Viberg Service Boots: My choice of work boot

Monday, May 10th 2021
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During the past Winter, I was vaguely looking to replace my longstanding work boots from Wolverine (above)

They’d done great service: on long country walks, camping in different parts of the country, and just going to the local park in rain, mud and snow. 

But after 11 years the upper wasn’t in great shape, and the Wolverine make isn’t really on a par with the other shoes and boots I have. So I was looking to trade up. 

It was an interesting journey, as it always is when you explore a new category of clothing (or indeed anything you enjoy) and I spoke to friends that were consumers, friends that were retailers, and a journalist or two. 

I ended up settling on a pair of Viberg service boots (below) in a Horween brown Chromexcel. Seven eyelets, 2030 last, natural midsole, brown waxed laces and a stitchdown construction. As classic as it comes from Viberg. 

In fact, a lot of what convinced me was the quality and approach of Viberg itself. So it’s probably worth explaining those, as well as giving some context of the work-boot category as a whole.

Not everyone likes the name ‘work boot’, but for a Permanent Style reader, I think it’s pretty apt. 

Because what we’re talking about are boots that originated as equipment for proper heavy-duty work, and from companies that largely still make that kind of footwear. 

This doesn’t really apply to any of the other brands we cover on PS. Someone like Tricker’s might be known for its boots, but they’re country footwear, not workwear. Harrison Ford might have built houses in Alden Indy boots, but the company is still arguably (and I expect argument here) a dress-shoe maker that also offers nice boots. 

Work-boot companies like Red Wing, Whites or Wesco, on the other hand, made and make boots for logging, firefighting and ranching. Physical labour that requires a type of make. 

What does this mean in practice? A chunky sole, certainly, but a thick midsole as well - sometimes a double one. Heavy, usually oiled uppers. Often a steel shank. 

In terms of style it usually means a wider welt, a rounder toe, and sometimes white stitching or a natural mid-sole that separate the boot even further from the high-end makers we know. 

The attraction to the lover of dress shoes is that these companies often still make along heritage lines, which means quality materials (eg full-grain leathers) and toughness through materials, rather than more steel or composites etc.

They’re boots that are still well made, but which you can camp in, climb in, and do similar outdoor activities. 

Of course, the make depends a lot on the brand. And this is how I see the market (thanks to all those that provided information, experience and opinions here - and to readers that will doubtless chip in with their tuppence-worth now):

  • Entry level is brands like Wolverine, Red Wing, Thorogood and perhaps Thursday boots. The latter is a newcomer, the others have history, but they’re all tough and very serviceable, with prices ranging around £200 to £300. 
  • The higher quality work boots come from the likes of White’s, Wesco and Nick’s Boots. These are a different quality level, pretty much indestructible, with double midsoles and huge leather footbeds. Prices rather higher, around £500 to £600. 
  • Viberg is more expensive still, around £700, and arguably out on its own. This is because they use finer materials (more calf, more Stead suede), and because there’s a more obvious push to offer more everyday, leisure styles. Which isn’t really what I was looking for, but more on that later. 

Of course, the irony with comparing work-boot brands like this is that most of the time, fineness of make or materials doesn’t really matter. 

The only thing the customer of a real work boot cares about is whether they’re comfortable to wear all day, protect the feet from everything, and last a really long time. It doesn’t matter if the sewing is a little wobbly.

The leisure customer might care more though - as well as caring about the style. Almost on the point of principle: they buy the best quality in everything else, so why should this be any different?

I won’t go into a lot of detail on Viberg, as that could be a whole post on its own (and it’s maybe an interesting one for those I know in Northampton, as much as consumers). But I’ll briefly explain why I liked the Service Boot

Compared to a lot of work boots, it is made on a fairly slim last - the 2030, which owner Brett Viberg created in 2010 in the process of redefining the styles Viberg offered. (Brett is grandson of the Viberg founder.)

It also has a fairly low toe - not that far off the ground - which of course is called ‘spring’. Dress shoes vary in how much they have too, but it varies particularly in work boots, with some almost comically turned up (see the 310 boot). 

Viberg boots had always been made with a fairly slim waist, in order to give greater support to the arch over hours of hard wear, and the combination of this with the new slim last created a Service Boot which it was much easier to wear outside work.

The result still looks very different to anything else we’d normally cover on PS. The toe box is still wider and higher. It’s a stitchdown construction, which you never get with dress shoes. And the Chromexcel leather of course starts looking oily and only gets more so, fading and creasing.

