A kiltie is a false tongue that protects the softest part of your boot, improves fit for certain feet (and certain boots), and helps to add a pop of style to your footwear.
Boots can be customized in various ways to enhance their durability and style, and one notable option is the kiltie. While commonly associated with work boots, particularly logging footwear, kilties have their origins in golfing: early golfers would attach a strip of leather over the tongue of their shoes to keep debris and dirt from invading their footwear.
Over time, this practical addition gained popularity among outdoorsmen and eventually found its place among enthusiasts of casual boots. Kilties are now often used to personalize footwear and prolong the life of boots subjected to rigorous use.
To help you decide whether to add a kiltie to your boots, let’s explore their advantages and disadvantages, show you how to use them, and point out our favorite brands.
What Is A Kiltie?
“A kiltie is a false tongue,” says Dale Basista, a boot YouTuber and leatherworker who creates and sells kilties at Dale’s Leatherworks. (We’ve visited him before to explore his 75 pair-strong boot collection.) “It is a tongue that overlays the tongue of your boot that you insert the laces through at the base. It adds cushioning to the instep area — and it looks cool.”
A kiltie is a piece of leather, often designed with (purely aesthetic) jagged edges, that is secured to a boot’s tongue with shoelaces. Its primary purpose is to protect the delicate leather on the boot’s tongue, shielding it from punctures and scuffs while helping keep debris out of the boot’s interior. It also keeps the thinner tongue leather from fraying or developing creases from lacing over time.
“It can protect the tongue from the wear and tear of your laces because they tend to warp the original tongue,” Dale explains.
But there are a few more benefits we’ll get into in the “pros” section below.
Types Of Kilties
There are three main types of kilties, and the differences are purely aesthetic. All of these will serve boots in the same way, the right kiltie for your boots depends on which one you find more stylish.
“There’s no wrong way to do it, but they’re typically very simple patterns because this isn’t a functional part of the boot. It’s basically just an insert,” says Dale. “You can have smooth, you can have jagged, there’s no real limit on custom things you can do to make them outrageous looking.”
- Logger: The Logger design is as old as the kiltie itself and can be found on both golfing shoes and work boots alike. It’s easily recognizable by its jagged edge, and anyone can a plain kiltie into a logger with a sharp knife. Just note that the zigzag pattern can get frayed over time — something you can fix with another scissor session.
- Packer: The Packer is similar to the Logger in that it has a zig-zag pattern running through the edge. There are different definitions of it out there: some say packer kilties have slits running throughout the leather to make it more flexible and breathable, others (like Nicks Handmade Boots) sell “Packer Kilties” that are similar to tassle kilties we discuss below, with a short fringe of blunt strips instead of harder zigzags.
- Classic/Heritage/Casual: The simplest style, with no eye-catching perforations, frills, or tassels that take the attention away from the boots itself. It is simply a piece of leather with a rounded edge.
- Lightbulb kilties: Dale’s favorite kind flares as it approaches the mouth of the boot, offering some extra coverage under the eyelet panel.
- Blind kilties: “Which do not extend beyond the eyelet facings. Mine just cover the tongue and they’re not visible on the vamp at all,” says Dale. “I can cut them in a certain way that removes the protrusion so it’s only covering the tongue, so it’s very discrete. It’s for guys that don’t want a flashy look but want the benefit of the cushioning on their instep.”
- Brogue kilties: Designed to dress up a pair of boots. It has decorative perforations on the leather that ostensibly add a touch of sophistication and ventilation if you’re looking for a more English country boot look… even though you can’t really see the broguing under the laces.
- Tassel kilties: The tassel is designed with straight cuts at the end of the leather to give it a fringe-like appearance. Typically reserved for more dressy footwear, this kiltie will come with dangly tassels that sway back and forth with your every step. You’ll almost certainly only find these on loafers, which don’t even have laces. They’re purely decoration, and probably shouldn’t be called “kilties” to begin with, but they get called tassel kilties.
Pros Of Using A Kiltie
There are numerous reasons why guys add kilties to their boots. Below are some of the most important ones that you should know about.
1. Kilties protect the tongue
Now, we should be clear: most guys don’t use kilties and their tongue doesn’t fall apart.
“Brands typically use a pretty low ounce leather for the tongue, like two ounces, or under one millimeter thick. It’s extra soft, thin, and flexible because the tongue is so close to the foot and it’s an area that flexes a lot,” says Dale. “So when you throw on a kiltie over the top, which is typically five ounces, and it really helps keep the tongue from fraying, drying out, and developing grooves from the laces.”
As thinner leather that’s also under a lot of pressure and chafing from laces, tongues are technically more prone to sharp edges and developing holes from debris, which might be a concern if you’re working in your boots. Loggers working in dense forests often encounter hazards such as broken branches and rocks that could potentially penetrate the tongue. This is why kilties are probably best known for being used by loggers.