Full disclosure: I’m actually a massive cheapskate.
I spent all of my 20s — it’s true, I’m not in my 20s anymore — as a student, intern, volunteer, or broke journalist, and at this point, penny pinching is just in my DNA.
I own some expensive boots now, sure. But for a long time I was laboring under this delusion that you just can’t get a good pair of boots for less than three hundred dollars. That’s a part of why my first pairs of boots were Red Wings; I just thought that’s the minimum amount of money you needed to spend on sturdy daily beaters.
But that’s not the case. In the years since I moved to Manhattan and bought my first pair of boots, I’ve learned of several brands that offer high quality, durable, and sexy footwear for less than two hundred bucks. First up?
1. Thursday Boot Company
- Versatile aesthetic
- Wide variety of similarly-priced boots
- Free shipping & returns
- $199 per pair
This company makes really high quality shoes for any price point, but the fact that their flagship Captain boot costs $199 is mind blowing. They have a couple of more expensive models, like the Vanguard, but they’ve got a ton of service boots like the Captain and the President, they’ve got a moc toe called the Diplomat, two different Chelsea boots, and they’re all $199.
So that you know where I’m coming from, I have a basic, 5-point checklist I run through that my favorite boots have to meet:
1. A Goodyear welt.
This is a way of attaching the upper to the sole that makes the boot really water resistant and very easy to resole, so you don’t need to throw away your beloved boot when you’ve worn it so much that the sole is coming apart. It makes a boot more expensive, but it’s worth it.
2. Full grain leather
Not bonded leather, not genuine leather, full grain leather is made from the outer layer of the animal’s skin — the part that’s facing the elements when the animal’s alive — and it’s the kind of leather that ages the best and develops the best patina as time goes by. And you can wear your boots for a long time when they’ve got a Goodyear welt!
3. A shank
This is a strip of hard material, usually steel, that’s inserted somewhere around the midsole or insole and helps to provide stability and arch support to the shoe. It also helps the shoe to maintain its shape over time. As you may have noticed, these qualities — Goodyear welt, full grain leather, and shank — all extend a boot’s lifespan, thereby improving its value for money.
4. Good grip, with a low profile
You can contrast that with a Commando sole, which has great grip but is very chunky, or a leather sole, which is nice and flat but has crummy grip. Thursday has a nice, flat, rubber sole with recessed lugs that offer great grip while keeping a sleek profile.
5. Free shipping and returns
Especially if a brand is direct-to-consumer, they should do free returns and exchanges in case the fit isn’t right.
Thursday Boot Company ticks all of these boxes, plus the shoe has this really nifty dress boot/work boot hybrid aesthetic. Many find work boots too clunky for the city, dress boots are too dainty to be daily beaters, but Thursday’s Captain melds these two styles and gives you the best of both worlds. It’s tough, but it’s leather lined and goes with just about any outfit you can come up with.
[Shop the Thursday Captain Boot here]
2. The Beckett Simonon Dowler Cap Toe Boot
- Versatile aesthetic
- All leather sole
- Free shipping & returns
- $184 with the discount code STRIDE
A little rounder in the toe but still very versatile and well priced, the Dowler Cap Toe boot from Beckett Simonon is one of of my favorite boots as well. Made with hardy, vegetable tanned calfskin from Argentina and with a profile that does a great job of straddling dressy and casual, it’s available in five different leathers and can be worn with almost anything.
The downside with this boot is that unless they happen to have your size lying around, it’s made to order: you can expect to wait about two, maybe three months from the time you order the shoes to them arriving at your front door. This economical model is how they keep the price so low, as they save on inventory and don’t need to rent as much warehouse space. But there’s also an argument to be made that it’s also more environmentally friendly, as this approach helps reduce waste, energy consumption, and so on.
Still, they’re great quality shoes that are worth the wait: they have full grain leather, a shank, free returns, they can be resoled, they’ve got a flat sole, the works. Well, actually, the sole is flat because it’s a leather sole, which is a little ugly and doesn’t have the best grip on Earth, but it is nice and soft and flexible. It’s a damn comfy shoe, plus, once the sole gets scratched and beat up from daily wear, it gets a decent amount of grip.
Like Thursday, they’ve got a ton of other options: Chelseas, Jodhpur boots, you name it. If you click around their website, you might find that all the boots I’m talking about are actually closer to $230 — but if you use the code STRIDE at checkout you get 20 percent off. That takes it way under $200, and it works on any of their shoes, bags, belts, whatever you want.
3. John Doe Shoes
- Maybe the cheapest made to order boots
- Available in huge variety of quality leathers
- Relatively short wait time
- Most boots between $180 and $230
This Mexico-based company calls themselves John Doe because they spend all their cash on production and not on marketing, so in that respect they’re a “no name” brand. In the way John Doe isn’t a name, know what I mean?
Anyway, they’ve done a terrific job with their shoes. The 420 boots above are technically $210, but a) it’s 10 bucks, come on, and b) they have a ton of high quality shoes under $200 including plenty made with leather from Horween Leather Company and C.F. Stead, which we put on our list of the best tanneries on Earth. You can even get moose leather or shark leather boots from these guys, and for under $250 at that.
Goodyear welt, shank, full grain leather, these shoes have the works. The downside is they’re also a made to order company, but there are two upsides:
- The wait time is a lot shorter than Beckett Simonon, about three to four weeks, and,
- Because they’re made for you, they’re totally customizable: leather, sole, what kind of Goodyear welt, the whole lot.
My main complaint is that their site is really hard to navigate (they need to hire a UX consultant) but if you can make it to the checkout page and if you can wait a few weeks, you’ll be glad you did.
