foot, where a water-proof boots is useless once the water level is higher than the top opening. OTB Tactical Water boots are not meant to replace hiking or combat boots, or for humping miles over dry mountainous terrain with heavy loads. They're meant to be used in and around the water - on boats, the beach, oil rigs etc, and situations where the user is exiting a wet environment on to land.
The first thing I noticed when turning the boots over was the
sole. The sole of the boot has drain holes, to allow water to flow out.
OTB uses two kinds of outsoles. The "OTB" outsole unit originally
designed for actual OTB operations (used on their SAR model), has wider,
flatter lugs, designed specially for ship boarding and wet decks. This
is the OD Green outsole seen in the left photos below.
Upon closer examination, you can see a zig-zag pattern of lines, razor cut into the sole. They're most obvious when the sole is flexed. These cuts are called "Siping", and is also used on tires to improve traction on wet and icy surfaces. The process involves no removal of rubber from the sole; just the addition of the slits into the lugs. The rubber compound used is also a bit softer than 'land' boots, for a better grip (just like tires).
Midsole/Insole - The boots are made with a variety of inserts to help the user get a custom fit. The user can add or take out various inserts to make the boots fit to his preference.There is no midsole per se; instead there's the internal insole board. That's the white-coloured insole with black insert in the same photos as the outsoles. It is a composite material; stiffer in the heel , yet more flexible in the forefoot. This insole board provides some of the stiffness to the boot. Alone, the rubber outsoles are very flexible. The holes in the insole board mimic the holes on the Jungle outsole and they both line up when put together. The black rubber insert sewn to the forefoot of the insole board has monofilament mesh on the bottom, as a barrier against debris and rocks entering the boot from the bottom drainage holes.
The next insert is a spacer (A), which can be added or removed to accomodate bare feet, thinner or thicker socks. Above that is a removable shank (B), the OD green insert, that can be slid off from the contoured footbed (C). The shank can be removed, along with the spacer, if even more additional room is needed in the boot for extra thick or neoprene socks. Both the shank and contoured footbed are pretty stiff when put together, and along with the internal insole board, provide much of the boot's stiffness and support. The contoured footbed is is firm but comfortable, and perforated with a lot of small holes. These holes match the ones on the shank. The bottom of the shank features channels connecting the holes, which encourages water between the bottom of the shank and spacer to run into those channels and out the holes in the bottom of the boot.
Boot uppers - The OTB Boot uppers are made of a combination of mesh nylon, reinforced with a TPU fabric laminate. TPU is Thermoplastic Polyurethane, which is a high-performance elastomer with excellent abrasion and chemical resistance, and high tensile strength. It doesn't hold water, and OTB's TPU is coated with a DWR for additional water resistance. Between the outer mesh and inner lining is reticulated foam padding, which also does not hold water. I found that the padding actually adds warmth to the boot, yet the boot is very breathable as it's open to the air. Additional rubber reinforcement is found at the heel and toes which also aids in climbing maneuvers.
Boot fit - All boots are fin compatible, so they can be used under the water, however they work just as well on dry land. Dan explained to me that the fit is “full"; a bit on the wide side as so many guys have wide flat feet from years of carrying a heavy pack and long marches. The boots are only available in full sizes, so if you're normally a half size, which size OTB boot you get will depend on which side of the 'half size' you're on, and what you'll be using the boots with - barefoot, thin or thick socks etc. The OTB website explains how to purchase the correct size. Luckily, the removable inserts allow quite a bit of size adjustment for different situations. I wear an 8.5 shoe/boot, with a slightly wide foot. The size 9 OTB boots were roomy, but I think were the correct choice instead of 8s.
Featured here are two OTB boot models; the Abyss and the Odhin.
Abyss Boot - The Abyss shown below is a low/mid-cut maritime boot with jungle lugged sole and available in black and green.
Odhin Boot - The Odhin boot shown below is in sage green (also available in black), and is a higher cut boot than the Abyss.
