Horween Waxed Flesh, Roughout, and Reverse Chamois
The three Horween leathers with such resilience that they will accompany you to even the world’s end: waxed flesh, roughout, and reverse chamois. These leathers won’t need any conditioning for a long time. The wax makes the roughout very resilient to rain, scuffs, and other elements.
I did, however, decide to apply 100% Pure Neatsfoot Oil to my pair of Aldens in Reverse Hunting Green Chamois. Neatsfoot oil is a yellowish oil made from the shin bones of cows and is typically used to soften leather such as breaking in a baseball glove. The color of the boots out of the box seemed a bit too light for my liking. Neatsfoot is known to darken leather and it definitely darkened it to a deep forest green. The reverse chamois leather feels “damp” and cold to the touch, and surprisingly, it’s really, really supple compared to a roughout leather.
The brown and black waxed flesh arrived with their nap completely waxed (brand new black waxed flesh pic below). Waxed flesh when new feels both smooth and rough. You can see in pictures now that some parts of the boots still remain smooth.
What happens over time is that the wax comes off with wear, kicking objects, or even computer chairs rubbing against the heels. The brown pair (which started off a very dark brown) has areas lightened up to a medium brown with the nap/texture revealing itself. The black waxed flesh has revealed shades of grey underneath.
To test out the water resistance of every pair, I poured water on all of them. I wasn’t too thorough in scientifically testing them because in hindsight I would have weighed each boot before and after pouring an equal amount of water on them. That way, I’d be able to figure out which boot absorbed the most and which repelled the most.
From observation, the reverse chamois had the greatest water resistance. But it was likely because that boot was recently oiled. If all the boots were brand new, I’d say the order would go from Waxed Flesh > Reverse Chamois > Roughout in water resistance. Of course, all these leathers innately have high water resilience so the difference is negligible.
I wouldn’t hesitate to bring any of these pairs in rain, snow, or slush. Just be sure to dry them thoroughly afterwards!
My absolute favorite leather from Horween is Chromexcel – specifically Natural Chromexcel. I love the color depth and variation when the leather ages. I’ll show a before and after conditioning of my 3-year old pair of Viberg Service Boots in Natural Chromexcel. Horween’s other leather/tannages such as Cordovan, Chromepak, and Dublin all come really close as my runner-up favorites!
Here is a tannage chart taken directly from Horween’s website. Out of the 51 leather types listed, I narrowed the list down to 8 of the more commonly used tannages for leather goods. I highlighted what I feel are the key characteristics that makes Chromexcel unique, and I’ll briefly go over each.
Because Chromexcel is a tanning process and not a leather type, you can have both cowhide and horsehide. It is also known as the “original pull-up leather”.
Combination tanned: Chromexcel is both chrome tanned and vegetable tanned which brings in qualities of both processes! Tanning is the process of permanently altering the structure of animal skin. Chrome tanning is a faster method using chromium and makes the leather soft and water-resistant. Vegetable tanning uses organic tannins from trees and other plants along with other oils/waxes and creates a very durable leather. Veg tanned leather is not water-resistant, so water may stain.
Hot stuffed: Chromexcel is heavily nourished with oils and waxes that creates the pull-up effect and water resistance.
Air dried: Chromexcel is naturally air dried for about a week such that the leather shrinks to its original size.
Aniline finished: The leather is saturated with soluble dyes such that the texture/irregularities of the leather is left untouched which is ideal for a raw enthusiast like me!
My Natural Chromexcel Leather Goods:
These are a few of my other small goods in Natural Chromexcel. The most wears are probably seen on the One Star Leather Park Sloper and Hollows Leather Rail Belt as they were worn/used nearly every day. Both these are at about 3 years plus of age. If you don’t want excessive stretching on a belt, I’d shy away from CXL as it initially stretches significantly!
The leathers of both pieces started off as a light brown oak color. The leather color darkened quite quickly within the first few months to a rich brown by oils, dirt, and abrasion. I noticed that direct sunlight also sped up the darkening process. The leather also picked up significant indigo dye from my raw denim. After the initial and drastic color change, the color becomes quite saturated and will not darken all that more.
I have not felt the need to condition the leather, and they both still display a lot of pull-up. With the amount of oils/waxes in the leather, most superficial scuffs/nicks have been easy to rub away with my fingers.
