Boot Myths: 15 Things I’ve Been Wrong About As a Boot Reviewer

Today, I’m dragging myself and my wrong opinions.

Because when I started this blog about boots and fashionproof clothing, I was an enthusiast. I wasn’t quite an expert. I researched a ton for my videos but I got a lot wrong and since then I’ve resoled boots, I’ve made a pair from scratch, Red Wing even named me one of their “trusted footwear experts.”

I don’t know if I’d call myself an expert, but I’ve learned a lot in the five years of publishing content about boots.

And I need to set the record straight on some mistakes.

1. Leather Soles Suck

I used to list leather soles in a review’s “cons” sections, but I actually did a whole video about this one recently with eight reasons I actually prefer leather soles these days.

In short: yes, they aren’t as durable as rubber soles and they’re not as grippy, especially when it’s raining.

But relative to hard rubber soles leather is softer, they don’t track mud and pebbles like lugs do, they breathe better, and they’re antimicrobial so they help with stink. Plus, they tend to be cheaper and they’re better for dancing in.

They get scratched up really quickly when you start wearing them, and while that makes them uglier, the scratches wind up offering grip that’s largely fine on city streets. Not in rain, sure, and they’re not perfect for icy winters or hiking.

But for casual city wear, I love leather soles.

Taft Jack boots 2
The Taft Jack boot has a Blake stitch, offering more flexibility than a Goodyear welt

2. Blake Stitches Are Hard to Get Resoled

Good boots are usually Goodyear welted. Because it’s very easy to resole them, that’s seen as the standard for boots you want to be able to last for years.

Goodyear welts have a strip of leather — usually it’s leather if you want the boot to last more than one resole — between the upper and the sole. The two aren’t attached to each other, they’re attached to the welt. With Blake stitches, however, the upper and insole are stitched directly to the sole with the single stitch method.

More common on dressier shoes than hardy boots, it is true that Blake stitches are a bit less water resistant. But as a simpler form of construction they are typically cheaper and much lighter and more flexible, which many would say means they are more comfortable.

And while it is a less simple procedure to resole a Blake stitch, it absolutely can be done by just about any cobbler with the machinery. That means just about any cobbler. I don’t have the numbers, but I think most guys with expensive leather footwear are wearing dressier leather shoes for office work or formal events — shoes that are Blake stitched — and they’d like to resole them when the time comes. While you need different equipment, I’ve never met a cobbler who would turn down all the Blake stitched office workers who need resoles.

The asterisk here is it might be a little pricier to resole a Blake stitch and you can’t get as many resoles as with a Goodyear welt. But it’s not as though many guys actually need more than a few resoles anyway.

You will not have to look far to find a cobbler who can handle your Blake stitch.

3. The Thursday Captain Has a Real Toe Cap

I think the most popular boot in New York is Thursday Boot Company’s Captain boot and I messed up when I said in my comparison of the Thursday Captain and President boots that the Captain has a real toe cap.

A true toe cap is another layer of leather over the toe, ostensibly to add protection. When a toecap is fake, it’s usually easy to spot because it’s just a line of stitching going through what’s obviously the same piece of leather. Fake toe caps don’t usually offer extra bulk. 

2 year thursday captain toe
The cap toe on the Captain.

The toecap on Thursday’s Captain is a separate piece of leather, and you can see here the it does come up onto the upper. And when I went to their factory, I had this exchange with their factory manager:

“So the cap toe is indeed another piece of leather over the boot, right?”
“That is correct.”

But while they are two pieces of leather stitched together, there aren’t two layers of leather over the toe.

This might seem nitpicky, but this boot is so popular I always get people yelling at me for calling it a true toecap.

4. Chrome Tanned Leather Is Always Bad

There are two main ways leather is tanned: vegetable tanned is the way we’ve done it for thousands of years, chrome tanned was invented in the 19th century. Chrome tanning is faster and cheaper, so there is a persistent position in the world of boot nerds that vegetable tanned leather is best, chrome tanned is bad.

This is not true.

Certainly, there’s a lot more bad chrome tanned leather than veg tan out there, given at least 95 percent of all leather on Earth is chrome tanned.

Chrome tanning is also associated with environmental pollution. In badly regulated chrome tanneries, the chemicals hazardous byproducts like chromium 6 can cause cancer and skin diseases and all sorts of problems to the tannery employees. It also gets into waterways and pollutes water supplies, kills fish, and more.

So I used to say that “chrome tanning is bad for the environment,” but that’s just when tanneries are badly run.

We’re able now to make chrome tanned leather that doesn’t pollute waterways or sicken workers and the waste is minimal and disposed of responsibly. I visited Lefarc in Mexico if you want to learn more, but if a tannery is reputable, you can be confident they don’t have the bad stuff with chrome.