Boot Specs (from the OTB website) - applies to both Abyss and Odhin:
General Impression - The Abyss boot looks like a basketball shoe at first glance, at least that's what some people thought when they saw me wearing them. The boot upper is made of mesh, with the TPU fabric covering the toe box and strips on the sides forming the lace loops. The tongue is fully padded and has a lace loop for retention. The Odhin is not just a taller version of the Abyss, but styled differently and has less exposed mesh, and the outer mesh has a finer weave. It's more miltiary-looking than the Abyss, in my opinion. Both look well made and the materials felt durable. The lace loop channel are quite snug on the laces, and you can't just pull the ends of the laces to tighten up the whole boot; you have to adjust them lower down, working your way up.
Both the Abyss and Odhin felt very comfortable when I first put them on and I wore them daily since I got them. More 'sneaker-like' than combat boot-like. The Odhin reminded me of Adidas GSG-9 boots, rather than a heavy boot like Danners. While the heel is pretty stiff, the forefoot part of the sole is quite flexible. The contoured footbed has a relatively flat profile, without much arch support. I really didn't find that to be a problem at all. While the Odhin has less exposed mesh than the Abyss, I didn't find that it felt any hotter than the Abyss. Actually, my feet felt a little cooler in the Odhin. The Abyss seems to have slightly thicker reticulated foam padding, which might explain it. Both are well ventilated - this was apparent when I wore them while riding my motorcycle. Air flowed freely through the boots and out the bottoms of the soles. Both boots had excellent grip on all dry surfaces. But enough about wearing them dry; on to the wet stuff.
In the wet - I tried out the Abyss and Odhin on separate occasions. I had originally been sent them together, but I wanted green Odhins instead of black and sent them back for exchange. While waiting for the green Odhins, I tried out the Abyss first. I'm fortunate to live near the coast, so testing the boots in the ocean was quite convenient for me. I dragged my wife down to the beach as my photographer, and proceeded to walk out into the surf up to my thighs. I was wearing a pair of Zensah synthetic socks with the Abyss, which are medium weight. I waded in and out of the surf, making sure the boots were completely soaked. The water was filled with sand as well, entered the top of the boot. I walked up on the sand and let the boots drain a few times, then went back in the water. It was actually difficult to capture the water draining from the sole as it'd empty out before I had a chance to snap a picture. When I was done wading around in the water, I came back onto the beach and proceeded to walk around in the sand. Sand had entered the boot from the top, but with the socks, I didn't really feel it. I'll also mention that OTB has their own Drilex wicking t-shirt, which I'm wearing in the pics. Very lightweight and comfortable.
The majority of the water drains out within the first few steps, but there will be some water remaining in the mesh, recesses of the boot and socks. This leaves some wet footprints for a while, but you can accelerate the drying process by stamping your feet (if you have the opportunity) to shake it out. At no time was there sloshing or squishing whatsoever in the boot, and although my socks remained wet for a while, my feet felt comfortable.
A week later, we headed down to the ocean again, this time to try out the Odhin boots. I can't say I noticed much of a difference between the two boots - the Odhins drained super fast as well. The higher top did keep more sand out when I trudged around in the sand, kicking it around. I also think the finer mesh and less exposed mesh kept more sand from entering the inside of the boots through the boot body, but it's difficult to tell as there was sand everywhere anyways. This time I wore thinner socks and they dried more quickly, but weren't as cushy. I did take my socks off and try the Odhins barefoot. This, I wasn't a fan of. Call me a wuss, but I just don't like wet sand in my shoes with bare feet. I'd go with thin sock liners at the very least, but that's just me - Mr Tenderfoot. I wore the soaked Odhins until all the water had disappeared, and they were just damp. Both the Abyss and Odhins stayed damp for a couple of hours after the initial soaking, drying as I wore them and my feet hardly noticed that they'd been wet a half hour before.
More than two decades ago, when my friends and I would go hiking in the mountains, requiring multiple stream crossings, we'd all be wearing Vietnam jungle boots, because they were relatively inexpensive and were the only boots with drainage vents that we could find. Even though they had drain holes, we'd be squishing in wet boots for quite a while. Plus, they took a long time to dry. If only I had OTB boots back then, they'd have been perfect for that particular usage.
