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What Are Tanker Boots?

By Erica Stratton
Updated May 21, 2024
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Tanker boots are a form of footwear that originated in the military. They are distinguished from other kinds of boots by being secured with leather straps, rather than laces. Military tanker boots are extremely rugged, and are worn by the American, German, and Israeli armies.

Since they were developed by the military, these boots are designed to withstand and protect the wearer from many adverse conditions. Traditionally, they are worn by those who ride in tanks and other vehicles with treads. The boot is therefore designed to allow for circulation in the feet when the wearer will be sitting down for long hours.

The boots' main material was chosen with a specific purpose in mind. Unlike many forms of footwear, tanker boots are always primarily crafted out of leather, rather than nylon or other synthetic materials. Leather is less likely to catch fire or melt when exposed to harsh chemicals, such as fuel. Using leather straps also circumvents the possibility of laces getting broken or tangled in machinery.

Besides the distinctive leather straps that fasten them around the ankle, the boots have many other details that help the wearer walk safely in several climates. Originally, they were fashioned to be entirely waterproof, with the boot tongue sewn in so as not to have a gap where water could leak inside. Desert tanker boots are no longer fashioned to be waterproof, in response to the rise of desert combat in the Middle Eastern country of Iraq.

Tanker boots also may or may not be enforced with metal toes. Metal reinforcements to the heel and soles are common to provide durability and protect the foot from being pierced or crushed. Metal toe caps were not added to the first versions for fear that a serviceman's toes might be cut off by it when enough pressure was applied.

The origin of tanker boots is unknown, but there are many romantic stories about how they came to be. In one variation, a squad of tanker personnel in World War I lost their boots' laces when they froze in the snow and snapped. American Captain George S. Patton, Jr. turned over the straps of his cavalier pistol holster to the youngest soldier in order to secure his boots, and the idea for the tanker boot was born.

Whatever their real origin, some military groups have the tradition of earning one's boots rather than being directly issued them. A tanker is only allowed to get their boots after completing their first tank mission. Other times, a tanker is issued them after successfully completing a training course instead of taking part in actual combat.

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Discussion Comments
By anon993149 — On Oct 26, 2015

I was with the 4/64 Armor, 3rd Infantry Division, in Aschaffenburg, Germany in the mid 70's. Being in an infantry division we would catch a lot of flack from the infantry higher ups, but some of us still wore our tanker boots. I was in M-60 A-1's. Besides tradition, the biggest advantage I saw to wearing tanker boots was that they were easier to get on and off when you were in the field. If your captain wore them, you could be pretty sure you could get away with wearing yours.

By anon344256 — On Aug 07, 2013

I was with the 1/64th Armor, 3rd Infantry Division in Kitzingen, Germany in the early 70s. I was with Headquarters company and rarely was even near one of our M60s. We were all allowed and even encouraged to wear them back then.

By anon321851 — On Feb 24, 2013

I can see the advantages of the tanker boots, but what are some disadvantages?

By anon304638 — On Nov 20, 2012

I'm a Sergeant/Gunner on a M1A2 V2 SEP tank. The tradition still lives on. I'm stationed at Ft. Hood, Tx and I'm apart of the 1st Cavalry Division.

If you are in a tank company, then it will always be accepted to wear the tanker boots. You don't have to ask your commander to do so. The tradition usually goes that once you conduct a mission while being deployed on a tank or you are apart of a gunnery where you are actually on a tank that qualifies, then you are allowed to wear them.

I do know that if you are new and caught wearing them and everybody knows that you haven't completed a gunnery, then your straps will get cut.

If you not a tanker, then you don't buy them. It's simple, hence the name "tanker boots."

By burcidi — On Jun 17, 2012

@fify-- I agree with @burcinc, whether you are allowed to wear them or not is at the discretion of the commander.

I don't think anyone is actually issued tanker boots. Tankers are almost always allowed to wear them once they're qualified as crew. But there is always a chance that the commander will not allow it, so it's best to check first.

There are several companies that make custom tanker boots for soldiers. Once you've got the okay from the commander, you can put in your order for one.

The German and Israeli army is more relaxed with the use of tanker boots. They issue them to their soldiers, but in the US, we want to continue the tradition of earning tanker boots.

By burcinc — On Jun 16, 2012

@fify-- It really depends on the unit. As far as I know, there is no clear-cut answer to this. Some units allow it and others don't. The only way to know is to ask superiors. Even though it might not be clearly stated, if no one else is wearing tanker boots and you wear them without earning them, it's not going to look good.

And considering the conditions under which our servicemen, especially tankers serve, tanker boots aren't really the best option. The original tanker boots were made to be used in World War I in Germany. Changes have been made to them over the years, but they still work better in colder climates. It's not as comfortable in hot, dry environments like Iraq and Afghanistan. I personally think that converse boots are a better option.

By fify — On Jun 16, 2012

So how do military personnel know if they've earned the right to wear leather tanker boots or not?

Is this something left to individual preferences or do all personnel in a unit start to wear them after they've fulfilled the tradition? What if a unit doesn't follow the tradition but some in the unit want to wear tanker boots for comfort or safety? Are they allowed to just start wearing them or will they need permission from superiors?

I know there are a lot of different traditions in the military and I think this is a nice one. But I imagine that there are times when this sort of equipment becomes a necessity or a preference regardless of whether the traditions have been fulfilled or not. I don't think military personnel should be refused tanker boots if they want to use them.

Are there any military people here who can shed light on this?

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