Viberg Natural Chromexcel Service Boots:
7 Brass eyelets
Partial structured toe
Made in Canada
Price: $720 USD
When I purchased this pair, there weren’t too many pics of Natural CXL Vibergs online. There has been at least one similar spec MTO arranged by Styleforum around 2014-2015 but with an unstructured toe.
I purchased this pair of Vibergs from Mr Porter back in mid 2015. I believe it was the second restock of this makeup on Mr Porter. When I received it a few days later, I was blown away by how thick the Natural Chromexcel was. The leather arrived with a significant sheen to it. It took quite a while for any visible crease to form (in contrast to my Viberg Color 8 CXL pair). For the price of $720 USD, I’m glad Viberg used high quality hides!
The boots arrived with a small, adorable 1oz jar of Venetian Shoe Cream, a pair of flat waxed cotton laces, and a spare pair of brown rawhide leather laces in the box. I initially kept the flat waxed laces as I wanted the laces to accentuate the sleek, narrow 2030 last. Yet, I had a hard time deciding which laces suited the boots best. I eventually switched over to the leather laces after a few months. The flat laces reminded me much of the laces used on Alden’s boots (although this Viberg pair of laces were thicker and sturdier), and I feel that the leather laces fits the rugged Viberg brand aesthetic well.
I like the pairing of brass eyelets with this leather. They seem to make the rich brown tones “pop”.
The toe box is partially structured and is further reinforced by the thick Chromexcel leather. While the right boot’s toe area has flattened a bit, the toe box is still quite firm to the touch on both boots.
The boot tongue is also made of a thinner, softer Natural CXL which was different than my color 8 CXL pair that had a black contrasting oil tanned tongue. The black oil tanned leather is the standard go-to tongue for Viberg boots. I feel the CXL tongue fits this boot better than a contrasting one would. The leather used here is very much pliable, soft, and shows creases from the laces well.
For conditioning/care, I’ve kept to a simple regimen of applying Venetian Shoe Cream every 6 months or so. I apply it onto the palms of my hands (minimizes loss from using a rag) and rub the cream onto the boot. I let the cream dry for a couple of minutes, I brush them down with a horsehair brush. Initially, the cream darkens the leather and provide a glossy sheen. The color lightens back near to its original after some time outdoors. Every few wears, I wipe the boots down with a damp rag and brush away any dirt with a Horsehair Brush.
The cool thing about CXL is that you can rub away most scuffs/scratches because of the oils/waxes embedded in the leather. Down below is an example of superficial scuffs that went away after some VSC and brushing. I used a polished deer bone in circular motions in the area to create friction so the cream penetrates.
Here’s a rear heel counter shot of a few pairs. You can see that the natural chromexcel pair on the left has minimal creasing compared to the color 8 CXL and Olive Chromepak.
Compared to the other 3 pairs, the captoe on this makeup seems a bit shorter, but I hardly notice it when it’s not next to my other pairs.
In conclusion, I think that Natural Chromexcel is an easy to care for, interesting, and beautiful leather. The selection of hides that Viberg uses on their boots is second to none. If I were to only own one pair of Vibergs, this pair of boots would be it! Although this exact makeup isn’t readily available, a handful of retailers such as Lost & Found, Brooklyn Clothing, and the Viberg.com site recently have stocked a Service Boot with this leather.
Here are a couple reasons why I purchased this specific pair:
Copper Rough & Tough has been my favorite leather from Red Wing/SB Tannery for quite a while. I’ve seen pictures of the leather patina and it’s quite amazing! The leather has a pullup quality similar to Chromexcel. The leather starts as a reddish tan that darkens over time. I like things that get better with age.
The price was discounted about $100 dollars off retail (subtly disclosed in person) because the store was trying to make space on their shelves for upcoming Truman Boots. I’ve noticed online that Red Wings go on sale very often, and even Red Wing seconds only have defects that I consider minor/cosmetic.
The Iron Ranger boot is a style I’ve wanted and it has speed hooks for easy on/easy off. The only previous pair of Red Wings I owned was a pair of Red Wing 9011 Black Cherry Featherstone Beckman sometime in 2012. I’ve never had a break in period that tough with any other boot ever since. The Beckmans scraped my heels and made my ankles bleed the first couple of times. On the numerous occasions I went to San Francisco, I saw a total of at least a dozen Iron Rangers on people’s feet. The reason I sold the Beckmans not too long after I started purchasing Aldens and Vibergs.