Drainage - To illustrate how quickly the OTB boots allow water to drain, I filmed a short video. I turned on a garden hose as much as it'd go, and put it into the boot. The boot simply would not fill up with water - it drained it as fast as the water was coming in. See the video here.
Does the siping work? - I performed a rudimentary test to see if the siping/razor cuts improved traction on wet surfaces. It's not really an apples to apples comparison as I didn't have an unsiped version of an identical OTB sole to test, but I compared it to a couple of other regular boots (Danner Acadias and Merrill Sawtooths, which both have Vibram lugged soles). I poured some water on smooth tile, and wore the OTB Odhin on one foot, with the other boots on the other foot. I tested the perceived traction by twisting and sliding my foot on the wet tile. I was skeptical, but I did notice a difference between the OTB boots and the others. The OTB sole offered more resistance to slipping and twisting, while the others (while not bad), were easier to break traction. That being said, traction in the wet will almost always be worse than when dry, for most materials.
I also wore the Odhin to the range, which is all fine sand and dust, to see if it'd make its way into the boot through the soles. After a day at the range of running around, some fine dust did make it into the insole, but nothing of concern. A few shakes and it was gone. Traction was as good as or better than regular combat boots, due to the softer compound on the sole.
Cleaning and Maintenance - After my dunks in the ocean, I first rinsed the boots off with a hose, then filled up a bucket with water and submerged them, shaking them in the water. Quite a lot of beach sand accumulated at the bottom of the bucket, and I repeated the process. If you spend or have spent time around the sand and ocean, you'll know that sand is just a way of life and it gets everywhere and is pretty much impossible to get out. If you go jogging in the sand, your running shoes will have sand trapped in the mesh and fabric for the rest of eternity. The sand trapped in the mesh doesn't affect comfort, so it's no big deal to leave it in there. After the boots dried in the sun, which took a few hours, I tapped the heels together and shook out a bit more sand. Eventually most of it comes out, until the next time you go into the ocean.
Besides the military, OTB has found additonal markets in the fishing, boating and water-recreation arena. Even though they're a specialty boot, they function just fine for daily wear in a dry environment. In summer, the added breathability can be a desirable factor. In any case, if you work in around the water and need a boot such as this, chances are OTB Boots will meet your needs.
Additional User notes - I asked Dan if he had any tips or feedback from other users and this is what he had to say:
A variety of sock combinations are being used. Sometimes the guys are wearing a drysuit with a medium to heavy weight wool sock (Patagonia Capilene and/or Smartwool). Some guys will wear a medium weight wool sock with a waterproof “Seal Skin” branded sock over their wool sock. All you have to do once out of the water is peel off the Seal Skin and continue with the mission. Every guy is different, some guys will wear wet socks, some guys will change. All in all, these boots dry pretty fast, so I can see the guys possibly not changing out due to time constraints depending on the mission.
These boots are not just for the SEALs, the Army SF guys out of Ft. Bragg are also using these in a hot jungle climate. The drainage features make these great in any wet condition. The boots dry extremely fast, making for great overall foot health, especially in wet environments. During dry use the mesh should prevent most sand from entering. The mesh is there mostly to prevent large pebbles/small stones from entering the boot. Thanks to gravity and due to the drainage features, most sand finds it way to the bottom of the footbed, thus not causing any irritation.
Because of the synthetic materials used in the boot, they are extremely easy to clean, a simple hose off with fresh water or dunking them in a bucket of water will clean the boots. As for durability, much depends on the user, and this is true for any product. The boots are for special situations, and excel in any wet mucky environment. If cared for (cleaned regularly) they should last a long time. They are not necessarily intended to be used for 20 mile marches with a 50 lb. ruck day in and day out, however a few weeks of this type of use would not affect the durability of the boot. It is very light weight, compared to the standard issue military boot.
If you will wear a 3mm neoprene sock, I would also go up a size. A Seal Skinz sock works great if you are not getting water over the top, however many are simply using a mid to heavy weight wool sock in warm environments.
