Belleville Boots

(This page is a continuation of the general footwear notes here.)

sixth pair of belleville boots after 800 miles / 1300 km
Belleville boots after 42 days and about 1300 km on Southern California section of Pacific Crest Trail (including some road walking in addition to walking the trail itself), plus perhaps 300 km of city walking. Boots were dry most of the time, other than a few days when they got wet from walking through snow.

Military boots have acquired a bad reputation, but modern versions are much improved. Current standard issue Belleville summer boot (model 600) builds upon experiences with the Vietnam Jungle boot, but with a sturdier sole for the rugged deserts of Iraq and mountains of Afghanistan. These boots will work well in all hot weather conditions, but especially hot and dry conditions. And durability is definitely not a problem. With proper socks, these boots will also work well in moderate cold. Belleville boots have been my only footwear since 2008, both for city and hiking use, and I will probably continue wearing them in the future.

Upper of Belleville 600's is part leather and part unlined cordura nylon. Leather makes for durability, cordura makes for breathability. Boots are 8" high, which tends to keep pepples and sand out as effectively as gaiters. Dual side vents on instep allow water which flows into boots during stream crossings to flow out. Side vents also increase breathability. Mesh on vents is sufficiently fine to prevent water from entering when boot is only briefly submerged, such as when crossing a shallow stream. However, if boot is left submerged for more than a few seconds, water can enter through side vents. In my experience, more water enters through cordura uppers than through side vents, assuming stream is deep enough to reach cordura uppers. Mesh on side vents keeps coarse sand out, but not necessarily fine dust, though I never experienced a problem with dust intrusion. (If fine dust does become a problem, it would be easy to plug side vents using seam-sealer or duct tape.) Outer sole is durable Vibram.

Boots can be ordered directly from Belleville Boot Company.

Belleville model 600 also known as Air Force hot weather combat boot, and comes in sage green color with side vents. Similar Belleville models include Army model 390, in tan color without side vents, and Marine model 590, in olive color with side vents and also with thin steel plate between midsole and top sole for puncture protection from nails and similar sharp objects. Metal plate on Marine boot adds weight, reduces flexibility and probably reduces durability (due to cutting into softer parts of boot), while lack of side vents on Army boot is a drawback both in hot weather and when wading through streams. Thus Air Force boot is best for backpacking. Steel plate in Marine boot (combined with steel toe) might be a good feature for construction workers.

Boots shipped with foam insoles weighing about 40 grams each. Cupped edges on these insoles caused painful blisters deep under skin of heel. Took me a while to figure out cause of these blisters. Within a day of discarding insoles, pain went away. My opinion is that padded insoles not necessary, since rubber outsole provides plenty enough cushioning (recall that human foot is naturally designed to walk barefoot, provide we walk correctly). Removing padded insoles also gives additional room for feet to expand in hot weather, and allows better blood circulation in cold weather, thus allowing feet to stay warmer then.

Another easy-to-fix problem has to do with lacing. When I laced 10 wide boots too tightly, this made it difficult to flex ankle (dorsiflexion, or bringing foot upwards towards shin). That caused ankle flexor muscles to be overworked and final result was painful shin splints. It took me a while to figure this out. Best way to ensure boots aren't laced too tightly is to hold ankle in fully flexed position while tying laces. Problem doesn't occur for me with 10 extra-wide, because upper of these boots is so large in circumference that even when laced as tightly as possible, lacing still doesn't impede ankle flexion. In fact, lacing 10 extra-wide very tightly is necessary to keep boot from slipping against back of heel. Lacing style below minimizes effort required for dorsiflexion:

suggested lacing

My normal size is 11 wide. I initially ordered model 600 in sizes 11 wide, 10.5 wide, 10 wide and 9.5 wide—of these, 10 wide gave best fit. Sizes 11 and 10.5 wide were both much too big, while 9.5 wide was tight around instep. After removing insoles, 10 wide fits me slightly snug in vamp (especially on right boot) due to my high arches, when wearing medium weight wool/nylon socks (later switched to 100% nylon dress socks, which eliminated initial snugness). However, leather eventually stretches enough to alleviate this snugness. Possible to use shoe stretcher to speed up stretching, or else just soak interior of boot or a pair of socks with rubbing alcohol in places where stretching needed, since rubbing alcohol allows leather to stretch. Small amount of heel slippage in 10 wide when new, which disappears after a few hours of walking. Size 10 extra-wide provides extra room for thick socks (such as 2mm macroporous neoprene socks) but has a somewhat sloppy feel when wearing medium or lightweight socks. Also, heel counter is about 1/2" higher in 10 extra-wide than in 10 wide, which causes digging into achilles tendon at first (heel counter eventually softens and stops irritating achilles tendon). Ordering 1 full size down in length is typical with Belleville boots, since they use military sizing, which is known to be different from commercial sizing.

Size 10 wide weighs about 1600 grams for both boots with insoles removed (actual weight can vary by 50 grams or more, due to manufacturing tolerances for leather and rubber thickness and amount of glue used). Size 10 extra-wide weighs perhaps 50 grams more per pair.

Field experience with first pair of boots (size 10 wide)

Field experience with second pair of boots (size 10 wide)

Field experience with third pair of boots (size 10 extra-wide)

Field experience with fourth pair of boots (size 10 wide)

Field experience with fifth pair of boots (size 10 wide)

Field experience with sixth pair of boots (size 10 wide)

Field experience with seventh pair of boots (size 10 wide)

Field experience with eighth pair of boots (size 10 wide)

Field experience with ninth pair of boots (size 10 wide)

Field experience with tenth pair of boots (size 10 wide)

Field experience with pair 11 (size 10 wide, nylon dress socks)

Field experience with pair 12 (size 10 wide, nylon dress socks)

Field experience with pair 13 (size 10 wide, nylon dress socks)

Conclusions based on field experiences