But as an option to wear outdoors, with the kind of chinos, sweatshirt and gilet sold by The Real McCoy’s and many others, it’s perfect. 

The Viberg website is a little confusing, and personally I find the styles less appealing the further they get away from work boots - there are derbys, slippers and even trainers. 

I did try a few other styles, including the chelsea boot and hiking boots, but only found the Halkett as another style I liked (below). It’s Goodyear-welted, and is a newer model aiming at a more urban customer. 

The Halkett is nice, particularly in this ‘bitter chocolate’ grey/brown colour. But although welted, it still has the toe shape of a work boot to my eye. Which is not what I want from Viberg. I’m happy with my outdoorsy trade up. 

Other clothes pictured:

Camping shot:

viberg.com

Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt

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Peter Hall

I had a real struggle with new boots. I knew I didn’t want the brogues of the traditional country boot, nor the toe cap look of the traditional work boot style.

Eventually I settled on a pair from WM Lennon- the 178 tan.

https://www.rufflander.co.uk/shop/heritage-footwear/town-and-country-boots/178-tan-waxy-leather-sole-boot/

Even these have the slight curl of the work boot. Very suitable for me (as I am rural) and, possibly, a little heavy for extended urban walking.

Kenny

Excellent choice! William Lennon’s heritage boots are a great bargain, especially with a choice of Horween leathers and alternative soles available at little extra cost. There should be even more choices when the new website launches.

Omar Asif

Hi Simon – what is the difference between a switch down and a Goodyear construction?

Hugo

What, if any, is the functional implication of this?

David

I think Viberg is an amazing company. The American shop Division Road (Seattle) does great collaborations with them.

Joe

Hi Simon,

Lovely article and very informative. I could well be in the market for a pair like these. May I kindly ask a few questions?
I am wondering as to how the size fits? I usually take 8.5 UK size in shoes which I think is the same as you, so I would think a 9 would be apt in a standard E width?
Secondly, may I ask if the inner layer of the boot is removable as I usually wear orthotics for fallen arches?
Finally, is there a particular cream recommended for the boot or would a normal brown saphir cream be sufficient?

Thanks as ever,
Joe.

David

Did you take your usual UK size?

David Marriott

I’ve worn whites and red wing and wouldn’t swap my cordovan wolverines (limited edition) for either. But each to their own.

John Richard

Very helpful article as usual.

Sorry for going off topic – I think you’ve said you have a review of higher-rise chinos/trousers such as those of Rubato and Casatlantic in the works – any idea when you might you might post it? Only ask because I’d like to order from them but keen to hear your opinion (not to be impatient)!

Magnus

Nice boots, but I have to say this feels like a bit of excessive consumerism. If the Wolverines were still perfectly functional, why replace them? They are a work boot after all, and looking beat up is part of the charm.

Magnus

Ah, fair enough then. My reading comprehension is not the best today, sorry 🙂

Lewis

Simon, these are handsome boots. May I ask what makes them suitable for inclement weather – presumably they are rubber soles but is there anything else to protect the shoe from rain and mud, etc?

These look sleeker than country boots like those from Tricker’s. Would they be suitable for a relatively casual office (when commuting in bad weather)?

R Abbott

These actually look quite attractive for work boots. Looks like a happy marriage of function and appearance.

N. Allison-Williams

My job as a Corrections Officer requires work boots that can shine at a high gloss. They however, can not have a steel toe or shank. I tried multiple ” combat” style boots and found that my feet ached nonstop after 12-16 hours in them. I started looking for a zero drop moccasin style boot that would still have an appropriate sole. I settled with timberlands black suede lace up boots. They are thin, lightweight waterproof and I was able to wax dip the suede and make them polish up. At the end of 12-16 hours my feet still look like feet and not like an alien experiment. I wish there more zero drop flex sole options out there.

Dr Peter

A good topic.

In the last year or so, I had really good luck in finding two pairs of brand new work boots, with tags and labels, from thrift shops in my area. One pair was Timberland, the other Red Wing, and their normal cost would be in the $200-$400 range here in the US. I paid $20 for each pair! The Red Wing is a dark reddish brown, and quite lovely. The Timberland is brown suede. Both pairs are made in the US, and their construction is solid and they have steel toes.

Granted these are made expressly for people doing construction and/or shop work, but they are great to use as winter boots, or for hiking, and I have used them in this fashion for a year now. I rarely wear boots or even shoes in the summer, just Birkenstock sandals, so these boots are primarily for the cooler seasons.