I felt the Iron Ranger design was most suited for my current aesthetic. It is a captoe boot with speed hooks in a lighter tan colored leather. I think that the Red Wing moc toe’s ventured too far into work wear than I’d like to be. I tend to like sleeker boots. I’ve experienced that Alden’s speed hooks are much harder to lace. Alden boots typically have 4 narrow speed hooks bunched together. It’s common that I miss a hook lacing up. The Iron Rangers have three speed hooks spaced decently spaced apart.
Red Wing shifted their typical soles on the Iron Ranger from a nitrile cork sole to a mini vibram lug sole which provides additional traction. I don’t live at all in an area where I need that grip, but I’d like the flexibility, and I’ve heard many people slipping on snow/ice with the cork sole.
Red Wing is the American heritage boot company. I very well respect what quality footwear Red Wing can offer at such a reasonable price. I consider them the best bang for the buck footwear you can get. You can wear only Red Wings for the rest of your life and you’d be content. Once you move up into higher priced footwear, you’re paying premium mostly for the style rather than the construction/quality.
The quality of the boot is solid. No missed stitches or extra threads hanging around. Red Wing is one of the best companies in quality control.
The Red Wing 8085 Iron Rangers took about a half dozen wears to break in comfortably. I sized them the same as I did with the Beckmans – a 9D. The part of the shoe that was most constricting initially was the width. I sped this process up by stuffing shoe trees wrapped with thick wool socks into boots every night.
The Copper Rough & Tough leather developed character very quickly. I wore them during my day-to-day tasks which primarily consisted of walking.
It was about a week and a half until I took the first pictures of them (maybe 9-10 wears) and I decided to compare them to my girlfriend’s growing collection of Red Wings and also my Viberg x 3sixteen Olive Chromepak unstructured service boots on the 2030 last. As far as I know, Viberg currently is not producing boots with an unstructured toe, so this comparison won’t be too practical. You can see the other toe structure comparisons in my other post along with my sizing.
Red Wing 8085 Iron Ranger: Size 9D
Viberg Olive Chromepak Service Boot on 2030 last: Size 9
Alden Trubalance Last: Size 9D
Alden Barrie Last: Size 9D
Wolverine 1K Mile: Size 9D
Crockett & Jones 365 Last: Size 8.5UK
In this post, I will try to explain the difference in construction of a structured toe box versus an unstructured toe box accompanied with some pics! The brands included in the following pics are: Meermin, Viberg, Alden, Wolverine, Red Wings, Crockett & Jones, and Common Projects.
Shoes typically fall within one of three categories: an unstructured toe box, a partially structured toe box, and a fully structured toe box. It’s probably best to compare within a brand because of the varying lasts (mold/shape) between different brands.
Structured toe boxes typically have a Celastic material, a plastic fabric that is suitable for toe puff material because it is easily shaped during construction, but inflexible once set. Imagine a ping pong ball that you squeeze, but then returns to its original shape. Other common materials used for toe puffs include leather and canvas. The material is placed between the inner lining and the outside material to help maintain its structure. The fine line between between partially structured and fully structured is the rigidity of the toe box material.
The recent trend towards slimmer fits in denim and boots has been quite prominent in the recent years. I myself prefer unstructured toe boxes because I tend to wear my denim with a slimmer opening. However, all toe boxes will compress over time with wear, and the major difference is just how the boots look from the side initially. In addition, shoes with “captoes” have an additional layer of material which also may minimize the shoe creasing.
With some companies such as Viberg, Dayton, and Truman Boot Company offering different toe types, it’s hard to make a choice. If you have a sedentary job such as working indoors in an office, your boots may keep their structure fine over many many years. However, if you work outdoors in harsher environments, you may want a structured toe or even a steel toe. Unstructured toes tend to appear more casual than structured ones.
Some think that a structured toe leads to a “bulbous, clunky toe”. Red Wings one of the boot companies most notorious for this aesthetic has decided to produce a “Flatbox” model in FW2017 very recently (within the last few months) for the Japanese and Singapore markets.
