There’s just something different about White’s Boots. For me, it’s rooted so deeply in the solidity of them, the heft. When you pick them up, there’s no mistaking it: you are holding a BOOT (yes, even if it’s a shoe)—one that’s going to be with you for a long, long time. There’s comfort in that.
Years back, when my boot obsession was still in the beginnings of working itself towards a full bloom, I heard about White’s Boots. While researching what to invest in after my Thorogood Moc-Toes (which I love to this day, btw: see my full review), I constantly read about the two most usual suspects: Red Wing and Alden. And Wolverine, of course. British makers like Tricker’s and Crockett & Jones, who just seemed too, well…fancy for where I was at. There was Viberg, which seemed impossibly expensive, and at the time I’m pretty sure I was convinced, for no good reason at all, was German.
And then there was the White’s Semi-Dress. A chunky but oddly beautiful boot with a bafflingly swoopy heel I didn’t quite understand yet, and an ancient-seeming name I understood even less, crafted by a bootmaker that seemed to have been around forever while somehow remaining obscure—except to those in the know, the ones who tried harder and knew more than everyone else. You had to call them to order your boots at the time, I’m pretty sure. I didn’t get it, in terms of what in the world that boot was even supposed to be, or be FOR. I grabbed some Red Wing Iron Ranger 8111s (another eternally beloved pair—my review here), and directed my boot-buying train directly toward the Alden track.
It takes time to really see shoes and boots the way they should be seen. Some of it is just gaining familiarity—with history, and patterns, and ever-so-subtle variations. Some of it is opening your mind to what a boot can and should be, as their beauty and function and reason for being reveals itself to you. And as my vision grew, I finally looked again at the White’s Semi-Dress, and got it. I needed some White’s.
So naturally I scheduled a one hour and 45 minute call with White’s Boots president Eric Kinney, for this interview. By that point I knew quite a bit indeed about White’s—how it had been making boots for loggers, farmers, and more in Spokane since 1915, and elsewhere long before that—and White’s had made a serious pivot towards becoming a more modern version of itself. They now had a really nice-looking website! And a stunningly beautiful Instagram feed! And were neatly presenting a range of lifestyle boots, beyond Semi-Dresses and heavy true work styles like their iconic Smokejumper.
So I did the interview with Eric, and after hearing everything from his perspective, it was a lock: I needed my first pair. Not a Semi-Dress, yet, largely because I was and still am in the middle of a boot-shoe infatuation/compulsion, and on a quest to find the perfect one. I’d been spending inordinate time staring at the few examples I could find in the wild of White’s oxford, a perfectly balanced pattern with an excellent dosage of chonk. That was the one.
The specs were dialed in: White’s brown dress leather, double-row hand-sewn stitchdown construction, block heel with some stain, Vibram half-composition sole and heel, and White’s C461 sprung toe last. Outside the double-row, basically the same shoe as this. Eric was nice enough to send them over on the house: we both knew that no matter how much we talked about it, the only way to really get White’s was to wear them.
Fast-forward two months and there I was, back on the White’s site, buying a pair of full-on 10-inch lace-to-toe Smokejumpers in brown roughout leather. After that came an MTO pair of distress roughout 350s on a chonky Vibram 2021 sole. I’d seen the light.
And now, all these years later, I’m in the position to give my full take on my White’s experience, and the White’s landscape overall.
- Alden Indy 403C Review: A Three-Year Look at a Near-Perfect Boot
- Onderhoud Handmade: Possibly the Best Value in Hand-Welted Boots
- Thorogood Moc-Toe Boot In Tobacco Leather: Five-Year Review
- Tricker’s x Division Road Bourton: Five Months Deep Into Some Wonderful Kudu
- Red Wing Iron Ranger: A Four-Year Review of a Timeless Boot
- Tricker’s Stow: A Two-Year Review of a Very Excellent Country Boot
- A Deep Look at Heinrich Dinkelacker’s Signature Buda Brogue
- Paraboot Avignon: a Wildly Comfortable, Personality-Filled Shoe
- Red Wing Beckman Flatbox: a Rugged Japanese-Market Beauty
Again, finding the perfect boot-shoe is a bit of an obsession of mine. They can take many forms, from my Red Wing Sport Oxfords, which are lower profile but still have plenty of boot blood coursing through their veins (as almost all Red Wings do), and my Onderhoud LVC01 lows, both of which I love with abandon. Viberg 145 and 245 oxfords are high on my wishlist. But the White’s are truly boot+shoe.
