Viberg Service Boot Review – Is It Seriously Worth This Much Money?

Viberg is a Canadian company that was founded in 1931 by Edwin Viberg, and it remains family owned to this day. Like many older boot companies, they started out primarily making footwear for grimy labor and swashbuckling, primarily serving firefighters, lumberjacks, and farmers. In the 21st century they’ve expanded into some more fashion focused designs and many of their boots are handmade with imported materials like heavyweight insoles from Spain and Swiss hobnails for the heels. The Service boot is their most popular offering.

If you’re reading this there’s a good chance you already know, but just so there’s no ambiguity: Viberg is a really, really big deal in the world of footwear. For a lot of people, the brand is basically shorthand for the highest tier boot a person can buy — if you have Vibergs, you know boots. If you check out Reddit’s boot forum, albums and reviews of Vibergs are invariably on the front page no matter what day it is. Because of their reputation for outstanding quality and their incredible price, they’re often considered the boot lover’s ultimate goal: you might start off with a pair of Chippewas, build up to Red Wing, maybe get a pair of Aldens along the way, but the final resting place for boot fans is Viberg. It’s the alpha and the omega.

Needless to say, people have really strong opinions about Vibergs, which is understandable since you need to feel pretty strongly about a pair of boots to spend this much money on them. Are they worth it?

Viberg Service Boot First Glance

  • Very heavy boot
  • Chromexcel leather
  • Stitchdown welt

Viberg’s Service boot is typical of many other companies that make a Service boot, which is to say that it has a minimalist design and no toe cap, vaguely reminiscent of old fashioned military boots. They’re more fashion focused than that, but it’s still an area of men’s fashion that we’re all familiar with, the kind of fashion that centers on traditional, masculine looks that are simple and timeless. That’s the Service boot.  People looking for an inventive, unusual, or trend bucking boot won’t find it here: this is the basic boot, the one that sets the standard.

There’s no unusual stitching or toe cap in the pair of Brown Chromexcel that I bought, but there are still a few things that do catch the eye. The first is the stitchdown welt, an unusual alternative to a Goodyear welt that results in the upper being sewn directly to the sole. Viberg has elected to double stitch their upper, resulting in a very memorable welt that probably isn’t more durable, but still looks great.

Viberg service boot vamp

The second thing that’s remarkable about the shoe is the leather: it’s very thick and it has a very deep, rich color. Chromexcel is a really lustrous, waxy, moist leather and while it’s true that a lot of cheap boots also use it as well — it’s very trendy — you can tell Viberg’s leather selection is top notch.

Another noticeable aspect of these boots is that they’re relatively wide. Viberg usually uses the 2030 last with their boots, and when I called them they confirmed that it’s an E width. The width, combined with the brass eyelets, really send home the message that no matter what anyone says, these aren’t dress shoes.

Finally, these are very, very heavy boots. They weigh at least two pounds, and their heft is immediately noticeable when they come out of the box. The weight reinforces a persistent truth about this shoe: it’s a classic, uncomplicated boot, but it does classic right.

Viberg service boot street

Viberg Service Boot Leather

  • Chromexcel from Horween
  • Slightly corrected full grain leather
  • Top finish a little vulnerable to scratches
  • Very thick

This is Viberg’s most popular boot and it comes in a wide variety of leathers including kudu, horsebutt, and more, but I picked up the extremely popular brown Chromexcel. So let’s talk a little more about Chromexcel.

This is a full grain leather from the very famous Horween Leather Company, a Chicago-based tannery that’s been in operation for well over a hundred years. It’s America’s favorite tannery and the standard by which other tanneries measure their leather. Indonesian bootmaker Santalum, for instance, told me they’re doing everything they can to bring their leather up to Horween’s level of quality.

[Read that full interview with Santalum here!]

Chromexcel is full grain, so it’s taken from the top layer of the animal’s hide. Full grain leather is a kind of top grain and it’s generally considered the best leather for durable footwear. It’s super durable, it ages well, and it has more character as it ages. The particular leather used on the Service boot is super thick as well and you can tell that Viberg paid attention to the cut. The difference between these shoes and the crummy, creasey Chromexcel selected for my Wolverine 1000 Miles is night and day.

Chromexcel has a long history (it was used on engine seals on tanks in World War 2) and it’s made using 89 different processes over 28 working days. It’s imbued with beef tallow and beeswax and a bunch of other waxes and oils and greases to produce this depth of color.

It looks awesome as it ages, but the downside with this stuff is that the top finish scratches pretty easily. A lot of people don’t really mind that because the shoes get a lot of character pretty quickly, but I’ve got to confess that for the first few months of owning Chromexcel boots, I’m always kind of impatient for them to get very beat up. They can look a little shoddy during that waiting period.

