As a kid in the 80s, I was hopelessly engrossed in the original Star Wars trilogy. It all began when my Dad showed me Return Of The Jedi for the first time. There, I met Boba Fett. Never mind that he only had about four lines of dialogue—that armor, jetpack, and grappling hook more than made up for it. At one point, I seriously considered intergalactic bounty hunter as a career path.
Fast-forward some twenty odd years, and I was looking to buy my next pair of heritage work boots—something that constituted a step up from my Alden Indys. I knew that this next pair of mine would have to kick some serious ass. I didn’t need it be some refined piece of footwear that I could wear to the office; a downright scary amount of badass-ness was what I was after. Something that even Boba Fett would look at and say, “Damn.” Looking at my pair of Bounty Hunters now, I’m not afraid to admit that even I get intimidated by them every now and then.
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The Brass Tacks
Shoemaker: White’s Boots
Model: Bounty Hunter
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 wear with a horsehair brush. Cleaned with Boot Black Leather Lotion (mild) once a year, and conditioned with Boot Black Delicate Cream twice a year.
A Bit of History on White’s Boots
White’s Boots has oodles of history, and is perhaps one of the most well-known American heritage brands in their field, also being one of the handful of brands from the Pacific Northwest cradle of bootmakers. Going as far back as pre-dating the Civil War, White’s began by making calked boots (footwear that have small spikes on the outsole) for loggers. Under the guidance of Otto White (the grandson of White’s founder), in 1915 they moved to their current location in Spokane, Washington, where they quickly rose to prominence among the logging folks for their seemingly indestructible boots.
Due to its all-leather construction and proprietary Arch-Ease system—which aims to redistribute the body’s weight across the feet and reduce foot fatigue—White’s also became the boot manufacturer of choice for wildland firefighters. The aptly named “Smoke Jumper” became synonymous with those who braved raging fires in the brush by literally jumping (parachuting) into smoke-filled areas. In recent times, the company has seen a spike in interest from the casual fashion community due to the resurgence of Americana styles. Their most recent fashion-forward offering – the MP boot – was well-received as a boot that managed to exude sleekness without sacrificing its signature rugged construction.
In July 2014, LaCrosse Footwear bought out White’s Boots and ownership was transferred over to its Japan-based parent company, ABC-Mart. While there was some initial concern over the fact of White’s no longer being an American-owned company, LaCrosse Footwear’s CFO Kirk Layton has publicly stated that ABC-Mart was more than willing to adopt a hands-off stance as White’s already “know what they are doing”. Since the transition, White’s level of quality appears to have remained virtually unchanged.
The Bounty Hunter is a heavy-set boot, basically being White’s Smoke Jumper built on the Semi-Dress last. This pair sports a perforated cap-toe and a regular (non-lace-to-toe, as seen on many Pacific Northwest workboots) lacing style. It’s six inches in height and uses White’s Traveler Heel, which is a 90-degree block heel made of stacked leather colored in brown. The Semi-Dress last features a less bulbous toe shape than that of their signature 4811 (Smoke Jumper) last. While this does clean up the boot’s silhouette, the difference is not substantial enough for it to be considered a true dress boot (hence: “Semi-Dress”). The thickly rolled welt and double rows of outsole stitching also creates a slightly clunkier outline due to the more prominent outsole edge, but is offset somewhat by the sleekness of the Vibram sole.
My pair shipped with a full natural Chromexcel upper, courtesy of Horween Leather Co. Perhaps the most common American work boot leather, Chromexcel (or CXL, as they code it in the Horween factory) is a hard-wearing leather that exhibits a significant amount of pull-up. The natural shade of the Chromexcel is quick to darken—this allows for an accelerated amount of variability as far as patina is concerned. If you were to compare a fresh batch of natural Chromexcel leather against mine, you would be shocked at just how dark mine have become (they’re practically brown).
What’s cool though is that instead of the change in tone being uniform, you see variations throughout the boot. With my pair, the toe caps darkened the most thanks to their increased exposure to the elements, while it rest of the leather starts to lighten up as you go back along the waist. It also took on a deeper shine that stands in stark contrast to its original matte look, no doubt due to the endless amount of brushing that took place over the years. In my opinion, the greatest strength of natural Chromexcel is that it really reflects the type of living you put through. I’ve taken my Bounty Hunters through events ranging from late nights at the pub to short hikes, and it really shows.
