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9/23/17 - Launched at SHOT Show 2017, the OTB Maritime Assault from Altama is available in low and mid heights. With its fin-friendly fit, the OTB Maritime Assault was designed foremost for military water operations; but is really a very versatile piece of footwear that is quickly becoming my favourite for every day wear. If you like sneakers or Converse Chuck Taylors, you'll want to get a few pairs of these.
Background - The acronym 'OTB', meaning 'Over The Beach' might sound familiar; especially to readers of this site. While it's a general term typically referring to military amphibious operations, where the user is working in or around water, or exiting a wet environment on to land; it's also associated with the OTB brand of footwear. The main design force behind the Altama OTB Maritime Assault is Dan Ellis, who started the OTB Boots brand, which I have featured on this site in the previous pages since 2007. Dan has worked on many of the boots you might have worn; he was responsible for BlackHawks initial footwear range (Light Assault boot and Desert Ops), as well as the AKU Pilgrim boot (a cult classic that can be difficult to find). Besides the U.S. military, Dan has also worked with foreign militaries, including the Jordanians, Swiss and Omani's MOD.
The OTB line started off with their tactical water boots (designed for the SEALs), then later expanded with their tactical land boots, and then their Jungle boots and mountain boots. OTB was bought by New Balance in 2010, with Dan as a consultant on the product line. The OTB name was phased out and New Balance continued to offer their own line of tactical boots, mostly based on the original OTB designs. Dan and New Balance parted ways and after taking a much-needed break, Dan started Sand Storm. Sand Storm was created to bring high quality footwear to the military/LE market at affordable prices, and partnered up with US CAV for the launch.
This brings us to to the present (at the time of this writing). Dan came full circle to his OTB roots with the amphibious Maritime Assault and partnered up with Altama to produce them. Altama has been around for almost 50 years in the boot-making business and is a leading manufacturer and supplier of mil-spec boots for the US DOD, supplying military personnel worldwide. As with the original OTB boots, Dan worked with the US SOF community on the development of the Altama OTB Maritime Assault, with focus groups and T&E forms that end users fill out.
At first glance, the Altama OTB Maritime Assault boots look very reminiscent of mid-top basketball shoes, with the Lows looking like regular tennies or skate shoes. This is not coincidence. If you had to name a piece of iconic American footwear, the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars would probably be at the top of the list. Chuck Taylor was an American basketball player, and is credited with influencing the design, popularizing and promoting of the All-Stars. All-Stars have had a long history with the U.S. armed forces, starting in WWII when American soldiers wore them in training. Made of canvas, comfortable and quick-drying, the All-Stars also made their way into military operations; some of them with the Navy SEALs for amphibious use. Being a low-volume shoe (unpadded, streamlined), they also happen to fit most standard-issue swim fins. 'Cons', 'Chucks' and the other brand, Vans (famours for their skate shoes), have made their way onto both East and West coast SEAL Teams, as well as other branches of the military on an unofficial basis, hence the term 'Combat Chucks'. As far as I'm aware, there was no official, dedicated 'tactical' model of the All-Stars produced, so the colour choices were limited to whatever darker or more subdued models were available at the time. There have been military-coloured Chuck offered in limited runs at one time or another, but none I'm currently aware of at the time of this writing. There have been petitions for Converse to start making 'Combat Chucks' (to no avail) and Vans has made some special runs in Crye MultiCam.
With the Altama OTB Maritime Assault boots, Dan stepped up to the plate with a design that finally met that need; that shared the light weight and overall look of the Converse Chuck Taylor, but with features that would make them more water-specific and better for the mission at hand. Both the mid and low versions were requested by the end users, so both are being offered. The OTB Maritimes are meant to take the place of dive boots, but also perform well on land (unlike most dive boots).