Shoe because of the perfectly balanced low-cut pattern, obviously, and the nicely sculpted/stained block heel. They’re a borderline dress derby—oxford being an old American workboot company (now-intentional) misnomer for many low shoes they make—that could be mistaken by an untrained eye for something far fancier.
But especially with White’s, the boot aspect=build. The oxfords are made with the exact same materials, solidity, and heft of White’s hardest-core true work boots. One of these probably weighs more than both of many of my pairs of shoes (and in writing that I just realized I need to start putting my shoes on a scale…that should be fun). So while they’re not exactly ready for a 5k, as the midsole has broken in they’ve approached becoming effortless to walk around in, while still ever reminding you that they’re on your feet. Which I love.
But again: they’re classy! Damn classy, really. The C461 sprung toe last has a very appealing overhead shape to it (and a fun toe spring in terms of looks that isn’t TOO aggressive), and the block heel makes them just a bit more…normal, in a good way. And I’ve been tickled to find some real versatility in them.
I’m not exactly itching to pair them with a suit, but they work with all manner of pants from denim to proper slacks, and I’ve worn them everywhere from just wandering aimlessly around on weekends (important pastime) to meetings that could definitely be considered “more than slightly fancy.” While the race is tight, I honestly think they may hold the current claim to being my overall favorite shoe.
Ok now we’re getting serious. White’s Smokejumpers are the top-rated National Fire Protection Association boot for wildland firefighters—aka people who jump out of airplanes to risk their lives fighting forest fires for a living.
It is a lot of boot: a 10 inch-rise of burly 8oz Seidel roughout, a monster leather midsole and shank, and Vibram’s Fire & Ice lugged outsole that is designed to perform in a ridiculous temperature range from -20C to +250C.
Now while it definitely gets cold where I am, I’m probably not going to test the upper bounds of that range unless I stand too close to the fireplace for a while. And the sole is serious—the heaviest I’ve ever encountered. So, is this too much boot? Would I have been better off MTOing a tall Smokejumper with, say, a slightly lighter but still very real Vibram 100 sole? Perhaps. But I specifically wanted a purely indestructible boot for all sorts of heavy work—something I can absolutely thrash and never, ever worry about. And I got it.
One of the things that immediately struck me about these boots is just how damn handsome they are—they’re a far, far better looking boot than they have any right or need to be, from a work-technical perspective. The lace-to-toe pattern (which I love in general) is perfectly balanced, and the way the beautifully arched leather heel cup slides concavely up into the boot’s shaft is just perfection worth staring at for a while.
I’ve also really come to love the curved logger heel on them as well—while I’m still not sure I’m ready for it on a Semi-Dress (which I’m sure would be proven wrong as soon as I got them, but we all have our mental blocks until we just say fuck it and overcome them, right?), there’s just so much boot to balance it out on these.
This is the first time I’ve had 10-inch boots, and it definitely does not feel like they are four inches higher than 6-inch boots—more like, oh I don’t know, 54 inches—and there is really something to them. You are in these boots once you get them laced, which itself is a process. The fully gusseted tongue is massive; I went with the s-fold technique, in which you stack the tongue on top of itself and crank the laces down hard. It takes some real input work every single time before you “train” the tongue, but it does get easier as you go.
And finally, that lace-to-toe pattern. There’s a functional benefit to them: they allow you to just crank down the boot harder all the way through, and also to lace different portions of the boot with different tightnesses, which is especially helpful during break-in stage. But let’s be totally honest—I just like the look. I’ve long been into monkey boots, lineman boots, whatever you want to call them, and in this case it makes as serious a boot as you can get feel even more like a boot.
I took the kilties off. Sue me.
With these, I spoke with Eric and we decided together: let’s do something to get a taste of a White’s made-to-order boot, but not go totally crazy. Display how simple tweaks and additions/subtractions could add up to a boot that’s maybe not quite a trademark screamer, but is still distinctive from what else is out there, and has a ton of unique personality.
So the 6-inch 350 Cruiser (aka standard non-lace-to-toe Smokejumper) pattern was the start, along with the 55/Semi Dress last. At Baker’s Boots, SJ+55 is considered a Bounty Hunter, so you can, I suppose, feel free to call it that even though these came direct from White’s. I wanted all eyelets, and went brass. I originally wanted a Vibram 2060 tan wedge sole before Eric talked me into its thicker brother, the Vibram 2021. I’m really glad I did—it’s a monster, but a the perfect monster for White’s. Chonk on chonk really works, at least for me. I think it’s perfect on these.
