Ready to step your boot game up?
Whenever veg tan boots get thrown into the mix, that often means a well-crafted pair with the perk of greater patina potential — like a blank canvas you can paint your own story on.
And among leather footwear enthusiasts, both the heritage boot guys as well as the classic menswear gents hold vegetable tanned (or “veg tan”) leather to a high regard because of its durability, traditional production methods, and unique character.
So for today, we’ll dive into our picks for the best vegetable tanned leather boots out there. We have some great value options, a couple from institutional Pacific Northwest brands to a wildcard veg tan leather boot some of you might not expect.
But before we get to that, we’ll also briefly touch on veg tanning versus chrome tanning as well as the pros and cons of vegetable tanned leather.
Vegetable Tanning vs Chrome Tanning
- Vegetable tanned leather is less harsh on the hide, may be more durable, and many believe it ages better
- It also requires more time, money, and skill to produce, and it’s harder to dye
It might be obvious already at this point, but the characteristics of vegetable tanned leather that we know and love primarily comes from the way it is tanned. Vegetable tanning uses organic matter from certain trees and shrubs to transform animal hides into leather, which can take between a month to almost a year depending on the recipe of the tannery.
Compare that with chrome tanning which uses chromium (III) salts to process the skin, reducing the process to just a day or two. That means its labor and production costs are far lower, which is why the majority of the leather in the world today is chrome tanned.
But fret not, because the Italians are keeping the veg tan tradition alive and well. As you may have noticed, vegetable tanned leathers from esteemed Italian tanneries like Badalassi and Maryam have been popular as of late, and these are facilities that exclusively focus on this old world method of tanning hides.
In fact, there is a coalition of leather tanneries in Tuscany called the Pelle Conciate Al Vegetale In Toscana (The Genuine Italian Vegetable Tanned Leather Consortium). It was founded in 1994 by a handful of Tuscan tanneries to preserve the longstanding traditions of vegetable tanning in the region. Now, they have 19 Tuscan tanneries as members of the organization. (A good example of their product is this postman bag from Satchel & Page.
And it’s not just in Italy where vegetable tanning is still being utilized. World class American tanneries like Horween and Wickett & Craig are still producing vegetable tanned leather today — you’ll find it on our list below.
Pros and Cons of Vegetable Tanned Leather
Vegetable tanned leather has its own upsides and downsides as well. Some of you might be familiar with this already but let’s go through it quickly.
- Very durable
- Ages in a way many consider more aesthetically pleasing
- Creating it produces less pollution
- Stiffer and less comfortable out of the box
- Doesn’t hold dye as well as chrome tanned leather (and many bright colors, including white, are impossible to make)
The Best Vegetable Tanned Leather Boots
Without further ado, here’s our list of the best veg tan boots. The prices range from $190 to $730, so there’s definitely something for you here.
1. Thursday Boot Company’s Brandy Captain ($199)
Far and away the best value boot on this list, Thursday’s Captain deftly walks the line between ‘work boot’ and ‘dress boot,’ making for a wildly versatile 6-inch boot that can be worn with just about anything . The Captain is the flagship product from Thursday Boot Company and emblematic of their approach to affordable, stylish footwear — even the Mexican brand on this list doesn’t come in at such a reasonable price.
In addition to the versatile last and low price, Thursday stands out in this old fashioned industry for using novel materials, like layers of EVA foam and poron that allow for great shock absorption and almost sneaker-like comfort.
2. Parkhurst’s Allen Natural Dublin ($338)
The Parkhurst Allen may have crept past the $300 sweet spot since it first came out, but even this veg tan iteration at $338 still represents a great value for American made boots. (Plus, the code “STRIDE10” takes 10% off and brings it almost back to $300.) Since launching the boot in 2018, the Western New York-based company has improved the build quality by increasing the thickness of the leather upper, insole, and outsoles.
This particular Allen boot uses Natural Dublin leather from Horween Leather Company. The tannery utilizes the same tannage recipe they use for their shell cordovan to create the Dublin leather, a lighter-colored upper that will make the patina more evident as you wear it in.
So if an all-around veg tan leather boot is what you’re after, consider the Parkhurst Allen with the Natural Dublin leather upper. For a boot made in America, this is an astonishing price — the addition of vegetable tanned leather makes it even moreso.