Dom

I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned Cheaneys. A British company, beautiful work boots. Also a choice of soles. Had a shearling lined pair for years now and they’re unbelievably tough but incredibly warm and comfortable. I’m not an employee or shareholder of theirs btw!

Kenny

I would consider Cheaney’s Pennine and Tricker’s Grassmere boots (both with veldtschoen construction) to be as strong as your Vibergs. Their commando soles are superior, in my. experience, to Dainite soles which can be a bit slippy. For work boots, I’d choose a bespoke option from William Lennon which are less than half the price of those brands.

David Harr

Hi, how does these compare to the Alden jumper boots? Pros cons or just different categories of shoes?

Mitchell P. Hall

Do you think smartly dressed men look better with a shaved face or a beard Simon? Many men today are sporting whiskers of some kind; it seems, however, a shame to go through life hiding one’s face!

Mahmut

How do you see them compared the C&J boots?

Gabriele

I know it’s more of a country style, but I really like the Henry by Tricker’s. Very comfortable, works well with chinos, and as a slip-on boot it’s basically impenetrable.

Kristoffer

+ 1 for Indy boot by Alden!

Diego

Interesting post. It just reminded me that when you introduced the wax walker I was surprised by your choice of footwear: you were wearing some EG boots for a country walk. In your opinion, are those EG or these Viberg boots more confortable for long walks than technical hiking footwear? I would have never considered not using something that feels a bit more like trainers.

Justin

Very interesting lacing technique, Simon! First time I see something like this (at the top of the boots). Do you feel that this truly stabilises he boot or is it just a thing of stylish matter?

Carl

Nice shoes. Is it just me or are they ”smarter” than the Iron Rangers from Redwings? Can it be the lack of a cap toe that gives that impression? I really like my Iron Rangers and hope that they will work for 10-15 more years. But maybe I should upgrade ro Vibrams after that.

Moby

Simon, would you consider the EG Galway a work boot?

Lucas

Hi Simon,

Would always be interested to know about quality brands for active/gym wear as I become sick on the same Nike and Adidas that appear to be the limited options in that “genre”

Thanks

Matt

Just as an anecdote, I’ve been wearing Red Wings for years and am quite happy with them. Still look great after tough treatment in the snow and mud. They are based near my childhood home, so I’m probably a bit biased.

Dante

So glad to see Viberg on the blog! They’re made in my hometown and I’ve wanted a pair for a few years; I almost got some in C.F. Stead kudu right before Covid, but I just wasn’t 100% sure it was the right colour and it was a large purchase. The company can be strange and sporadic in some of its ideas and creations but I’m glad they’ve kept their classics as it seems they really got it right with the 2030.
Their Chelsea (2050) is a little chunkier than Northampton versions from what I’ve seen, but out here people love their Blundstones and Doc Martens for the rain, so both of those lasts work really well too. Nice to see they hold up in the UK.

Anonymous

Would you ever consider a bespoke workboot from someone like Felix, who was present in your bespoke shoemaking roundtable at carreducker?

Neil T

Really enjoy diving into websites of craftsmen like Viberg and reading the About page to get a feel for the history of these brands especially 3rd generation. Imagine my surprise to see Viberg started in Saskatchewan (a province in Canada). I live in Manitoba, the province next door so I have some understanding of its roots and the challenges it must have faced. Kudos to the family for adapting over the generations and making it to Permanent Style.

Khen

Have you ever considered buying John Lofgren boots? I’ve heard they’re amazing quality. I love their service boots

Rodrigo

Another vote of confidence in John Lofgren here. His M-43 boots are best in class and look great after a few years of wear. He is arguably the best maker of “work” boots short of going bespoke/hand lasted.

Andrew

Simon

Great review and have peaked my interest. What of their weight? Do they feel heavy? How do they compare to the wolverines in weight?

Andrew

StuartR

Ha…looking at the toe of the 310 boot made me laugh!! Small things; nice colour though.

Do you think you will be able to do a popup this year?

Evatt Gibson

This is for N. Allison Williams: Russell Moccasin in the US make zero-drop moccasin boots to order. They use the “Munson” last which has a wider toe box and is supposedly very comfortable. The company seems to be highly regarded as a maker of hunting boots.

Ajbjasus

Lovely boots, but for me they are for a rugged look in an urban environment, not. Ttramping through mud and the like. I have some lovely EG Galways, and am amused to see them recommended as a shooting boot. A day on the moors and bogs up here and they would be trashed!

Ajbjasus

I suggest you come up here and try them, you need a high rand, bellows tongue, hydrobloc leather and probably gore tex. Believe me I’ve tried it.

