2024-07-21
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The evolution of the tactical shoe

The tactical shoe, the one mainly adopted by military forces, and uniform models in general, are experiencing a strong surge in sales, as is easy to assume given the worrying increase in international conflicts. How are the models evolving?

The evolution of the tactical shoe
American Combat Boot

The worrying and dramatic escalation of international crises and the outbreak of conflicts in many parts of the globe has inevitably led to the growth of what is commonly referred to as the ‘war economy’. Reflections of this trend also reverberate on the tactical or uniform shoe sector.

Sales in this sector have soared in the last two years that many brands are now approaching this niche market, despite the fact that it is not easy to break into a sector that is almost always regulated by stringent protocols.

But how does the tactical shoe sector work in general and, above all, what are the characteristics and evolutionary steps of the models dedicated to the various areas and different needs of the many uniformed corps?

We asked some of the leading players in the footwear sector: Andrea Nalesso, CEO of Garmont International, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of technical footwear; Vincenzo Milani, General Manager of Element Hub Milano, a studio that collaborates with brands and designers to create innovative and futuristic products; Andrea Montagna, Technical Director of Apego, a global leader in the production of moulds for footwear.

MARKET

Let’s start by analysing the market situation which, as mentioned above, is undoubtedly growing due to the increase in conflicts at international level. The geopolitical tension, in fact, has not only led to rearmament in the areas directly affected by war scenarios, but in general in all countries, especially those most bordering on hot zones.

Simplifying a lot, it could be said that the production of tactical footwear and the holding up of the world of security and labour (also stimulated by supportive economic policies, such as the PNRR in Europe) has held up a good part of the volume manufacturing, at least in the West.

HOW THE TACTICAL FOOTWEAR TRADE WORKS

It is worth saying a few words about the functioning of the tactical footwear market as it is not regulated by the trade customs that govern trade in civilised models.

Taking the US model as an example, tactical footwear can be sold as government supplies as long as tenders are won (in the US case, only companies that produce on US soil participate, unless exceptions are made for items not available domestically) and stringent and well-defined protocols are adhered to.

It is then possible to buy other models in the US barracks’ stores (not in every country there is this possibility). They too, however, must comply with strict protocols and regulations.

HOW DOES THE TACTICAL SHOE EVOLVE?

The quick answer is that the tactical shoe evolves little, if at all.

The first reason is related to the legislations of the various states, which almost always impose compliance with certain protocols that are very rarely renewed or updated.

The second reason involves manufacturers. It is risky for them to bring novelty to successful models that meet with the favour of those who buy them and that ‘sell themselves’ thanks to previous buying experiences.

The third reason concerns the habits of the particular consumer profile. Those who buy tactical shoes, and the same applies to the work & safety world, do not want any surprises. If they have tested a model over the years and are happy with it, they are unlikely to want to experiment with something new that risks compromising their performance, safety and comfort.

tactical-shoe | shoestechnologies

We could add a further reason that leads to the fixity of the sector: for the tactical shoe, the trends of the moment do not count, colour variants have no weight, there is no reasoning of seasonality, except at the level of operational contexts. Therefore, the typical obsolescence of a civil shoe does not even remotely apply to a tactical model. For the uniform world, the quality of a product is played out 100% on the parameters of comfort and reliability. It is a sector where one could say that there are no customers, but users.

CHARACTERISTICS OF BEST SELLERS

The models that best meet the needs of uniform users possess certain common characteristics:

  • Flexibility
  • Quality of the leathers and more generally of the materials used
  • Ergonomics of the shape
  • Components that increase the comfort perceived by the wearer. Don’t forget that uniform footwear is worn for many consecutive hours. – Production stability capable of ensuring continuity of product quality over the years. If I buy a model with which I feel comfortable, I want to find the same characteristics the following year when I choose the same shoe.

WHAT INNOVATION

In the area of footwear not directly supplied by governments, it is possible to try to bring in some innovation. In this area, the parameters that have seen the most innovation are those related to the development of new materials.

tactical-shoe | shoestechnologies

Materials and technologies almost always designed for the outdoor world, often readapted to the uniform context.

New compounds with an increasingly high-performance grip have undoubtedly gained ground, in particular certain rubbers whose high grip factor is perfect in many areas of application, especially if we consider that tactical shoes are not only intended for those who engage in battles in the field, but also for those who work in the maintenance and logistics of the armed forces. Increasingly, traction is more important than durability.

A great deal of attention is also paid to the world of the mid-sole for which innovative solutions are sought that guarantee lightness and excellent rebound.

The theme of seeking anti-fatigue solutions also concerns the world of insoles.

After all, the paradigm shift is clear: an operator or soldier who is comfortable with his equipment performs better than one who is already in pain after wearing a pair of stiff, uncomfortable boots.

The advent of knit uppers, which can combine different materials as needed to ensure lightness and comfort while retaining excellent levels of protection, is also a welcome innovation.

tactical-shoe | shoestechnologies
Garmont

Among the innovations to which the tactical shoe looks most closely are those related to the world of Water Sport footwear. Their ability to develop grip and keep the foot dry even in particularly adverse conditions is of great interest to those who need to adopt shoes that are as suitable as possible for different terrains and weather conditions.

tactical-shoe | shoestechnologies
Garmont

Among the most important innovations reported by those working in the sector, that of foot protection is undoubtedly the main one. Including in footwear all those elements that preserve the foot and limb from being damaged must be the priority for this type of footwear. An operator in the field suffering foot injuries would be in great difficulty.

Broadening the discourse a little and involving uniform footwear in the analysis, one of the most current trends concerns the creation of increasingly hybrid shoes, capable of adapting to different situations and responding to different needs. As an example, we can take that of the fire brigade, increasingly called upon to intervene in situations where fire is not present and, therefore, where it is not necessary to wear flame-resistant footwear, but rather devices capable of dealing with various levels of stress.

SPECIAL BODIES

Where we see more innovation in the area of tactical footwear is in the offer destined for special corps, in most cases ‘private’ and therefore free from the constraints imposed by stringent legislation. In this case, the greatest demands go in the direction of providing footwear that sacrifices a certain degree of durability (compared to the 4-season boots typical of reservists) to the advantage of performance increasingly similar to shoes designed for athletes. Lightness, grip, breathability and ergonomics are the main demands.

To summarise what has been said so far, let us use a metaphor suggested by one of the interviewees:

“Making a tactical shoe is like building a house in a historical context. You have so many prescriptions, the shape of the windows, the number of windows, the shape of the roof, the colour of the roof… that there is not much room left to land so far from what is prescribed”.

So back to the original question: how does the tactical shoe evolve? Little and along well-defined lines: performance and comfort.

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