Clarks is a monumentally successful shoe company founded in England in 1825. It slowly became one of the most influential brands in Britain and even many of its former colonies — I wore little leather Clarks shoes to school every day when I was growing up in Australia. So, I thought I’d write a Clarks’ Desert Boot review.
It’s hard to think about Clarks without thinking of their uber-popular chukka, the Desert Boot.
It’s definitely the most popular chukka boot on Earth and quite possibly one of the most iconic boots of all time. Nathan Clark, the great-grandson of the founder of Clark’s, developed the shoe when he was stationed in Burma during World War 2 and noticed that many soldiers there wore crepe-soled boots with suede uppers.
Clark loved the boots. But when he returned to England, he had trouble selling the idea because the Brits associated crepe soles and suede uppers with the lower class. But they were a hit when he came to Chicago to sell them to Americans in the late 1940s.
- Very comfortable, lightweight, and flexible.
- Excellent casual boot, great for wearing with jeans.
- Not very durable. The suede scuffs and soles wear down fast
- Excellent price, and resolable if the leather uppers hold up
Let’s check Clark’s Desert boots out in more detail.
My Clarks Desert Boot Youtube Review:
My Expert Boot Review Process:
I wore these boots for at least three months and got as many miles as possible in various weather conditions and locations.
I’ve compared hundreds of boots on my YouTube channel (Sign up; people like it!) and boot review blog. When I need more information, I use my journalism background; I visit tanneries, interview expert boot makers, and call the company for more information.
My one goal is to help guys buy great boots that, over time, will look better.
Clarks Desert Boot First Glance
Clarks makes a few kinds of Desert Boots right now. There’s a Goodyear welted version called the Desert Welt. There are also leather, suede, and canvas Chukka boots. They all come in many colors, but when I went to their store on Madison Avenue, I got the most popular color: Oakwood suede.
Clarks make their boots in Vietnam.
They really define the words Chukka boot. There are barely any laces to speak of. The boot is about ankle height at 10.5 centimeters high — about as low as you can get while still calling it a boot.
They have an“open lacing” design, and my friends tell me I look like an archaeologist or a carpenter when I wear them. Still, again, Soldiers in Africa made these popular.
It’s a basic, unpretentious boot and super informal. You’d have to be crazy to try and wear these with slacks or even nice khakis.
That’s because not only are they super lightweight, but they also have thin leather.
A big part of what makes these so light is the sole: a type of latex called crepe. Crepe has many pros: it’s light, soft, and environmentally friendly, but brother, it does not look formal.
People who spend a lot more on their boots look at the Desert boot and point out that it’s shapeless, there are no curves, they’re not sexy, they don’t have much form, all of which is true.
But it is what it is. Clarks Desert Boots are inexpensive shoes. They are also pretty great in warm weather, and while I might make enemies saying this, I think you can wear them with shorts as long as you can’t see your socks.
Now, that’s a controversial statement, and many people will disagree with me on that. I’m just saying that if I wear shorts and a collar and want to look dressier than sneakers or flip-flops, I don’t have an issue with the Desert boot.
[Related: Chukkas or Chelseas, which is right for you?]
[Related: My List of The Best Leather Briefcases for Men]
- Oakwood suede is the most popular material
- Made in Vietnam
- Not waterproof
- Good for warm weather
The Oakwood is a waxy, sand-colored suede.
A quick refresher on suede: when tanneries get their hides, they keep the top grain and split it off from the rest of the skin. Suede is the rest of the skin. Clarks finishes the suede with a small amount of wax to enhance its character and durability.
After a few phone calls with Clark, I discovered they make the boot in Vietnam and suede in Vietnam.
Some sources claim it comes from the prestigious C.F. Stead, the same place that provided the fantastic suede for Taft’s Dragon Boot, but Clark’s is a cheaper material.
It’s not the best-looking or strongest-wearing suede I’ve ever seen. It’s not waterproof, it’s pretty thin, and, as I mentioned above, it doesn’t have much structure at all. But it’s soft enough, and it breathes well in warm weather, plus — and I feel a need to say this alongside every criticism I have of the boot — it is darn cheap.
- Clean with a suede brush
- Remove stains with a suede eraser or an unused pencil easer
- No need to add waxes
- Avoid water
This is an uncomplicated suede.
Clarks recommends lightly brushing it with a suede brush to get rid of most dust and dirt, and since this kind of suede will probably stain easily, you might also want to pick up a suede eraser. (You can also get a regular pencil eraser, which Clarks said would be fine.)
