One of my all-time most-loved—and absolutely my most-used—pairs of footwear is the deeply classic Thorogood Moc Toe boot. I’ve done everything imaginable in these rugged but impressively versatile babies, from chainsawing down trees, to climbing a (short-ish, but still…) mountain, to enjoying a fancy dinner that definitely involved ceviche—although the brutality I’ve happily wrought upon them has probably pushed them a bit past the fancy ceviche dinner use case, at this point.
Like many before me, I started out shopping for Red Wing moc toe boots (875s or 8875s). One day I caught a glimpse of a nicely attired fellow wearing something that looked like Red Wings, but featuring a little American flag tag on the toe. A few days of creative Googling later, I tracked down his boots, and they were…well, these. After some fairly extensive research—and a quick and obvious price comparison—I was sold hard on the Thorogood 814-4200 in tobacco oil-tanned leather. That was five years ago, and I’m as happy today as I was the first time I slid my feet in.
Let’s be clear: these Thorogoods are not a work-inspired boot, which is how one could classify many of the popular Red Wing Heritage models. They are 100% a work boot. Obviously there are harder-core boots for more serious or specific forms of work, but many construction workers swear by them (although many opt for the steel toes, or 8-inch model). And it’s easy to see why. They’re unflappably durable without weighing as much as a cinder block. Their comfort levels out of the box are very tough to beat. And the price is about as good as you can find for a boot with this level of quality, durability, and looks.
But that doesn’t mean that they can’t function incredibly well a lifestyle boot—they slot right into that rare sweet spot of a work boot that still boasts legitimately handsome aesthetics. When shopping, I also considered the Thorogood round toe boot. And some days I spend far too much time looking at pictures and lamenting that I didn’t go with those, just because I enjoying doing such torturous things to myself. But every quality footwear collection demands a pair of moc toe boots, and that just means I’ll have to snag a pair of round toes next time (possibly 8-inch steel toes for some realer work, possibly soon—I’ll obviously keep you all updated).
[A note: as with all of my reviews on shoes and boots I’ve owned before I started Stitchdown (including my Alden Indy 403C boots), all the photos in this review are of my boots, which have endured significant wear—I don’t have shots of them new out of the box, or in their younger days, aside from manufacturer product shots.]
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The Brass Tacks
Shoemaker: Thorogood (owned by Weinbrenner Shoe Company)
Model: 6-Inch Moc-Toe in Tobacco leather, model 814-4200
Years Worn: Five
Worn How Often?: At least 2-4/times week, every week, although many of those days have been for a three-mile dog walk in the AM before switching out to other footwear during the day.
How I Cared for Them: Cedar shoe trees occasionally inserted when not being worn following hard wears; wiped down and brushed with a horsehair brush after getting muddy; full Red Wing mink oil treatment 2-3 times per year.
A Bit of History on Thorogood
Stitchdown strongly recommends made-in-America products (not just America, of course; also made-in-Canada, made-in-England, etc), and Thorogood is one of a too-small handful of boot brands that continues to deliver on that promise. Weinbrenner Shoe Co., which makes Thorogood boots, got its start back in 1892—with the Thorogood brand emerging in 1918—and has since created everything from military shoes to job-specific footwear like their classic lace-to-toe roofer boots. In 1967, Thorogood introduced their Official Boy Scout Boot: the Hike ‘n Camp, which is the original name for the model of boot reviewed here. It remains the company’s most popular boot of all time, even though there are far fewer Boy Scouts than there used to be.
In addition to the ever-important made-in-America designation, Stitchdown strongly recommends Thorogood as a key bootmaker to support because of the way the company is structured. In 2000, Weinbrenner employees took control of the company’s ownership, providing a unique level of engagement, control, and of course actual ownership that workers are most companies simply cannot benefit from.
A Fun Little Story About Why I Bought My Thorogood Moc Toe Boots
I’ve owned boots all my life—from various hiking boots to my original beloved Wolverine 1000 Miles that I wore for about seven years years before finally admitting that they were just too big, and found them a more suitable home.
But I wasn’t really a person who cared about boots, or thought about them endlessly, until six years ago, when I broke my foot.
It was just a small stress fracture that I initially thought was a bruise—until one morning I woke up in silly amounts of pain, hopped to the bathroom on my good foot, then screamed to my wife to go buy me some crutches so I could will myself to the podiatrist. The doctor confirmed that my foot was indeed broken and sent me off with a walking boot, a true joy to wear during a New York City winter full of more snow than usual. (For the uninitiated: the snow in New York is absolutely beautiful, for about 14 minutes, at which point it swiftly devolves into some sort of primordial refuse-infused slush that is absolutely everywhere. And often quite deep.)
