When I first encountered Viberg, I was flummoxed. How could a Canadian bootmaker command so much awe and respect in America? So much so that people who’d read (usually somewhere on the Internet) the Viberg gospel and were willing to order $700ish boots sight unseen, without trying them on? Sure, they were beautiful. Yes, the heritage was clearly there. But what, for lack of a more eloquent question, were these boots all about?
One year after my initial introduction to the brand, I purchased a pair of Viberg Service Boots. That’s when I got it—why their Service Boot is regarded as an icon. It was an enlightening experience for sure, and it proved to me why great footwear should be considered a work of art.
The Brass Tacks
Model: Service Boot in Color 8 CXL (2030 last)
Price: $670 (from Viberg.com)
Years Worn: Two
Worn how often: Twice a week
How I care for them: Cedar shoe trees inserted when not worn. Brushed before and after every wear with a horsehair brush. Cleaned and conditioned with Venetian Shoe Cream twice a year.
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A Bit of History on Viberg
Founded in 1931 by Ed Viberg, Viberg Boot initially constructed boots for farmers, loggers, and other full-on, heavy work industries. It remained on that path until about 10 years ago, when under the growing guidance of Ed’s grandson Brett, Viberg began leveraging its expertise to create lifestyle boots that combined stylish aesthetics with its trademark unimpeachable durability (this Viberg Service Boot history will take you through that story in far deeper detail).
Aside from its core, always-available collection, Viberg flexes its creativity and range by collaborating with the likes of top shops like Division Road, wings+horns, Standard & Strange, Miloh Shop, Brooklyn Clothing, Withered Fig, and plenty others to consistently create unique and exclusive models. While it certainly has developed a strong following with the fashion-forward community, Viberg has also remained loyal to its work roots, maintaining its offering of smokejumper, lineman, and other heavy-duty, often steel-toe boots (although it’s a significantly smaller part of its overall business these days).
The most popular iteration of the Viberg Service Boot is built on Viberg’s 2030 last, as is mine. The toe box bears a distinctive almond shape which is highlighted, on mine, by the presence of a perforated toe cap. Unlike, say, my Tricker’s Stow boots, this broguing is confined to just the edge of the toe cap, and definitely keeps things looking good and classy. Unfortunately, there is a slight discrepancy between the left and right boot when it comes to the cap-toe spacing—an affliction you’ll sometimes see on Viberg’s cap-toed Service Boots (and many cap-toe boots, for that matter). Thankfully, it’s not glaringly obvious.
The colorway is a classic: Horween’s Chromexcel (CXL) in Color 8. Standing somewhere between burgundy and oxblood, Color 8 possesses an eggplant-like hue that varies in different lighting. Under natural sunlight, you get subtle brown, purple, and even pink undertones. The depth of color is intriguing and I sometimes catch myself just staring at my Service Boots absentmindedly. Which is, for the record, a very fulfilling way to pass the time.
Looking down, it’s hard not to marvel at the aesthetics afforded by Viberg’s Service Boots. There is a sense of precision at play, be it with the antiqued eyelets pressed neatly into the throat, or the double rows of stitchdown stitches running parallel to each other. A pair of waxed olive laces provide the perfect amount of contrast to the leather. My pair came packaged with a pair of rope and flat laces of the same color; I went with the flats for a classier look.
Sizing, Fit & Comfort
Many have said that despite its history as a Pacific Northwest bookmaker, VIberg’s sizing for their 2030 last Service Boots run closer to UK sizing due to its width (which is more of an E width, apparently). This has indeed been the case in my experience. As a 9.5D on the Brannock device, I was sized to an 8.5 (the same UK size I use in Tricker’s Stow and Alden’s Trubalance: US8.5 B/D). Others will find a half-size down from Brannock to be the right move. Which is why it’s important to always try the boots on first if you can.
Despite the 2030 last being a mainstay in Viberg’s offerings, it’s not for everyone. The most common issue highlighted by detractors is the shape of the toe box and how it tends to press on the pinky toe. Luckily the Service Boot is made in a wide range the other lasts Viberg deploys (including 2040, 2045, 1035, 310, 110, 42977, and the new 2020 last, which you can read all about right here), which comprise an incredibly wide universe of shapes and looks. So those who are averse to the 2030 last may yet still find a pair that they can wear very comfortably.
My boots employ a very supportive leather heel counter, and a leather midsole with a steel shank for reinforced support (although Viberg is moving everything onto wooden shanks in 2020 largely for environmental reasons). Along with the leather footbed, the midsole will mold to your feet with time. Of course, this means that the first few wears may feel…well, not exactly like wear 100. You may have to tolerate a blister or two, but it is definitely not what I would describe as unforgiving. Thick boot socks will make the process a whole lot more comfortable.
Breaking in the Viberg Service Boots can be tough despite the upper being made of CXL. As pliable as the leather may be, the thickness used by Viberg can make things challenging. Along with the initially-stiff leather footbed, the process of breaking the Service Boots in is, in all honesty, not that much different than what you’ll find from most work boots—unsurprising given Viberg’s heritage and construction techniques.
It pays to be smart about these things. Being progressive with your wear time (maybe starting with an hour and increase 30 minutes with each wear) may drag things out a little, but you get to avoid aches and sores that would otherwise tarnish the experience of donning a pair of Vibergs. It goes without saying that this all hinges on how well the 2030 last fits you. You can’t really force your way in, thinking that the leather will stretch over time and wholly accommodate the shape of your foot.