Complementing the boots was a thick pair of brown, lightly waxed roped laces as well as another pair of brown rawhide laces. They match up well with the antique eyelets and speed hooks, which over the course of four years have developed a nice amount of patina as well.A pair of false tongues (aka kilties, aka, those little strips of leather with the thick pinking on them) were also included but I ultimately chose not to install them due to the way they clashed with the cap toe design. Personally, I’ve always felt that false tongues looked better on plain-toe boots. If we’re talking about heritage features though, then the false tongues were considered to be essential to boot longevity “back in the day”.
The cut of leather used for the tongue of the boot would always be the thinnest piece, putting it at risk of early wear through. Dust particles and grime, combined with added pressure and friction from tightened laces, would often result in a significant amount of abrasive damage to the delicate leather. As such, the false tongue was conceived as a way to provide an additional layer of protection without sacrificing the soft flexibility of the tongue. Others have noted that the extended portion of the false tongue also provided an additional layer of leather across the vamp, which may have helped loggers by preventing or minimizing incidents of perforation.
Rating: 8/10—They look exactly like a hardcore boot should look, although that does leave them a bit clunky and therefore not perfect for every situation.
Sizing, Fit & Comfort
White’s website does not list the Bounty Hunter as part of their catalog. Rather, the Bounty Hunter makeup is exclusive to Baker’s Boots & Clothing and must be customized through their website (it’s their second-most popular boot). Of course, fitting is the first and most crucial step of any footwear customization process. Regulars of Baker’s would no doubt recommend Kyle (whose last name appears to be lost to time) for sizing inquiries, and they would be correct! Kyle’s expertise led to what proved to be a spot-on fit for my Bounty Hunters, which was a half-size down from my Brannock size of 9.5D and the same width.
The Semi-Dress last is generous without being too roomy and is very foot-friendly. White’s also offers widths ranging from A to FF, and lengths from 5 to 15. So unless you are Shaq, odds are that White’s will be able to build a boot that fits you to a tee. (If you are indeed Shaq: thanks for reading!) Due to the prominence of the built-in arch support though, people with flat feet or collapsed arches may not fare too well with the Semi-Dress last.
One of the things White’s Boots is known for is its (in)famous Arch-Ease system. Work boots that come from White’s are known for their phenomenal amount of arch support, which put the company a head over their competitors during their early years. For those who spend long hours on their feet, this type of arch support is very much regarded as a game-changer in terms of footwear comfort.
The heels are another focal point; White’s offer either their “standard” or Traveler’s heel for the Bounty Hunter. The Traveler is a plain 90-degree blocked heel while the Standard is a Cuban heel (i.e. a heel with a slanted outer edge). The general consensus is that the curved design of the Standard heel allows for a more natural feel while walking, but some complain about it ending up looking too far removed from conventional heel design for their tastes. Having owned boots with both heel types, I wouldn’t say that there is a huge difference between the two, at least with the way that I walk. Your mileage, of course, may differ.
Bringing things even closer to the ground, my pair of Bounty Hunters uses a single-leather midsole and a Vibram half-sole to protect the wearer’s feet from the rigors of navigating terrain. Of course, this is again fully customizable—you can go with a triple-leather midsole and a Vibram 100 lugged outsole if you ever feel like you’re up to the challenge! While these options do affect the comfort of the boot, what is perhaps the single most significant factor behind it happens to be something far less externally prominent—see the Break-In section below.
Note: The Bounty Hunters are HEAVY. I once had to sprint over to my fiancée when a buddy told me that some perv was creeping on her. I’m a pretty athletic guy, but going full-tilt for 30 seconds took more out of me than I expected. Boba Fett would definitely have needed a bigger jetpack if he rocked these.
Rating: 9/10—Sizing was straight-forward thanks to Kyle. The Semi-Dress last allows for a good amount of toe spread and cradles the heel comfortably. I can also see it being accommodating to most instep heights.
Owners of White’s Boots call it “White’s Bite,” a cute little nickname that describes the uncomfortable sensation of breaking in White’s patented Arch-Ease system. Even for those who are used to the arch support of orthotic inserts, the amount of support typical of White’s boots can prove to be something of a shock.