There have been no issues with the siping regarding wear. You may find some small stones the size of a grain of salt lodged into some of the siping, this is normal, the next few steps you take will expell the stones.
You’re well aware that Gore-tex is basically a plastic bag (of course they claim it breaths…however under high pressure lab conditions, not necessarily as the body works) , if any water goes inside a Gore-tex boot, it’s staying for a LONG time. The main goal in putting together OTB boots was to get the water OUT of the boots, this increases overall foot health if the boots are worn for an extended period of time. If your feet are happy, you have a happy sailor or soldier. Bad feet makes it tough to do your job in the military…
11/15/08 - When I reviewed the OTB Tactical Water Boots above a year ago, I mentioned to Dan Ellis that it'd be cool to see land versions of these boots. Apparently, quite a few people were thinking the same thing, as Dan said that a line of land boots was in the works. Well, OTB Boots recently released their line of Tactical Land Boots, two of which are based on their Tactical Water Boots and the third a completely different boot.
The three Land Boots are the Bushmaster, Ferdelance (named after members of the viper family) and Thor TC. The Bushmaster is a mid cut 7" boot while the Ferdelance is a taller (approx 9") combat boot suitable for uniform wear. Both are available in Black and Desert Tan. The Thor TC is a mid cut boot that is patterned after a climbing boot, and designed for speed and agility. It comes in Black and Camel/Black. The black boots are aimed more at SWAT/law enforcement and foreign militaries that use black boots, while the tan versions are already in use in Iraq.
Bushmater and Ferdelance Manufacturer Specs (applies to both):
Bushmaster Tactical Land Boot - The Bushmaster uses the same upper pattern as the Abyss Tactical Water Boot previously reviewed. It is a mid cut height for those wanting a 'faster boot', and no need to blouse the bottom of the pants legs. It is a very light weight boot and suitable for the hottest climates.
Boot uppers - The black Bushmaster upper is made of a combination of mesh nylon and microfiber PU, resembling leather. The tan Bushmaster has the same mesh nylon, but uses cow suede instead of the PU for the reinforcements. The black boots are lighter than the tan ones, due to the material make up. The heel cup and toes on both boots are covered in a layer of rubber material, which protects against scuffs and scrapes, while adding some stiffness and shape in those areas. It also provides traction when climbing. The leather/PU on top of the foot is perforated with small vent holes for ventilation. The same reticulated foam as used in the Abyss and Odhin boots is used as padding for the entire upper, and does not hold water. The inside of the boot is lined with smooth nylon mesh fabric.
The leather/PU reinforcing strips on the sides of the Bushmasters also form the lacing loops. The top three loops have plastic inserts which allow the laces to be pulled tight from the top, speed-lace style. The laces are of the variable 'sausage' type, with alternating narrow and thicker portions. These help keep the laces from slipping and untying. The mesh tongue is reinforced with perforated leather/PU and gusseted for half its length. A nylon pull tab is provided at the rear of the boot.
Insole/Outsole - The insole is a dual-density Ortholite footbed with a dark grey Drilex textile top surface. It's made of a high quality blown PU (polyurethane) foam with high rebound properties and its superior compression set over time. It does not break down and compress as quickly as EVA, which is used in most running shoes. Slightly harder pads (the red areas) are used in the fore foot and heel to further lengthen the life of the footbed. The Drilex top wicks moisture and is antbacterial.
If you remove the insole, you'll see the stiff grey and white insole board, which is molded in the contour of the foot (it's not flat); the mark of a better grade boot. It's an extruded polypropylene, one-piece insole board. The lines molded into the board form the shank, which give the boot rigidity. A softer grade of polypropylene is used at the front for forefoot flex. This insole board is also used by some manufacturers in cleated footwear (soccer and football), as those shoes undergo a lot of torque and need to be rigid for support, which is a similar characteristic needed in a good military boot.
The midsole/outsole is compression molded EVA/rubber from Vibram, which is the probably the most well-known brand in outsoles, known worldwide. They're relatively quiet and I've found them to provide good traction in both urban and field environments.
