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Some shoe styles are timeless, simply because they’re versatile and a necessary part of many wardrobes. Combat boots are one such silhouette. They are much-beloved shoes that originated for mid-combat function but infiltrated street wear via subcultures by British punks and straight-up rockstars in the ’60s and ’70s. The Clash loved them. The Sex Pistols loved them. Rockstars wore them on stage, and fans wore them in the crowd.
The combat boot moved through different places, different activities, different fan bases and style types, from rockers on stage to high-fashion runways and back around again. Now, they’re the kind of shoe that has a hard time looking out of place pretty much anywhere.
The history of combat boots
For centuries, combat boots were solely used to keep soldiers’ feet high and dry, above dirt, mud and other treacherous terrain. Mid combat is not exactly the time you want to lose traction with the ground or get your socks sopping wet. Which, with earlier and less advanced shoes, many soldiers did. If you’ve ever heard of World War I’s infamous trench foot, this is where it comes from. Feet exposed to cold and wet conditions for a long period of time — like soldiers in bad footwear might — can cause pain and tissue damage.
Combat boots got better during World War II. The waterproof tech improved, as did the supportive footbed and durability of the leather. But the durability of a good boot quickly moved beyond just fighting lines and found its way into civilian life, too. Doc Martens, for example, is often credited with blasting the combat boot into fame beginning in the ’60s, when the counter-culture crowd embraced the welt-constructed boot. The brand had given the combat boot new life — offering up versions made to withstand city streets and leisurely travels for years to come.
Filson also helped make the combat boot famous, especially with its nuance in understanding exactly what conditions a boot needed to be worn in. The frigid cold of the North Korea’s mountains needed a different kind of protection, as opposed to a shoe one might wear in the Panamanian jungle. Around the same time Docs rose to fame, Filson became a kind of outdoor footwear authority.
Now, of course, the functional boot has evolved beyond pure function, in part because of its spillage into music subcultures. Designers like Perry Ellis and Anna Sui, who highlighted combat boots on the runway in the ’90s, and Jeremy Scott’s 2018 spring collection also brought the shoe to new areas of culture. There are a ton of combat boots out there now, from those classic Docs and Filsons to high-end, lug-sole Prada boots.
How to wear men’s combat boots
Given the variety of combat boot variations on the market, there are infinite ways to style those boots. You can keep it classic and wear them with tough workwear and outdoor wear, or you can take a cue from fashion designers and celebrities. Look to guys like Justin Theroux, who wears them with every type of jean and sweater, mostly leaning into casual ‘fits. Gigi Hadid wears them with distressed denim, too, but also with trendy trousers and a tailored overcoat.
When it comes to men’s combat boot fashion, celebrity stylist Mickey Freeman likes to combine both contemporary and traditional aesthetics. “Historically, combats boots were made for soldiers,” he says. “I’m heavily inspired by post-war fashion movements and always try to find creative ways to incorporate them into my personal wardrobe as well as my work as a stylist. Pairing combat boots with a military-inspired camp ensemble or military jackets combined with casual and dressy pieces are my favorite ways to sport them.”
If leaning into the look isn’t quite your vibe, use combat boots as a kind of grounding piece for a sleek suit or tee and straight-leg jeans. (Don’t be afraid to try unexpected combos here, as there really are no hard and fast rules, Freeman says.)
To get you started, we rounded up the 15 best combat boots for men to wear in 2023.
Dr. Martens 1460 Combat Boots
One of the most iconic work-turned-street shoe is Dr. Martens’ 1460 combat boot. It’s also one of Freeman’s go-tos, including for his clients like Shahadi Wright Joseph. The shoes are well-made, universally loved and look even better with wear — making them great for completing everyday outfits. They’re on the heavier and chunkier side of the combat boot spectrum but they’re virtually indestructible. The heat-sealed Goodyear welt means nothing is creeping into the shoe.
Prada Monolith Combat Boots
Another one of Freeman’s favorites for clients of all kinds: Prada’s Monolith combat boot, aka one of the best men’s platform combat boots. These chunky shoes are pricey, but they’re one of the most beautiful and well-made pairs you can get. The army green and brown colorway really leans into the military aesthetic while also subverting it with a silky fabric.
