Booted Tracks




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What Is It All About?
General Training of the Senses
Observation Indoors
Observation Outdoors
Training in Tracking
Human Footprints
Booted Tracks
Human Tracks
Human Tracks: Characteristics
Tire Tracks
Animal Tracks: General
Animal Tracks: Characteristics
Bird Tracks & Snow
Tracking Rules
Author's Note
Scouts Cubs

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By Gillcraft

In the last chapter we have seen how easy it is to distinguish between the footprints of two different men, provided of course that we have had a considerable amount of training and practice. To a certain extent booted feet have their characteristics too, so far as the impressions they make on the ground are concerned. These characteristics, however, are obviously not so personal since the boot is a covering to, and hides, the real foot within.

The characteristics are more often those of the boot maker than of the wearer of the boots, but even the latter can have some influence!

The size and shape of the boot determines, but not so often as it should, the length, breadth and make of the boot or shoe worn, so that the length and breadth of the boot mark - the first two features of the booted track - may give some kind of a clue as to the size and bulk of the wearer.

The make of the shoe or boot depends, to a great extent, on the requirements of the wearer. Formerly it was possible to say that those engaged in certain walks of life, such as ploughmen, gardeners, professional men, policemen, had a tendency to adopt footgear which was in a sense characteristic of the profession they had adopted. This is not so true nowadays since boot and shoe factories turn out the same type of footwear for all to wear, the difference mainly lying in the particular mode which the factory affects.

But, be that as it may, the fact remains that there are innumerable kinds of boots and shoes for all occasions - ammunition boots, brogues, light walking shoes, golfing shoes, tennis shoes, football boots, and so on. Apart from the question of size, the pattern of each type of boot varies very considerably, toes may be pointed, or rounded, or square; heels may be low, or high, or non-existent as a separate entity; the soles may be of leather, or rubber, or rope.

The identification of a burglar by his footmark on the border outside the dining-room window is not an impossibility, provided the boots he wore on the night of the burglary can be found. It is obvious that the burglar's feet will not afford much help, because they were camouflaged by the boots he wore, neither will any other pair of boots do, because they may differ in make and shape.

In setting out to compare two boot marks, attention has to be paid particularly to the following points:

  1. Length of boot mark from heel to toe;
  2. Breadth of the sole at its broadest point;
  3. Length of the heel from the front edge behind the instep to the back of the heel;
  4. Breadth of the heel;
  5. Height of heel, if on soft soil;
  6. Number, shape and position of nails, if any;
  7. Any distinctive marks made by the sole, or heel;
  8. And, if there is a succession of footmarks, length of stride from the toe of one footmark to the back of the heel of the next successive footmark.

If it is possible to compare two footmarks side by side, well and good, the task is simplified to a considerable degree. It not, a sketch of each boot mark should be made, somewhat as illustrated, and the measurements carefully noted down.

It is not necessary to comment on the first -four of the points to be noted, or the last; careful measurement is all that is required. The fifth point will be more difficult to decide, and will depend very considerably on the type of soil. If it is not possible to have the two impressions being compared on similar ground, then this point should be omitted. It will have considerably more bearing in any case in the footmarks made by a woman than of those made by a man. The sixth point is very important, as the Chief Scout exemplifies in his yarn of the Elsdon Murder in Scouting for Boys. The seventh point deserves a certain amount of comment.

In addition to nails, of different kinds and patterns, the sole of the boot may have a characteristic appearance by reason of other protective materials that have been added to it. Some of these may be mentioned, as, for instance, metal protectors at toe or heel, rubber heels and rubber soles. The soles of the boots may be new, so that the edges are clear cut, or they may be worn, usually more markedly in certain parts, especially the outer part of the back of the heel. Now and then there may be leather patches on the sole, or worn parts that have not been patched, which on favorable ground will leave a distinctive mark.

In dealing with footprints mention was made of the impossibility of comparing a footprint with the foot that made it; this is just as true, of course, of a footmark made by a booted foot. There is not much good in comparing the boot with the mark, although if there is a particular nail missing it may help to confirm a previous suspicion. A mark will have to be made with the boot. Sometimes the boot is taken and pressed down with the hand into the ground. This may lead to a false mark. If the owner of the boot is not available, someone else of a similar height and weight should put on the boot and make a mark on the ground with it under similar conditions to those that existed when the first mark was made. Then there is some reasonable chance of making a proper comparison.