Boot fit - The Bushmasters feel very light on the feet; especially the black ones. The tan ones feel a bit stiffer due to the suede construction and provide a bit more support for that reason. The fit is more generous than other boots, which I like. It gives me the option of wearing thicker socks or just cinching up the laces to adjust the fit. I'd rather have a bit more room than not enough. I'd estimate the Bushmasters to be a quarter size roomier than most of my other footwear. Not as much as a half size - just a quarter. They'll fit wide feet just fine.
No break-in period was needed with the black Bushmasters. The tan ones really didn't require a break-in either, but they are a bit stiffer. Only a day or two of wear softened them up to comform to my foot.
Ferdelance Tactical Land Boot
The Ferdelance uses the same upper pattern as the Odhin Tactical Water Boot, for those who want a taller combat boot that's also suitable for uniform wear. Much of the specs are the same as the Bushmaster as they share similar construction and the same insole/outsoles.
The Ferdelance uppers utilize the same microfiber PU for the
black and tan cow suede for the tan as the Bushmaster. The PU and suede
cover most of the outside of the boot, with spaces in between for ventilation.
The black uses a tighter nylon mesh than the Bushmaster - similar to
the mesh used on the Odhin. The tan Ferdelance, on the other hand, uses
cordura instead of mesh. This makes the tan Ferdelance upper stiffer
than the black one, providing more ankle support. As a result, the Black
Ferdelance is lighter than the tan boot by about 3 ounces per boot.
The Ferdelance uses plastic inserts in the top four lace loops to aid in speed lacing. The laces are of the same 'sausage' type as the Bushmaster, with alternating narrow and thicker portions. These help keep the laces from slipping and untying. The laces are long enough to go around the ankle and back to the front . The tongue is reinforced with perforated leather/PU and gusseted for half its length. A nylon pull tab is provided at the rear of the boot.
Insole/Outsole - The Ferdelance utilizes the identical Ortholite insole, insole board and Vibram outsole as the Bushmasters, so read above for details.
Boot fit - The Ferdelance fit the same as the Bushmasters; roomy without being too large, and any extra room can be taken up by cinching up the laces. As with the Bushmasters, I estimate they run about a quarter size over marked size. When I first put on the black Ferdelance, I noticed that the top of the heel cup contacted the bottom of my ankle bone (fibula) - only the left one, curiously. This caused a bit of discomfort when I walked around, so I took the boot off, bent the top of the heel cup outwards a bit, and that fixed it and it never bothered me again. That's the only part of the black Ferdelance that needed any sort of breaking in. The tan Ferdelance upper is stiffer, providing more lateral support fore the ankle, and took a couple of day's wear to break them in. I had no issues with the heel cup and my ankle bone.
General impressions (Bushmaster and Ferdelance) - Both the Bushmaster and Ferdelance were designed with particular roles in mind. The black versions were desiged primarily for law enforcement/SWAT/foreign militaries and the tan ones primarily for the military. The main selling point is their light weight and breathability as all of them are between 2.5 lb and 3 lb per pair. Note that the Bushmaster and Ferdelance are not considered to be water resistant due to the use of mesh in their construction. The tan Ferdelance, using cordura instead of mesh has a bit more resistance to moisture. At an rate, don't expect to have dry feet if you wear them in the rain or step into a puddle. I didn't feel a difference in temperature/ventilation between the Bushmaster and Ferdelance at the front of the foot, because no mesh is used in that area. I did notice that the Bushmaster mesh allows more air to pass through, and this was apparent only when I was riding my motorcycle with the air moving past me. Under normal use, I couldn't tell a difference as both felt comfortable.
I typically toss the stock insoles that come with boots - many seem to be almost an afterthought, usually flimsy and offering little shock absorption and support. I usually replace them with green Superfeet insoles which I've found to improve almost any boot or shoe I've worn, but at around $30 a pop, that's a significant addition to the initial cost of the boot or shoe. With the Bushmaster and Ferdelance boots, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the Ortholite insoles were more supportive than I had thought they'd be, and didn't need to be replaced. OTB did good by putting a quality insole in their boot instead of a cheap throw-away.