If you’re unsure, look for any certification from the Leather Working Group, who audit tanneries for this stuff.

Wolverine Boots

5. The Wolverine 1000 Mile Doesn’t Have a Shank 

The Wolverine 1000 Mile is a very popular boot, and when I made my video on them, I called Wolverine to ask if they have a shank, and they said no. I said so. Turns out that was incorrect.

That’s not my fault, I asked the company themselves! But I didn’t cut the boot in half.

red wing iron ranger shank
A shank from a well worn Red Wing Iron Ranger boot.

6. Every Boot Needs a Shank

You might be wondering what a shank even is. It is a stiff piece of material, usually steel, that goes under the boot’s insole between the heel and forefoot.

There are a few reasons shanks are good. A big one is they they improve stability between the heel and the rest of the boot, helping to keep them from sliding ever so slightly independent of each other. That helps you keep your balance on uneven terrain and reduces little micro adjustments your muscles have to make on unstable boots that lead to pain in your arches and calves and knees. This is something that’s more meaningful as you get older and you notice that stuff more.

Shanks also help to keep the shape of the boot and stop the leather from sagging in the gap between the heel and forefoot.

You’ve heard me say heel a lot, so here’s where I correct myself: not every boot needs to have a shank. It’s generally agreed you don’t need one if there’s no heel, which is why on flat wedge soled boots like the industry defining Red Wing moc toe, you don’t have a shank.

I used to say that was a downside of that boot, and to be fair there are some guys who say they can tell if there’s no shank even in wedge soled boots, especially as the heel wears down. That’s why why some models, like Grant Stone’s brass boot, still have a shank.

But, the broadly accepted wisdom is you don’t need a shank if there’s no heel.

Also, when I visited Allen Edmonds recently, they said,

because we do a 360-degree welt we don’t use a shank in our shoes (…) you get that stability from running the welt all the way around versus terminating it at the heel stack.

So, maybe you don’t need a shank if you have a 360-degree Goodyear welt. Speaking of which…

red wing blacksmith goodyear welt
Note how the stitching in the front half of the boot disappears under the heel — that means it’s a 270-degree Goodyear welt.

7. 270-degree Goodyear Welts Are Less Water Resistant Than 360-degree Goodyear welts

A 360-degree Goodyear welt is when you see the stitching around the perimeter run all the way around the heel instead of going under the heel at the heel stack like you can see in the picture above. 

I don’t know, a lot of this stuff is still up for debate — I asked two cobblers their opinions on this and both had different answers — but I shouldn’t have been so normative when I said that 270-degree Goodyear welts are less water resistance.  Most shoemakers say there’s no real practical difference with water resistance, it’s really just an aesthetic thing: some guys prefer a less bulky heel and that’s all.

Both will get your feet wet if you’re standing in a pond, both will keep your feet dry if you’re walking in a storm.

8. Shanks Offer Arch Support

Also, on shanks, I’ve said shanks offer arch support: not really. They’re more about stability and durability.

red wing weekender chelsea stitchdown construction
The Red Wing Weekender has stitchdown construction; note the leather upper itself is flattened out and stitched onto the sole.

9. Stitchdown Construction Is Less Waterproof

I used to not be so crazy about stitchdown construction. It’s a way of making boots where the leather upper, instead of going toward the insole, gets flattened out and stitched onto the midsole. 

stitchdown construction
Stitchdown construction is shown on top and veldtschoen construction is shown below. Courtesy of Vietnam Raw Denim Facebook group

Stitchdown is harder to make, it’s done by hand, and that’s why it’s on more expensive boots like Viberg. Stitchdown tends to be valued more by real boot connoisseurs who appreciate boots that require more skill to make.

Back to my original point, stitchdown is considered more water resistant than a Goodyear welt, not less. It’s also considered more durable.

But it is less flexible than a Goodyear welt and folks usually say it’s a little harder to break in. It’s also harder to resole than a Goodyear welt because you’ve got to try to get the threads through the same holes on the leather upper.

But truthfully, we’re kind of splitting hairs here when we say one is more durable or harder to resole. Goodyear welts and stitchdown are both super durable and as far as resoling goes, you probably won’t get as many resoles from a stitchdown boot as you can with a Goodyear welted one.

But while that might technically be true, practically speaking, it’s not like you’re going to resole any pair of boots more than a few times anyway. And your stitchdown boot can handle several resoles: not none, and not just one.

It just might be harder to find a cobbler who’s happy to do the job.

old viberg service boot

10. Viberg’s 2030 Last Is Too Wide

While I’m on Viberg, I complained in my video that their review of them that their then most popular boot was too wide because it’s made on an E width not a D width.