Chris Woody

Excellent choice! Simon, I’m a bit surprised that a Viberg seems so foreign to many of the readers within the comment section. These are as classic as it gets and an excellent representation of work wear as a crossover piece. I find brands like Viberg and Alden can be worn more often now that a more casual and maybe more diverse wardrobe is necessary to not look over dressed. While I enjoy tailoring this adjustment has been refreshing and really tested my style. Thanks for sharing this option.

Josh

These look great. Myself I have a pair of William Lennon boots with a toe cap and row of punching, in CXL colour 8. These are not slim or sleek but absolutely bulletproof, made with brass thread construction, definitely proper work boots in the traditional sense, I do regret the punched cap a bit but they get plenty of wear regardless. I’d reccomend them if you like the more round look.

Jan

I see I’m not the only one but I am a bit confused by the principle difference between “boots that originated as equipment for proper heavy-duty work, and from companies that largely still make that kind of footwear” and boots from Northhampton makers that are perhaps better known for dress shoes (but have also made heavy duty functional footwear for decades). I would have thought that quality, make, style and being fit for purpose are the only relevant characteristics for work boots reviewed on this website. Also, the “proper heavy duty work boots” used in modern day factories, shipyards and construction sites do not resemble these Vibergs in the slightest. They are more likely to look like this: https://www.blaklader.uk/en/products/footwear?sortorder=5&page=1
Finally, you don’t work in a factory but just want functional heavy duty outdoor boots. All the Northhampton makers have those on offer. Sorry for being a bit repetitive / pedantic perhaps but what is the point of that distinction? Many thanks as always!

Jan

Fair enough, thank you for explaining (again). With proper snow boots, Northhampton work boots, wellies, flip flops and sneakers in the closet (and being completely useless at any type of construction work) I guess I will not ever need to venture into this area myself

Ian

I’m inclined to agree that few people working on a construction site would be likely to wear these boots. Perhaps it is a question of semantics or maybe a clearer defininition of the working environment they would be expected to be used in.

They seem to have a Danite-style sole and I can’t help thinking they would benefit from one that is more deeply treaded if they are to be used in more rugged situations.

Evatt Gibson

Josh, what do you regret about the punched cap? The look or is it letting water in?

Ferdinand

What do you think about these boots sold by Purdey (made by C&J): https://www.purdey.com/mens-twin-strap-boots-ridgeway-sole – would that work as a casual boots mostly in the city?

Or would you have any other recommendation that goes more in the direction of (post WW2) combat boots? Basically I am looking for something slightly more modern and rugged than EG Galways, but sleeker than work or country boots…

Regarding the Vibergs, could the midsole be painted darker or wouldn’t the sole leather take the paint? I never liked the look of soles that are lighter than the rest of the shoe.

Tony Hodges

Hi Simon – is there a Northampton maker with a model you would say is most comparable for comfort and function tramping around the country (noting of course the style will be different)?

I would have thought there’d be at least a few, given the way all the component parts of British shooting outfits have made their way in into casual wear.

Amit

Thank you Simon for a crisp write up on Work Boot. I personally own a Red Wing Iron Rangers 8085 in CR&T leather. I’m very pleased with my boots as I tend to gravitate more towards Workwear. It’s actually a personal preference with the kind of overall look one wants to achieve and how one tends to gravitate more towards a specific boot type, make and the overall construction (especially the type of leather uppers used) as that draws most instinctively to a specific boot and manufacturer as compared to others you mentioned. Personal instincts are so crucial, especially when you’re buying online and one should go with his instincts.

Andrew Hughes

Hi Simon,

Great article as always.

I have a pair of Tricker’s logger boots on a Dainite sole and can highly recommend them. I have walked many a mile in them and they have been resoled once, and have had them for 15 years.

Best,

Andrew

Jean

French brands like Paraboot or Heschung are good too in this category of boot.

Andrew Hughes

Hi Simon,

Have you tried the Avoriaz hiking boot by Paraboot?

Best,

Andrew

Matthew B

Hi Simon,
I was wondering if you had looked at Role Club boots. MTM only by Brian Truong in Los Angeles. They are probably a little more workwear-y than the Vibergs but the customer can dictate a lot, in terms of style, leather, colours, toe box, heel, finish, etc. His “default” boots are a joy. I have a pair of Role Club Engineer boots, for motorcycling, and a pair of Underdogs, for everyday. Fit, finish, style and build quality in both are fabulous.
Worth a look when the Vibergs expire?…

ben w

Brian’s lead time is currently 2 or 3 years, I think—not that the Vibergs will need replacement so soon, but not something you can just get on a whim, either.

