As anyone who has visited my motorcycle boot collection on my website has seen, I have a rather large collection of motorcycle boots. But over and over again, I come back to three fundamental boots that I wear more often than any others. For this post, I will describe the boots that many guys choose to wear because …
…their appearance is rugged, solid, and masculine: the harness boot. From my Hotboots “Bootman’s Tutorial:
…harness boots are a type of motorcycle boot usually worn by motorcycle riders. The boots are most often made of heavyweight leather and range in height from short (10″) to extra high (38″). The most typical height is between 10 and 18 inches, and at 12 inches is the most common of mass-production commercially available harness boots. The most common colors are black and brown, but harness boots can be found in other colors and roughout leather as well.
Harness boots were originally modeled on the square toed boots prevalent in the 19th century, including those worn by US Civil War soldiers. Leather straps and rings were added to this style in the 1950s, creating the modern version of the harness boot, which quickly became a classic.
Harness boots are designed to protect the motorcycle rider from injury to the foot and leg in the case of a crash while riding and may include a built-in steel toe cap and metal shank in the heel. Harness boots usually have a square toe.
Typically, these boots possess a pair of pull-straps on either side of the tops of the shafts. Some manufacturers replace these straps with adjustable leather buckle(s) located on the outside top of the shafts, similar to engineer boots. Some harness boots have cloth pull straps sewn on the inside of the boot shaft rather than the outside, presenting a clean appearance at the top of the shaft.
Most harness boots have a stovepipe shaft and a flat scallop, similar to the civil war cavalry boot after which their design was inspired. Soles and heels are usually made of hard rubber and may either be relatively flat or may have lugs for increased traction. Smooth leather soles may also be found on some harness boots, like Fryes.
I am frequently asked for recommendations about harness boots since I own and have worn many manufacturer’s versions of these boots.
My overall recommendation, hands-down (or shall I say, “feet-down”) for affordability, ruggedness, quality, craftsmanship, and comfort are…
Overall, these boots are the best of all harness boots out there when it comes to the features that a regular guy wants to have, without breaking the bank.
The second choice for harness boots if you can afford them and can tolerate a very heavy boot is Wesco harness boots. The West Coast Shoe Company (aka “Wesco”) has been making harness boots for decades and they make a superb-quality boot that will last a lifetime.
However, I am not as much of a fan of these boots as I used to be mostly because as I have aged, my feet are less flexible and thus not as tolerant of wearing a very heavy boot as Wesco boots are. They are like wearing body armor or tanks on the feet. Rugged, solid, durable beyond belief. But comfort? Not really… not when compared with Chippewa.
However, it is possible to have Wesco harness boots custom-made to any height up to the crotch. Most guys who go for custom Wesco harness boots get them at 16 to 18 inches in height. Boots of that height have a very commanding appearance. But each boot can weigh eight pounds (3.6kg) and that can be hard to lug around on your legs all day, especially if out all day on a long motorcycle ride.
So personally, I go back to my regular rugged old standbys — the Chippewa 12-inch black harness boot. That boot has a Vibram 430 (“mini-lug”) sole for excellent traction yet flexibility for comfort when walking. The soles are stitched on, not glued. All stress points are double-stitched. The boots are made with good quality cowhide that can be shined nicely with wax polish if you want to. They run true-to-size and are comfortable to wear all day due to their relative light weight. (Relative to other comparable motorcycle boots.) These boots are made in the USA, too. Good stuff!
The full MSRP these days for a pair of these boots is US$279.95, but if you shop around and use on-line coupons or find sales, you can get them for around US$220, more-or-less. I definitely recommend shopping around if you want these boots to find a good deal. Definitely, don’t pay the full MSRP.
The only downside about these boots is that the manufacturer does not make as many of these boots to fit demand, so the boots are frequently backordered and can take weeks or up to a couple months to get. Chippewa has stated that their production delays are due to time required to source enough of the leather at their high-quality specifications to make them. Honestly, I would rather wait to get good-quality boots rather than get cheap junk made with crappy materials and craftsmanship.
Speaking of crappy, what other manufacturer’s harness boots do I NOT recommend? Ad-Tec, Cody James, Dingo, Durango, Double-H, Frye, Harley-Davidson, Milwaukee Motor Clothing, River Road, and Xelement. Man, that’s quite a list, but here’s why: Most of these other label boots are made via contract with unknown companies in China. Quality is poor and materials, including the leather, is blemished, uneven, and generally crappy. Metal parts oxidize (rust) easily with normal wear. Pull straps break. Single-stitching on stress areas comes loose or falls apart. And worst: usually the soles are not oil-resistant and are glued on. Soles that are glued on cannot be resoled or repaired if they come loose.
Summary: if you’re like most guys who don’t really care about your boots, but want to get boots that make you look good, tough, and masculine — and also won’t break the bank and will last for a number of years regardless of typical wear-and-tear, getting caught in the rain, or just knocking around, get Chippewa harness boots.