A big part of the Arch-Ease system is a multi-layered, all-leather shank which works to fill up and mold to the shape of your foot’s arch. As impressive as this may sound, the initial break-in the furthest thing from being a walk in the park. Expect your arches to be sore for the first few months of wear before the arch supports start to give a little. Upon a full break-in however, it becomes comfortable to the point where you hardly notice its existence.
In my case, the Bounty Hunter was my very first time encountering ANY real form of arch support in footwear. To say that I was taken aback by the sensation in my arches during the first hour of wear would be like saying that the Mariana Trench would make for a good wading pool for kiddies. This is not the kind of boot you can take out for a day hike on your first wear if you’re unfamiliar with Arch-Ease feature. Baby steps were definitely required in my case, and a good amount of wincing.
Breaking in the upper is much less taxing (thankfully). Chromexcel is known to be fairly soft and pliable, which is atypical of a leather with its reputation for durability. The most trouble you might expect from a new pair of Bounty Hunters would be lace bite (a fairly common occurrence where a portion of the tongue presses into the gap of your ankle). Of course, this can be resolved with either lacing your boots less tightly or employing a different lacing pattern (e.g. gap lacing). To those who don’t know, gap lacing is where you bypass the eyelets that sit near the crease of your ankle. Instead of crossing over like normal, your bring your laces straight through. It should be noted that using cotton laces allow for snugger lacing, which makes a small difference in the speed of break-in. Once broken in however, you may switch out to your rawhide laces if you prefer.
Rating: 6/10—Arch support is brutal on the feet initially. Unfortunately, there’s no other way but to tough it out. Start by wearing for short durations and increase over time.
Leather & Care
I think I speak for most boot lovers when I say that Chromexcel has character oozing out the wazoo. A pull-up leather unique to Horween, Chromexcel has a history that dates back as far as WWII, apparently having been utilized as gasket seals in tanks. It’s a vegetable retanned leather, meaning that it is first tanned in chrome salts before being subjected to heavy vegetable retannage. The entire process is fairly complex and comprises 89 separate steps, but the end result is undeniable: a rich, greasy leather that can be either be buffed to a soft luster or left alone for a worn-in matte look.
Another thing Chromexcel fans can all agree on is that the leather can be sensitive. Bumps, nicks and scuffs will be very evident with Chromexcel boots, but don’t let that trick you into thinking that such boots require delicate handling. The truth is that most of the light scuff marks you might get with Chromexcel aren’t really scuffs at all. Due to the hot-stuffing of oils, waxes and greases, the pull-up characteristics of Chromexcel become greatly exaggerated. For the uninitiated, “pull-up” is a term used to describe the lightening of a leather’s color tone when it’s subjected to pressure (e.g. flexing a belt). This change in color is in fact due to the oil and waxes being “pulled” to the surface, hence “pull-up”. In the case of light scuffing, what is actually happening is that the oils are being shifted away from the point of impact. Most of the time, a few vigorous sweeps of a horsehair brush will be enough to restore a more consistent tone. Of course, the degree of success will be disproportionate to the severity of the scuff. True dents, on the other hand, are pretty much permanent.
As for further care, Chromexcel doesn’t need to be constantly babied for it to function properly. The type of product you use will depend on how you wish to maintain your Chromexcel boots. For those who prefer the bone-stock texture of it, a wax-free conditioner like Saphir’s Greasy Leather Cream will allow you to nourish the leather without adding any extra layers of wax over it. If you wish to give the appearance of your Chromexcel a little more “oomph” however, Nick Horween himself recommends Venetian Shoe Cream (each batch of Chromexcel is apparently given a glaze of VSC before being shipped).
As I use VSC treatment on my Alden Indys, I went with the alternative on my Bounty Hunters. However, the local Saphir distributor did not have any of the Greasy Leather Cream in stock, so I ended up going with Boot Black (a Japanese luxury shoe care brand) Delicate Cream, a wax-free conditioner designed for more delicate leathers like nappa. Upon application, the cream did nothing to affect the color or texture of the leather—it looked neither duller or shinier than when I first started. Working the product in by hand left no residue of any kind either, but did give off a slightly plump feeling (like how one’s skin feels after applying moisturizer).
Pro-tip: Test your care products on the false tongues for an idea of how they react with the leather before applying them to your boot!