Specs and General Information - The Altama OTB Maritime Assault are produced in both Mid and Low versions. The only difference between the mid and low versions is the height. They're offered in Black, Coyote and Crye MultiCam. Here are the spec and features that are shared by both versions:
Mid - About 5 years ago, I had asked Dan whether he'd consider offering a 6" or shorter version of the Sandstorm Lightfighter. Most 6" tactical boots tend to be a bit chunky, with lots of different panels and thick lug soles. What I wanted to see was something based on a lighter boot (like a desert boot). Why? Because sometimes you don't need a full 8" boot, or even a 6" boot, but low shoes aren't enough to keep sand/dirt out for a casual day on the range or trail. I was basically asking for a modernized version of the desert chukka boot, or a tactical mid-height sneaker. The Nike SFB Chukka or Field Trainers met what I was looking for, but the Chukka was hard to come by and I didn't like the elastic ankle sock-thing on the trainer. The Sandstorm Chukka never materialized, although I kept bugging Dan about it over the years.
You can understand why I was excited when I first saw previews of the Altama OTB Maritime Assault Boot; it looked like the chukka I wanted. The Mid is a 4" boot, and actually shorter in height than the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars high-top sneakers. On my size 9s, the boot (measured inside from the top of the insole) is 4.5" at its highest point and 3" in the back at the achilles notch. The achilles notch provides the range of motion needed to extend the foot with the toes pointed when using swim fins. The upper is also notched below the top eyelet for boot flexibility when the ankle is bent. The Mid protects the ankle bones from knocks, rather than adding support to the ankle. There might be a bit more lateral support than the Low shoe, but again, it's mostly protective against knocks and scrapes.
The boot upper is made almost entirely of 1000D Cordura nylon, with no additional panels or cosmetic add-ons. It's a very simple exterior; and just what I wanted for this type of boot. Some boots just look too busy. The inside of the boot is lined completely with air mesh, and the mesh tongue is lightly padded with spacer mesh. A heel counter reinforces the heel cup and supports the heel of the foot. The tongue is gusseted until about halfway up, and the Mid has seven non-glare lace eyelets. The laces are flat and low profile so as not to add bulk or discomfort when the boot is worn with swim fins. A rubber toe cap provides additional protection for the toe. There are fine mesh (non-metallic) drain ports on either side of the shoe; the outsole has cutouts where the drain ports are located, which are the flex points of the forefoot. When the foot flexes, the water is pushed out of the port. At the rear of the boot is a pull loop made out of 3/4" wide webbing. It's large so that it can be found easily in darkness. Some users add a keyring to the loop to aid in finding it for making adjustments under water.
A look inside the sole (applies to the Low as well) - The sole of the Maritime Assault is made up of four components, corresponding to the numbers in the photo below:
1. Insole - The removable cushioned contoured Ultron PU insole is different from other foam insoles because there's no exposed foam and no fabric top. It's closed so that it does not absorb water. The rubbery top surface is textured with a Chaco sandal-like diamond pattern.
2. Strobel board/insole board - This is a non-woven/pressed felt material, made mostly of recycled polyester. The Maritime Assault is Strobel constructed (aka slip, force or Calfornia lasted). The Strobel board is sewn to the completed upper and keeps the upper straight on the last during assembly.
3. Shank - The full-length 2mm thick polypropylene shank is sandwiched between two layers of non-woven. The use of non-woven is to help in the cements adhering to the felt. A better bond is achieved when using a felted or flocked material. Grooves/ridges are molded into the shank to privide stiffness behind the ball of the foot. Cutouts on either side behind the toes create a natural flex line. The shank was added to provide additional stiffness and support for the foot. When climbing a 6-inch caving ladder hanging from the side of a ship or helicopter, a soft shoe can cause the foot to cramp fairly easily; especially when carrying 50-100 lbs load on your back.
4. Outsole - The outsole is made from compression molded, sticky 'SEAL Rubber', which is just a trade name, and is a softer, sticky compound that is supposed to provide better traction in the wet. The outsole has a slight upturn towards the front, but is otherwise quite a flat sole with no pronounced heel to speak of, that can catch on an edge and trip the user. As with the earlier OTB tactical water boots, the low profile lugs are siped (the wavy, zigzag cuts in the lugs) to improve traction on wet surfaces. There's a flat spot at the arch that doesn't have lugs that serves as an index point when climbing caving ladders. The outsoles are stitched all around the perimeter of the shoe. I especially like the fact that they colour-matched the coyote and black shoes.
