Let’s say you decide that you need boots—a great pair of boots. There’s so much to learn before you make a call on which to buy: leathers, construction methods, potentially soul-wrecking break-in periods, which outsoles perform well in which conditions, brand histories. A lot. Maybe you already know about Red Wings; maybe those are your first pair. (That’s a very good thing—they’re incredible boots.)
But then, you learn about Alden Indy boots, and your life has zero chance of being the same as before. You read about them, much of it praise. You gaze at pictures on Instagram—hundreds, thousands—and ponder their distinctive toe stitching. Then you see a pair in the wild, and realize the pictures were all wrong: fresh or beaten for a decade, they’re even more wonderful than you’d imagined.
You warn your wife you’re going to buy a pair one day, but not for a while, don’t worry. Two weeks later, you try them on in the shop—just to figure out your size, so you know. Five minutes after that, interspersed by highly transparent hemming and hawing, you ask the sales guy to fill the Alden box with your old shoes. You’re wearing the Indys home.
That’s what happened to me, at least. In case you can’t tell, this is not going to be a negative review! But for anyone considering a purchase, keep reading: my story, of my Indys—which are now three years old—can hopefully help you figure out whatever it is that you need to figure out. And then, buy some.
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The Brass Tacks
Model: Indy Boot
Price: $565 (The current price for model 403, arguably the most classic. The model reviewed is model 403c—very similar to the 403 but featuring an antique welt and commando outsole—which currently costs $628 from Alden Madison, although I believe mine were about $60 cheaper three years ago).
Years Worn: Three
Worn How Often?: Somewhere between two and three times per week, almost every single week during that entire stretch. Often worn every day while traveling on short trips, and every other day while on 3+ day trips.
How I Care for Them: Cedar shoe trees inserted when not being worn, except while traveling; brushed regularly with a horsehair brush; one light treatment of Venetian Shoe Cream around 2.5 years in.
A Quick Bit On Alden
An icon among icons and the apple of many a shoe nerd’s eye, Alden is one of just a few remaining American shoemakers that continue to craft their footwear in the US while upholding the exacting standards it has since inception. Founded in Massachusetts in 1884 by Charles H. Alden, the company made dress and orthopedic shoes alongside burlier boots—including for the military—using the Goodyear welting process that creates an impeccably built shoe and allows for multiple rebuilds over the years as the soles get worn down.
To this day, Alden refuses to budge from its dedication to sourcing the best leathers and other materials, and is unswayed by trends. As the American shoemaking industry continues to suffer in various ways, and much production is outsourced overseas, Alden has seen its prices necessarily rise precisely because of its rare commitment to making quality shoes in America—which is exactly why its star has also risen once more, over the last couple decades.
A Brief History of the Alden Indy Boot
The legend goes like this: when Harrison Ford was cast as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, he insisted on wearing the boots from his days as a carpenter—his trusty Alden 405s. Back then, the Indy was a far more rugged boot—the cotton duck canvas lining was a bit less luxurious than today’s glove leather, for instance—but no less durable. And also, um, not called the Indy.
Ford wore various pairs of the boots throughout the trilogy, and insisted they all be purchased from his man Fritz, the owner of Frederick’s shoes in Sherman Oaks, California. But watching the films, it’s not all that easy to make out which boots Ford wore. Years later, an Indiana Jones obsessive hellbent on owning exactly what Ford wore in the movies (whip, hat, etc) managed to track down Fritz and confirm that the boots were indeed the Alden 405. Other Jones junkies picked up on it, word of the excitement eventually got back to Alden, and the boots were rebranded in just about the smartest way imaginable.
In the most technical sense, the Indy is a work boot—as the Ford can attest to—and while I presume not TOO many people wear them to pour concrete every day, it definitely retains elements of a work boot look. But it’s less chunky and far classier than most, and can easily be worn with pretty much anything other than a suit. (Although I would love if you sent me pictures of you wearing Indys to a gala of some kind. Please!).
