Flexible Boot Soles

When having boots made, such as by Wesco — what type of sole is “best”? Should heel lifts and extra midsoles be added? I will speak from my own experience… I have several pairs of custom boots, including some made by Wesco, where I…

… have opted for different options regarding the soles. Here goes:

1. Sole type: choices that I consider vary between Vibram 100 “big lug” to Vibram 430 “mini lug” to soles with smoother soles (no lug, such as Vibram 700 series.) I have boots with all of these soles.

In my honest opinion, I prefer Vibram 430 “mini lug” soles best. Why?

The Vibram 100 “big lug” sole is definitely like snow tires for the feet — they provide the absolute best traction out there. However, they have two draw-backs: a) they are not that flexible; and b) the soles get caked up with dirt and mud very easily, and are time-consuming to keep clean (at least clean enough to wear indoors!)

The smoother sole option, such as found on Chippewa engineer boots, is definitely flexible; however, the soles do not provide as good “holding power” on smooth concrete or asphalt surfaces. This “holding power” is needed to keep your foot planted firmly where YOU want it to be while maneuvering a heavyweight motorcycle such as a big-ass Harley.

If you are waiting at a traffic light on a slight hill (common) and you have your left foot planted firmly on the ground (right foot on the brake) — last thing you want to have happen is for your foot to slip. Easy to drop your bike OR roll (twist) your ankle as a result. Trust me; I’ve seen it happen a number of times to fellow riders who don’t wear proper boots while riding.

I have found that the Vibram 430 “mini-lug” sole provides the best of both worlds — a compromise, so-to-speak. Good traction and flexibility.

2. Extra mid-soles

Some times guys read a bootmaker’s story that an extra mid-sole can give longer wear to the outsole and require less frequent outsole replacement. What do I think?

Poppycock. I have had boots with regular soles (and no extra mid-soles) that I have worn while riding tens of thousands of miles on motorcycles and never once have experienced a time when I have had to have the outsole replaced.

Yes, external viewable threads on the bottom of the outsole will break and it can make you think that the sole is falling apart. But that isn’t the truth — the threads that hold the sole together are still intact on the inside where it counts. So don’t worry about it — wear of external sole threads happens. Boot soles remain okay and durable for plenty of more miles of wear.

The main reason why I do not recommend extra mid-soles is that they make the sole less flexible. Thus you walk like Frankenstein (because your feet don’t flex) and set yourself up for plantar fasciitis (see summary below).

3. Extra heel lifts

Some of us shorter guys (like this cop whose boots with both extra midsoles and heel lifts are shown here) don’t mind appearing a little taller. I have had heel lifts added to a couple pairs of boots.

Have I noticed anything?

Not really — except that for me as a klutz with no grace has to walk even more carefully in those boots, else risk tripping, especially up stairs.

Heel lifts really don’t matter and aren’t worth the expense, IMHO.

Summary Finding

Flexibility of boot soles is very important for another reason not mentioned above: the less flexible a boot sole is, and as a guy walks in them — it can set up conditions to cause plantar fasciitis, a condition where ligaments in the foot are damaged. That can happen by wearing boots with inflexible soles (or also by wearing cheap sneakers and flip-flops, too — so don’t wear those things, either!)

The more your feet flex when you walk, the less likely you will potentially cause damage to ligaments in your feet. I have had plantar fasciitis, and it is very painful. Wear boots with flexible soles to avoid it.

Overall, my general opinion is that a “basic build” of a boot works best. Mini-lug soles are great. Extra mid-soles, probably not.

Life is short: know your soles!