The OTB Maritime Mids are indistinguishable from the Lows when the upper portion is covered with pant cuffs; which I realized as I went through the photos below. So I snapped a couple more with shorts; just for illustration. I have slim calves and ankles, so the lower volume boots don't look disproportionately large, and make me look like I'm wearing clown shoes.
Low - The OTB Maritime Lows were made by request of an end user that does dive operations in low running shoes. I had assumed that most would use the Mids, due to the extra security on the foot; especially in mud or in the water. The Lows look like Converse sneakers at first glance, and I'm guessing that they're going to be very popular with the tactical crowd, simply because they don't look overtly 'tactical' but offer a lot of great features. The Lows share all the same features as the Mids, except for the height, of course. They even share the same nunber of eyelets (7).
Like the Mid boot, the Low shoe is constructed of 1000D Cordura and is lined with air mesh. The tongue is padded as is the area around the ankle (lightly). The pull loop on the Low is slightly smaller than on the Mid. The Outsole, mid sole and insole are all the same. The mesh drain ports are also in the same locations.
The Lows are just awesome for daily wear. The Black and Coyote models don't look out of place in the office, around town, at the beach or anywhere else I go for that matter, and the Crye MultiCam versions just can't be beat for casual wear. Camo sneakers have been made before, but most are just the commercial versions made with camo fabric, and combined with white soles or something like that. The MultiCam goes great with the coyote soles and toe cap, and just look cool.
Fit - So, one of the reasons I wanted a Chukka style boot was that the original Chukkas were very simple, thin, low profile pieces of footwear. No thick lugs soles or fancy cutouts or layers. The OTB Maritime Assault boots/shoes are just what I wanted. I have a lot of chunky boots, which work great for what they're designed for, but I don't necessarily want to wear them everywhere casually. The OTB Maritimes are 'low volume' shoes, and by that I mean that they don't have a lot of bulk, inside or out. No extra padding or insulation, no chunky soles. Just minimally padded Cordura and a relatively flat sole. They're also narrower that you'd be used to, when comparing them to combat boots. This of course, was to ensure that they fit in most military issued swim fins. They're meant to fit in fins the same way dive booties do, so no need to change the size of the fin if you're already using dive boots.
I have size 8.5 feet, with normal to wide feet. For example, I've found that most Danner boots on the narrow side (for me), and Lowas just fine. OTB/Sandstorm varies (jungle boots always fit narrower than desert boots on me no matter what brand). I took the pictures below to illustrate how little bulk the Maritime Assaults have. Shown below is the Maritime Assault in size 9, beside the OTB Bushmaster boot in size 8.5. The OTB Bushmaster is on the roomier side with a big toe box. The Maritime Assaults are only offered in full sizes; no half sizes.
I can actually fit into a size 8 Maritime Assault Low (the Black Low is size 8 - I asked for that just to try it out). It's snug in the toe, but not uncomfortably so. There's just no extra room. The size 9s are a perfect fit for my size 8.5 feet. They have some extra length in the toe (maybe half an inch). Right out of the box, the boots/shoes are laced up pretty tight. I could get a lot more room in the shoe just by loosening up the laces completely, letting the shoe expand, then gently snugging up the laces. So, if they feel tight right out of the box, just undo the laces completely. If you have wide feet or plan on wearing thick socks with the shoes, go up a size or half size (if you're a half size). The bottom line is, if in doubt, go up in size.
I don't scuba dive; but I did stick the shoes in two models of dive fins just to show how they fit; the Oceanic Accel and the Aqua Lung Express shown below. I wasn't able to find a pair of ScubaPro Jet Fins with rubber strap retention, which are commonly used in the military.
