Goodyear welt and stitchdown construction are probably the two most commonly utilized methods of high end shoe and boot construction. They’re certainly the two that are the most prominent in the heritage clothing hobby, and they’re terms that are thrown around by boot enthusiasts constantly.
But a lot of people are unsure exactly what these two terms mean, even those who know the general differences between the construction methods. In this article, I will compare and contrast the two construction methods so you can be better informed and help you decide which construction method you may prefer.
What Is a Goodyear Welt?
- A Goodyear welt is the actual welt or piece of leather that connects the insole to the outsole
- This allows the boot to be secured and resoled throughout its life
- It has a good balance between durability and flexibility
We’ll start with the Goodyear welt, as that’s likely the most common form of boot construction. Here’s a basic step-by-step of making one:
- First, attach a canvas rib to the insole of a pair of boots or shoes with glue,
- Sew that to a piece of leather, which is the actual welt.
- That welt is then sewn to the midsole and outsole of the boot/shoe.
Much of this is done with machinery, especially the stitching throughout.
Different Kinds of Goodyear Welts
Unsurprisingly, there are elaborations on this method that should be mentioned as well.
Firstly, some manufacturers of Goodyear welted footwear use an actual channel instead of a canvas rib to attach the welt to the insole, meaning a machine carves a channel into the insole and then stitches the welt to the flap of leather that is still attached to the insole. Makers who do this claim it is a more durable construction method than using the canvas rib — that’s known as gemming.
[Related: See an example of a channeled sole in the Carmina Chelsea boot review]
The other main modification of the Goodyear welt that will be discussed here is the storm welt. The only difference between this and a normal Goodyear welted boot is that extra leather sticks up above the welt and sits next to the upper of the boot.
The construction method is otherwise the same as Goodyear welt, but that “lip” on the storm welt helps keep rain from getting into the boot.
As stated before, Goodyear welted shoes and boots are pretty much the standard of good quality, resoleable boots and shoes. It is basically a more mechanized, streamlined, and cheaper way to make hand welted footwear, but it does provide boots that can last someone their entire lifetime if the materials are of high quality, the construction is well executed, and the boots are properly cared for by the owner.
What Is Stitchdown Construction?
- The upper is stitched to the midsole/outsole without a welt
- The upper leather is attached to the midsole
- It is often used for more serious work boots such as those used by wildfire fighters
Stitchdown construction is simpler to understand. To make this type of boot, the upper’s leather is pulled out over the midsole and then attached to the midsole and outsole with what’s called a rapid stitch.
With stitchdown, it’s almost as though the upper takes the place of the welt itself. The upper is attached to the midsole and outsole in one of two ways:
- It can be attached with one single stitch that goes through the midsole and outsole, as is the cast with Goodyear welts.
- More commonly, however, the upper is attached to the midsole and outsole with two stitches, called “rapid stitches” in either mode of construction. The first rapid stitch on the inside attaches the upper to the midsole. then the second stitch goes through the upper, midsole, and outsole. (Glue is also generally involved to help attach the upper to the midsole.)
Stitchdown construction is usually recognized by this double stitching, but some only use one row of rapid stitching. Also, there are other construction methods that use two rows of stitching that aren’t stitchdown. That said, more often than not, two rows of thick white stitches indicate a pair of stitchdown boots.
Stitchdown construction is generally used for serious work boots, which is why it is so commonly seen from bootmakers that reside in the Pacific Northwest of North America where boots are made for heavy duty jobs such as logging and fighting wildfires. It is also fairly water resistant. Why exactly stitchdown is more commonly used for these types of workboots is not exactly clear, but the boot makers claim is that stitchdown makes for a more durable boot.
Now let’s compare how stitchdown and Goodyear welt compare against one another in different ways.
Stitchdown vs Goodyear Welt: Durability
- Durability depends more on more factors than simply stitchdown vs. Goodyear Welt
- If you do not need serious work boots for your job, either should effectively be as durable for you
- The most durable work boots are made with stitchdown or hand welted construction (like White’s) so if you need ultimate durability, go that route
Companies often like to say that stitchdown construction makes for more durable boots, but this is not always the case. Stitchdown construction is used on desert boots, like the famous Clark’s desert boot, but these boots and their crepe rubber soles are far from the most durable boots ever created.
[Learn More: Pros and Cons of crepe soles?]
As with the two rows of stitching, the “extra durability” is not a universal truth with stitchdown boots — but stitchdown can be used to make seriously durable work boots.
In most cases, the owner will hardly notice the difference between two pairs of nearly identical boots that use these two different construction methods. I myself have owned two pairs of Viberg boots. The first pair had their famous double row stitchdown construction and my second pair was made with a 360 degree Goodyear storm welt. Both boots were made of horsehide (albeit from different tanneries) and both were made on the 2030 last. I noticed far more of a difference in terms of feel and comfort based on the upper leather and the soles than the construction.
This is not to say that there are no comfort differences at all between the construction methods, rather that for a lot of guys they simply make for an aesthetic difference than anything else.
When it comes to actual work boots, it’s true that they tend to be made with stitchdown construction or hand welted construction, but the construction method is only part of the durability factor. Wesco’s Highliner are made for people who climb poles and/or trees for their job, their Firestormer and Nick’s Hot Shot which are made for fighting wildfires, Nick’s even has a boot specifically made for asphalt workers. These boots have to stand up to more punishment than most footwear does, and they’re all made with stitchdown or hand welted construction.
Does the stitchdown method make a boot more “heavy duty” than a Goodyear welt? That is hard to say. Nick’s basically says as much on their website, but I take anything a brand tells me with a grain of salt.
