Battle Ready: Aerostich Combat Tour Boots

story by Gabe Ets-Hokin, Photograph by Gabe Ets-Hokin, Created Apr. 14, 2006
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Many years ago, in the government-regulated hell that is Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, my platoon was issued combat boots. We had been there for a ew days, wearing sneakers during our processing phase, but now was time to familiarize the footwear a Marine infantryman would spend the next four years in.

At that time, recruits were being issued two different models of combat boot. The first was the new model, tested and developed for years before being pressed into service. They were pretty hi-tech for the time; they were constructed of special water-resistant (ha!) urethane-treated leather, with special eyelets to allow the boots to be laced up quickly, and a one-piece tongue to keep rain and weather out. The other kind was the old "McNamara" model, a relic of the 1960's with a thin, hard sole and no insulation or padding anywhere. There were no more McNamaras in size 8.5R, so I got the new "speed-lacers." These are real combat boots. I have been told that my mother wore a pair. [Photo from http://www.mooremilitaria.com/

Yet, the old-style boot was what I wanted; they just looked right. When I got to my infantry unit after my training, I bought a pair of them and they were my favorites. Ten years later I reluctantly ("When are you going to get rid of those old things?") threw them in the trash after literally wearing them to pieces.

We all have a favorite item of clothing or motorcycle gear similar to my beloved McNamara boots. It's simple, works well, and is hard to wear out. Maybe it's a backpack, tank bag or even a pair of socks. I have a pair of old motocross boots a friend gave to me; they're ancient, but comfortable, durable and satisfying to wear.

Andy Goldfine, creator of the Aerostich Roadcrafter suit and president of Aero manufacturing also has a weak spot for old, well-built stuff. It is rumored he rides a 20 year-old thumper hundreds of miles a week in an Aerostich suit he originally made for the Sultan of Brunei in 1947. On his feet, rain or shine, he wears a pair of his Combat Tour Boots. Is there such a thing as "light" combat? If so, these boots are ready for it.

The Combat Tour Boots are made especially for Aerostich by Sidi, Italy's premier maker of motorcycle, bicycle and other footwear. They are basically a motocross boot without any of the "X-Treem" plastic fripperies modern motocross boots are slathered with.

Sidi started with their basic motocross boot design and then simplified it; there is only one buckle on the side, and there are no shinguards, steel toe plates, or plastic panels anywhere on the boot. The interior is lined with soft leather and synthetic materiel, and uses a hidden speed-lace and adjustable buckle system to keep the foot securely in its place. The back of the boot has a built-in reflective panel, and a competition-grade Davos wedge sole lets the rider feel the pegs better.

Andy loves his boots and finally had to retire his old pair after 15 years; not because they were worn out (the soles are fully replaceable), but because the ravages of time had made his platter-like feet too big to fit in his beloved combat tourers. This is the kind of bonding that I like to have with a piece of equipment. However, the regular Combat Tourer boot looked a little too big and bulky for me. I like big, heavy boots, but there are limits.

So I was thrilled when I saw that Aerostich was offering a modified version of the Combat Tourers called the Combat Light. The Combat Lights are lower and lighter than the Combat Tourers, and have the option of a cleated sole better suited for walking around with, although the off-road style wedge sole is also available. I sent a few effusive emails to the Rider WearHouse and a pair were sent to me. Laces provide snug and secure placement of the foot.

I was excited when I got them, but that excitement wore off swiftly when I tried them on. I had never had a new pair of off-road boots before, and these were the stiffest, toughest boots I had ever worn. There were almost impossible to walk it, they were so stiff. It felt like they could stand up and walk around on their own.

I emailed Andy, and he wasn't surprised by my complaint. (Actually, few people who know me are surprised when I complain.) Instead, he asked that I wait awhile for the boots to break in before I wrote a review. This was surprising; usually, distributors want your review out as soon as possible. However, Aerostich knows these boots require a healthy amount of break-in.

That was about a year ago, and I think I have enough miles on these things to tell you what they're like.

Compared to most motorcycle boots, the CBT Lights are very heavy and solid. The leather has a rich and expensive feel, and the stitching is careful and abundant. The interior is lined with a particularly supple kind of leather, and the tongue is a soft, synthetic material. The laces use a quick-clamping mechanism to provide firm support and easy doffing and donning. The buckle uses a plastic strap, but it's adjustable and replaceable. The soles are sewn on and replaceable. These are boots built to last.Here's my boots taking a smoke break at the end of a hard day.

