Shoes reveal the soul of a man.”
– Donna Karan
Footwear is another element of first line gear that like belts is often overlooked or taken for granted. Most try to spend the least they can on something that looks good enough to pass muster. Not much of a standard. It would be fair to say that a car is only as good as its tires — 1000 hp means nothing if you cant put those horses to work. A human on foot is only as effective as their footwear.
At the end of the day, nothing can compete with boots for support, protection, and all-terrain traction. Finding good boots that are not only constructed well but which are socially low profile are the composite challenge of covert boot selection. In an age where most people wear sneakers 100% of the time, even high-end hiking boots go unnoticed with the boot’s upper hidden by one’s trouser hem.
Reportedly used by some members of DEVGRU, the Asolo FSN-95 boots shown at top are a good example of a high-end hiking boot that can serve covertly. High traction outsole, light weight, and with a waterproof Gore-Tex lining. Mostly subdued colors, and mostly unremarkable to the general observer. Even to the knowledgeable observer they are merely hiking boots — if quality ones.
OTB Footwear makes two models of covert military boots, which are designed to masquerade as commercial hiking boots. For the military user they are Berry-compliant and jump-capable; distinctions of minor consequence to the covert civilian who finds their total lack of day-glo colors to be their strongest selling point. The Bootistans shown above are the latest addition, with a SympaTex waterproof-breathable membrane, and a wraparound rubber rand for maximum durability.
In an environment that prohibits sneakers and other athletic footwear, boot selection become more of a challenge but not an insurmountable one. The lowers of most upland hunting boots are indistinguishable from casual dress shoes. Gore-Tex, if needed, is commonly available, and as with the aforementioned hiking boots — as long as the upper is covered, the fact that they are boots will largely go unnoticed.
One caveat to wearing real hiking boots in urban settings is wear. The soft, high-traction rubber these boots are soled with may wear faster than the soles of conventional casual shoes. This is a trade-off: Like the soft sticky tires made for sports cars, you are trading longevity for performance, but that performance advantage may be the difference between successfully navigating a dangerous situation versus falling and breaking something–or worse. When going the high performance shoe route, be prepared to replace them more often, though I find that conventional shoes fall apart before their rubber wears out. So personally I am seeing no overall mileage disadvantage.