3. Grant Stone Brass Boot Saddle Tan ($340)
This boot may be a newcomer to the moc toe boot scene, but its build quality is comparable to established brands like Red Wing and Thorogood. Looks may be a personal preference but you can also definitely say it draws inspiration from the Red Wing Classic Moc 875.
And although it’s slightly pricier than the ubiquitous Red Wing, it justifies that with a venerable vegetable tanned leather upper from Italy’s Badalassi tannery, while still remaining under $350.
To help keep the price that reasonable, Grant Stone uses their own wedge sole instead of the Vibram Christy sole found in many competing boots, but Grant Stone is famous for never skimping on materials, construction, or last design, and their Brass model is a good example of that. It’s roomier than the brands other offerings (which lean smart casual) but it’s slimmer than most moc toes, making for an unusually versatile entry in that category.
If you like this leather but want a slimmer service boot, check out Grant Stone’s Diesel boot. But if you’re looking for a sleek moc toe boot that will age better than any other, the Grant Stone Brass Boot in Saddle Tan is right up your alley.
4. Truman 79 Last Umber Cowhide ($460)
We like Truman Boots here at Stridewise because not only are they built well, they use perhaps the coolest array of leathers out of all American boot companies. An audacious statement, we know, but they’ve delivered everything from smoky off-white to eye popping black burgundy. (See our guide to their Rambler leather for more.)
This dusky-brown Umber Cowhide from Maryam does not disappoint. This darker shade of taupe hardly has a hint of that reddish orange undertone that’s often seen in brown boots, making for a refreshing take on a lighter brown that isn’t Natural Chromexcel.
This particular version also looks sleeker than Truman’s other boots because despite the Goodyear 270 degree storm welt, it features the lower profile Vibram 430 mini lug sole.
Truman, like Viberg, releases different colors and leathers each season and in the past, they’ve also used other veg tan leathers from Horween and Wickett & Craig. It’s just a matter of keeping your eyes peeled every time they update their collection. (If the boot’s sold out when you click the link below, just shop around their instock boots to find something cool.)
To sum it up: if you dig robust footwear, we would highly recommend them not just for tasteful veg tan leather boots, but for well-built boots in general.
5. Wickett & Craig X White’s Boots Custom MP Service Boot ($690)
White’s Boots may be most people’s introduction to Pacific Northwest makers and they have always been well-regarded for their fit, build quality, and reputable leather choices. (See our review of White’s service boot.)
But when you throw in a couple of veg tan leather upper options? Now, that takes things up a notch.
This BakerShoe.com exclusive offers you a veg tan leather upper from Pennsylvania’s beloved tannery Wickett & Craig, and in two colors: Latigo, which is a reddish brown shade that looks very similar to the color of Red Wing’s Briar Oil Slick leather, and Natural Veg Tan, which is actually the color of undyed leather. (We decided to include it on our list of the best white boots. Hey, it’s white enough.)
It’s also a very customizable boot. You can choose between two lasts, widths as narrow as B and wide as EE, you can add a cap toe, choose the color of the eyelets and hooks, you can even have a logo embossed on it.
With all that customization options, Baker’s will quote you a build time of 12 – 14 weeks.
And sure, $689.95 is a lot of dough, but I’d go out on a limb and say that that’s great bang-for-buck when it comes to North American made-to-order boots. They’re customizable, made in America, and made with some of the toughest US leather you can find.
6. Nick’s X Wickett & Craig Falcon Boot ($649)
Of course, if White’s is doing something interesting you can be sure Nick’s Boots won’t be far behind. (And vice versa — they’re the best known frenemies in bootdom.) The recent collaboration between the Pacific Northwest mainstay Nick’s and Wickett & Craig features several of Nick’s casual/light work models, but they are built with the same construction methods and attention to detail as their dedicated work boots. (Nick’s makes them for everyone from linemen to firefighters.)
The most versatile from that line would probably be the Falcon boot, which is the most city-friendly option with its low profile Vibram V-Bar sole and lower heel height. Like the rest of the range, it features five multiple vegetable tanned leathers from Wickett & Craig: the golden Milled Russet (above), Medium Brown, Burgundy, Black, and a light “Buck Brown.” These leathers are actually built for horse riding gear like bridles and harnesses, so their toughness is unquestionable.