Nike SFB Field 2 Gore-Tex Boots
Nike’s SFB Field 2 boots are a modern take on the uber-tactical waterproof combat boot. The gore-tex fabric keeps feet bone dry and the tread is extremely grippy, made specifically for taking on the outside world. They have a super high eight-inch collar for protecting more of your leg and an internal rock shield, which helps stop any punctures from stuff you might step on along the way.
Steve Madden Mackee Combat Boots
Steve Madden’s Mackee style is a great affordable men’s combat boot option at just around $100. The look is definitely more combat-inspired, but don’t expect these to hold up in any muddy waters. The brown color is a great alternative to black, especially if you’re wearing these boots mostly with jeans.
Frye Bowery Combat Boots
Frye is known for its boots that last a lifetime, and its Bowery combat boots are no exception. Their supple suede upper gives them a soft edge and pairs well with jeans of every color and style. You might need a few wears to break these in, but once you do, trust us when we say they’re worth the wait. These are made with a comfy EVA outsole and a tight lace-up front.
Ted Baker Ryion Derby Boots
For a classic black men’s combat boot, the Ted Baker Ryion is a nice option to try out. It offers the traditional mid-height silhouette of a combat boot but with the stylish open lacing details of a derby dress shoe. If you’re looking for a boot you can wear out on dates or to the bar, these are it. They’re not going to do a ton for weather protection but they’ll look very good with jeans and a sweater.
Thursday Boots Explorer Combat Boot
Thursday Boots’ Explorer is a great way to dip your toe into the world of combat boots for men, especially if you’ve been into work boots before but haven’t ventured beyond them yet. This style is made with a storm-welt construction and padded collar for keeping feet dry and comfortable. On the inside, breathable cork midsoles mold to the shape of your feet for additional support.
Allsaints Laker Leather Boots
Perhaps one of the sleekest options on our list, Allsaints’ Laker men’s leather combat boots feature a minimal construction and are made with the brand’s signature high-quality leather. Wear these with jeans and a sweater or sweatshirt of your choosing. The outsole is pure cow leather and the lining is a combination of goat leather and polyester. The heel is about an inch and a half, giving a bit of height without feeling overly chunky.
Koio Bergamo Boots
You might know Koio for its cool, understated sneakers, but the brand is also venturing into boots. Koio’s Bergamo boot has all the toughness of a combat boot without any of the bulk. The outside is suede, the inside is leather and the laces are composed of a special wax cotton that give the whole shoe a feeling of absolute wearability.
Filson Service Boots
Filson’s service boots are heavily grounded in that combat history, with a special emphasis on tough fabrics. These are made with a Goodyear storm-welt construction and a Vibram sole, which keep your feet comfortable and supported through hours of wear. Plus, the tongue is gusseted, which helps immensely in keeping water out and away from your foot. The leather and suede combination on these also earns them style points.
Doc Martens Combs II Combat Boots
Doc Martens’ Combs II boots are a little less bulky than the 1460s but have a few extra details that really make it feel like you’re expanding your Doc boot collection. They’re made with a mix of leather and a tough textile that adds dimension to any outfit. The small zipper on the side makes them easy to get on and take off quickly. They weigh a pound and a half, a pretty standard size for a thicker boot.
Alexander McQueen Worker Boots
Also a great designer men’s combat boot, Alexander McQueen’s Worker boot has a classic shape but is done up in shiny leather with a dramatic lug sole. These are not exactly boots that belong in combat with their leather pull tab and synthetic sole. These are for fashion purposes only.
BP Burbank Lace-Up Boots
BP’s men’s lace-up combat boot is a simple, understated black leather style perfect for those new to the game. These really wear more like a dress shoe, so you don’t have to worry about them feeling or looking bulkier than you’re comfortable with. Wear them with jeans, and call it a day.
Grenson Jack Combat Boots
Grenson’s Jack boots are made with rubberized leather, which gives them the look of a classic combat boot but with a fabric that can withstand bad weather for even longer. The leather is lining and the rubber lug soles are made with XL EXTRALIGHT.
You can wear them as your winter shoes in the harshest of weather, but they look just as good with black jeans and leather jackets.
Steve Madden Patent Leather Combat Boots
Steve Madden’s patent leather combat boot is not for the combat boot newbie. The construction is simple but the shiny patent leather makes these an absolute standout. They’re the kind of shoes you wear when you want something edgier in your wardrobe — but maybe aren’t quite sure how long that mood will last.