Viberg service boot standing

Viberg Service Boot Leather Care

  • Venetian Shoe Cream is standard
  • Saphir’s Renovateur will make it a little shinier
  • Durable, long lasting leather

When it comes to Chromexcel, there are so many different companies that use it that everyone has different ideas about how to take care of it. Wolverine insists you use their own conditioner made from pine pitch and mink oil, Allen Edmonds likes you to use their synthetic leather lotion, but if you ask Horween themselves they’ll just recommend you use good old fashioned Venetian shoe cream. It doesn’t waterproof shoes, but it does a great job of moisturizing and conditioning the leather without darkening it much at all. One nice bonus is that Viberg throws a teeny tiny little bottle of the stuff into the shoebox for your first conditioning.

[Get the best price on Venetian shoe cream here!]

If you like shinier boots, it’s a good idea to go with Saphir’s Renovateur, which Horween also recommends if you want a glossier, perhaps dressier finish. Given that Chromexcel is generally seen as a pretty informal leather, Renovateur might be a good bet if you’re trying to dress them up as much as you can.

Since Vibergs are the kind of boots people really like to take good care of, you might also consider picking up a good horsehair brush and dropping a dab of saddle soap on the brush when you’re cleaning them with the brush. You don’t need it for regular dust, but if they’re very muddy and you really want these shoes to last as long as possible, saddle soap can be a good idea. Nonetheless, this is a hardy leather and you don’t need to worry too much about care. It’s not calfskin.

Viberg service boot sole

Viberg Service Boot Sole

  • Very heavy sole
  • Consists of Dainite outsole, leather midsole, cork midsole, leather insole,
  • Leather and foam heel seat
  • Steel shank

Everyone uses Chromexcel. What makes Viberg worth all the money?

Viberg is all about the sole.

This is an incredibly heavy sole and there is a ton going on here. For starters, there’s a Dainite outsole imported from England. Dainite is kind of similar to Vibram: it’s a sturdy, studded, grippy rubber that works super well in inclement conditions. With a boot like Viberg, I can see some people being disappointed that they don’t come with slick, flat soles made from leather or oak but the grip definitely makes it worth it. These are hardy boots made of hardy leather with a hardy sole that won’t fail you in rain. I want non-dress boots to be functional and again, these are not dress boots.

So there’s a Dainite outsole, then a leather midsole, another thin midsole made of cork, and a hard leather insole. Plus there’s a steel shank for extra stability and arch support and there’s a leather heel seat with some foam in it, so there’s a ton going on in the sole. The leather used for the insole is tanned to be very stiff, a lot of people mistake it for wood because it is very dense but this is indeed a leather insole. Needless to say this boot feels very, very solid when you’re walking in it.

Viberg service boot toe

Then there’s the welt. As mentioned above this is a stitchdown welt, not a Goodyear welt, so instead of having a thin layer of rubber or leather between the upper and the sole, the leather is stitched directly into the sole. It’s more of a 270-degree stitchdown though because the heel is actually connected to the upper with nails and glue.

[Learn more about the pros and cons of different welts in my in-depth article here!]

This all sounds pretty old school but the good news is that this stitchdown should still be about as water resistant as a Goodyear welt. The bad news is that it’s a lot harder to resole. It’s by no means impossible, but the leather will probably be stretched a little when you do it, and this could potentially affect the fit — it can be done, but it’s definitely trickier to resole.

Viberg Service Boot Fit & Sizing

  • Order a half size down from your sneaker size
  • Most Service boots are in 2030 last
  • Only E width available in Chromexcel
  • Expect blisters while breaking in

Sizes run from 6 to 13 and I went down half a size from my true size, so I grabbed an 11. And boy, do I have some problems with the sizing.

First off, they’re only available in one width. That’s a big downside for any boot of any price. But my biggest problem is that the only width it’s available in is the 2030 last, which is an E width. For the record, the “normal” width is D and “wide” is E, with widths going up to EE and EEE.

Now, I might not complain so much about this if these were $200 boots. But spoiler alert: these boots are unbelievably expensive and if I’m paying this much, I want the fit to be perfect. I want everything to be perfect when I’m buying boots that cost this much, and the fact that it’s not even available in the “normal” width and I have to settle for a roomy E width is completely unacceptable. Not for boots that cost this much. I’m not saying these are unwearable if you’re a D width, particularly if you have thick socks, they just don’t hold the foot the way boots should when they fit right. It’s not perfect. For this money, I want a perfect boot. Sue me if I’m being unreasonable.

Viberg service boot back

[Learn more: The Ultimate Guide to How Boots Should Fit.]

