Deceptively designed footwear

     The tactical officer is a special breed of officer. This is the officer who defines his physical and mental envelope on a regular basis. Law Enforcement Technology tested Magnum's latest boot designed specifically for tactical operations: the Magnum Elite Spider.

     Although they look and act like boots, do not be deceived. The Magnum Elite Spider Boots are athletic shoes. Its full-grain leather, mesh material and a proprietary Spidermesh inner lining is similar in quality and feel to performance undershirts. Its non-metallic eyelets are oval shaped, which allow for speed lacing without protrusion. The leather upper is punctuated by carbon fiber-patterned panels, reminiscent of the interior of a fine sports car.

     The toecap is constructed of easily polishable full-grain leather, but can be left non-reflective for warrant service. The pigments in the material, sole and leather are deeply embedded so well-used boots could be brought back to their original luster.

     While officers need a boot suitable for running, jumping and standing on concrete, the boot also must be presentable. Many department policies require a boot that will hold a shine, but boot makers also must maintain a balance between comfort, which includes breathability, and support, which includes design features to prevent fatigue.

Prominent features
     Magnum intentionally set out to make a featherweight tactical boot. Where most patrol duty boots tip the scales more than a loaded duty gun — these boots weigh less than an unloaded backup. During inspection, everyone looked inside to see if the boot was unlined or filled with helium.

     The second most prominent feature is the inherent breathability of the product. The Magnum Elite Spider has several panels on the side of the foot allowing maximum air circulation. This is tricky. If these panels were simply mesh opening into the upper, that part of the foot would go unprotected. These panels are outlined by raised areas that serve to reduce the amount of contact between mesh and an abrasive environment.

     The tongue and top of the boot have a perforated foam material behind the mesh lining. This construction aids in the breathability and lightness of the product. The boot circulates air as one walks but does not feel spongy when one tightens the laces.

Strong support
     Most advertisements tell customers to purchase shoes providing a lot of support to prevent fatigue. Often, this concept of support is never explained further. Many customers buy taller boots, thinking ankle support is more important than footbed support.

     Footbed support is derived from three components: design, materials and fit. Tactical boots have specific criterion for these components.

     The Elite Spider footbed has three density levels of EVA compression foam for support, not including the proprietary Magnum insole. It is a board lasted shoe, meaning a semi-rigid Stabilaflex board is placed under the insole. This protects the foot by maintaining the contour of the inside of the shoe and keeping the shank from flexing too much. This is a lightweight alternative to a steel shank.

     Testers found using a Stabilaflex lasting board worked well in this product. For the likely tasks a tactical officer might perform, like climbing a chain-link fence or a using a hasty tactical ladder, the area between the ball and heel must be rigid enough to prevent trauma from standing in stirrup-like supports.

     The combination sole flexed appropriately at the ball of the foot. This might seem like a simple thing, but this boot was built on an athletic shoe last. Unlike some athletic shoes, it afforded a little more protection from fatigue.

     The sole also rolled over the point of the toe in the high scuff area. This feature is very desirable for an officer who needs to kneel behind cover.

Sole stealth
     Tactical boots must be designed for stealth and surefootedness. The Elite Spider uses slip-resistant Vibram soles with a tread pattern that consists of angled geometric shapes. Although these shapes look like just pretty designs, they serve several purposes. First, they have to put enough contact surface on the ground in a way that doesn't sound like monster truck tires on a freeway. The design has to invite a rocking motion between the base of the heel and the ball of the foot. This motion is surrendered in the vicinity of the big toe, where a user generally picks up his foot when walking. Second, the Elite Spider sole has lugs with steep angles that can negotiate but do not hold muddy surfaces.

     The sole did not hang up when quickly changing directions and appropriately prevented the ankle from turning by offering an appropriate amount of lateral resistance.

     Law Enforcement Technology researchers liked the patch of cushioning foam under the heel in the insole. However, we would have put it under the ball of the foot also. The Vibram oil-resistant soles are truly quiet and sure-footed, including on wet pavement.

     The Magnum Elite Spider boots boast a positive heel, meaning the heel is higher than the ball of the foot. It has excellent lateral stability and a firm heel cup, enabling the bone structure to set directly over the foot, in correct alignment. These two features might seem unimportant until the officer has to stand in place on a concrete surface for a long time. Standing produces more fatigue than walking.

     Magnum boots have been in the uniform footwear industry for 20 years. When the Magnum Elite line was first introduced, officers gained immediate respect for the all-day comfort and support. The Magnum Elite Spider continues this tradition for officers used to donning gas masks and toting entry tools.

     This boot does what Magnum originally set as its goal. Gossamer light, it feels like a running shoe and breaths like a canvas boat shoe. Officers can find it in 3-, 5- and 8-inch-high versions.

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer who teaches at Hartnell College in Salinas, California.