He also looked at my shoes, a pair of Vans I still own but rarely wear. “Well, that’s your problem, right there. Sneakers like this are terrible for your feet and you just found out why. Get yourself something more supportive.”
During the months in that evil boot, determined to never end up in it again, I began researching boots. And these Thorogoods ended up becoming my first pair as someone who understood the benefits of quality footwear. To this day, they represent a complete mindset shift for me—one I’m sure many of you have already had, or are on the verge of. And while the day I suffered from Wet Probably-Sewage Foot until I got home isn’t my fondest memory, the course-correct my lifelong footwear addiction took thanks to that awful experience was the right one.
Again: this boot looks like a work boot, but in all the best ways. It’s definitely chunky, but not overly so. Three sets of eyelets lead to three speed hooks, and then another set of eyelets on the top, which I imagine nobody has ever even considered using. But they’re there! I love the triple stitch that runs from the vamp to the backstay, the branded Thorogood logo on the rear, and of course that distinctive little flag on the toe. The MAXWear wedge outsole isn’t the lowest profile, as it’s built for long life over looks, but it’s also not as thick as some others (which I personally find to get a little ridiculous after a certain point). The rear pull loop and classic multi-colored work boot laces (I’m on my second pair; the first ones broke maybe two years in) complete the look.
Its main limitation looks-wise is that this isn’t a boot that you can dress up in any meaningful way. But especially when kept in decent condition (more decent than mine are at this point, honestly), it can be used in the majority of casual situations, and obviously countless work boot-work ones.
Sizing, Fit, and Comfort
I was pretty certain I was going to be a 10.5D or 11D, but got sized into a 10EE at Moulded Shoe. My feet are slightly but certainly not crazily wide—so I worried, wrongly, about what seemed like an extreme width—and I’d never been a 10 in too many shoes of any kind since I was maybe 12 years old. So I had my doubts! But the EE also provided more space in the length than a standard D in size 10, the width was perfect, and I can confidently say 10EE was and is 100% the right size for me.
These boots, dear shoe-addled reader, are comfortable. I imagine a major part of that is owed to the flexible wedge outsole and high quality although not rigidly bulletproof leather, but I attribute the bulk of that comfort to Thorogood’s Ultimate Shock Absorption Footbed and Comfort Cushion insole made by PORON. It’s a dual-layer removable foam insole, unlike the leather footbed found in Red Wings and many other higher-end boots. I love how said leather footbeds on my other boots conform to my foot over time for a truly custom fit, and was a little worried that the Thorogoods wouldn’t offer that, but oh, they most certainly do. And while I haven’t come close to needing to replace the insoles in five years (there’s just a little bit of surface wear on the right insole), if you wear yours especially hard, you can grab a new pair for like $10—something you can’t do it anything goes wrong (water damage, etc) with a leather footbed.
Tip: Definitely at least consider a wider width than you might think you need, but size down a half-size or so, if you go with that.
I’d read nice things about Thorogood boots’ comfort levels out of the box, but my feet still dripped with fear—I mean, they’re work boots, right? But those nice things were all very true. When I cranked them down and walked around the shop, they felt a touch stiff, but there was literally nothing uncomfortable about them, at all. That sense of relief continued through the first true wear, and I was home already—I’d found an indestructible boot that doesn’t require a hellscape month of deep, unrelenting break-in sacrifice.
Leather and Care
The leather wasn’t something I spent hours rubbing against my cheek right out of the box, but it’s definitely softer and more supple than you’ll find in many work boots. Over time, Red Wing moc toe boots may give you longer wear and form to your feet a bit more, but five years in my Thorogoods have withstood a ton of abuse and only have a few scuffs that probably would’ve happened no matter what leather was on there.
Like I said, I’ve worn these things very hard and with essentially zero care for what abuse I’m going to put them through: chainsawing trees, yard work, walking a dog in an extremely muddy park work. And it shows. Five years in, the toe shows significant creasing, along with a few other parts of the upper. That might be because of how hard I wear them, or, possibly, because of the quality of the leather itself.
But you have to remember that Thorogood Moc Toes are $185 boots designed to hold up in general under extreme work conditions, not dress boots made of shell cordovan that are designed to stay beautiful—and be babied. The other issues are some unfixable scuffs along the toe on the right boot—definitely because of what I use them for—and some coloration differences thanks to wear on the medial rear around the heel area.