I should also point out that they’re no fun to break in, which isn’t such a dealbreaker for most guys. After all, with boots this pricy we tend to feel like they should be hard to break in. Blisters (and you should expect blisters) are a rite of passage, it’s how a man earns his right to wear these icons of ruggedness. You earn your Vibergs once with your paycheck and once with your lost epidermis.

The good news is that once they’re worn in, they’re pretty awesome to walk in and although I slide just the tiniest bit around the boot’s roomy interior, the heavyweight sole really makes me feel like I’m wearing boots. I mean, these are freaking assertive shoes and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that wearing them feels like the boots are taking me for a walk, especially because the soles are so heavy they swing like pendulums out in front of you, throwing your feet forward. But the Dainite absorbs a lot of shock so it’s not an unpleasant sensation. It takes getting used to, but they make you feel indestructible.

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Viberg Service Boot Price

On Viberg’s official site these shoes cost $670 and with shipping it comes in at $695. I’ve seen them sold elsewhere (like Division Road) but always at a higher price.

Let’s be honest, that’s crazy expensive. Relatively speaking $670 is actually one of the cheaper Service boots; the kudu is $710, the matte calfskin is $770, and there are even some cordovans for about $1100, but most of the Service boots (dark coffee, roughout, aged bark, waxed flesh, chamois, English tan, waxed flesh) are between $670 and $690.

They rarely go on sale, but you can find used boots on eBay for less, and since these are so durable and they get such a great patina as they age, I can see buying them second hand.

Viberg service boot resting

Is the Viberg Service Boot Worth It?

I’ve never worn boots like these before. There are plenty of expensive boots that are made of Chromexcel and have nice designs, but they still feel like $300 boots. (Remember, that’s cheap for a boot.) Vibergs, on the other hand, scream assertiveness and durability. The heavyweight sole and the stitchdown welt let you know that these aren’t some ordinary boots. Where you go, they’ll lead you.

The leather selection is top notch and though they’re pretty wide and informal, they’re still sharp enough to pull off in an environment that calls for khakis or formal jeans.

Seven hundred dollars is the minimum you’re going to pay for these boots. (Unless you get their Roughout, which is twenty bucks cheaper.)

Seven hundred bucks. I have no other boots like Vibergs but if I’m spending that much money I want everything to be perfect — and I just cannot forgive the fit. I don’t want a width wider than my foot, even if it is perfectly wearable and not that much of an inconvenience. I can absolutely make do as a D wearing an E, but I don’t want to make do with seven hundred dollar shoes. Viberg really should have offered “normal” width boots. That doesn’t seem like a big ask for what half the internet considers to be literally the best boot in the entire world.

They’re not slim enough to wear with slacks, they’re too wide to be formal, and they’re very hard to resole. Again, not a big deal for something under $500, but for this price? I want zero complaints. And I want them to last many soles. I’m not convinced of that with these shoes.

I’m not about to say they’re poorly made boots. The construction is solid, the leather selection is great, and they really feel like an extension of my body more than any other boots. I need to give Viberg serious recognition for that. But it’s far from the best boot in the entire world, so I don’t think it should be priced as though it is.

 

 

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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]

13 thoughts on “Viberg Service Boot Review – Is It Seriously Worth This Much Money?

  1. Confused about the conclusion. How can you say “it’s far from the best boot in the entire world”, when it sounds like it sets a new standard for you in every single metric aside from sizing, which of course is a personal issue? FWIW they do recommend sizing down 1 full size for more narrow feet.

  2. Nick,
    Your write ups are solid. This is no exception. I share similar thoughts about Vibergs. Though, I do not own a pair, at least not yet. The price and fit are real concerns.
    That said, they still seem to set the standard for design, leather choice and construction.

    Have you tried Parkhurst Boots? I have a pair of their Delawares and I am very impressed. Their design, construction, leather choices and wearability seem first rate. The company’s commitment to making boots in NY is really appealing too .

  3. Hi Nick,
    You said 1/2 size down, but in what reference? Canadian or american size? Your viberg size is 10??? Thanks.

  4. NIck. I saw that your boot is 11 viberg. If so, your boot is twelve American and not 11. I would like to know what number you think is correct, but the viberg, which corresponds to a number less than the American numbering.

    • I’m like 11.75 on a Brannock and 11.5 in most true to size boots, Marcelo. Size 11 is what Viberg recommended when I called them, though I do wonder how a 10.5 would have felt…

  5. Hi Nick,

    Thanks for the reviews. IT’s great to be able to get some persepective on things when making a purchase. I can only imagine how much footwear crosses your path.