One thing the Indy shares with many work boots is the moc-toe design, although it’s not a true moc-toe. The distinctive double toe stitch is through a single piece of leather on the vamp, instead of featuring a separate piece of leather and an elevated stitch like you’ll see on Red Wing moc-toes—which contributes to the Indy’s sleekness. The rounded toe shape of the Alden Trubalance last (the wooden molds around which all leather shoes are shaped; more on that in the next section) also contributes to the work boot feel, mostly in that they don’t feature an aggressive taper like you’ll see on many Chelsea and chukka boots, for instance.
The speed hooks on the top of the lacing set make the boots less time-consuming to get on and off, but also have a bit of their own slightly rugged visual appeal. And the classic flat Alden laces add that touch of class to ensure you don’t get kicked out of that gala, so you can take pictures, and send them to me.
Out of the box, these boots are beautiful. Three years in, mine have retained their shape but look more like a boot should: less rigid, and with with a distinctive patina to the leather. No two pairs of Indys age the same, and that’s part of the beauty of the boot.
Rating: 9/10, just because subjectivity exists
Sizing, Fit, and Comfort
The Trubalance last is Alden’s widest and most forgiving throughout its entire shape, especially in the toe box area. Most people are a half or even full size down from their Brannock device (the big silver metal thing) measurement. But I actually got sized into my exact Brannock size—11D—partially because I prefer wearing my boots with thicker socks. Even in the summer. Yes, I’m insane. The main key, as always, is to worry about nailing your width before you worry about the boot’s length, and the 11Ds hugged me tight side to side.
The famous Chromexcel leather from Horween Leather Co. (which you’ll also see abbreviated with the “CXL” factory code) will stretch a bit over time, but if you’re in the right size, it won’t give too much. Which means: definitely don’t buy a pair that hurts your feet in the least, presuming they’ll stretch to where you want. Although I will say that I’ve noticed after a heavy wear—say, walking 8-10 miles a day on vacation, which, yes, is my idea of a relaxing vacation—they’ll stretch a little throughout the course of the day and need to have the laces cranked down once or twice. But they went right back to where they were at the beginning of the day after cooling down overnight.
On the comfort front: my lord. The moment I slipped my feet into them in the shop, they were the most comfortable shoes of any kind that that I’d ever worn, only to be surpassed by their future selves as the leather-covered cork footbed and full glove leather lining said loudly “my mission in life is to become one with this man’s foot.” And so they did. I dare you to find a more comfortable shoe. If you do, let me know. Please.
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So what’s the break-in period, you ask? For me, it was a highly acceptable…zero seconds. Possibly less. I had trouble understanding that too—especially as the Indys were my next boot after an almost two-month journey into talking my Red Wing Iron Ranger 8111s into liking me. (Which was plenty worth it, by the way. Just…tough.) It was fit at first sight.
Leather and Care
While Alden creates Indys in all sorts of wonderful leathers, perhaps the most classic is the one I went with: brown Chromexcel from Chicago’s famed Horween Leather Co. Chromexcel is classified as a “pull-up” leather, which means it’s jammed with oils and waxes.
Compared to many leathers, Chromexcel will pick up scratches that reveal a much lighter shade of brown. But those aforementioned oils inside are just sitting there, dying to burst out. All you have to do is hit the boots for a minute or two with a horsehair brush, or even rub them hard with your finger (and a little spit if you want), and they’re in many ways back to where they started—while developing a truly unique patina because of the wear.
As for care, some people will tell you that you should never do anything other than use a horsehair brush on Chromexcel. I followed that rule that for maybe two and a half years before they showed more nicks than I was happy with, leading me to rub in a VERY light treatment of Venetian Shoe Cream—which burst them back to robust, shiny life after some brushing. Theoretically, Chromexcel can handle various leather creams and conditioners, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend mink oil or anything similarly heavy duty. For one, it’ll probably darken the boot significantly—and in this case somewhat unnaturally—and for two, you just don’t really need it.
Can you put deep scuffs or gouges into this leather that you can’t buff right out? Of course. But hey, they’re boots.