But all that is honestly to be expected and in no way troubling, and on the whole they’ve held up incredibly well. The leather always bounces back from a hard, muddy wear, and has developed a wonderfully deep patina over time.
Like most work boots, they’re unlined, but wearing them with dress socks isn’t exactly encouraged, so no points deducted there. When they get a little sad every three or four months, I treat them with a moderate dose of Red Wing mink oil, which perks them up in a major way at the expense of the leather darkening a shade or two, but a week or so later they shift much closer to their original color.
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The polyurethane MAXWear wedge is designed for workplace conditions with slippery floors, and it definitely fares well on most surfaces when wet. That said, I would NOT recommend them as your snow or ice boots—the tread isn’t deep at all, and it obviously wears down over time. But pretty much anything else, these guys can handle. I climbed a fairly challenging 1000-foot-vertical-rise mountain (in the dry climes of Joshua Tree, in very nice weather. Also it turns out that there’s more than one Joshua tree in that place! Like, at least a dozen of them) and they held onto every step just fine. Are they as high-end as Vibram’s Christy wedge outsole used in some more expensive similar boots? Technically no, but you’re honestly not likely to notice.
Over time, the once-white outsoles will definitely get discolored by picking up whatever you’re walking in, but you can scrub them back to something closer to where they started if needed. Or just walk in white paint every now and again. I also know someone who uses Mr. Clean Magic Eraser on his. I tried it on mine and it seemed to work pretty well, but it was just turning into too long of a process considering I was going to do something horrible to them the next day, and so I gave up. But again, it seems to work. The key ingredient, I believe, is magic.
Construction and Durability
If there is shit to be kicked, you needn’t be afraid of kicking it with your Thorogood Moc Toe boots. While certain parts of my boots are in less-than-new shape five hard years later—especially the toe-scuffing I mentioned above in the Leather section, and a few stitches near the toe and top of the boot that have have loosened ever so slightly—the overall boot is still eager for more. The soles have worn down at that ol’ 45-degree angle that most of my shoe soles do, but I’m pretty sure I’m still multiple years away from a resole. Aside from a bit of surface abrasion, the insoles are no worse for the wear and have never been more comfortable.
The boots are Goodyear storm welted, which adds a second stitch between the upper and midsole for additional waterproofing, and of course allows for the re-soling mentioned above. I’ve been unable to get a response from Thorogood, but I believe the welt itself is some form of plastic—not the leather welt you’ll see on many more expensive boots of this style, most notably Red Wings. However, I’m fairly certain that it may be an intentional choice because it—in addition to keeping costs down—holds up well to liquid abuse that plagues job sites. I’ll update if I hear back. Either way, there doesn’t seem to be any major impact on comfort or longevity, at least at this point. We’ll see how they hold up over the next five years.
The leather upper has withstood sawdust, paint, power sanders gone astray, many different kinds of beer, getting completely caked in mud (and not getting cleaned all that quickly), and, once, becoming completely saturated when I got caught in the real-life equivalent of a storm that almost ends the protagonist’s grand hopes in a movie about sailing around the world (don’t worry, they survive and win the race or whatever was happening). Oh, and a teething baby who loves delicious, delicious boots. Do they look brand new? Oh lord no. Are they beautiful in the way that only a pair of work boots sitting next to a stack of freshly split wood can be? Absolutely—especially with a fresh mink oil treatment.
I bought these for $165 five years ago, and they’re about 20 bucks more now. For what I’ve gotten out of them considering what I’ve put them through, I can’t imagine there’s a better value out there in boots, period—especially considering that Red Wing mocs start at $290, and you just see fewer Thorogoods on people’s feet than the Red Wings.
Now, might I own a pair of Red Wing 875s one day as well? Probably! But I feel like they’re a totally different boot, one that would live a slightly more dignified (although possibly less rewarding) life—for me at least. And while I revere Red Wings and recommend them endlessly (and currently own two pairs of Iron Rangers, plus a pair of chukkas that I loved but gave to my brother in law because they just didn’t fit me right in the toe, and he’s just a swell dude), there’s little chance I invest in a pair of their moc toes before I buy those 8-inch Thorogood round steel toes to handle the serious shit.
The Stitchdown Final Take
A timeless, unflappable, adaptable, deeply comfortable boot. I’ve recommended them to maybe a half-dozen close friends over the years, and they are all very happy people (in general, but also about the boots).
If I had to go back and do it again, I’d buy the Thorogood Moc Toe 6-Inch boots 10 out of 10 times, then try to find additional times to buy them again.
Overall Rating: 8.9/10
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