    I have a pair of Viberg’s, Wolverine 1000 mile Courtlands, and a pair of Thursday Captains. The Thursdays feel like something that will wear out much more quickly, are not nearly as elegant. Easy break in, even get a bit sloppy quickly. I bought them on your recommendation, and like them. When they wear out I’ll get another pair. They are definitely the best value you can find at that price, but in a different class than the Viberg service boot.

    The Vibergs (like any more luxury good) feel and look like a quality product. They were a bit hard to break in, but are great now. And they just look ten times better than the Thursday, and five times better than the Courtlands. When I wear them I feel like I’m wearing something special, and when I wear the Thursdays, I’m just wearing some boots. I think your complaint is with the fact they really make one or two lasts of the service boot(2030 & 1035), and they either fit or they don’t. If your foot is a D width, or an E, you are golden. Otherwise, perhaps not so much. The fact that perhaps the stitches aren ‘t perfectly symmetrical on a handmade boot let’s you know it’s not just a production line boot, and that some skilled hands have touched it. That waxed flesh Truman boot you reviewed is beautiful, in that it looks so much like my Vibergs.

    Is the extra money worth it? That is in the eye of the wearer. You’ll have the boots for years, why not spend a few more dollars and get what you want. They are an investment versus a quickly consumable good. It is like an Omega next to a Fossil watch (I have a Zeno Watch Basel, somewhere in the middle). They both tell time, but one just has a feel and look to it that is classic. The wearer knows it and decides whether it is worth it to them. I’m glad I talked my normally frugal brain into it. Now I’m scheming to find a way to convince my brain I need another pair.

    • Hey thanks for the comment, Byron! I think the last of the Thursday is more ‘elegant’ as Viberg is more of a service boot, but certainly it’s a totally different product to the Viberg. The weight and the quality of the leather do bring a real feeling of fanciness and quality when you’re walking around in them. It’s a nice boot, I would have preferred a better fit but I always use them as my reference point for really good quality Chromexcel.

  6. Nick, thanks for the review of the Viberg boot(s): you quite rightly pointed out that people have strong opinions about the company — I’m one of them.

    Viberg’s a lot of fluff and comparatively little substance to my mind. I can get similar quality for a fraction of the price buying old or deadstock boots — and the vintage bonus is included for free.

    Their boots are good, just not »U$ 700+« good; but that’s just my opinion — an Alden-level price is more than generous an assessment of what should be paid for them. I found an online interview with Brett Viberg:
    http://www.themilltown.com/chat-with-brett-viberg/

    MT: Viberg boots are widely regarded as some of the best in the world. What is it that sets Viberg apart from the rest?
    BV: What makes us special is the care and attention that goes into everything.

    This is marketing drivel.

    I was personally involved in the manufacturing process of the Thonet S 35 L (along with the models S 33 and S 34), which retails for € 3,000+ — Thonet is the most important design furniture company, given that they sell the original Bauhaus chairs. The reason why I mention it is that attention and care are BASIC prerequisites to quality manufacturing, not a unique selling point.

    Brett Viberg’s true agenda was to turn his grandfather’s company into a luxury brand, a fact to which he freely admits in another interview:
    http://www.claymoorslist.com/portfolios/viberg

    MT: What do you see for the future of Viberg?

    BV: If it was just me, which it isn’t — I would continue to upgrade the quality and make Viberg into a higher luxury brand. I would make the shoes more expensive and add bags and clothing to create a very high end collection. Once you take the price out of the mix, designing gets really fun. When price is considered, you have to compromise on the quality and therefore the finished product.

    Reading between the lines in regard to his father’s opinion about it:
    http://www.styleforum.net/t/352981/we-talk-to-third-generation-bootmaker-brett-viberg-about-new-directions

    Kyle (Styleforum): You mentioned your father still works the floor, what does he think of the direction you’re taking with the different collaborations and stuff? Does he think it’s cool?

    Brett: It’s a slow, slow, slow, slow transition.
    I think what my dad is having trouble with is just how it’s becoming more of a brand than just a shoe company about making tough stuff. The hard transition for him is understanding that the value is in the name. That’s going to happen with anything. If you make a good car, eventually whatever brand that is will have a particular appeal to the market and that brand name will become more important than just the quality of it.

    I absolutely commend him on his business acumen, but I would never support someone else’s dreams of attaining veblen goods status with my money.

    Apologies for the rant, not knocking their overall quality of the boots, just speaking my mind as a former industry insider who knows the manufacturing process of and has made expensive luxury goods himself.

    Their designs are based on vintage military boots, so not much of a design process on Viberg’s part to speak of.
    I buy vintage military boots (mostly new old stock), have them resoled to my specifications, if necessary, and do the other customization (eyelets, laces et al) myself.

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