The truth is I was meant to size down a whole size from my true size not a half size like usual. I’m 11 in Red Wing, I’m actually 10.5 in Vibergs. And since then, Viberg has released a bunch of other lasts to fit more feet anyway.

So I’m refilming that video.

11. I Left Wickett and Craig Out of the Best Tanneries Video

Pennsylvania’s Wickett and Craig are one of the few, if not the only tannery in America that just does vegetable tanning.

As such, you don’t see it a lot on boots because it’s expensive and because veg tan boots are harder to break in than chrome tanned boots.

I did a video on the best tanneries and I left Wickett and Craig out because I thought I had enough American tanneries and so few people use their leather for boots, and I wanted to make room for foreign tanneries like Italy’s Badalssi Carlo and Japan’s Shinki Hikaku.

But I was wrong to leave them off the list. Wickett and Craig deserve respect for being so focused on vegetable tanning and anyone who cares about veg tanning — which to be fair is a very small number of people — loves Wickett and Craig leather. Plus, you can sometimes see boots with it from companies like White’s and Nick’s.

Sorry, Wickett and Craig.

whites 350 cruiser boot chromexcel scratches
My White’s 350 Cruisers after a volcano walk.

12. Chromexcel Scratches Easily

Speaking of leather, Chromexcel is the most beloved boot leather on Earth. Everyone from Viberg to Thursday makes their most popular boots with it, and while I have scratched Chromexcel boots beyond repair — above are  my White’s i took up a volcano and it turns out volcanic rocks are extra sharp — generally, you can buff scratches out of Chromexcel pretty easily.

That’s because it’s a pull up leather, so it’s jam packed with oils and grease to give it some luster and durability. When there’s a scratch, you kind of just need to move the waxes and oils around. Phil at Ashland Leather says to just put a little bit of Venetian Shoe Cream into the scratched area and rub it repeatedly with your finger or a soft cloth or the back side of a spoon, and it’ll be fine.

If you’re worried about scratches you should just get roughout boots though, those things are tanks.

13. All of Red Wing’s Work Boots Are Made Overseas

Red Wing Heritage’s boots, the more fashion focused side of the brand, makes their boots in Minnesota. The majority of Red Wing’s work boots are made in Asia.

However ,some models that you can find by filtering the results on their site show several models that are made in the USA, and even more that are made in the USA or assembled in the USA with imported components. I said all of Red Wing’s work boots are made overseas in the video above; it’s actually just most of them.

Sorry, Red Wing.

14. It’s Not a Cork Midsole

You can pinpoint the exact moment I learned that I shouldn’t have been saying “cork midsole” all these years at 1:51 in this video where master cobblers Trenton and Heath resoled my most worn out boots with me.

The cork is gonna fill the cavity (…) but the midsole is strictly between the welt and the outsole. (The cork) is just a filler.

The midsole is strictly between your welt and your outsole. The cork is a filler that’s underneath the insole and helps with comfort and a bit of temperature regulation and shock absorption.

In my defense, Red Wing’s website still calls it a cork midsole, so I assumed Red Wing was using the right terminology. But no, the moc toes have a rubber midsole, the cork is filling. 

rancourt kudu suede
Hardy kudu suede on Rancourt boots.

15. Suede is delicate

Suede stains easily, but it’s not less durable than full grain leather in and of itself.

I just visited CF Stead in England, they’re the undisputed best suede tannery on Earth and I learned a ton about suede. (You probably didn’t know there are dozens of different suedes you can make, for example.)

Suede is usually split to expose these fleshy fibers, but that doesn’t always mean it’s thinner than regular leather. Regular leather is almost always shaved down to a degree as well, that’s why some boots have leather that’s 1 millimeter thick and some are 3 millimeters thick, even though both are called full grain.

Suede is a pain in the butt to keep clean, which is why I needed this video to show how to clean suede. It’s also why a ton of brands use waxed suede to make it more resistant to water and stains.

But while it’s annoying to clean, it’s not necessarily less durable. There are a lot of cool, old suede boots out there.

Wrapping Up

OK, that’s everything I have for now.

Also, every price i’ve ever said is wrong now, obviously. And a fair few of the sizes have changed as brands have updated their lasts, but that’s an article for another time.

This is the article for today! Thanks for reading this far. If there’s more I’ve screwed up over the years, let me know in the comments below.

Or just DM them to me, I’m not sure how much more I can publicly air my flaws, I need a little break. I’ll catch you n five more years where I’ll tell you all the things I was wrong about today!

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Nick English

By day: Manhattan-based journalist with reporting experience on four continents, published in Vice, Men's Health, Popular Science, and a bunch of other places.By night: ravenous consumer of anything and everything related to high end men's boots.Stridewise is where I nurture a maniacal obsession with footwear and share my findings. Say hey: [email protected].

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