Matthew B

Hi Ben, I ordered a pair three years ago and another two years ago. In both cases, the lead time was 8-9 months. Each pair is hand-made by Brian, and he is a one-man band. Hence the timing. And the lead time may have increased since I last bought. Anyway, you’re right – not available at a moment’s notice.

Ametorist

Simon one aspect you didn’t cover is the break-in. On boots like these that can weigh nearly two pounds each, with a steel shank and thick, hard-wearing leather like CXL and a thick heel counter, it may be *months* before they fully mold to your foot. But when they do it’ll almost feel like a pair of boots made for your foot. This is part of the beauty of the quality level of a maker like Viberg.

Russ

I didn’t really understand what chromexcel leather was, Simon. I found on the Cheaney site a fascinating description here:
https://www.cheaney.co.uk/blog/what-is-chromexcel-leather
that I’m sure readers will enjoy.

Rav

Another massive plug for Role Club and Brian Truong. I have several pairs of boots from him, each aspect of them unique to my specifications, with an incredible fit and finish. He is also very open to working with you on different styles or inspirations to develop something truly tailored to your requirements. He is a joy to collaborate with and his backstory is truly inspiring.

Regarding John Lofgren, I have a pair of his Engineers and they are great boots, however Brian’s work is far better IMO. Unfortunately John has a sad history of expressing rather xenophobic and racist views in public forums, causing a backlash from both customers and retailers of his products. I myself chose to no longer purchase any of his wares.

Simon K

Dear Simon, wonderful if you will cover more of worker boots and styles to go with them.
I would like also to read more on different design elements since thee are many boot styles and they get mingled.
To me it is the silhouette (?) seen in profile that most separate the traditional American worker boot style from the Northampton tradition. Could you reflect on that?? UK makers generally dont make that kind of forward leaning style I think. Cheaney’s Jarrow boot is the closest I have seen.

Simon K

Hi again,
I see, myself I like to see cross overs.
Shots of boots side by side sounds clever.
” There is difference in both the boot in profile (eg the height of the toe box)”, yes and also the heel-line i think. Compare for example Tricker’s Stowe with a typical worker boot. Different feeling.

Perhaps you want to recommend some sites more focused on boot and worker wear?
Cheers

Zuker Gill

The overall style of this boot reminds me of the Justin lace-up ropers I used to wear (in many different colors) during the 80s & 90s. At maybe 1/10 the price, the Justins wouldn’t compare in quality at all. But every time I see this style it reminds me of my childhood. Nostalgia coupled with the craftsmanship of Viberg keep these on my “would be nice to have, but don’t need” wishlist.

H

Hi Simon,

What would you use to renew the leather on a pair of work boots?

I have a pair of Gorilla USA (made in Allegheny Pennsylvania) work boots in ‘raisin’ coloured leather – the leather is oily, soft and tough. The boots were bought to deal with the dangers of walking the streets of NYC one, brutally, cold winter more than a decade ago. They came back to the UK with me where they have stood up to the conditions (and my neglect) admirably. But the leather is now in need of a bit of TLC and I’d appreciate any advice you might have.

Thanks,
H

ben w

I think of Nick’s, White’s and Viberg, Viberg actually does by far the least *actual* work book manufacture now—Brett’s mentioned in interviews that the majority of their income is made on non-work lines (such as the service boot). Whereas I believe both Nick’s and White’s, and probably more Nick’s than White’s, still predominantly make boots you might plausibly go out and do logging or firefighting or metalwork, etc., in. Another factor, I think, in the price difference: just a different customer.

David B

Great article, Simon – Thank you. I have a pair of 6/7 year old Thursday Boots which are also becoming worn at the upper. These Vibergs look like an ideal replacement.

Your camping photo is very interesting. Dressing for camping/hiking and other outdoor activities always seems challenging without resorting to brightly coloured technical fabrics. Do you combine or layer technical outerwear with outfits like the one shown? Is there other high-quality camping/hiking gear that you recommend?

Caleb

Simon,
Were your Wolverines a color 8? If so, and the Vibergs are a dark brown, was the color change for wardrobe functionality purposes or simply selection?
In short, do you see dark brown boots as more versatile than a color 8 or vice versa?

Ib

Looking to replace my insufficient pair of Indy’s, lovely fit but they’re cracking, with something to play with the kids in the mud with, and am contemplating between a pair of Alden cordovan boots and a pair from Viberg. Any thoughts of usefulness?