The Accel has an adjustable strap and the Express had a spring strap. If I were to use the shoes with fins, I'd probably go with the Mids as they'd be more secure on the foot. One of the improvements that might be worthwhile for Altama to look into is a strap stop to prevent the strap from riding/sliding up on long swims.
General notes/observations - I'm not a diver, so why was I so excited to see these come out? What Altama and OTB have created is the perfect 'crossover' shoe that can transition seamlessly between everyday wear around town and the office to the range or trail. I wear sneakers. But I don't necessarily want to wear skateboard shoes to the range or on short hikes. Many of the colour schemes don't appeal to me either. On the other hand, I like wearing 'tactical' footwear on the range (so I don't mess up my every day shoes), but I don't necessarily like wearing clunky lug soled boots around town. They're overkill for urban/casual wear.
Another reason was my desire for modern Chukkas - I wanted a 4" boot for times when a shoe was a bit low (it'd let sand and debris in) and a 6" boot was a bit too high. The Maritime Assault Mid is the mid-height boot I've been waiting for. A simple upper without a whole bunch of patterns criss crossing the outside; low volume so it's not clunky of chunky on my feet, Cordura construction which is more abrasion resistant than canvas or other lighter weight materials.
Making the Maritime Assaults look like sneakers or Chucks makes them one of the most versatile pieces of 'tactical' footwear I've owned, and they're really good looking IMHO. The Black Mids can pass for Chucks and the Lows look like the low version of Chucks, and no one will even glance at them. The Coyote shoes go well with BDUs or denim jeans. The MultiCam ones - those in the know will notice them with interest, and those who aren't will just think they're the newest fashion camo sneaker or skate shoe. The siped soles should allow them to function well as deck shoes on a boat.
Pull Loops - The pull loops are made slightly oversized so that divers can use them to adjust the shoes under water, or in murky. Some might add keyrings to the loops to further aid in locating them. For regular everyday wear, they're not really needed; especially on the Lows. I can get by without them on the Mids as well, as the sometimes catch the bottom of my pant cuff and it rides there. Knowing that others may think of cutting the loops off, I did so on the black Mids and Lows so readers could see how they look. One note of caution; take care to protect the area above and below the cut-off webbing with cardboard or something like it, when using a lighter to melt the webbing, or else you can melt the Cordura fabric itself. I used two pieces of cardboard and taped them in place, after I had cut off the webbing (leaving about 0.1" of length left to melt). Then I'd use a lighter to melt the webbing and smooth it out. Don't try to undo the stitching and remove the webbing completely; the webbing is glued down plus it protects the seam down the center of the back of the shoe.
Insoles - Since the PU insoles don't have any fabric covering them (so they don't absorb moisture), they tend to grab at the foot/sock when doffing the shoes due to the friction. The first few times when I took off the shoes, my foot pulled the insole out with it. I experimented with putting a bit of hook velcro under the insole, but then discovered that all I had to do when taking off the shoes was to wiggle and scrunch up my toes while removing them. That kept the insoles in place. The rubber insoles, lacking any perforation (more expensive) and fabric topping do make my feet feel slightly more sweaty than with fabric-covered insoles, but I only notice it when taking the shoes off. One of my favourite insoles for wet-water boots were the OTB JungleLite dual-density, mesh-lined perforated footbeds, but a design like that would have added cost. The Maritime insoles do provide good cushioning, though. As with any other shoe, you can swap the insoles out if you have a favourite (I typically prefer Green Superfeet for most of my boots).
Different uses - Wearing them around the city, they pretty much feel like a normal sneaker, which is to be expected. Very comfortable, unrestrictive, and the outsole provided good grip in the dry and wet. I also found the soles to be relatively quiet on smooth, wet surfaces. Traction is also good - not as good as a hiking lug sole on dirt and loose rock, but not bad at all. The relatively flat sole is also good for driving, working out at the gym (less flex than running shoes) etc. I also tried them...