I've been wearing all versions of the Bushmaster and Ferdelance ever since I got them, and the black Ferdelance remind me of a pair of Rainier International Responder boots that I bought back in the early 90's. They were very lightweight and comfortable, but are now outdated by today's standards, plus the OTB Boots are better made. I wore the tan Ferdelance at a range session where we did quite a bit of sprinting back and forth, and they were very comfortable throughout the day providing good traction in dirt and grass and on concrete. It was a hot day and I didn't have any issues with my feet getting hot or sweating any more than normal. I like the speed lacing tunnels combined with the 'sausage' laces - they're easy to adjust and cinch up.
In summary, the Bushmasters and Ferdelance boots are comfortable, ventilated, light weight boots suitable for mid to high temperatures in dry environments.
12/1/08 - The Thor TC is completely different from the Bushmaster and Ferdelance OTB Tactical Land boots. Rather than looking like a LE or military boot, the Thor TC looks more like a commercial light hiking boot at first glance. It was designed as a CQB boot for SOF units that wanted a boot that wouldn't scream 'military', and wouldn't look out of place amongst civilians. While it looks like a hiking boot, the Thor actually has it origins in a climbing boot, or more specifically, an approach boot. An approach boot has some of the characteristics of a hiking boot and rock climbing shoes - it's comfortable for light hiking but has a more flexible and sticky rubber sole for maintaining traction on steeper grades or rock, or walls, stairs and ladders. The Thor TC is best described as an 'assault approach boot'.
Thor TC Manufacturer Specs (applies to both):
Boot uppers - The Thor TC upper is constructed of cordura with suede reinforcements. With the camel Thor, the cordura is a two tone (tan and black) weave and the suede is a medium brown. The black Thor is black/black. The lower part of the boot upper is surrounded by a protective rand, which covers the toe, outside, heel and instep of the boot. At first glance, this looks to be made of rubber, but it's actually compressed suede, called 'Roc-Tuff'. It's made from compressing typical split suede under high pressure, and is abrasion resistant and lighter than climbing rubber. At the heel, it extends up the back of the heel to the pull tab. The Thor also has a reinforced toe cap, which will help protect the toes if something falls on them or someone steps on your foot.
The padded tongue is also reinforced with suede, with vent holes in it. There are five triple stitched nylon lace loops, and two metal D-rings at the top. The D-rings were requested instead of open hooks so as not to snag on parachute lines when jumping. The laces are of the 'sausage' type, and are dual-coloured on the brown Thors.
The boot is fully padded to protect the foot and ankle from knocks, and is lined with mesh nylon. The padding is a bit thicker around the ankle than around the rest of the foot.
Insole/Outsole - The insole is a dual-density Ortholite footbed with a looped wool/Drilex textile top surface. It's made of the same high quality blown PU (polyurethane) foam with high rebound properties as the Ferdelance and Bushmasters, with superior compression set over time. Slightly harder pads (the red areas) are used in the fore foot and heel to further lengthen the life of the footbed. The Wool/Drilex top wicks moisture, is antbacterial, and is very comfy. I was a bit concerned about the edges of the fabric fraying at the sides, but was assured that a little fraying is to be expected, but long-term testing indicated no degredation in function or wearability of the footbed.
The outsole is a low-profile Vibram sole with a rubber toe bumper that protects the front of the foot, which is especially good for people who spend a lot of time in the prone position.
Boot fit - The Thor is designed to fit a bit snugger than the Bushmaster/Ferdelance. Putting on both and comparing them, the Thor fits a bit more snug in the front. I didn't notice a difference elsewhere. Note that 'snugger than the Ferdelance' doesn't mean that it's 'snug' or 'tight' in general. OTB boots tend to have a little extra room and the Thor follows suit. They accomodate my slightly wide feet very well. Since the Thor has a flatter arch than the Ferdelance, while it feels more snug up front, it also feels like there's more room in the arch area. When it comes to figuring out what size to order, get your feet measured at a shoe store, and order your measured foot size (not based on other manufacturer's boot or shoe sizes) and the Thors (as well as the other OTB boots) should fit fine. They fit 'true to measured size', in my experience.
