Attention to Detail: A Tactical Tale of Tying Combat Boots
I’m sure most of you have heard that attention to detail is one of the most important traits of a tactical operator, but how much detail are we talking? I’m here to persuade you that even how you tie your boots could determine if your operation is a shining success or a dismal failure. To do this, let me tell you a story…
It was 0400 as my team was getting geared up for a routine hit on a small complex just outside of our Forward Operating Base (FOB). The target package we received identified Wissam Abed Hamoodi, a local merchant suspected of storing weapons for Al-Qaeda in his residence. We’d done hits like this a hundred times since we got in the country, so the teams’ preparations were smooth and methodical.
As we were loading up the vehicles, I heard some of the guys giving TJ shit because he was running out of the head still pulling up his pants…again. He ate some of the local cuisine a few days earlier and it seemed to be working as a good weight loss plan. As he climbed onboard I can distinctly remember him looking up and laughing off the jokes as he quickly tied his boots. The dirt kicked up as we moved towards our target.
We dismounted the vehicles and breached the main gate into the compound. We didn’t see any movement as we approached the main entryway. I was stacked on one side of the door with Rampage, and TJ was on the other side with Hutch. Skinny Mike stepped up and breached the door and then quickly cleared out as TJ and I made the initial entry.
As we crossed in the doorway I felt something small pulling underneath my foot. TJ’s boot had come untied during our short transit, and I was standing on one of the laces. Before I could lift up my foot, TJ hit the ground just as Rampage and Hutch came in behind us. That’s when I heard the first shots. They were coming from the other corner of the main room we just entered, the spot TJ needed to clear but couldn’t because he was face down on the deck.
Rampage and Hutch were designated to enter after us and cover the center of the room, so they never saw it coming. Hutch was hit once in the side of the head and went down immediately. By the time Rampage knew what was happening, he was taking rounds up the side of his body and was able to fire a few rounds as he slowly turned and fell to the ground. Why is it when shit hits the fan — the fan always seems to be on high-speed?
It was either pure luck or divine intervention that I had not been hit. I was essentially being shielded by my teammates’ bodies, which afforded me time to react and a put effective rounds on target and eliminate the threat. By this time TJ was just getting up off the deck and started calling for Doc, while trying to drag Hutch’s lifeless body to safety.
I was in shock but continued to scan the room for additional tangos. As I watched Doc try in vain to bring my brothers back to life, I couldn’t get the image of TJ hastily tying his boots out of my mind. The devil’s in the details…
OK, that was my first attempt at fiction, but hopefully, you’ll remember the very real lesson it teaches. It’s the small details that often draw the line between mission success and failure. Your job (if you want to be a high-speed, low-drag operator) is always being on the right side of that thin line — a line is often written in blood.
The moral of this story is not about boots. It’s about paying attention to the little things. It’s about the Butterfly Effect and how cutting corners, lack of maintenance or any number of small missteps long before the mishap report is written can lead directly to tragically avoidable ends. To be a well rounded tactical operator, you need to dive deep into the minutia for every aspect of your life. Here is one example of how you should look at how to tie combat boots.
Inspect your boots every time you put them on and make sure your laces are equal in length. Worn laces will eventually snap and you can’t predict when that will happen. The best thing to do is have a pair of new boot laces on hand and replace them as soon as you see them getting worn or frayed.
I hope this story sticks in your minds as well and that you never forget that something so seemingly insignificant as how you tie your boots can bring about such devastating consequences. I also hope that you never forget the short lives of Rampage and Hutch — two brave warriors, whose lives were completely made up for this story.
So, to make the most of your gear, all the way down to the tip of your toes, let’s talk about how to tie combat boots. I’m going to go over ladder lacing, Army lacing, square knots, the Navy SEAL boot knot, and the heel lock technique. If you learned how to tie combat boots another way and prefer it, let me know in the comments!
Boot Lacing Techniques
Ladder Lacing, Army Lacing and Straight Bar Lacing
There are several boot lacing techniques you can lace your boots depending on your feet and ankles, the type and age of the boots and their intended use. Unfortunately, most people get a new pair of boots, which come pre-laced, and leave them laced the way they came. If your end use for this pair of boots is walking from your car into Starbucks, this might be OK. If not you’ll need to look for something a little better. There are three lacing patterns that are most effective and most common. They are the Army lacing pattern, the ladder lacing pattern, and the straight bar pattern.
The ladder lacing is probably the most supportive lacing pattern for combat boots. It firmly holds the foot and ankle in place but requires longer laces than you would normally use.
The Army lacing pattern gives you the greatest flexibility in the ankle but does not support your feet or ankles as effectively as the ladder pattern.
The straight bar pattern is the least supportive of the three lacing patterns but provides the best looking pattern and the laces will pull tight very quickly. This pattern is best reserved for dress boots or tactical photo shoots.
How to Tie Combat Boots With Ladder Lacing
Ladder lacing is one of the first things I show people who ask me how to tie combat boots. The ladder lacing offers support to the ankles and feet, making this a secure technique for your combat boots.
To begin ladder lacing your boots, remove your laces entirely.
- Starting at one of the bottom most eyelets of your boot, run your lace straight across the inside of the bottom two eyelets.
- Now, take each lace through the eyelet directly above it
- Cross your laces over the tongue
- Thread your lace under the vertical section of lace that was created between eyelet 1 and 2
- Follow this pattern all the way to the top, and finish with a square knot
Your boots should now look like they have ladders of lace, hence the name ladder lacing. This is the most secure method. Ladder lacing helps to keep your boots very tight, though you may find the laces are slightly harder to tighten when using ladder lacing.