Climbing - The outsole is advertised as "SEAL rubber sticky outsoles, originally developed for rock climbing shoes and modified for wet tactical operations". The Maritime Assault Lows share a lot of the same attributes as my older 5.10 Guide Tennie approach shoe, shown below. Rubber toecap, flat sole with small lugs, abrasion-resistant upper. I'm at the indoor rock climbing gym 2-3 times a week, so I brought along the Low version of the Maritime Assaults to see how well they performed on plastic rock. Climbing shoes have very sticky rubber, and no lugs; depending on surface area to provide traction on rock (or artificial textured walls). The Maritimes performed like an approach shoe - obviously not as well as a dedicated climbing shoe, but defintely better than a regular sneaker or tennis shoe. The SEAL rubber isn't quite as sticky as climbing shoe rubber, but it'll also last longer under normal use. Having lugs, however small, doesn't make edging on small toe chips easy, but larger ones weren't an issue. I was able to climb beginner-intermediate routes with the Maritime Assaults. They're not a substitute for dedicated climbing shoes, of course, which are much tighter fitting on the foot and place the toes right over the edge of the sole. No heel hooking with the Maritime Assaults. I'd also be a bit concerned about the mesh drain ports on the sides and abrasive rock. So, I do think that they'd be functional as approach shoes; maybe with slightly less dexterity and precision.
Jogging - I'm a jogger, not a runner. I used to run short distances quite regularly until I had a motorcycle accident that fractured my ankle. It took about a year and a half until I could run on it again. In the meantime, I had switched to swimming for my cardio workout, and swam a couple of times a week. Then, I had another motorcycle accident where I fractured 3 vertebrae, 4 ribs, had a partially collapsed lung, and torn rotator cuff. That put my swimming to a stop. It's been almost two years and the rotator cuff injury is still lingering. I'm back to rock climbing though. I recently started jogging again, since I'm not swimming. When I was running before I had a motorcycle accident that fractured an ankle, I had transitioned to minimalist shoes (zero drop shoes); and changed my style from a heel striker to a mid-foot strike. So, I figured I'd see how the Maritime Assault shoes faired for jogging as they're minimally padded. They actually have a heel lift of 4mm; they're not zero drop shoes. They work just fine. Since my jogging style doesn't require thickly padded soles, the Maritime Assaults felt very comfortable. I jogged short distances of 3 miles three times a week, and didn't experience any hot spots or blisters.
Drainage - Like with the original OTB tactical water boots, I wanted to see how well the drainage ports worked, so I stuck a garden hose inside the Mid and turned it on. I also shot a short clip so readers can see the rate of water flow. It was pretty efficient, and a boot/shoe full of water is going to be drained quite quickly after walking a short distance. It's not going to be 'dry', but it won't be water-logged either. It's a two-way street, so the ports will let water into the shoes as well, so avoid stepping in puddles if you want to keep your feet dry.
Being made of Cordura, I expect the Maritime Assaults to be more abrasion resistant than regular canvas sneakers. Having the rubber toe cap helps. As mentioned earlier, I'm a bit wary of the mesh drainage ports, as I feel that they might be subject to wear if the sides of the feet scrape up against rocks etc, but I haven't had the chance to find that theory out. The Mids don't really provide more stability for the ankle than the Lows, because they're shaped to allow the ankle to flex and have full range of motion for swimming with fins. They will, however, provide more protection for the ankles against bumps and scrapes, as well as keep more debris out. For us non-divers, the Mids and Lows can be substituted for civvie sneakers just about anywhere around town, or replace tactical boots if lug soles are not required. With their colour-matched soles, they're more subdued than sneakers with white or contrasting coloured soles. The full-length shank protects the bottom of the foot from rocks and uneven surfaces, and provides more lateral support than a regular soft soled sneaker does.
The Altama OTB Maritime Assault Low and Mids are the most versatile items of footwear I've featured on here yet; just because I can wear them just about anywhere except for specific situations that require more specialized footwear. I'm just amazed that it took this long for tactical sneakers to come out. But I'm glad that they did. For me, they were worth the wait. At the risk of sounding blasphemous; chuck your Chucks. These are better.
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