Woods Monkey takes Altama’s new Ortho-Tac boots for a walk. We had two of our field testers each try out the boots for a couple of months and give their impressions of them on the street and in the woods!
Footwear is a highly personal item and, in my opinion, the single most important article of clothing a person must select and put to use. In a purely hypothetical situation, where I were to have to choose a single article of clothing to keep and be forced to give up all others, I would most regret having lost my hat, because it is second only to my boots.
Yet, I haven’t owned a decent pair of boots in years. One might think I’d have the sense to invest in some really nice boots, after all, I was in the Infantry – I should know better. This seemingly obvious answer to a seemingly obvious problem really wasn’t all that obvious until recently. If you have no good reason to believe you’re doing something wrong, the question of what is actually right never comes to mind. I have gotten along reasonably well with other boots – I just didn’t know that I didn’t have to spend $300 to do so much better.
My recent realization came when I donned what I thought looked like a halfway decent pair of affordable boots, made by a well-known maker of military footwear, all of which seemed to work out just fine for the feet and the wallet. The boots in question are Altama, Waterproof Ortho-Tac Xs. My initial impression was that they might be a bit better than the otherwise adequate boots I have been wearing. I was pleasantly surprised that they were much, much more and, of course, I felt a bit foolish for not treating my feet better for the past several years.
Briefly, the Altama Ortho-Tac X is an eight-inch tactical boot with full-grain leather uppers, GORE-TEX liners, non-marking Vibram, Anasasi outer soles, EVA midsoles, and a special inner sole that I will talk more about later. The tongue sports a leather lace guard, and conforms to the ankle with virtually no break-in time. The original laces are thin, hold and release a knot and glide through the Nylon closed-loop speed laces – no hook-type speed laces to hang up on things. There is a functional leather boot strap at the back of each boot through which I can actually get my finger to pull the boots on, and to top it off – a padded suede collar crowns each boot.
The brief description Altama gives of the Ortho-Tac X on their site is all good stuff, but does not come close to describing the many attributes of these boots. In my enthusiasm about the Ortho-Tac X, one might suspect that I am part owner of Altama or that this is the first pair o’ gosh-durn shoes I have owned, however neither is the case. It is simply that I like these boots that much. Altama is doing a lot of things right that a lot of others aren’t, including some very obvious design points which are probably second-nature to Altama because they aren’t all specifically mentioned on their site. Just as an example, one such feature is that the soles do not extend beyond the edges of the boot such that one trips over phantom carpet bumps, strains ankles under a side load or suffers the dreaded clown-shoe foot-slap from the boot heel contacting before your own heel would.
With the disclaimer out of the way, the detailed description begins and includes specifications regarding design, materials and construction, but also some observations that may be otherwise taken for granted by a company that seems to know what it is doing and is apparently very interested in continued design development and the application of modern materials. What is most interesting about the latter is that the ingenuity involved seems more in the name of making a better boot than a cheaper boot.
My first impression of the Ortho-Tac X was when the UPS driver handed me the box. I was certain that they had forgotten to put one of the boots in the box. Sure enough, they were both in the box and I wasted no time dragging out the postal scale. At a mere 22 ounces each, I had some initial doubts about just how much protection this boot was going to offer, after all, the flimsy ankle-height boots I have been wearing are only an ounce lighter each.
Further inspection showed extremely good workmanship, double stitching, attention to detail and the hallowed yellow Vibram logo on the bottom. That by itself put them on good terms with me right away, in spite of my concerns about the really cool looking tread pattern. I have owned quite a few pairs of shoes and boots that had some really radical looking tread designs which were simply worthless when it came to keeping the bottom sides of the boots facing down and the rest of my person upright. While the Vibram, Anasasi tread looks really cool, its aesthetic still understates its performance qualities.
I should mention that I am not a law enforcement type, don’t serve on the SWAT team and have not been spending my free time in hostile countries practicing a tactical lifestyle. I do spend a significant amount of time off the pavement in all sorts of terrain and the climate here in Northwest Ohio can be pretty rotten in about any way you care to guess, from sub-zero and blowing snow to temperatures breaking the hundred mark and as humid as a steam bath. I have used the boots in the context of outdoor recreation footwear, but ended up liking them so much that I have started wearing them in the shop, on concrete and with an ambient temperature of 105 degrees Fahrenheit, where I would normally wear a name-brand walking shoe.
At first, I did it just to see how they fared on concrete for a day and just how hot my feet really were going to get, but I had forgotten that I was wearing them within an hour and then realized at the end of the day that my back didn’t hurt. That was interesting to me because I thought I was wearing about the best shoe I could for that environment. Who’d have thought a tactical boot would be that comfortable on a hard, slick concrete floor? I didn’t, but I should have. After all, not all tactical operations are going on in woods now, are they? After this moment of enlightenment, I started wearing the Ortho-Tac Xs for everything and I even wore them to school one day to see just how they felt on carpet, stairs, parking lots and the like. I am almost afraid to go back next month because I don’t know if any other teachers might have seen me running in the halls, up and down stairs and doing a slightly uncoordinated version of wind sprints in the parking lot.