How to Tie Combat Boots With Army Lacing
To begin army lacing your boots, remove your laces.
For even numbers of eyelet pairs, begin straight across on the inside of your eyelets, and out through the bottom eyelets.
For odd numbers of eyelet pairs, begin straight across on the outside and in through the bottom eyelets.
For this example we will use an even numbered pair of eyelets
- Placing your laces on the inside of the eyelets, bring the ends through the bottom eyelets so that the lace is run through the two bottom eyelets.
- Take the left side lace and go up through the eyelet directly on top of it. Do the same for the right side lace.
- Now, cross your laces, threading the left lace into the third eyelet on the right side, and the right lace into the third eyelet on the left side.
- Now, repeat the second step, putting each lace into the eyelet directly above. Repeat this pattern of crossing your laces every other eyelet pair.
There you have it, the Army lacing technique.
This technique allows your boots to flex slightly which can be useful for maneuvering. They are not as tight as the ladder lacing, but sometimes preferable.
How to Tie Combat Boots with Straight Bar Lacing
- Begin by taking your lace through the two bottom most eyelets on the outside of the eyelets.
- Take your left lace up through the second eyelet on the left side, and then straight across to the second eyelet on the right side.
- Now, take your right lace and come up through the third eyelet on the right side, and cross over to the third eyelet on the left side.
Straight bar lacing is very aesthetically pleasing and looks good for a photo, at the sacrifice of some functionality. When done correctly, all you see are straight bars of lace across. Note that if your boots have an odd number of eyelet pairs, this pattern will end up looking messy because the laces will have nowhere to cross at the end. Straight bar lacing isn’t recommended as my top tactical choice, but it looks neat and is another option when lacing your combat boots.
How to Tie Combat Boots
Square Knot, Double Knot, and the Navy SEAL Boot Knot
As with lacing your boots, there are several ways you can tie your boots, and some are far more effective than others. If you don’t want to end up like Rampage or Hutch, you’ll need to reassess your knots since most people tie their boots incorrectly.
One of the things that separate “Special Operations” guys from “regular operations” guys is not just their attention to detail, but their enjoyment of the details. Case in point is Ian’s Shoelace Site. Everything you ever wanted to know about how to tie boots can be found on this site, and I’ve spent hours in awe looking at and trying out the various knots.
The square knot is simple and effective, which makes it surprising how many people still use the “granny knot”, complete with bunny ear loops. A common mnemonic I use for teaching Scouts to tie this knot is:
“Right over left, left over right, makes the knot both tidy and tight”
If you notice that your laces easily come untied, you’re most likely tying a Granny Knot; right over left, right over left or left over right, left over right — either way and you’ve got yourself a Granny Knot. The fix is easy. Change one of the ways you cross your laces, either your initial overhand knot or when you cross the bows. The way to make this most secure is to tie a double knot. This is simply a standard shoelace knot with an added overhand knot. With the square knot in your arsenal, you should have a better idea how to tie combat boots securely.
How to Tie Combat Boots With a Square Knot
The square knot is simple and effective and is used everywhere from tent construction, sailing, and of course, how to tie combat boots properly.
- Take your laces and tie them right over left
- Tighten your knot and tie left over right
The result should be a secure knot without any loops which could get snagged while operating. The knot resembles, you guessed it, a square.
For best results, finish your square knot with a double knot. After finishing your square knot, simply repeat the basic right over left knot a second time to form a secure double knot.
How to Tie Combat Boots With a Navy SEAL Boot Knot
You may have heard tall tales about Navy SEAL instructors making recruits tie their boots under water. That tale isn’t as tall as you might think. The Navy SEAL boot knot is the three techniques we’ve gone over so far, plus one secret ingredient. When a SEAL learns how to tie combat boots, they are shown the ladder lacing and Army lacing, and the square knot. If you have extra lace, be sure to tuck or cut the extra so nothing can snag your boots.
With your choice of lacing and a square knot finished with a double knot, you have a secure boot that will not shift come hell or high water. If the operator learns how to tie combat boots correctly, they can indeed tie them under water to the same great effect. Now, what about that secret ingredient?
If you want to learn how to tie combat boots like a Navy SEAL, you will need one extra tool: duct tape. This might seem like overkill, and in everyday situations, it is. I don’t recommend duct tape every morning as you lace up your boots for your 9-5 job. However, when you prepare for a serious and potentially dangerous operation, you want every advantage possible, and the absolute assurance that your boots are going nowhere. You be the judge of your footwear needs.
When a situation presents itself where you truly need to know how to tie combat boots like a Navy SEAL, put all these elements into practice and then finish by wrapping duct tape around your ankle and over the top of the laces. This ensures your laces cannot be snagged by terrain. When you have finished operating, grab your trauma shears and cut the tape loose.
How to Tie Boots
In your day to day life, and as a skilled operator, you know your shoes are important. Learning how to tie boots correctly makes sure your gear is working for you as intended. The best boots in the world will do you no good if they come untied. These three techniques when used together are the most effective way to tie your combat boots. Ladder lacing, Army lacing and the square knot are easy to learn and essential for any operator. So, banish the bunny ears and learn how to tie combat boots correctly! And if you find yourself in a life or death situation, get the duct tape.