Popular Mechanics (USA)
From an Editor
Why the best work boots ignore gear trends and belong in any era.
Fifty years ago my parents gave me an oversized pair of moccasin-toe work boots for my 12th birthday. The earthy aroma of fresh leather that came wafting out of their box is still with me. They were good quality, U.S.-built (of course), and were large enough for me to grow into. That one pair took me from childhood through buying my first truck, construction jobs, college, and into full-fledged adulthood. When, after more than a decade, they became outright disgusting, I used them as the boot of last resort for painting and driveway sealing. Once, lacking a pair of rubber boots, I even wore them while pouring the concrete slab for a crawl space. I just waded in and hoped for the best. The boots were fine; a thorough cleaning with a garden hose washed off the concrete.
Calling them work boots doesn’t give them enough credit. Aside from wearing them on the job or in the yard, I—and everyone I grew up with— also wore them hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, wrenching on jalopies. Later in life, I turned to work boots when my kids were young. In that era, they were more like “father boots,” the footwear I wore on countless miles of nature trails, slogging up and down sledding hills with one of my kids on my shoulders, stumbling around corn mazes, and selecting a Christmas tree to cut down. In those days I probably wore work boots as much as I wore sneakers.
If you want one piece of advice for buying boots
that you can grow old with, find a pair that looks like it would have been perfectly at home on someone’s feet 80 years ago. After nearly half a century wearing work boots, I’ve given up on advanced designs, insulation, waterproofing, fancy stitching, and any features claiming to produce comfort. A traditional leather work boot can be easily dried out and cleaned, and even resoled or rebuilt.
My Thorogood boots (above) are a perfect example. I don’t know how many projects and tool tests for this magazine I’ve done while wearing those boots over the last 13 years, but it’s a lot. I recently sent them out to a shoe refurbisher called NuShoe for a complete overhaul. They came back astonishingly clean, given what I’d put them through, with even the “tobacco” stain restored. It was good to take those boots out of their box, unwrap them, and admire the workmanship in their original construction and in their rebuilding. It was enough to make me feel like a 12-year-old kid again.