A made-to-order boot, Nick’s has a huge variety of sizes, from AA to FFFF. (For context, most companies just offer D and E.) If you can’t decide, they can even send you a fit kit with a try-on pair for a small charge.
So with that, plus the time it takes to build the boots, Nick’s says you can expect 16 to 20 weeks of wait time until your pair arrives.
Frustrating, sure, but it really goes to show that they truly care about their customer’s satisfaction because at the end of the day, a veg tan upper wouldn’t be as comfortable if the boot doesn’t properly fit your foot.
Now, it’s up to you if you’re willing to spend more than $609 just to get THE right fit, but so far, most owners have little to no complaint with their Nick’s boots.
7. Viberg Service Boot ($730)
The Viberg Service Boot has gotta be the Rolex Submariner of the boot world: super popular, super expensive (at least for most people), yet super versatile. It’s a handsome but tough piece that pairs well with a lot of outfits and is sort of a grail boot for the average person.
Thankfully, Viberg regularly makes the Service Boot in Horween’s veg tan offerings, namely the Essex and Dublin leathers. As a work boot brand that leans a little more in the direction of fashion than function (not entirely unlike Truman), many of Viberg’s offerings are seasonal. Currently, there’s just one boot that’s vegetable tanned: the English Tan Dublin with a brogue toe cap.
It’s a great leather on a great boot and definitely worth checking out, but with some Googling you might be able to find other retailers with stock of other Dublin and Essex colors of the past season. Here are a few we found:
- Dark Rubber Essex – East West Apparel
- Essex Chestnut — Brooklyn Clothing
- Natural Dublin – Division Road, Inc.
Many have tried to replicate the Viberg Service Boot, but none have truly duplicated them. If you can’t understand why a boot would cost $700, though, this article is for you.
8. John Doe 420 Boot ($210)
We’ve already reviewed this boot previously and we liked it because it’s a made-to-order pair that’s packed with a lot of value. You could call this one a palate cleanser after reading all the high prices of White’s, Nick’s, and Viberg: John Doe keeps their boots to around $200 to $250.
The pair that we reviewed was a pure chrome tanned leather from Horween called Chromepak, but, they also have veg tan versions starting at $225! The uppers they use with are the Black and Natural Essex leather from Horween. Fascinatingly enough, tans it with their time-tested shell cordovan veg tan liquors.
There is an upcharge for non-leather and name-brand soles (maximum $40) and if you want a sturdier, more water resistant storm welt construction, but even with those upgrades it still ends up under $300.
If you can handle the three to four week wait time, John Doe is quite hard to beat.
Shell Cordovan Boots
Did you know that shell cordovan is vegetable tanned?
If you’ve picked up on the clues at the different sections of this article, shell cordovan is (and only will be) vegetable tanned.
I know some people won’t even consider shell cordovan, which is made from a membrane by a horse’s rump to be leather. But wherever you fall on the surprisingly contentious debate, know that this extraordinarily hardy and vibrant material is vegetable tanned. On a side note, Horween actually came up with the Essex and Dublin leathers when they experimented with tanning bovine hides in shell cordovan vegetable liquors. The differences lie in the finishing oils and waxes.
Cordovan doesn’t just come from Horween, of course. Shinki Hikaku in Japan and many Tuscan tanneries are also producing shell cordovan. Shinki Hikaku is generally considered the world’s best — some of their cordovan is tanned for over a year.
That’s because if shell cordovan is tanned too strong too fast, it can crack even before its finished. That’s not worth doing because of how limited the supply of shell already is in a horse.
Now, this article would be too long if we added everybody making cordovan boots, but thankfully we also have an article for the best shell cordovan boots you can read for more info!
Are Veg Tan Boots Your Next Pair of Boots?
To sum it all up, the best vegetable tanned leather boots showcase the beautiful leathers from well-known vegetable tanneries and they cover the whole range of the dressy/casual spectrum.
They are also available at a wide range of price points, so you can definitely enjoy veg tan leather at just about any budget.
Latest posts by Eugenio Salonga (see all)
- The 8 Best Vegetable Tanned Leather Boots You Can Buy - May 17, 2021
- The 9 Best Leathers for Boots - January 24, 2021
- The 8 Best Indonesian Boot Brands You Should Know About - December 25, 2020