General Impressions - It's hard to pin down what the Thor TC feels like, because of the low profile sole. They don't have a thicker, bouncy sole like a cross trainer or lugged sole like a trail shoe or combat boot, and they're flexible, but no so much as a climbing shoe. Strangely enough, the sole feels very much like my SIDI motorcycle racing boot, which has a thin but firm sole for comfort when riding and good feel for changing gears. The Thor sole is more flexible than a hiking boot so it performs better when climbing. You can feel the terrain through the sole more than you would on a combat boot, but it's definitely not a 'soft' sole. The thinness allows the sole to flex and 'smear' better than thicker soled shoes when you're climbing or scrambling up boulders, yet the dual compound provides surprisingly good shock absorption and stability on level ground. The flat, low profile sole and low heel also make this a great driving boot as you have very good foot 'dexterity' (if that word can be applied to feet) and control of the foot pedals.
I found dry traction to be excellent in urban areas, indoors etc. It's also good on rock (larger boulders etc). The sole can get a bit slippery on smooth, wet surfaces like vinyl flooring, tiles or paint on wet concrete; something most boots have problems with. I also noticed while running up a flight of stairs that the low profile sole made it less likely for me to misstep or catch a lug and trip on a stair, which I've done with clunkier boots. For terrain with a lot of smaller rocks, loose stones, mud or wet grass, a boot with a more aggressive sole with lugs would probably be better.
I also noticed that the Thor is also one of the quieter boots I've worn. The sole takes out the noise of the impact when I'm walking. Since the upper doesn't have any mesh like the Bushmaster and black Ferdelance boots, it's a bit more water-resistant than those boots, which are ventilated and are not meant to be water resistant. The Thor isn't designed to be a water-proof boot, but I poured water on it, and it took a while for it to penetrate. The all-round Roc-Tuff rand will also slow down the penetration of moisture. I think it can handle some dampness, but anything more than that will eventually penetrate.
The upper part of the Thor is stiffer than the Bushmaster and Ferdelance boots and while there isn't a break-in period required for it to feel comfortable, it'll take about a week for the foam on the upper and tongue to conform more to the ankle. The Thor provides more ankle support than a shoe, but less than a full-sized boot of equivalent stiffness, as it doesn't go high enough to reach the shin bone, and more ankle support would come at the cost of flexibility and agility. The padded upper does provide good protection against knocks and bumps on the ankles as well.
The only thing I didn't like about the Thor was the combination of sausage lace and the D-rings at the top. The D-rings tend to lock the laces in position, and they won't slide through the D-rings. So, no 'speed lacing' with the Thor. Pulling up on the lace ends locks the D-rings up leaving the lower part loose. Tightening up the boot requires me to hold the lace ends under tension at the top while adjusting the laces below, working my way up from the toe. I'd rather have a different sort of eyelet instead of the D-ring, or switch to non-sausage laces. In any case, once the laces are tied, it's a non-issue.
Summing it up, I feel that the Thor TC is best suited for activities where speed and agility are needed over load bearing and rigid support. They're quite the 'all round' boot - I'd use them for light hiking depending on the terrain, but they're really great for daily wear. The agility built into the design is for folks who might be climbing ladders, walls or who knows what, while the padding ensures that the ankles are protected quite well from the bumps and knocks that they'd sustain from those activities. The low profile sole lets you feel your terrain better than a thicker lug sole, so if you're in terrain that you'd rather not feel at all, choose another boot. That being said, it's a very comfortable boot for urban/built up area all-day wear and provides more cushioning and stability than you think you'd get from a thinner sole. If foot dexterity is needed, as in driving, the flat low profile sole allows good use of your foot controls and also makes entering and exiting a vehicle quickly without snagging easier. If you're rolling quick and light and want an agile approach boot for running around in an urban environment, up and down stairs, in and out of buildings or rooms, climbing over walls, or getting in and out of vehicles frequently; the Thor TC was designed for you.
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