In an industry where a lot of companies are over a hundred years old, Grant Stone is quite a newcomer. It was co-founded in 2016 by Wyatt Gilmore, a guy whose family has a rich tradition in Goodyear welted shoes. His grandfather Floyd worked at Alden for sixty years but Wyatt spent over ten years racing motocross around the United States before enrolling at the very famous D. W. Frommer’s bootmaking school. He eventually went into business with his father Randy, another Alden veteran, and the two of them set up shop in… Xiamen, China.
Yup, this is a shoe brand that charges about as much for a pair of boots as Allen Edmonds or Wolverine but their leather is tanned in Italy, then made in sunny southern China before being shipped to Grant Stone’s warehouse in Michigan and then posted to your doorstep. (These boots have seen a lot of miles before they start walking.) That “made in China” rankles some of their potential consumer base, but if that’s because “Made in China” is synonymous with bad quality, well… is it?
I ordered a pair of their famous Diesel boots in castagno veg tan to see what the fuss is about.
Grant Stone Diesel Boot First Glance
- “Not flashy, but built for longevity”
- 360-degree Goodyear storm welt
- Leather lining
- Sturdy, but not clunky
The company says they call this boot the “Diesel” because “it reminds us of something which may not be flashy but is built for strength and longevity.” I’d agree with that; the first thing I thought when I took these out of their box was man, these boots are tanks. They’re very solid boots and while they’re not as Hulk-like as a pair of Vibergs, they’re still substantial shoes: a heavy sole, a 360-degree Goodyear welt, and durable leather.
Indeed, the leather is thick and slightly waxy and certainly not as pretty as Chromexcel®. I’ve gotten used to Chromexcel being used on just about every American boot on the market and I was excited to have something to break up that routine, but it’s true the Diesel doesn’t quite have the color depth of its Horween competitors.
Otherwise, it’s pretty much an all rounder. It has a basic Service boot look to it, it’s sturdy but not clunky, it has a basic plain toe boot pattern, there’s leather lining on the inside, and there’s that Goodyear welt. The biggest complaint I hear from people with regard to the style is the split reverse welt and the pretty chunky speed hooks, but they’re not hard to replace and they’re pretty necessary if you want to use the thick laces that come with it.
In summary, from across a room they look a little dressy, especially if you use thin laces, but when you look closer it’s clear they’re pretty hard wearing.
Grant Stone Diesel Boot Leather
- Not all that pretty, but quite durable and scratch resistant
- Waxy, but not too rigid
- Vegetable tanned in Italy
- Wrinkles pretty quickly
Grant Stone used to sell this shoe in a few Chromexcels and aniline, but those have been discontinued, or at least they have been for now (they could always make a comeback).
I picked up what they call Castagno Veg Tan, a sort of waxy but not too rigid leather that comes from cows in Wisconsin, but the vegetable tanning actually takes place at Badalassi tannery, a boutique tannery located between Pisa and Florence in Italy.
Vegetable tanning is pretty much the original way to tan leather, with evidence suggesting it was used as far back as 6,000 BC. This particular leather is tanned in a kind of barrel called a bottali for 30 to 35 days using tannic acids found in various plant species, and while vegetable tanning comes more time and money than something like chrome tanning, many believe it makes better looking boots and it inarguably makes for more environmentally friendly boots. (Chrome tanning has really messed up a lot of India and Bangladesh.)
I should also mention it’s full grain leather, which full grain comes from the top layer of the hide of the steer. Broadly speaking everyone loves it, at least for durable boots. It ages well, is pretty resistant to the elements, and it happily moulds to the shape of your foot.
With that said, this full grain leather isn’t the dressiest I’ve seen. It’s tough (which is great) but it looks tough and wrinkles very quickly. The very first day I wore these around New York City, I was sitting on the subway and an old man pointed at my boots and said,
Those are really nice boots! And they look like they’ve been through a lot.
They hadn’t. I’d been wearing them for about two hours. But he was right, they looked like they’d been through adventures and for a lot of guys that’s a look they can’t wait for their boots to attain.I’m just saying if you’re looking for boots that will retain softness and prettiness and dressiness for as long as possible, you might not love the way these shoes age.
Grant Stone Diesel Boot Leather Care
- Use Venetian Leather Balm
- Condition every few months
- Nothing officially recommended for waterproofing
Grant Stone themselves actually recommend Venetian Imperial Leather Balm, as opposed to Venetian Shoe Cream, and the makers of the popular shoe care product are kind of secretive as to what the difference is as far as the ingredients go. But one the differences is that you have the option of buying the leather balm in brown, black, burgundy, or a couple of other colors, so it might be better for maintaining the dark brown color while keeping the upper hydrated and polished. While I tend to err on the side of whatever the company tells me to do, I don’t think it would be an issue to just use Venetian Shoe Cream if that’s what you’ve got lying around.
Condition these every few months. Now despite the fact that the leather looks a little too hardy, the upside is that it is, well, hardy. It won’t scratch or stain easily — certainly not as easily as Chromexcel — and since the balm has some water repelling qualities and the boot has a Goodyear welt, you probably don’t need to worry about waterproofing.
