Wildland firefighting has always faced many challenges, but the challenges have increased as wildland fires have grown in size and magnitude over the last 25 years. During a fire, wildland firefighters face long hours dealing with challenging and changing conditions. Wildland firefighters spend the majority of their time on their feet, walking over rugged and steep terrain, in hot temperatures, all while carrying the gear they need for extended time out on the fire line.
A firefighter’s wildland boots can make or break a wildland firefighter. A wildland firefighter’s gear not only needs to keep them safe from injury, it needs to help them perform the job at hand to the best of their ability. Footwear out in the field that leads to blisters, pain, and/or discomfort, or cannot stand up to the conditions they face, can seriously jeopardize a firefighter’s ability to perform their job and could potentially jeopardize the firefighter’s as well as the team’s safety.
Wildland firefighting boots have evolved over the last number of years, with many firefighters opting to shift away from the traditional, logger style boots to more of a hiking boot style. While the boots must primarily offer protection and heat resistance - comfort and durability are tantamount as well. All factors need to be considered when choosing boots. Many firefighters are moving away from logger style boots with its higher leg height and elevated heel to more of a hiking style because a hiking style boot tends to be lighter in weight, more responsive on the feet, and let’s face it, more comfortable. Wildland hiking boots can usually offer a more anatomical fit that follows the natural curve of your foot. And with some of the loads a wildland firefighter needs to carry out in the field paired with the physical demands of the environment, lightening the load on the feet can lessen leg fatigue and energy expenditure. Studies have shown that every pound reduction in footwear translates to a 5 pound reduction in weight off the back.
Just what goes into a boot that makes a hiking boot into a wildland firefighting boot? Well, the most obvious qualifier would be that it is certified NFPA 1977, the Standard for Wildland Firefighting Clothing and Equipment, such as the HAIX Missoula 2.1.
More and more agencies today are moving to the wildland certification requirement. Exactly what testing requirements must a boot fulfill in order to get certified to NFPA 1977, latest edition?
- Boot must be heat resistant without melting or delaminating
- All metal parts, like eyelets, must be resistant to corrosion
- The upper must have cut resistance
- The upper must have puncture resistance
- The sole must have a certain level of abrasion resistance
- The inside bottom of the boot must not exceed 111° F in a conductive heat test
- Soles must be slip resistant
- Eyelets and hooks must pass an attachment strength test
- Boots should be flame resistant – after flame of under 5 seconds, and boots cannot melt, drip or have any kind of burn-through
- All thread should be heat resistant and show no signs of melting, charring or igniting
- Inside NFPA label must be able to read by the naked eye and be firmly affixed in place
In addition to passing all of the above testing requirements, boots also need to have certain design requirements as well. The boots need to have a sole that is at least ½” in height, along with an upper and an insole. The boot must be able to provide an adjustable and snug fit to support the ankle and the lower leg. The boot must be 8” in height, at a minimum, but the height is actually measured from the inside to the lowest point at the top of the boot and not from the floor. All thread also needs to be flame resistant.
The U.S. Forest Service, on the other hand, does not require their boots to be certified to NFPA 1977, but they do have their own requirements for wildland firefighting boots. The U.S. Forest service requires a wildland firefighting boot to be a minimum of 8” tall, measured from the floor, an upper made of leather, traditional lacing with no zipper, and a melt-resistant sole. The original HAIX® Missoula was developed to meet the U.S. Forest Service requirement guidelines and is a popular hiking style wildland option that won’t delaminate out in the field.
Whether you choose a certified or a non-certified boot could be dictated by your employer or it could be a matter of personal choice. Whichever kind of boot you choose, make sure to choose a quality boot with quality construction because you depend on your boots out on the fire line. Wildland firefighting is one of the most physically and emotionally challenging jobs out there. Comfort, safety and durability all work together to allow you to perform your job to the best of your ability while at the same time keeping you as safe as possible in extreme conditions.