In no case should the boot be fitted over the first footmark. This is a common mistake, although it seems an obvious one. If the boot actually made the mark, all that is known is that it appears to be of the same shape and size as the boot that made the original; other characteristics have not been compared and the original mark has been obliterated by the second. If it is a different boot altogether, then the original mark has been obliterated and nothing at all gained, except that it was not the second boot that was responsible, a somewhat wasteful method of elimination!

When a single impression, or a series of impressions for that matter, have been found at the scene of some crime, it would be well worth while to get an experienced boot maker to look at it, or to make a good sketch of it. In his profession he will have studied footwear and the human foot to a greater or lesser degree, and will be able to give some advice, possibly, as to the wearer. If the mark shows signs of the boot that made it having been unevenly worn, he may be able to say whether that wearing has been caused by any peculiarity of walk. More remotely, he will be able to identify the kind of boot, or even to say in what locality such boots are worn or made.

If the mark has been, made by a rubber-soled shoe, ordinary rubber not crepe, it is possible to identify the particular make of shoe by the pattern of the sole, in the same way as it is possible to identify the make of tire in the track of a motor-car or bicycle.

One very obvious classification of boots and shoes has only been hinted at, and that is the difference between men's footwear and women's. Even in these modern times when there are signs that women's shoes are becoming more rational and more adaptable to the work that is required of them, it is a very easy matter to identify the track of a woman's shoe from that of a man's

As the woman's foot is narrower, so is her shoe.

Wordsworth applies his powers in the right way in Lucy Gray:

Then downwards from the steep hill's edge
They tracked the footmarks small.

The heel, even when low, is of a smaller size, and the instep is usually more marked. The toe is more pointed and usually more deeply impressed. The length of the impression is ordinarily shorter, but that is not so good a distinction as the breadth. The difference between the woman's footmark and that of a boy usually turns on the question of breadth, and sometimes on the depth of the impression, that of the younger boy being more shallow. High heels have tended to make women walk with their toes more turned out, but that is a characteristic which should really be dealt with in another chapter.

As is obvious, a certain amount of study is required before one can hope to be able to make anything out of these few hints on the subject of booted tracks. It is suggested in Scouting for Boys that each Scout should take his boot off and draw a diagram of it on paper, putting in all nails and other characteristics. By this means the main features of the sole of a boot are impressed upon him. I will only mention a couple of other practices, both of which are old and well known.

The Scouts may be given five minutes or more to memorize the look of the soles of the boots worn by a Patrol. All that is required is for the Scouts to sit on the floor with their legs straight out in front of them so that the soles of their boots show. The Patrol is then taken and placed behind a screen or sheet under which the soles of their feet only project. Their order is naturally upset from formerly, and the other Patrols are asked, as an inter-Patrol competition or otherwise, to name the Scouts in the order in which they are now sitting.

As proficiency is gained, the game is made harder when all the Scouts in the Troop sit in a circle and all their feet are inspected, and then each Patrol in turn goes behind the screen. It becomes harder still when only the feet of one Scout at a time projects under the screen, because then all comparisons are done away with, and although Billy may have the largest boots in the Elephant Patrol, and so be easy to identify when the rest of his Patrol are with him, it is not so easy to say that his are the largest boots when they stand on their own, so to speak.

After similar preliminaries to the above, the Scouter can surreptitiously get one Scout only in the Troop to make his footmark on some ground outside or in a sand box and allow each Patrol the same period of time in which to try and identify the maker. Care has to be taken that the maker of the track plays up properly and does not give himself away to his own Patrol or to another. From these two standard games it is possible to introduce others by slight variations and additions.

It will be found that in games of this nature difficulty is experienced at first in the thought transference that is required to identify the negative of a footmark with the positive of the boot that made it. It is hard to grasp, apparently, without practice that when you see a patch on the right of the sole of the boot as you look at it, that patch will be indicated on the left side of the impression made by the boot. In the same way it is hard for many boys to grasp why the east and west points on a star map appear to have changed places, and, when the reason is explained, to prevent the question: "But why are the north and south points not changed over too?"

Training in Tracking

Outdoor Skills






Additional Information:

Peer- Level Topic Links:
What Is It All About? ] General Training of the Senses ] Observation Indoors ] Observation Outdoors ] Training in Tracking ] Human Footprints ] [ Booted Tracks ] Human Tracks ] Human Tracks: Characteristics ] Tire Tracks ] Animal Tracks: General ] Animal Tracks: Characteristics ] Bird Tracks & Snow ] Tracking Rules ] Appendix ] Foreword ] Author's Note ] Scouts Cubs ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.