What exactly is a boot shank? Simply put, the shank is a load-bearing piece of steel (or another hard, flexible material) that is sandwiched between the insole and the outsole of your shoe. It usually sits between the ball and heel of your foot, under the arch. You can’t see it, but it’s there to support you: shanks relieve tension by diminishing the load on your arches, calves, and knees, and help you keep your balance on uneven terrain. They also maintain the shape of the boot over time, which means that you’ll get the most out of your investment.
What Is a Boot Shank?
- Improves arch support
- Improves stability
- Helps boot keep its shape over time
Shanks are a pretty common boot component, and you’ll find them in all kinds of styles from mountaineering, to heavy work boots, to a streamlined dress boot. The shank itself is a narrow, rectangular piece of metal about the shape of a piece of chewing gum, perhaps a bit bigger. Shanks come in half, ¾, and full lengths, though outside of heavy workwear a half shank is the standard. After the upper and insole are constructed, the shank is cemented and/or laced to the insole, then covered by the outsole, which is stitched to the upper.
A steel shank is entirely different than a steel toe, though both protect your feet in hazardous conditions and help to maintain the shape of the boot. Shanks also serve to protect the foot, specifically the underside of your foot from puncture wounds — but unlike steel toes, they don’t add a lot of bulk to your boot.
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Bottoming! This whole process usually takes me a full day (mainly because I saddle stitch the upper to the midsole by hand), so tomorrow it’s the left boot’s turn. #shoemaking #shoemaker #østmo #østmoboots #ostmo #ostmoboots #cordwainer #bootmaking #bootmaker #leathercraft #leatherwork #makersgonnamake #skomaker #beksømstøvler #beksømsko #stitchdown #beksøm #boots #handmadeshoes #bootporn #bootdouchery #leatherboots #handmade #madeinnorway #norskprodusert #norskhåndverk #calfleather #vegtan
These days, not all shanks are made of steel. Fiberglass, nylon, wood, plastic, carbon fiber and even kevlar are commonly used shank materials. The R.M. Williams Comfort Craftsman, for example, uses an “airport-friendly” fiberglass shank to try and reduce the weight while still providing maximum support. Tricker’s, in keeping with their English country theme, uses wooden shanks in all their boots. Basically, it’s up to the manufacturer – do they prioritize weight? Style? Comfort? Each material has its pros and cons. It’s up to you to decide what combination of weight and support feels best on your foot.
Steel is the norm and very unlikely to warp over time. If you fly a lot, though, and you don’t want to take your boots off every time you go through TSA PreCheck, you’ll want a pair without the steel shank, which will set off the metal detector.
Shanks are something that’s easy to take for granted, because they’re so buried in the construction. But, for me, they’re an indispensable part of the boot — all of my favorite boots feature a shank. The arch support they provide makes the wear that much more comfortable, and the structure they give the boot means that they’ll keep their shape longer and last well into the future.
Featured image via @ostmoboots on Instagram.