A good counterpoint is White’s. They actually make their most hardcore boots not with stitchdown but with handwelted construction — a more labor-intensive form of Goodyear welts. That would help prove that stitchdown is not inherently “best” for work boots.
Plus, as I mentioned before, there are makers that use channelled leather insoles to attach their welts rather than using canvas to attach the welt, which might make a Goodyear welt more “durable” than stitchdown. That’s just one example of the range of factors that would have to be taken into consideration to answer the question of durability. Others include the upper leathers, the insole leather, the midsole leather, the outsole material, the shanks being used, the heel counters, the stitch material, how soundly the boots are put together, etc.
This is just a long way of me saying that you should not buy a pair of stitchdown boots because you are worried that Goodyear welted boots are not durable enough for you.
This is just a long way of me saying that you should not buy a pair of stitchdown boots because you are worried that Goodyear welted boots are not durable enough for you. If you are reading this because you are interested in boots as a hobby, then your Goodyear welted boots are more than tough enough for you.
[Related: My list of The Best Boots]
Goodyear Welt vs Stitchdown: Resole-ability
- Goodyear welted boots and shoes are quite simple to resole for most cobblers and shoe repair shops.
- Stitchdown construction is much more difficult to resole
One of the first things that comes to mind when comparing the two is can it be resoled?
Most people who own stitchdown boots simply have them resoled by the same company that made them in the first place.
This gives fewer options for owners of the boots, but if you don’t mind sending your Wescos back to Wesco for example, then this probably is not a deciding factor for you. Even among cobblers themselves, you’ll get a lot of conflicting answers about resoling stitchdown boots. The long and short of it is that some will do it and some won’t. Call your cobbler in advance.
Stitchdown boots can also be converted to Goodyear welt if desired. Role Club have done this in many cases, and some other shops may offer this as well. If you are interested in this, however, make sure you contact the repair shop beforehand to make sure.
Overall, Goodyear welted boots are easier to have resoled.
Goodyear Welt vs Stitchdown: Comfort
- Goodyear welt boots will generally be more comfortable out of the box
- Stitchdown boots will often offer greater support for your feet over long periods of time
As with the durability, comfort has a lot more to do with the other factors of the boots beyond the construction method. Comfort is extremely subjective and you may generally find one type of construction to work better for you than the other, but this is largely independent of the construction method itself.
For example, my softest, most flexible, and most sneaker-like boots are my Clark’s desert boots and they are made with stitchdown construction. At the same time, my most rigid and heavy boots that give the most support and have the least sneaker-like feel are my Wesco and Nicks boots — also made with stitchdown construction.
I have had two pairs of Vibergs with one being double row stitchdown and the other being Goodyear welted. They both feel quite similar overall. The Goodyear welt pair does feel more flexible, but that is at least partly due to the fact that this pair has a full leather sole instead of a Dainite rubber outsole. My boots with the most arch support are my Nicks Robert boots, but again this is because of how Nicks build their boots and not a direct result of stitchdown construction.
In general, Goodyear welt boots will be lighter and more flexible. If this is what you prefer, start with that. If you want to try something with more leather supporting your feet, more arch support, but more weight, then a lot of stitchdown boots, especially those from the Pacific Northwest will be good options.
But again, there are lightweight and flexible boots that are made with stitchdown. In other words: you need to ask more questions than ‘how is the upper attached.’
Goodyear Welt vs Stitchdown: Pricing
- Stitchdown construction tends to be the pricier of the two
Goodyear welt, while more complex to explain, seems to be easier to make and the less expensive option of the two. Truman Boot Co. even say on their website that this allows their Goodyear welt boots to be less expensive than their stitchdown boots.
In fact, aside from desert boots, it is rare to find any boots made with stitchdown for under $400 and most of them are in the $500 to $800 range. Again, there are other factors that go into a boot’s price, but aside from Blake stitched boots and shoes, Goodyear welted footwear is easier to find for a lower price.
Goodyear Welt vs Stitchdown: Water Resistance
- Stitchdown construction is more water resistant than Goodyear welts
Some consumers are surprised to find that stitchdown construction is more waterproof than normal Goodyear welt construction, as the actual upper is sewn and glued to the midsole, preventing water from entering if constructed properly. This means that with all else equal, a Stitchdown boot is more water resistant.
Unsurprisingly, there are some exceptions to this. Stitchdown boots are often only stitched 270 degrees around the boot rather than all 360 degrees, meaning water could get in through the heel area.
Then again, Goodyear welted boots can also use storm welts which help even further. Is a 360 degree storm welt boot more waterproof than a 270 degree stitchdown boot? I honestly do not know. What I am fairly certain of is that a 270 degree stitchdown boot will likely be more waterproof than a 270 degree Goodyear welt boot.
In practical terms for people who are wearing boots casually, and maybe for a bit of hiking and manual labor here and there, the main difference is in the company selling the boot, rather than the construction method itself.
for people who are wearing boots casually, and maybe for a bit of hiking and manual labor here and there, the main difference is in the company selling the boot, rather than the construction method itself.
On average, boots made with stitchdown construction will be chunkier/larger and have thicker midsoles. This is because the companies that use this construction method make that type of boot more often in general.
For most of us, it doesn’t make too much of a difference. Some people will swear allegiance to one or the other, but I have boots made with all types of construction methods and enjoy all of them for what they are. Sometimes I like the wider midsole and double row stitchdown look from a pair of stitchdown boots, but sometimes I think a Goodyear welt looks better. Personally, I would suggest that you try at least one pair of each construction method.