The boots are back from the jungle.
After a five-month nonconsecutive user evaluation period that wrapped up just before Christmas, Marine Corps officials are assessing feedback from Marines on jungle boots and determining which manufacturers' gear will continue on to a final major test to be held later this year.
Some 400 Marines from the Hawaii-based 3rd Marine Regiment wear-tested the gear during a deployment to Japan that began last July.
While there were supposed to be four tropical combat boot prototypes from different makers -- Original Footwear, Bates Footwear, Belleville Boot Company, and Rocky Boots -- only two, Rocky and Belleville, had boots ready for the deployment test period, Todd Towles, project officer at Marine Corps Systems Command, told Military.com.
But at this point, no company has been eliminated from the evaluation period, and it's possible two additional bootmakers may participate in the final user test.
Towles said the Corps will know within the next 60 days which companies are moving on and that as few as two or as many as six boot manufacturers could participate in the last evaluation.
The bulk of the Marines' wear testing took place last year in the Jungle Warfare Training Center on Okinawa in July and August and during a hike up Mount Fuji in September. The Marines were surveyed at the halfway point in testing on Okinawa, then again at the conclusion of the test in December, after they had returned to Hawaii.
While officials aren't discussing how the companies performed ahead of formal decisions on which will continue in evaluation, Military.com reported last year that factors being assessed for the boots included mud retention in the soles, traction and mobility, ankle and foot support, and weight.
"We're drafting up a report based on the results of the surveys and the focus groups," Towles said. "And we determine, 'OK, is this a player for the next evaluation based on that data that came back from the Marines.' You compile the two types of information and you get really strong feedback and data to support whether you're going to utilize that same level or exempt that manufacturer from the next one."
SYSCOM officials will also have the potentially smelly task of assessing the jungle-worn gear for themselves: The boots are headed back from Hawaii to Quantico, where they will be assessed for wear, from sole damage to leather separation.
"We want this to be the final user evaluation to where we can have a no-bulls--- item and say, 'OK, this is the boot we want to look for when we go to contract, and this is the uniform we want to go to if we go to contract,' " Towles said. "It allows us to build our performance specification or our purchase description off these items that we're testing."
Still to be decided is how the Corps will use the items, once the specifications have been drawn up and the contracting process to field the gear has begun. It's possible Marines could be issued jungle boots and gear just before deploying to damp jungle regions, or the items could be made available for discretionary purchase.
Towles said the data coming back from the Marines' user evaluation last year was promising.
"Marines are very vocal about, 'This is great, this is not so great,' " he said.