Functionally, the boots were a bit handicapped at first. Even though these are lower than the original boots, they are still very high, which can restrict movement. Also, the stiff, thick leather took a long time to break in even a little, making it hard to shift. In addition, the large toe box was hard to fit under the shifter of many sportbikes. However, as the leather molded to the shape of my hairy feet, it got easier and easier to ride wearing them. I also put a box of my old law books on the toes of the boots overnight, making them fit shift levers a little better. I knew those books would be useful someday. I recommend "Constitutional Law" (Third Edition) by Stone, Seidman, Sunstein and Tushnet.

 

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The comfort of the boot is as good as the comfort of any motorcycle-specific boot I've worn. The laces give a secure fit (will your boots stay on your feet in a crash? Engineer-style boots will probably fly off your feet on impact like they were shot out of a cannon), and the support from the stiff structure of the boot is great. I wear all my footwear with arch supports, so I don't know how good the built-in arch supports work. Walking around is much easier than in a pair of motocross boots, but they aren't exactly ballet slippers, either. (Note: I am not admitting to ever wearing ballet slippers, not that there's anything wrong with that.)

The boots aren't ideal for hot weather; the tall, thick black leather traps heat, although wearing socks made from wicking material helps. In cold weather, the unlined boots require a layer or two of insulation to keep your feet comfortable; read our story on rain riding and cold weather attire for more information on that subject.

Speaking of riding in the rain, these boots are water-resistant rather than waterproof. I asked Andy about that; he rides a lot in the rain, so why wouldn't his favorite boots be waterproof?

Engineer-style boots will probably fly off your feet on impact like they were shot out of a cannon...


The problem is that a waterproof boot basically uses plastic bags in between the outer shell and liner to encase your feet. No matter how "breathable" the Gore-tex or Sympatex people claim their products are, you still get sweaty feet; they just don't have the same feel as plain leather boots. Instead, Andy describes himself as "old school", preferring to use a good leather waterproofing product like Hubbard's Shoe Grease or Tectron DWR once or twice a year.

My experience is that even untreated, these boots can go all day in a light rain, but a heavy soaking will get through the seams and into the leather in 20 or 30 minutes. Treated with waterproofing, the boots are much better, although I'd recommend using a Gore-tex sock liner or another product designed to keep your feet dry inside non-waterproof boots if you are faced with an extended rain ride or swamp exploration.

As an off-road boot, these work very well, too. Obviously, they don't offer the support and protection motocross boots do, but for light trail riding, which is what I do when I do my dirt-riding, I think these are very good. They are tall enough to protect your calf from burns or angry footpegs, and stiff and heavy enough for recalcitrant kickstarters. They also give your legs good support for

standing on the pegs. The cleated soles don't work as well for sliding around turns as the wedge soles would, but for messing around in the dirt, I think these boots are all you need. They are certainly better than the linesman's or engineer's boots guys wore 30 years ago.

The brilliance of the Combat Lights is not that they are the best boot for any given situation, but that they are ideal for so many different ones. You can ride on a dirt trail, hike around your campsite, then hit the pavement the next day for 500 miles on hardball. They are weather-resistant enough for a wide range of conditions, and durable enough to last for years and years. I think the best part is that they age so well, becoming more comfortable as they "learn" the contours of your feet. Can you say all that about your motocross boots? Or your favorite pair of roadracing boots?

Andy's most excellent boot isn't for everybody and I noted a few flaws; the long break-in, lack of insulation, and big, stiff toes that don't work with a lot of modern sportbikes. However, if your riding is on a cruiser, tourer, adventure tourer or older standard, these boots will keep your tootsies protected and comfy for many years, and you will cry when your wife finally makes you throw them away.

Aerostich Combat Light: $247, in black only, choice of wedge or cleated sole, in medium width, sizes 7, 8, 9, 9.5, 10, 11, 12, 12.5, 13.5, 14.

Aerostich Combat Tourer: $257, in black only, choice of wedge or cleated sole, in medium width, sizes 7, 8, 9, 9.5, 10, 11, 12, 12.5, 13.5, 14.



 

 

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