Rating: 8/10—I can appreciate leathers that show their character easily, but some people will prefer a leather that’s more predictable. Nevertheless, Chromexcel is a great leather that has a well-earned reputation.
Baker’s offers a great deal of outsole customization options, and most if not all of them come from the industry-famous Vibram, which are made from vulcanized rubber and are well-liked for their traction and abrasion-resistance.
I went with Vibram Half Composition outsole with my pair, which is basically a Vibram 700 in a half sole. This means that only the area forward of the shank is given the rubberized treatment. The benefit of such an approach is that resoling becomes much easier and you no longer have to change the entire sole if say, only the tread has worn out. Accompanying the Vibram is a Quabug-branded rubber heel, which is quite honestly insanely long-lasting. Interesting note: the Quabug Corporation was purchased by Vibram in 2015, so I guess durability is very much a family trait here.
Comfort-wise, I’ve had no issue with the Vibram outsole and the single leather midsole. The amount of stiffness is typical of such a configuration and will break in with regular wear. There’s an appreciable amount of traction as well and the discrete tread doesn’t pick up debris as easily as the Vibram 430. The Vibram Half Composition outsole is also non-marking, though to be honest it was never really a huge concern of mine. Sure is a nice bonus though!
Rating: 9/10—If they were any more durable, I’d be concerned with them wearing ME down instead.
Construction & Durability
Things get pretty interesting here. There are four rows of lock-stitching on the uppers and a 270-degree welt that’s more fortress than feature. The exact method of welting is noteworthy—it’s referred to as a rolled Norwegian welt, and basically beefs up the boot’s already formidable level of water resistance. With rolled welting, the welt is first stitched to the upper, which is then rolled over and stitched through and attached to the sole. It’s just as heavy-duty as it looks, and also provides an additional layer of protection to the Norwegian stitch as well as the area surrounding it.
The Bounty Hunter also utilizes a fully gusseted/bellows tongue that offers the wearer’s feet superb water resistance when laced up. The strength of this tongue design lies in the fact that is directly attached to the quarter of the boot, all the way to the top of the shaft. When folded correctly (over itself in an “S” pattern), it also creates an additional layer of padding between the sock and the laces, making it more comfortable for the shin.
As mentioned in the previous section, the Vibram + Quabug combo is highly durable. You can see for yourself just how much wear has occurred over four years. The tread is still prominent and provides good grip. Considering that I have a good deal of boots in my rotation, I can see the outsole performing well enough for another eight years easily.
Rating: 9/10—Ridiculously sturdy; you might even think that they’re over-built. In a good way!
Baker’s Boots & Clothing charges $479.95 for a custom Bounty Hunter (there are no ready-to-wear options) and $619.95 for a make-up done with Horween horsehide. The former certainly isn’t cheap, but it’s par for the course for the tier of footwear occupied by White’s. Aside from the history of the brand, one must also acknowledge the fact that this is a completely bench-made boot customized to your liking. White’s also offers lifetime support for repairs and rebuilds. Due to its all-leather construction, the boots can effectively be restored to their original glory (for a fee, of course).
Aside from that, how much value you extract from these boots will depend on how much they feature in your life. If most of your time is spent in a corporate office or meeting clients, you may not think it worthwhile to spend a little under $500 for a pair of boots you would wear only on weekends. However, if your office conditions are a little more casual or you frequently work outdoors, then your money would be definitely better spent.
This is by no means a conclusive rationale: there’s nothing wrong with having these boots solely for weekend wear.
Rating: 9/10—Value may be subjective, but this is an incredibly well built boot, and the up-charge is understandable given that it is a made-to-order item.
The Stitchdown Final Take
White’s Bounty Hunters are perfect for those who enjoy the brand’s Semi-Dress offering but would like something with a bit more leather on tap. Also, if you’re looking for a general purpose work boot that can both take it and dish it out in equal amounts, then this make-up is definitely worth considering. Using the right conditioner (and a shinier leather) will dress up the boot a little bit, but it remains a smart-casual boot for the most part. If you can get past the initial break-in, then a fully customized Bounty Hunter is truly a force to be reckoned with. And if you end up stranded in a Sarlacc pit, at least your feet will be well-protected.
Overall Rating: 8.3—If this is the type of boot you’re looking for, you won’t need another pair for a LONG time.