When the news came down semi-recently that Viberg would be sending a large swath of its patterns out to pasture for the time being, there was some heavy consternation within the footwear community. Most of the mourning was in response to the demise of the 145 Oxford, Viberg’s workshoe-shoeboot-whateveryouwannacallit, the foundation for a ton of excellent makeups over the last few years. Also gone: The Bobcat, another OG Viberg which had served as the basis for unique custom releases from the likes of Division Road and Withered Fig.
There was one pattern, however, that I was personally deeply saddened to lose: the Roper. See, in my opinion, the Roper was heavily, heavily underrated. Sure, when it comes to laceless Vibergs, most people gravitate towards the panache of the Engineer, the refined ruggedness of the Chelsea, or the undeniable sleekness of the Side Zip. Not me, man. If you read my last review for Stitchdown, you may know that I love me a roper boot. And frankly, I think Viberg rarely did the pattern justice.
Once Upon A Time In The (Pacific North)West
The Viberg Roper has an interesting little history. In the 1960s, Viberg released its first Western pull-on boots (which, incidentally, were Viberg’s first foray into Goodyear welted boots). By the late 1970s, the Canadian bootmaker had mostly moved away from these patterns to focus on production of their industrial logging boots. Later, in the early 2000s (a short time before Brett Viberg got involved with the company and set the world on fire with the Service Boot), Viberg was making its first big push into the Japanese menswear market.
As part of this launch, Viberg decided to revive the Roper, albeit with a shorter height than its predecessor. The new Roper came with a single pull loop on the backstay and boasted a wonderfully understated Western design.
There weren’t many iterations of the Roper following its revival, but of the ones that Viberg manufactured, the vast majority were on some sort of wedge sole. None of these particular makeups ever really caught my eye; some referred to them as upscale Ugg boots. Now, I’m not a wedge-hater by any means—they’re comfy soles, and they have their place. However, I think a Roper boot really lives up to its Western pedigree when married to a sole with a defined heel.
That’s part of the reason I was so drawn to this Roper that Viberg made exclusively for Huckberry: it was a bit different from the rest. This makeup first popped up on Huckberry in late 2019, and while it was on my radar for a while, I decided to pass it up in favor of ordering a custom pair of Wesco boots. Then, a few months back, Huckberry put their remaining Viberg Ropers on sale, and the rest of the stock got snatched up. One of the folks in the Stitchdown Premium Discord (shoutout to Frank!) bought a pair for himself, but soon realized the fit wasn’t working for him. What’s cooler than one pair of ropers? I thought to myself. Two pairs of ropers. Math checks out. I decided to take the Vibergs off Frank’s hands.
These Ropers are built on Viberg’s 2005 last, which provides a round toe shape with an EE width that was designed with pull-on boots in mind. As someone with an 11.5D Brannock measurement, I would have thought that going half a size down (like in most common Vibergs) would have been the right move, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 2005 last in 10.5 provides a fit that is snug but not too tight, with just a hint of heel slip.
The leather on these boots is Icy Mocha Essex, a slick veg-tanned article from Horween’s portfolio. Essex is made by taking cowhide and giving it a nice, long vacation in the same liquor that Horween uses to make its world-renowned shell cordovan. Afterwards, the hide is impregnated with a blend of oils, fats, and greases to provide it with durability and softness. The result is a leather that is supple, sturdy, and endowed with a soft luster. The shade of this particular Essex leather lives up to its name: Icy Mocha looks a lot like something I’d get from a coffee shop, minus the whipped cream.
In spite of its history as a Goodyear welted boot in the house of Viberg, these Ropers are made with stitchdown construction. What truly sets this makeup apart, though, is the fact that–gasp!–they aren’t made on a wedge sole! Instead, they sit on a pair of Vibram 700 outsoles. From what I’ve experienced with the same sole on my Wesco Ropers, I can say that Vibram 700 reliably provides a moderate amount of traction with a large degree of durability, while also having a low profile.
The Standoff: Viberg vs. Wesco Ropers
Speaking of those Wesco Ropers…you may be wondering, how do these two boots stack up against each other? After all, they’re both made by Pacific Northwest shoemakers, and they both have the same height, the same sole, even the same logger heel. It’s difficult not to compare the two. Is one boot obviously better than the other?
The design of each boot’s pattern is pretty darn close. The biggest obvious difference between them is that the Viberg boot has a single pull tab on the back, while Wesco’s boot has one on the left and right side. The Viberg Roper also has a narrower shaft than the Wesco Morrison, which is a plus if I’m wearing pants with a slightly narrower hem.
While the build quality between these two ropers is mostly comparable, I have to sadly report that the Viberg Ropers have a slight Achilles’ heel…pad.
Back in 2019, when these Ropers were manufactured, Viberg released some boots that had heel pad issues. Basically, whatever adhesive they used to secure the Poron and leather to the insoles didn’t always take. Eventually, some heel pads would come loose and get bunched up on the insoles. Unfortunately, my Ropers were not an exception to this issue, and came unglued after about half a dozen wears. I couldn’t salvage them, so I ended up tossing them out. Annoying? Sure. But it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the boots too much. They still fit and feel just fine.
Anywho, these Viberg Ropers occupy the same niche in my wardrobe as my Wesco Morrisons: a subdued laceless boot that doesn’t necessarily look like something a cowboy would wear. They bear more than a passing resemblance to engineer boots; Neil Berrett of Standard & Strange (listen to him here on the Shoecast!) referred to my pair as “unlicensed engineers.”
The Final Take
As Viberg sends the Roper to ride off into the sunset, I’m grateful that I managed to get a pair of my own. While my experience with them hasn’t been flawless, I’m confident that these will be a permanent part of my rotation, especially in the spring and fall. If Viberg ever brings back the Roper again—which, hey, who knows?—I sure hope they make more of them like this.