[See my full review of John Doe Shoes]
4. Thorogood’s American Heritage 6″ Moc Toe
- Suitable for a range of work environments
- Extremely water resistant
- Great shock absorption
- $185 per pair
Thus far, I’ve really just been talking about brands that offer boots for under $200, but let’s get into some specific models.
The Thorogood moc toe is a real classic of American heritage footwear. It’s one of the few boots that are both fashionable and can be used for actual work: the sole is resistant to electrical shock — technically “an application of 18,000 volts at 60 Hz for 1 minute with no current flow or leakage current in excess of 1.0 milliamperes under dry conditions” — and the sole is oil and slip resistant, approved for a variety of work environments.
But it also ticks a lot of my favorite boxes: it’s got full grain leather (not the best leather on Earth, but it gets the job done), it’s got an extra water resistant type of Goodyear welt, it’s got a shank, it has great grip. It also has fantastic shock absorption because it’s got two layers to serve that purpose: a Poron 4000 Comfort Cushion and a Dual Density Ultimate Shock Absorption™ Insert. You can remove the insert in case you need room for orthotics, a big upside for a lot of folks, and it’s very lightweight and comfy.
The cost is $185. That’s a steal.
[GET THESE BOOTS ON AMAZON HERE]
5. Danner Bull Run
- Stitchdown construction
- Feels a little like a sneaker
- $190 per pair
Another great moc toe option is the Danner Bull Run, also considered an institution in American footwear. The vast majority of Danner’s boots cost over $300 but this famous moc toe is about $190, and it’s really good quality.
It’s not a Goodyear welt, to be fair: it’s stitchdown construction, which means that it’s a bit harder to resole. (Danner will do it, but it’ll cost over a hundred bucks.) The upside of the lack of a Goodyear welt and the fact that it doesn’t have much of a midsole to speak of is that they wind up being very lightweight, plus the sole is super soft, the shoes still have a shank for arch support and stability, and on a totally subjective note, I think they look cooler than the kind of gaudy Thorogood shoes. (That’s a personal preference, I just prefer less branding on my shoes.)
So they’re clean, it’s an American owned company, the sole is soft, the shock absorption’s fantastic, and I’d say out of all the boots on this list, these feel like the closest to a pair of sneakers when they’re on your feet.
[GET THESE BOOTS ON AMAZON HERE]
6. YRX Boots’ Apollo
- Cashmere wool and leather upper
- Flexible, lightweight blake stitch construction
- Contains EVA foam for shock absorption
- Costs $174 with the discount code STRIDEWISE25
I own some pricey boots, but I’ve actually never had as any compliments on a pair of boots as I have from the Apollo boots from YRX.
It’s an unusual looking book (undeniably similar to the more expensive Taft Jack boot). The upper has leather on the toecap and counter, but most of it is made from cashmere wool. That’s different to sheep’s wool: it’s more insulating and temperature regulating than sheep wool and almost always more expensive, which makes the price of these shoes all the more remarkable.
It’s fully lined with calfskin leather, the outsole is leather with rubber studs, meaning that you get the flexibility of leather with the grip of the rubber, plus it also has a steel shank and a layer of EVA foam under the footbed. That EVA foam helps to improve shock absorption, which is why it’s not uncommon in athletic footwear. Alas, it has no Goodyear welt, but the fact that it’s Blake stitched instead means it’s really lightweight and flexible, plus if you use a discount code below, the price drops all the way down to $174. That’s good value; the brand’s logo, “Get Ready for Compliments,” really turned out to be true.
7. Indonesian Boots
- European style boots
- Long wait times
- Worth boots that cost twice the price
This one’s a pretty broad category, but if you’re interested in crazy high quality boots and you’re interested in saving money, this is something you need to know about.
If you want some old world, authentic, hand made boots, Indonesian brands are worth looking at. Many of them even hand stitch their Goodyear welts, something that nobody does because it’s so time intensive — Santalum, the company that makes the Mile 85 boots above, only makes four pairs of boots per week because of how labor intensive it is.
And they often wind up at under $200. The Mile 85 boots, as well as the Plain Toe Service Boots from Santalum (only available here), cost under 200 bucks and they’ve a shank, full grain leather, they’re resoleable, all that jazz. If $200 is your limit, Santalum and Chevalier are your best brands, but Sagara, Txture, and Junkard are also fantastic and will give you the kind of boots you’d spend over $600 for in Europe for well under $350.
The ordering is the hardest part: not only are you likely to spend a good 50 bucks to get them over to the States, not only is it usually best to work out all the details over email (some of the companies, like Santalum, don’t even really have a website and when they do they’re seldom up to date), but you’ll often have to wait a few months for them to get built.
The upside is you can often get them made to your foot’s individual measurements. Get boots like a king for a pauper’s price with Indonesian boots!
[Read my review of Santalum here]
Golden Fox Boondockers
These boots need more attention: they’re made with full grain leather, they’ve got a steel shank, they’ve got Goodyear welt construction, and they’re under $150. Is the leather that great? No. Are the inners? No. Could they do with speed hooks? Yeah. Is the outsole made of crepe, which isn’t very durable? Yes. But they’re solid, and because of that Goodyear welt, you can go and get them resoled if you like. Get a pair here.
Timberland 6″ Premium Waterproof Boot
A classic in every sense, the classic Tims aren’t Goodyear welted nor do they have a shank nor is it made with full grain leather (that’s nubuck), but they are totally waterproof, totally insulated, they have great shock absorption, and they cost just $170-ish. And of course, the street cred is second to none. Get yours here.
Who says you can’t get a good pair of boots for under $200? Not everything on this met that 5-point criteria of the first entry, but by now you know enough about boots to make the right decision for your wardrobe and your individual needs. Think I missed anything? Let me know in the comments below.
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