Wildland Firefighting Boots: A History of Innovation

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Wildland Firefighting Boots: A History of Innovation

Wildland firefighters wear purposeful clothing designed to protect them as they go out on their missions. They must prepare for many unknowns, and every piece of clothing serves a purpose. One article of clothing they count on is the firefighting boot. This boot must be durable, comfortable, and able to handle every step a firefighter takes as they hike through challenging terrains.

Although firefighting boots have been a faithful companion for generations, they are constantly evolving, and today’s boot is different from its predecessors in past centuries. To learn more about the history of wildland firefighting boots, let’s look at their early roots and where they are today.

An Early History of Firefighting Boots

Centuries ago, no organized, professionally trained firefighters fought fires as a career. They had no special equipment, just bravery and buckets of water. However, these original firefighters would often sport knee-high leather boots for protection from flames, heat, and flying glass shards.

Although the early boots offered little to no protection, they became a symbol of the people everyone could count on to suppress dangerous fires. Eventually, firefighters sought the help of manufacturers to create better protection for their feet. The earlier boot designs were safer than the knee-high leather boots, but they were bulky and hard to work in.

The Evolution of Firefighting Boots

Fortunately, as technology advanced, so did the design of firefighting boots. The introduction of modern materials, such as synthetic fabrics and higher-quality leather, meant boots could protect the feet and let firefighters maneuver more easily with greater comfort. The following is a list of what modern technology and synthetic materials contributed to the firefighting boot:

  • Lighter weight
  • Greater flexibility
  • A variety of lengths
  • Puncture-resistant soles
  • Flame-retardant materials
  • Heat-resistant materials

As technology evolved, so did the wildland firefighter’s boot, and it has continued to do so until today.

Today’s Firefighting Boots

Thanks to the heavy involvement of the NFPA, standards are high for today’s firefighting boots. The boot design now focuses not only on protection but also on the firefighters’ comfort and mobility as they wear the boots. Some advancements that are now staples of modern firefighting boots are as follows:

  • Arch support
  • Cushioning
  • Improved traction
  • Shock absorption

A wildland firefighter faces unique terrains and long days. An excellent modern boot that protects and works with them rather than against them is a must, and modern designs help achieve this.

The Future of Firefighting Boots

Technology will continue to play a large role in advancing firefighting boots. Here are some exciting ideas that engineers are exploring:

  • The use of kinetic energy to power built-in sensors in the boots
  • Lighter-weight materials
  • Greater flexibility
  • Improved protection from high temperatures and flames

The goal will always be to improve protection and wearability for wildland firefighters.

Firefighting Boots Standards

As you can see by now, the engineering of the wildland firefighting boot has seen changes, and so have the standards surrounding its design. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) sets the standards for all firefighting gear. Therefore, for a manufacturer to call their design a certified firefighting boot, it must pass NFPA tests. Manufacturers send their boots to the NFPA to seek approval and certification. The following are the basic requirements every boot must have:

  • The ability to withstand high temperatures and protect against burns and injuries from heat
  • The power to prevent water and other liquids from soaking into the boot so feet stay dry
  • Protection of feet and toes from high-impact forces
  • Slip-resistant soles
  • Extreme durability that can withstand various situations, such as chemical spills or unusual materials

A boot that doesn’t meet even just one of these standards cannot be an NFPA-approved firefighting boot. Importantly, the NFPA 1971 regulates gear for structural firefighting, while the NFPA 1977 covers wildland firefighting gear and equipment, including boots.

Wildland Firefighting Boots vs. Traditional Firefighting Boots

Wildland firefighters see different dangers and terrain than structural firefighters do. The boots that civilians often envision are the traditional boots called bunker boots. Wildland firefighters don’t wear those, so their boots look different. In addition to the general requirements above, the NFPA 1977 has the following requirements specific to wildland firefighting boots:

  • Metal parts (like eyelets) that resist corrosion
  • Abrasion resistance on the soles
  • An easily readable NFPA label securely fixed inside
  • Cut resistance
  • Superior heat resistance to avoid melting
  • Puncture resistance
  • Slip-resistant soles
  • Passing a heat test showing that the inside bottom doesn’t exceed 111 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Test-certified hooks and eyelets
  • Heat-resistant threading
  • Adjustable fit
  • At least 1/2-inch thick soles
  • At least 8 inches in height

A wildland firefighter often has to walk through rough and unknown terrain while simultaneously fighting fires. Therefore, wildland firefighting boots are like the best work boots with the addition of fire protection properties.

Interestingly, the US Forest Service doesn’t require NFPA approval for a boot. However, they have a few of their own requirements, such as melt-resistant soles and an 8-inch height. It’s typically up to the wildland firefighter employer or the firefighter themselves to choose whether they want an NFPA-certified boot or a noncertified alternative.

Getting New Wildland Firefighting Boots

If you’re a wildland firefighter, you need great boots for the job and might be in the market for a new pair. Just like most work boots, a new pair of wildland firefighting boots will take some getting used to. The strong leather and tough soles need some wear to feel flexible. Therefore, it’s wise to order new boots before your comfortable ones wear out. This way, when not fighting fires, you can wear the new ones at home or while out and about to break them in.

Also, if you order new boots and find they are unusually soft and comfortable from the beginning, you should consider this a red flag. Overly comfortable shoes right off the bat may not have the strength and durability to withstand wildland firefighting.

The Supply Cache is your trusted source of wildfire boots you can depend on. We believe strongly in building upon the history and innovation of wildland firefighting boots. Therefore, we use only the highest-quality materials, closures, and stitching that provide a heat-resistant, tough boot to protect wildland firefighters. You can easily order your boots through The Supply Cache online or contact us with any questions.

Wildland Firefighting Boots: A History of Innovation