[See my review of Venetian Shoe Cream here!]
Grant Stone Diesel Boot Sole
- Rubber sole, leather midsole, cork midsole, steel shank, leather insole
- Not light, but not too heavy
- Storm welt offers extra water resistance
Grant Stone started out with a lot of leather soles on their shoes but when I spoke with them, they said they’re trying to transition to more rubber soles, which is what they’ve put on the Diesel boot. They call it a micro stud rubber sole which “can handle all seasons,” it’s medium density and it’s a good combination of traction, flexibility, and give. I spent many afternoons trudging around Brooklyn in these and I can confidently say the grip is solid.
So you’ve got the rubber outsole, there’s also a leather midsole and a layer of cork in there too, plus a steel shank for stability and arch support, and everything is topped off with a vegetable tanned leather insole.
It’s unusual to see so many layers in a boot’s sole and it does have a good amount of heft. Again, I wouldn’t call these shoes heavy but if you’re comparing this shoe with the Higgins Mill (which a lot of people do) a big difference is the weight. The Diesel is just a little more assertive when you walk; you can feel the weight, it’s not quite as sneaky or as quiet as the Higgins Mill.
[Check out my comparison of Allen Edmonds, Grant Stone, and Alden here!]
I want to make it clear that when you’re talking about boots, a lot of guys see that as a positive – many want boots to feel and sound confident and the Diesel boots do. If you’d rather something that doesn’t clomp around too much, you might be more interested in the Higgins Mill.
I also want to point out the Goodyear welt construction, this one is technically a split reverse welt. Wyatt Gilmore got in touch with me to explain the difference:
A split reverse welt is basically a flat welt, with a split half way through it. When attaching it to the shoe, the split is first spread apart then pushed against the side of the shoe. A storm and split reverse look similar because they both have a lip but the dead give away is the rounded top edge on the lip of the storm. The split reverse looks rougher. Mainly because the edge of the leather can be seen on this, unlike the storm.
He added that there isn’t a huge difference in function between the split reverse and storm welts, which are both relatively water resistant and offer some more protection from muck and dirt getting into the welt. (Few people realize that Goodyear welts do require regular cleaning.)
Aesthetically, some people aren’t fans of the split reverse welt but I think this one is pretty clean, it’s not chunky or ostentatious, it’s tucked in pretty tight to the body and like I said, it does make it a little more resistant to the elements.
As you can see below, there’s some flaky plastic protruding from the sole. At first I thought it was glue, but Grant Stone tells me this is actually the plastic bag that’s attached during manufacturing. It’s not hard to pull out, though I would have preferred a shoe without it.
Grant Stone Diesel Boot Fit & Sizing
- Sizes 6.5 to 13 available
- Only D width is available
- No blisters during break in
- Soft on the heel
At the moment, the boots run from sizes 6.5 to 13 and their website has a handy chat feature to determine what size works for you. After some consultation, I learned that they run a half size large so I ordered a size 11, which is pretty common. While I’m between 11.5 and 12 on a Brannock device, I’m a size 11 in Red Wing, Thursday, Wolverine, Chippewa, and many others. For some reason, boots like to run large.
The Diesel is in made on what’s called the Leo last and it’s only available in a D width. Once upon a time it was available in E but they’ve been discontinued, at least at the time of writing. The D fit me just fine, but many customers will be disappointed that they don’t have any options for widths.
Another surprise: for leather this thick, the break in period was fine. I didn’t experience any blisters, there’s no heel slip, the sole wasn’t too stiff, the upper softened relatively quickly. There’s also some soft leather at the heel and the shock absorption there is pretty great, but the sole is much harder along the rest of the insole — there’s more heel support than arch support. But overall I liked the way the shoe felt: the sole is heavy enough to feel like you’re wearing a boot, but nowhere near as heavy as some brands that go really overboard on the sole weight.
Grant Stone Diesel Boot Price
A pair of these cost $360. It’s the same price for the black version and ten dollars more expensive if you like the lighter, saddle tan version. Grant Stone is pretty hard to buy anywhere other than their own website.
This is where the China thing comes in. These boots are about as high quality as other boots in the three hundred and something price range, but they’re made in China and competing brands (like Wolverine and Allen Edmonds) are not. Personally, I try to just look at the quality of the boot and compare it to other boots at this price point. Yes, it’s made in China, but the leather is tanned in Italy and the heavier sole does make this feel more expensive than its similarly priced competitors.
Are Grant Stone Diesel Boots Worth It?
So what’s the verdict? Well, these boots were more comfortable than I’d expect for new shoes, particularly on the heel. They’re not the most comfy boots on Earth but for the price and the materials, I was pretty happy. The split reverse welt and the many-layered sole make for a very sturdy, durable boot that’s lighter than an Iron Ranger but more assertive than a Higgins Mill.
The downsides are that there’s just one width available, the eyelets are a little outdoorsy, some guys don’t like the look of the split reverse welt, and the hardy, easy-to-wrinkle leather makes this harder than you might think for these to fit into formal situations. I don’t think this is as versatile as the Higgins Mill but it is more ready to tackle an adventure.