More chonk was accomplished via White’s signature double-row, rolled welt stitchdown construction. You can single-row any White’s boot, which slims things down considerably and makes the boots more than a touch dressier. No need for that here.
The leather is dark brown distress roughout—the “distress” reflecting the oils Milwaukee’s Seidel tannery pumps into it during the tanning process, and the effect they have over time by surfacing and sliding around and creating a really varied coloration that will darken over time. About 10 wears in it’s already happening, and I’ll be damned interested to see where it goes.
Finally, I went with brass eyelets all the way up, eschewing speed hooks. The main thing there is the look, which I love. But honestly they’re no more difficult to lace up at the 6-inch height. The rawhide laces—which I’ll probably stay with forever—are long enough to not even need to be unlaced to get your foot in before being cranked back down and wrapped around the ankle. After this I’m very, very tempted to go with all eyelets on an 8-inch White’s boot in the future. Will I come to regret that? We’ll see!
One final thing: the length of the gusseted tongue makes it a little tricky to get your foot in at the beginning, much more so than the endless tongue of the 10-inch Smokejumpers that just allows ample room to throw your foot in there before s-ing it around. It’s getting better already, though, and I imagine it’ll continue to do so. Because leather is leather and it sometimes does what it wants, I’ve ended up going with the s-fold on the left boot, while the right found its way into the “both sides” gusseted tongue lacing technique. Both feel perfectly comfortable. Silly leather!
Tanks is the go-to metaphor for White’s and boots like them. So let’s try harder. Maybe a battleship? But an unsinkable one (even if you’re using the significantly cooler electronic version of the board game, which I never actually owned…). Fallout shelters? I imagine like a chipmunk could survive an apocalypse tucked into one. The truck from Mad Max: Fury Road? That thing was pretty tough.
So how does White’s get there? Monster leather shanks and heel counters. Thick leather midsoles that seem to weigh more than some other boots alone. 7.5 to 8oz upper leathers. The aforementioned outsoles as hardcore as you’d ever want, dialed up or down depending on your needs. When you pick them up, you realize you’re dealing with something pretttttty real. When you put them on, you gasp at their heft—not just the first time. Every time.
And then there’s the finishing component of the build. The upper stitching on all my White’s is basically flawless. The heels have an excellent shape and balance. As for the sole stitching, I’ll plagiarize, from myself, in a recent chat in the Stitchdown Premium Discord (where guys are chatting endlessly about shoes and boots all day long—learn more about Stitchdown Premium here):
“My outlook on White’s sole stitching is if you don’t expect perfection you’ll probably be pretty happy. For instance, both of the front rows on my oxfords are partially covered up near the toe by the rolled welt…but it doesn’t bother me at all. There’s something about it not trying to be perfect that makes imperfections just work much better aesthetically. As opposed to creating a situation where it can be perfect, and therefore any flaw is glaring.”
The Lasts and Sizing
I took the same size in all of these—10.5D (I’m an 11 Brannock). Let’s take these one by one:
4811 (Smokejumper): This is a BIG last. Wide in the forefoot, and in my experience, it feels even longer than the 55 last. I wear these with thick over-the-calf socks—I got one pair of White’s own midweight socks, which work well, but I find myself using my even thicker Darn Tough mountaineering socks (great socks btw) more often to fill things up.
But even with those there’s a more than a little bit of slop, which is likely exacerbated by this being just SO MUCH BOOT, and causing me to notice it a bit more. I took a 10.5D, my “normal” US boots size, but honestly if I did it again I’d try for a 10D; the very round toe box means that there’s just more length you can chop off. I’ve heard it said that over time as the high arch—and it is quite high on the 4811 indeed—compresses a touch, your foot ends up eating a bit more length, but we’ll just have to see.
55 (Semi-Dress): Maybe one of the perfect round-toe boot lasts, right up there for me with Alden’s Trubalance. Even though White’s insists that it’s actually roomier in the toe box than the 4811, I personally find it to be snugger all around than the 4811, and to have just a perfect overhead look. (Note: I also wear these with very thick socks, which is exactly what I want. We’ll worry about how to contend with that come summer). And the flexibility of the 55 last to work perfectly on everything from chonky work-style boots like these to a sleeker iteration of itself when paired with, say, a single-row stitchdown construction and single leather sole on a Semi-Dress really sums up what a special last it is. Love it.