Luckily, I didn’t have much issue breaking my pair in. The first wear convinced me of the premium that Vibergs command, and after spending a night with a pair of shoes trees inserted, any lingering tightness faded away.
Leather & Care
There isn’t much that can be said about Horween CXL that hasn’t already been said across the internet (see Horween’s own excellent story). But here we go anyway! Horween’s signature pull-up leather is vegetable-retanned (first tanned in chrome salts before being subjected to heavy vegetable retannage) and is known for its soft glow and impressive durability. Despite its hardiness, one of the things that always surprises people is the temper of the leather itself. For a leather that saw duty in gasket seals in tanks during WWII, it is surprisingly pliable.
The amount of pull-up shown with CXL is also another trademark. Bending and folding the leather creates a lightening effect as the oils and waxes are pulled to the surface. Over time, this characteristic plays a crucial part in determining the patina your boot develops. While the effect won’t be as pronounced as it is with waxier leathers (e.g. Chromepak), the subtle variations in color make for a truly personalized boot.
Much to my delight, my pair of Service Boots displayed a very high quality of clicking. I can’t say that I’m surprised; all other accounts point to Viberg using only the best cuts of leather for its footwear. Despite having a good two years of wear under its belt (and a couple of nicks to boot), there is zero loose grain to be found anywhere along my boots.
Like my Alden Indy boots, I opted for Venetian Shoe Cream when it came to treating the CXL of my Service Boots. I use the Mac method exclusively when it comes to shoe care and it has never failed me. After a thorough brush-down with my horsehair brush, I apply small amounts of the product by hand before buffing it with a soft cotton cloth. The resulting effect is good shine that’s a few steps above the natural glow of CXL. If a harder shine is desired, I’d strongly recommend Blackrock Leather ’N’ Rich.
One thing to note: due to the dark hue of Color 8 and the natural characteristics of CXL, scratches and scuffs come easily. Luckily, a horsehair brush and some elbow grease is often all that’s needed to buff out all but the most egregious of scuffs.
The Dainite outsole is generally very well-received with the stitched footwear community, although like all soles, it has its strengths and weaknesses. It provides a level of traction that’s on par with lightly-lugged Vibrams while offering the sleek profile of a leather sole. You can expect an initial level of stiffness that will fade slightly with time. While the rubber compound used in Dainite soles is generally hard-wearing, it has been my experience that they are slightly behind Vibram in terms of durability. The wear on the heel of my Vibergs came at a slightly quicker pace than my Red Wing Blacksmiths (Vibram 430). Of course, whether or not this is due to the actual material composition of Dainite or its design is up for debate.
For city streets, the Dainite sole works as it should, although it is somewhat notorious for slipping on certain surfaces when wet. I definitely would not recommend wearing this in slush or flood conditions as they are simply not designed for this purpose. Viberg’s Service Boots may have been inspired by military boots, but they are certainly not meant to function as such. Furthermore, the tongue of the Viberg Service Boots is only half-gusseted, meaning that it is much easier for your feet to get wet should the boot be submerged in snow or water.
Construction and Durability
Viberg’s calling card (in my eyes at least) is its beautiful usage of stitchdown construction. In contrast to the popular Goodyear welt, stitchdown foregoes the welt entirely, and in Viberg’s case, employs two rows of stitching: one affixes the leather upper to the midsole, while the other attaches the upper to the outsole. The concept itself is straightforward, but Viberg’s execution of it takes it to the level of functional artistry. I’ve always said that with Vibergs, you’re paying for the finish and attention to detail. The stitches in my Service Boots are clean, even, and virtually flawless. I could not for the life of me find any instances of puckering in the upper or a missed stitch.
While a rapid stitching machine is used for the midsole and outsole stitching, it is all still done by hand and under the watchful eye (…and hands) of an experienced bootmaker. This handcrafted method of construction extends to other areas of Viberg’s shoemaking process as well. As schlocky as it may sound, it is as close to perfection as you can get with manmade ready-to-wear footwear. Is it as tough as an honest-to-goodness workboot? No, but for a “lifestyle” boot, it certainly qualifies as being something of a tank.
At $670, Vibergs are certainly not cheap. They’re a good $100 more than Alden’s basic offerings, which begs the question: are the Viberg Service Boots $100 better than an Alden boot? I would say (and I’m being very measured with my words here) that the value of Vibergs cannot be defined by currency alone. There are qualitative aspects of Viberg that only connoisseurs will understand and appreciate.
Basically, if quality footwear is your thing, you might not mind shelling out the extra dough for Vibergs. Honestly, I don’t think I can recall anyone ever regretting buying a pair of well-fitted Vibergs! For the everyman looking for a pair of quality boots that he can take pride in however, I would say that Vibergs are really more of an aspirational acquisition.
The Stitchdown Final Take
The Service Boot is a remarkable example of how a fashionable boot can remain faithful to the tenets of quality shoemaking. And honestly, this final score would’ve been significantly higher if not for Viberg’s elevated price—everything else is essentially perfect, or close to it.
Hell, my pair of Vibergs ended up being my choice of footwear for my wedding (in Scotland during April no less—another testament to its durability). While some may balk at my choice of nuptial footwear, I stand by my decision through and through. Viberg has certainly impressed me enough to ignore formal conventions when it comes to footwear—you may find exactly the same thing.
Final Rating: 8.9