That should pretty much do it. People don’t typically condition suede with oils because that can wreck the nappy finish. Some like to apply wax suede, like Otter Wax, but you’re unlikely to need it.
Want to waterproof these? I can see why the Desert Boot is pretty useless in wet weather. You can try something like Kiwi’s suede protector, which should help the upper, but remember that the sole isn’t great in wet weather so that it may be a wash. So to speak.
[Related: My list of The Best Boots for Men]
- Crepe sole
- Very soft and comfy
- Sensitive to temperature and the elements
- Rapid stitched and cemented to upper
They have a crepe sole called plantation rubber, a crude, cheap form of natural rubber.
Some people claim that latex is relatively environmentally friendly. Producers tap rubber trees for rubber without killing them, so there’s less waste (Of course, I can’t pretend to know exactly how sustainable the production of this inexpensive Vietnam-made boot really is.)
It’s very soft, very informal, and it’s cheap.
Traditionally, laborers wore crepe soles on work shoes and boots, which is super comfortable. It feels almost like a slipper. You can feel it when you step on small rocks and pavement cracks while out and about.
There are a few downsides: as you can see from the pictures, it gets very easily dirty. The big, nasty, foot-shaped smear you can see above happened within about two days of buying these shoes; crepe loves to suck up everything it touches, and you can also expect to find hair and small pebbles embedded in the sole after a long day.
The soles slip in wet conditions and absorb water. You will have wet feet if you wear them in the rain. Remember, they’re desert boots, not rain boots.
They’re sensitive to many stressors: solvents can cause it to crumble, cold can make it rigid, and even reports of crepe melting when left on brutally hot asphalt or a sunny car dashboard.
You’d think these would be hard to resole, but these are a combination a Balke rapid stitch and cemented sole. It’s pretty common for a cobbler to resole Desert boots. Resole.com does it, though; you must ensure that the upper leather will last long enough to be worth the cost.
Again, the sole is comfy and feels like you’re wearing nothing, but it’s unstable and doesn’t provide much support.
Clarks makes a more durable Goodyear welted version in England with a C.F. Stead suede called the Desert Welt.
Fit & Sizing
- Order a half size down from sneaker size
- Just one width available
- Suede stretches very quickly
I’m between an 11.5 and a 12 on a Brannock device, and on the Desert boot, I found I was an 11 medium for medium width, and in British sizes, I’m a 10G.
In America, it is a D width, but Clarks labels them as a medium width “M” or “G.”
In any case, it won’t be hard to find that width because this shoe is only available in one width, which will be a downer for people with wide or narrow feet.
I could have pretty easily gone with an 11.5 because I found the 11 a little narrow, and while I seldom suggest getting a boot that feels too snug, this suede stretches, and it stretches quickly.
Honestly, I felt it stretch as I walked around the store, so the 11D was fine with my foot, and I think an 11C would also be quite happy.
I know you can see my toes in some of these photos, but they feel great, and no one can see my toes if they don’t have their nose pressed to the pavement.
Width aside, these boots are super comfortable.
Like I said, the crepe sole is super soft, it has a very soft step, you even sink into it when you walk and feel the ground beneath you. You don’t feel very well protected from the outside, and as mentioned above, there’s little support or stability.
But if you sometimes wish he could go out in slippers, you’ll have found your boot.
In-store and on Clarks’ site, you’ll pay $130 for a pair of Oakwood suede, but they’re a little cheaper on Amazon, typically costing between $120 and $125.
The boot is available in other materials, which frequently fall to far cheaper prices — at the time of writing, the khaki leather is just $65. Amazon goes up and down a lot based on various factors, but it’s always the cheapest place to buy these shoes.
Just don’t hold your breath waiting for the Oakwood suede to fall in price: as the most popular color, it’s a rare event.
Is the Clarks Desert Boot Worth It?
I have many boots, and I’ve never had a pair that gets this many compliments.
Now, you may argue that’s because they’re pretty “basic,” so more people like them, which would be a fair point.
But despite the lightness and the fact that they almost feel like slippers, I feel confident wearing them. People just like them, even if they are shapeless and blobby.
Look, the sole has a million and one issues with durability and stability, but it’s comfortable.
The leather is thin, weak, and stains easily, but it’s comfortable.
You can’t wear them with anything formal, but they’re comfortable.
And while comfort doesn’t always trump durability, I would argue that when shoes are this cheap, “they’re comfy, and they spruce up a casual outfit” is enough to grab a pair.