One thing I will mention is that the grain on my right boot has ended up being a little looser than the grain on my left boot, which to this day is smoother than a 22-year-old Val Kilmer. It definitely bothered me at first, but all hides are different, and I honestly think it might have something to do with how I walk, as I’ve seen it happen on some of my other boots as well. Is it less than optimal? Yes. Does it ever bother me at this point? I can honestly say it doesn’t. These aren’t my dress oxfords, and I view it as character. And if anyone (Val Kilmer included) steals these boots, I’ll be able to finally perform my first citizen’s arrest, after a quick glance.
Rating: 8.5/10, because of the loose grain
The most classic Indy boot model sports a neoprene cork outsole, the same as Harrison Ford’s boots and a very strong choice to this day. That one is slip-resistant in a work-boot sense, not a “let’s scale this icy rock face” sense—much like a Red Wing Iron Ranger outsole. My 403c model (which I purchased from Alden Madison in New York City) features a commando outsole—which makes them more capable in crappy weather and on varied surfaces. It’s much slimmer than a true commando sole (which is about a half-inch thick), and it does almost nothing to make the boot more chunky or less formal/classy when it needs to be. (You can get a big burly lug outsole on Indys from Alden of Carmel, but I feel like that transforms it into a completely different boot.)
While they’re not what you want to take sledding after a blizzard, I’ve worn them on snow and ice and they’ve acquitted themselves capably. Same with a number of two-hour-plus hikes, one of which I’ll get into in the next section. And rain on any surface doesn’t faze them a bit. They can do a ton, but again, with an aesthetically appealing slim profile.
Three years in, my commando soles have become worn and slightly detached in the toe area, and are starting to grind down to the point that I’ll get the boots re-soled before too long, just to get some tread back. But given how much I wear these, usually on city sidewalks, that’s an absolutely acceptable timeline.
Construction and Durability
A lot of this was covered in the Outsole and Leather sections above, but overall, these boots are built impeccably solidly, and can take basically anything you throw at them. Outside, say, hydrochloric acid. But you really shouldn’t throw hydrochloric acid at any boots.
Here’s a little story: days after they entered my life, I wore my Alden Indys on a trip to San Francisco, which ended up involving an unexpected hike through the Muir Woods redwood forest, on the not-easy trail. Walking on a very rocky three-foot-wide ridge with a couple-hundred-foot tumble beneath, I alternated between “hell yes, my boots are doing BOOT STUFF, and being BOOTS!” and “I cannot believe I just murdered my new, almost $600 boots.”
I kept looking down at my feet, terrified that I’d split a welt or irreparably scuffed them on a 2000-year old tree that had fended off much worse. I mapped out an elaborate story that involved a kidnapping, to aid in a smooth return for a fresh pair. And when it was all over, not one single thing had gone wrong with them; just a few minor scratches I quickly spit-buffed out. The boots had proven themselves to me, and hopefully I did the same to them. We were on our way.
Again, all Alden boots are constructed using a process called Goodyear welting, which is generally considered to be one of the most infallible ways to create a shoe that is durable over time, pretty darn waterproof, and capable of being completely rebuilt once the soles and the rest of the boot gets worn down. One thing: the laces definitely aren’t built to last forever, but I feel like their looks make them worth replacing every so often.
On every test, this section will begin with the same clause: value is subjective. If you cannot afford a $565 pair of boots, then these are a terrible value. If you CAN afford a $565 pair of boots, and you love how Indys fit, and look, and age immaculately, and are prepared to do a couple very easy things to treat them correctly so they last 5 or 10 years, or longer, then I believe they are an excellent, excellent value.
There are certainly more affordable boots with similarly impressive looks and longevity—and more expensive boots that may have their own unique design and leathers. But I believe very few of them can offer the extreme comfort and style that can rise to any occasion the Indys boast, along with the long-term durability, for this price.
Rating: 8/10 (as they aren’t exactly cheap, and the price point is not within everyone’s reach)
The Stitchdown Final Take
If you like how they look and can afford them, get them. It’s incredibly difficult to imagine anyone being disappointed by these boots.
Overall rating: 9.3/10
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