Review: Sutro’s Alder Is the Impatient Man’s Boot

Sutro is a San Francisco based footwear company, and the city is very much in Sutro’s DNA. The boots are all named after places in the city and even the company itself is named after Adolph Sutro, the 24th mayor of San Francisco.

They’re pretty well known for their low prices, Italian lasts, and the unusual tanning methods they use for a lot of their leathers. That includes their beloved, 1.6-millimeter thick Honey leather that they used on the Alder boot I’m reviewing today: organically developed, infused with beeswax, vegetable tanned, and ideal for the impatient man who doesn’t want to wait for his leather to get comfy and worn in — it looks pretty worn when it’s fresh out of the box.

But it’s  a look that a lot of people covet and it’s hard to deny the boot’s popularity. Let’s take a closer look at the aesthetics.

[GET A $25 DISCOUNT ON ANY SUTRO BOOTS WITH THE CODE “STRIDEWISE25” AT CHECKOUT!]

Sutro Alder Boot First Glance

  • Ankle boot; a little under 5.5 inches tall
  • Hand stitched
  • Opening at heel allows good ankle flexibility
  • Combination leather and rubber out sole

The Honey boot is so named because the leather is developed with beeswax, which isn’t especially uncommon for leather, and when I first saw the boot I thought of the words “quasi chukka.” It’s not quite a chukka, which typically have three pairs of eyelets instead of four, but it’s quite close. Technically, this is an ankle high boot: it’s less than 5.5 inches tall, so it’s shorter than your standard Heritage boots which are usually 6 inches high. At an inch high the heel is also quite low, so it has a pretty low profile overall.

Besides the unusual height and the fact that it’s hand stitched and fully lined with calf leather, the most unusual thing about this boot is the opening in the back of the ankle, which they say is to provide a more comfortable fit around the ankle. I’d say they succeeded: it is less restrictive and provides a lot of ankle flexibility so you can squat with ease.

A potential downside of the flappy ankle is that a lot of people have told me they look like something Peter Pan would wear.

sutro alder boot ankle opening

Sutro Alder Boot Leather

  • Developed with beeswax and hand burnished
  • From Mexico’s Le Farc tannery
  • Mostly vegetable tanned
  • Not very water resistant
  • 1,6 millimeters thick
  • Looks old when you get it 

This leather is 1.6 millimeter-thick, full grain leather from Mexico’s Le Farc tannery , a really high quality tannery that produce a lot of leathers for big name brands, and they included a personalized note to tell me that it was developed “organically/naturally.” Their site says that it’s vegetable tanned, but they told me it’s more like it’s almost all vegetable with a little chrome used to make the leather softer. They also  give tone and color to the leather with vegetal creams, which refers to creams that get their color from natural sources like tree bark, pomegranate, stuff like that.

Now, when I took the outdoor photos in this article I’d been wearing the Alders for a few weeks, but to be honest this leather looked kind of old when I first got it. Here’s what they looked like fresh out of the box:

sutro boots new

Sutro says that they “strive for the rugged, vintage look,” which is fine if that’s what you’re after. But Sutro does get quite a bit of criticism for the leather looking kind of worn and spotty. The boot came with these wrinkles; I really haven’t seen anything like this. I think the leather is OK for the price, but it’s not really anything to write home about.

Also, the fact that this leather is not heavily treated means they don’t do a great job of repelling water, which they openly state on their site. So there are a few things to remember with leather care.

[Related: What’s Better, Chrome Or Vegetable Tanning?]

sutro alder boot tongue

Sutro Alder Boot Leather Care

  • Sutro sells their own water based cream
  • Saphir’s Renovateur would also work
  • Avoid mink oil

Sutro recommends a natural cream to condition this leather and they strongly urge you to not use “harsh balms or creams,” instead recommending their own all natural, water based cream they sell on their site for $10 with a cloth and a sponge, which is a pretty good deal.

I think Saphir’s Renovateur would also work fine, it’s quite all natural as far as natural creams go, as is the newer company Cobbler’s Choice. Sutro says that mink oil works, but will darken the leather, as I pointed out in my video on mink oil.

They also told me that over time and with more wear, the shoes will start to look dull and may start to develop a “white film” on the leather from the natural oils and creams. To get rid of it, all you need to do is rub it with your hand or a cloth and then use some cream to restore the shine. They recommend doing this at least once a month, which might be more upkeep than you’re willing to undertake.

[See my full review of Saphir Renovateur!]

sutro alder boot sole

Sutro Alder Boot Sole

  • Outsole is rubber and leather
  • Rubber midsole
  • Metal shank
  • Layer of polyurethane and cork

This outsole is a combination of rubber & leather: where your foot touches the ground it’s rubber, the rest of the sole where there isn’t much ground contact or body weight is leather, so the shoe has pretty decent traction.

There’s also a stacked leather heel, after that a rubber midsole, a metal shank, and a layer of polyurethane and cork, plus a removable comfort polyurethane insole.

This means that over time, it won’t quite contour to the foot in quite the same way as something like the classic leather insole/cork midsole combination you’ll get in Red Wing boots, but the shock absorption and arch support are pretty great with this shoe. Plus, everything is attached with a storm welt, a type of Goodyear welt that’s extra water resistant. So while the leather isn’t amazing in weather, the sole should hold up.

[Learn more about Goodyear welts and other types of construction!]

sutro alder boot toe

Sutro Alder Boot Fit & Sizing

  • Order half a size down
  • Good arch support
  • Good shock absorption

I ordered a half size down for these, and the fit was fine. The laces are pretty far apart and a true size fit (11.5) probably would have worked as well, but I’m happy with my fit: the arch support is good and there’s enough room in the toe box for me to wiggle my toes.

It’s not that dressy or sleek, but it’s not too wide either; they told me they use Italian lasts “because they aesthetically follow the non symmetrical lines of a human foot,” and Sutro also adds some volume to make them for the US market. Again: the toe box is roomy but doesn’t look blocky, the arch support is good, and the shock absorption is good. I had no complaints with comfort at all, particularly given all the ankle mobility I got with the slits in the shaft.

sutro alder boot front view

Sutro Alder Boot Price

The price fluctuates a little, but right now you can buy these boots for between $250 and $275 — and if you use the code STRIDEWISE25 you can get $25 off.

That’s very inexpensive for a Goodyear welted leather boot, and the price is one of the most impressive aspects of the shoe.

sutro alder boot shade

Sutro Alder Boot Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Hand stitched
  • Good ankle mobility
  • Good grip, shock absorption, arch support

Cons

  • Looks like something an elf would wear
  • Not waterproof
  • Leather looks old

sutro alder boot profile

These are some of the most unusual boots I’ve come across, and it’s hard to make up my mind about them.

But overall, there are more pros than cons: the main downsides are that the leather looks old when you get it and they look a little like pixie shoes. But look, I don’t really think that’s a huge deal — as you can see in these pictures and the video, when you’re walking around in regular chinos, nobody can see the ankle slit. The only real consequence is extra ankle mobility. (And an inability to roll up your cuffs if you’re a fan of selvedge jeans.)

There are a lot of upsides: it has a Goodyear welt, it’s really comfy and it’s extraordinary value. I’d recommend them if you’re someone who likes worn in boots but don’t like waiting for them to get worn in. They’re boots for the impatient man.

The following two tabs change content below.

Nick

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]

Leave a Comment