C461: I almost went with the 55 last for my oxfords, but decided to have some fun with White’s little-used C461 sprung toe last. The toe spring is noticeable but not too extreme, there’s a bit more of a funky oblongness and almost a swing to the forefoot compared to the very balanced 55 last, but in the best possible way. I wear these with less-thick socks, Chups usually, and they hug the feet very well. I’m impossibly curious to see how the C461 would work on high boots…
Again, let’s go one at a time.
Dark Brown Roughout (Smokejumpers): A rich milk-chocolately brown with a heavier nap out of the box than the distress roughout (on my pair at least), the dark brown roughout is thick, burly, and ready to be beaten. It might not be terribly unique or original, but that’s not what I was looking for out of these. Not a ton more to be said; the photos tell the story.
Dark Brown Distress Roughout (MTO 350 Cruisers): Seidel loads the distress roughout up with oils, which are fairly imperceptible at first, but work their way around the leather basically as soon as you take your first steps—things quickly start to darken and get really all-around interesting in high-flex areas and it seems like it’ll continue.
Fun little story: I dropped a can of beer and opened it too quickly (just couldn’t wait!) and sprayed my boots a bunch, and then quickly wiped them down with a wet towel. That action seems to have unleashed a bunch of the oils on the vamp, which stayed darker and more varied. Very excited to see what these look like in a couple months.
Brown Dress (Oxfords): My favorite leather of the bunch—such an intriguing combination of a hardy work leather with a dressy finish. It’s remarkably smooth, and a very deep brown that looks almost black in some lights on mine. Vamp creasing is almost imperceptible after many dozens of wears, and while little nicks and scratches don’t really buff like on CXL, I think as they pick up more and more it’ll just be a welcome addition of good solid classic character. That said, for me, these are street shoes; the other White’s are for the trails and the heavy work jobs. So I like the idea of keeping the brown dress fresh as long as possible.
White’s famed Arch-Ease is the no joke. The old saying is that it feels like standing on a rung of a ladder, and the high arch definitely feels that way at first. When you first put your foot in, it’s a bit shocking. WHY IS THERE A LADDER IN MY BOOTS?!? As that first day goes on, your foot begins to face the realization that ladders in boots is just how things are now, and surrenders a bit.
Around day four or five, the arch itself starts to relent a bit—not disappearing, but learning your foot, and things start to feel a bit more normal-ish.
By day 10 you definitely remember that you’re wearing your White’s—that’s inescapable—but the arch starts to feel natural, something you want, something that you believe in instead of hold a slight bit of fear towards. The ladder-rung isn’t gone, it’s just your ladder-rung now. You always figured it would end up this way, but damn if it isn’t great to get there.
Here’s my personal take per last. 4811: serious, serious arch. No mistaking that thing. 55: honestly tough for me to distinguish between this one and the 4811, but per White’s it’s a little less extreme. C461: the arch is absolutely there, but it’s a kinder, gentler version of itself.
And Finally: What’s All This About the “White’s Bite”?
Another saying: “you don’t break White’s in, they break you in.” 1) I’m not sure if physiologically that’s how things work, but 2) there’s something to it, and the break-in isn’t exactly blissful, but in my experience it’s not as bad as stories I’ve heard from others. (And if you swing by some of the firefighter forums you’ll hear guys saying you should drop your White’s in a full bathtub and then wear them to accelerate the process. My advice: do NOT drop your White’s in a full bathtub and then wear them to accelerate the process. For one, that’s insane, and for two, that’s insane. Just wear them. If they’re the right size, they’ll get there.)
The arch, yes: it takes some time. But I expected that going in. Just tough it out, keep wearing them, no issues. The only other real trouble spot I’ve experienced is a bit of ankle rub before the shaft loosens up, and because of the gusseted tongue on the MTO 350s hitting right at the front of my ankles. On the Smokejumpers, I think it lasted two days. On the 350s, maybe four. Both are allll cleared up now, no issues.
The oxfords, likely given the lack of crazily thick oiled work leather wrapping my ankles, and the lowered arch, had essentially zero break-in whatsoever. A little getting used to, maybe, but one of the more comfortable shoes I’ve worn out of the box—and for me, it’s often much tougher to break in shoes than boots, as counterintuitive as that may sound.
All shoe experiences are unique in some way; these are just mine. But I honestly had a significantly more painful—and definitely more extended—break-in experience with my 8111 Red Wing Iron Rangers than any of these White’s. I think the key is to mentally prepare; there’s going to be something.
Get through it. Who cares about a week or two up front? White’s are all about the long play. And I’m very happy I’ll have these three pairs theoretically forever.