Ankle support with the Ortho-Tac X is great. I usually don’t like 8" boots because they can be hot, but these are very comfortable in the heat, so the support is there without the drawback. They breathe exceptionally well and support your ankles without either quality being a compromise. Arch support is better than any foot gear I own, or have owned in quite some time and that is attributable to the inner soles that I said I would discuss in more detail later. Well, now is later.
The inner sole is one part of the Ortho-Tac X that really struck me as being very unique. It is removable and constructed using "patented Dual Density EVA with Multi-Port Ventilation." That came straight from the Altama site, because I am not sure I would have known how to describe it myself other than it fits your foot, feels semi rigid for good support yet the layered, celled structure of different thicknesses of material has lots of passages for air to move through and it absorbs a lot of shock. Each inner sole of the Ortho-Tac X weighs only 2.4 ounces. Comfort is not purchased at the cost of extra weight. The fact that the inner soles are removable should not lead one to believe that they will not stay put during use. I first thought that the inner soles had been omitted in my boots, but I eventually realized they really were there – they just fit so well that they appear to be integral with the boot. An added benefit to them being removable allows thorough airing of the boots during a sock-change break.
As much as I have mentioned how comfortable the Orth-Tac X is, comfort in foot gear of this sort is not just for those too weak to suffer a little. We’ve all heard the old expression "no pain – no gain," right? Well, that’s the wrong philosophy when it comes to foot gear. Whether you are engaged in the daily grind, recreational outdoor activities, or working as a military service-member, an operator or law enforcement officer, your feet are tremendously important and taking care of them is a top priority. Injuries to your feet and ankles put a real damper on things very quickly and can turn even a leisurely hike into a life-threatening situation. Even over time, related injuries from sub-standard foot gear can slow you down or prematurely end your days of doing the things you love to do or have to do, and while you don’t wear your boots on your hips or on your back, your foot gear protects them too if well designed.
I have had my share of blisters, hot spots and foot pain, but I have also had lower back problems, hip and knee pain, both immediate and over time. I know what things I shouldn’t do and know other ways to accomplish what I need to. One adapts and continues on. Since wearing the Ortho-Tac X regularly, I have noticed a significant decrease in some of the above-mentioned pain of the chronic nature – pains that I have had for a long time and have had to adapt to. I’m not saying that the Ortho-Tac X is a miracle boot and you won’t hear me promise it will make you better looking or cure halitosis, but I certainly believe that this is one boot that legitimately lives up to the "Ortho" part of its name.
As for the "Tac" part, they’ve got that covered too, both in the woods and on the street. In addition to all other attributes mentioned, that marvelously open and aggressive Vibram, Anasasi tread that Altma selected for the Ortho-Tac X works in gravel, on rocky terrain, in loose soil, spongy humus, wet and dry sand and clay. The tread will load somewhat when clay is involved and while pressing my luck to see just how invincible this particular Vibram innovation was, I got a dirty seat going down one particularly steep slope. I admit that I was doing so in such a way that was not particularly wise but I learned limitations and that was the objective. Slogging through any of this terrain, and through grass and weeds or over slippery downed trees in our especially wet early summer was a sure-footed affair, but also left me with dry socks without me having to perform any sort of water-proofing ritual. They come that way. How long that features lasts is difficult for me to say, but I have yet to get a wet sock as long as I observe minimum freeboard precautions and don’t get in over the top of the lowest part of the tongue.
In a more civilized setting, pavement of all sorts was tossed into the mix and, as mentioned before, the various features of modern architecture were not a problem. The Ortho-Tac X is light and agile, provides excellent traction and protection and never fatigued my feet, ankles, knees, legs or back. Hiking at a leisurely pace, climbing, running and jumping under any of the above conditions can be executed with comfort and confidence – at least within one’s own limitations and level of fitness.
I have spent most of the summer building cabinets in the shop and wiring, plumbing and carpentry. I have spent all day on concrete at times and other days I have had to bolt back and forth between basement and first level repeatedly while wiring and plumbing in a one man operation. Kneeling, squatting, climbing, crawling, jumping down from heights of three to four feet onto wood and concrete have been executed with no discomfort at all, much unlike when I am wearing the boots or walking shoes I normally use. What time I have been in the woods has involved not taking the "easy way" or making it a point to avoid the more sensible route, just to see how the Ortho-Tac X would fare and they fared very well. I have never owned a boot that was so functional across such a wide variety of environments as the Ortho-Tac X, period.
