I’m going to open this with a disclaimer: This is going to contain a bit of nostalgia like my last post. Now that I’ve admitted that, let’s get into this.
In 2005 I arrived at Fort Knox Kentucky for Basic Training. In the first few days I was there I received my PT uniforms, got a fresh haircut, purchased some essentials, and was issued all my duty uniforms. Since it was 2005 I was lucky enough to be one of the last runs of recruits that was issued BDUs in woodland camouflage. Along with those “old school” uniforms we were issued two pair of boots. Black leather and textile, with an 8-inch height, 5 lace holes and 4 speed lace loops on each side, a Vibram sole, Goretex waterproof lining, and a Thinsulate insulated lining. I owned those boots and wore them regularly until I wore out the sole and had to admit that my feet had gotten bigger and they no longer fit. They were the best boots I had ever owned.
To back pedal even more, I started wearing boots around 1995/1996 when I was in 5th grade and getting ready to move from elementary school into middle school. For anyone not familiar, in the area I’m from there are typically 3 schools: Elementary, middle, and High. Kindergarten-5th grade, 6th-8th grade, and 9th-12th grade respectively. I know there are a lot of K-8 and K-12 schools becoming common place now, so I felt it may be a good idea to clarify this. At around 10-11 years old I got my first pair of boots. Pretty sure they were an affordable pair of work-style boots. My memory of that time is not particularly sharp. From that point forward boots were my primary form of footwear. I had Vietnam Jungle boots, tall work boots, short work boots, Georgia Loggers that seemed indestructible. The boots I was issued for basic training were, without a doubt, the best boots I had ever wrapped my feet in.
I know there are companies out there that will make a last and build boots to your specific foot shape. I know there are boot makers out there like Nick’s Boots that will either fit you or provide you with very precise measuring guides to have them craft a perfect pair of boots for your feet. I know that now, I did not know that back then. However, I have been through numerous boots (my favorites for hot weather being the Danner Tanicus No Time To Die black suede limited editions I bought in 2021) and they have stretched a number of styles. Today I spent the day reliving history though. Today, for the first time since 2012, I spent the day in a pair of Belleville 770s.
The boots I was issued in 2005, I have been able to ascertain, were Belleville model 770 boots. I have a slight issue with being certain about this because my issued boots had a Goodyear welted sole with a rubber foam layer moulded into it. The modern 770 uses a different sole and sole attachment method, but everything else about it is right. The only thing not right is the way the sole is affixed to the boot itself.
The Goodyear Welt is a construction method where there is a strip of material stitched to the upper of the boot and then the sole is stitched to the flap that strip creates. It is a very traditional method and has been used for a very long time. Its very durable and allows a cobbler to easily resole a worn out pair of boots. The method used to affix the sole on the new 770s is a more modern approach where the sole is glued and appears to be melted to the leather. While I’m sure the seal of the sole to the upper is more waterproof, I feel it cheapens the overall construction of the boot a little bit.
When I received the boots last night I gave them a look over. The left boot had what looked like a shallow knife cut in the leather at the heel. The leather around where the sole appears to be melted to the boot also seemed a bit damaged in a couple places. I was tempted to send the boots back to the company I bought them from, but decided these were minor enough issues that I was likely to be the only one to notice them. I also noticed the lining was a bit different than I remembered. The new boots have a lower quality gray fabric lining where the older version had a woven material that was more substantial feeling. The stitching on the lining of the new boots is also a bit sub-standard, with one boot having the stitch on the inside of the tongue not even holding the cheap grey material previously mentioned together at the seam. I also remember the insulated lining being finished so that the white material could not be seen. The new boots have a rough edge “finish” on the lining, so you can easily see the white material beneath the grey fabric that forms the insulation.
When I received the boots I weighed the issues I had found with whether or not it would be worth sending them back tot he retailer I bought them from. Ultimately I decided to keep them and I got to work improving what I could. The leather was dull, a bit rough, and very dry. I soaked the uppers with Mink Oil to try and rehydrate the leather and help the waterproofing of the leather itself. Most of the upper wasn’t too bad, but the tongue on both boots was so dry I actually poured mink oil directly onto the boot and after rubbing it evenly across the surface with my fingers it seemed to almost instantly soak into the leather. I gave the boots several coats and allowed an hour for the oil to soak in. Once the boots seemed saturated I hit each one with two coats of Sapphir Parade Gloss polish. Nicer than the polish I had gotten from the PX in Kentucky to be sure. Even so, I still could not seem to brighten up a few of the dull spots in the leather.
When I put the boots on the left one put a good bit of pressure on my foot right along the edge of the ball and along my outer toe. Swapping the insoles out not only fixed that problem, but provided me with better arch support than the factory foam insole provided. Then I tackled the laces. The laces that come with the boots are thin, abrasive, and WAY too long. I measured them out at 100″ long. I decided to try a 70″ standard length and did what every good soldier does when his boots need new laces: I cut some 550 cord. Once laced with the 70″ 550 cord laces the boots tied snug and didn’t have an excessive amount of length left to tuck into the boot when properly tied.
While this boot is not a perfect, custom made, no expense spared pair of boots, it is very much a close enough comparison to a boot I loved that I will give it a pass. They are extremely comfortable now that I have made all the necessary changes for end user interface. The 550 cord laces will do the trick until I receive a pair of Rhino Laces that I ordered for them based on my 70″ 550 cord laces being a success. The better arch support and more room in the toe box provided by changing the insoles helped immensely. The feeling of those boots that saw me through ruck march after ruck march up and down Agony, Misery, and Heartbreak at Fort Knox as well as all the treks through the woods on training operations came back to me as soon as I had them tied. They may not be exactly as I remember, but they do the trick.
A good pair of boots is an essential part to any kit. Whether you’re a Lineman, Oilfield Worker, Soldier, or Law Enforcement Officer, you need to protect and support your feet. Having a good pair of boots is absolutely essential in any hard use environment. The Belleville 770 is a good option and runs about as much as a pair of Red Wings and significantly less than a pair of Nick’s or White’s boots. If you want quality and want it to be able to take a beating, give Belleville a look. I wore my last pair until I out grew them and, if I’d known I could, would have had them refit and resoled instead of getting rid of them. I hope these last as long as my last pair did and maybe I’ll be able to get them resoled if they ever do wear out. Only time will tell.