I can’t say that the Ortho-Tac X will enable you to leap higher than the tallest building or make you run faster than a speeding train, but it would be a safe bet that you would be less fatigued and less likely to injure yourself trying to realize less super-human gains. I wish I’d had a pair of Ortho-Tac Xs when I was in the Infantry, as they would have made twenty five-mile road marches an PT a lot more pleasant. I keep thinking that today’s GIs have a lot of cool stuff that we didn’t, but today’s troops also face new challenges and less than conventional conditions compared to what we expected in the Cold War era. I am glad that someone like Altama is putting forth such an effort to produce critical gear to such a high standard and doing so at a cost to the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Operators and Law Enforcement personnel can afford. I know who in these groups wears which Altama product, but Altama has them covered.
Altama has a wide variety of military and tactical foot gear listed on their site. The Ortho-Tac X lists at about $130 to $200, depending on the exact variation, and they are well worth it, but don’t kid yourself, nobody buys at retail. Shop a little and you will find that they are even more of a bargain by the time retailers decide what the market will bear. They also have a more casual shoe on their site that just may find its way to my door before school starts, because if they are half as comfortable as the Ortho-Tac X, they will be a great shoe.
Here’s’ hoping that I have the opportunity to try these out through a gorgeous autumn and another typically miserable winter. I am confident we are all aware of the fact that this summer’s heat has been nothing short of obnoxious. Circumstances permitting, I will report back later as to how The Ortho-Tac X does in the colder, wetter, icier and snowier conditions.
I am a huge fan of post-apocalyptic stories and a common survival situation in them is scavenging for footwear. There is usually a detailed passage or a quick scene that depicts a character trying to find a pair of boots or shoes that fits them just right. The comfort of one’s feet is paramount at all times and as Jeff mentioned above a “highly personal item.” I strongly believe that a good pair of boots is the most important gear you could possibly purchase. Over the last two decades I have owned several pairs of both mil-spec. boots and civilian boots that I have used for everyday wear as well as hiking. In college, I owned a pair of Altama Jungle Boots that I wore everywhere year round until the soles became completely flat. I miss them dearly and was overjoyed to get to try out Altama’s Ortho-Tac X. I am pleased to report that the Ortho-Tac X boots are in my opinion the “holy grail” of boots when compared to many brands of boots that I have worn over the years.
When I received the Altama Ortho-Tac X’s I was pleasantly surprised at how light they were. I would compare their weight to some of the Merrill hiking boots I have worn for the last several years. I put on a lightweight wool-blend sock and slipped the Ortho-Tac X’s on over my feet. Immediately, I noticed how comfortable the Ortho-Tac X’s were. I require good arch supports due to flat feet and significant ankle support due to a couple of bad ankle sprains. Honestly, the Ortho-Tac X’s right out of the box, felt better than any other boot I have ever put on my feet. After lacing up the boots I met up with a buddy of mine and went on a five mile day hike. Normally, I would break in a pair of boots by wearing them around on my everyday errands for small amounts of time before attempting a hike. However, this time I made up my mind to just go hiking in them before breaking them in as it would give me the best possible test. The five mile hike included some diverse terrain such as gravel, dirt, concrete, asphalt and wood decking material. The tread of the Ortho-Tac X functioned well on all terrain types as I never once slipped or lost my footing. They stayed comfortably snug around my ankles and feet throughout the hike. During the hike my feet felt a bit warm in the boots. I normally have sweaty feet and between my wool blend socks and the GORE-TEX liner my feet stayed very comfortable.
Once the hike was completed I decided to go stomping through a nearby creek to test the tread pattern and waterproofing of Ortho-Tac X boot. For about an hour I walked back and forth across the creek being sure that I stepped on rocks that were covered in moss and slick with water. At no point did I ever lose traction while hiking amongst the rocks around the creek. In addition, I found some deeper pools of water that almost came to the top of the boot. I stood in one deeper pool for several minutes. There was no seepage of water in to the boot and no leaks. I have owned several pairs of civilian boots that claimed to be waterproof that leaked, so I was extremely happy to not have wet feet.
After a morning of hiking and stomping through the creek I came home, took off the boots and inspected them for wear. There was no noticeable wear other than a small scuff mark in the leather from hitting a rock while entering the creek bed. The GORE-TEX liners did a good job of keeping my feet cool and my socks were not soaking wet from sweat or the creek. I did have a small blister under the callous on my right big toe but I consider that pretty normal for a brand new pair of boots. My arches and ankles were not sore which happens sometimes when I go hiking in my civilian boots.
I have worn the Ortho-Tac X boots on several occasions since that hike and have had not one issue with them in any terrain or weather. Altama has done a tremendous job developing and manufacturing the Ortho-Tac X boot. I highly recommend the Ortho-Tac X boots to anyone looking for a supremely comfortable and functional pair of footwear that will operate in diverse terrains and climates. I would not balk at paying the manufacturer’s retail price for these boots considering how well they worked. In my opinion, a good pair of boots is worth the cost. I share Jeff’s anticipation to see how well they do in the snow, ice and cold of Western Pennsylvania later this year.
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