Some companies even have a relatively a slim structured toebox like the Alden Indy Boot, but regardless, everything will flatten with time. Even my Viberg Natural Chromexcel Service Boots from Mr. Porter with a partially structured toe has flattened out a bit (seen in the first picture).
My advice is that you should buy footwear because you love exactly how they are, not because of what you expect to happen to them in 1, 5, or 10 years. Just wear them; the story is told later on when as the boot ages. I adore the look of all my boots as its part of the process of wearing stuff in!
Here are my shoe sizes including some not pictured that I no longer own. I recommend to measure first using a Brannock Device. The order of shoe sizes listed below is very similar to the order I purchased them in with the oldest starting from the top.
My brannock size is 9.5E
Nike Flyknit Chukka/Racer/Trainer: 10
Red Wing Beckman/Iron Ranger: 9D
Alden 403 Indy Boot (Trubalance Last): 9D
Wolverine 1K Mile Addison Boot: 9D
Common Projects Achilles and Derby Shine: Size 42
Alden x Jcrew Shell Cordovan Captoe Boot (Barrie Last): 9D
I first heard of Viberg through /r/goodyearwelt. Around 2014, a there were quite fewer number of boot companies around primarily made in the USA – Oak Street Bootmakers Trench Boot, Wolverine 1K Mile Boot, Aldens, etc. Viberg’s sleekness of their service boots and their quality was mentioned several times. Dayton boots also made in Canada were also quite popular (the black nubuck). By then, I already had purchased Alden Indy 403 Brown Chromexcel, Alden Shell Color 8 Captoe Boots, and wanted a boot that was military looking to go with my style at the time.
The 3 main colors of service boots that Viberg had on their site was Black, Brown/Icy Mocha, and Burgundy/Color 8. I actually wanted the Icy Mocha (which looks very similar to natural chromexcel), but the site didn’t have it in stock at the time with no estimated time to restock. Between the black and burgundy CXL, I decided with Color 8 CXL at a total cost of $735 USD including shipping. At the time, I thought this was going to be my one and only Viberg boot, so I wanted it the color and style to be as versatile as possible.
Last: 2030 Last (Canadian Military Officer’s Last)
Color: Color 8 Chromexcel
Style: Service Boot
Specs: Brogued Captoe, Unstructured Toe Box with a contrasting black tongue
Hardware: 7 Brass Eyelets
Price: $735 USD
I had already owned the Alden 403s on the Trubalance Last (9D), and Alden x Jcrew Captoe Boots on the Barrie Last (9D), and was confident I sized correctly in those. The general online consensus is that the 2030 last runs half a size large just like the Barrie and Trubalance. My brannock sizing is 9.5E, so I ordered a size 9.
The boots fit perfectly with thinner dress socks and stretched out comfortably to fit thicker wool socks later.
I remember the box the boots came in – it was the sturdiest shoe box I had ever felt in my life. Inside came with shoe bags, a handwritten note, and an additional pair of laces. The two pairs of shoelaces included were a flat waxed cotton black shoelace and a brown rawhide leather shoelace.
The depth of the color 8 chromexcel was really beautiful, such a stunning color. I don’t remember seeing any flaws that warranted returning. The black contrasting tongue was very thick but yet still soft. I initially wore them with the black flat waxed laces, but later settled on the rawhide laces. The toebox was unstructured and provided a very sleek/slim look from the top and sides.
I believe this was the first or second boot that had Dainite soles. However, this pair didn’t actually come with Dainite branded soles. It was actually Itshide which is slightly firmer and less flexible. I had problems with some of the lugs chipping off quite early on within the first couple of wears. I’m not sure why Viberg used Itshide soles for this batch, but in later makeups they switched back to Dainite. I like the soles because they’re really sleek, yet provide enough traction in rain to prevent a slip.
After owning them for just about 4 years, I think they were a solid purchase. Now that there are other quality boot competitors (Truman, Junkard, Thursday Boots) that also provide a slim last, it’s quite questionable whether Viberg boots are worth $700+.
At the time I purchased them in 2014, they were the only company that provided a slim look accompanied with an unstructured toebox. Nowadays, Viberg has ventured into wider territory such as using Italian leathers, switching to goodyear welt, no longer producing unstructured toeboxes (I stand clarified by Frank P. @imustbefrank ! Viberg still produces boots with an unstructured toebox, but as of now all the CXL have a structured toe – may change in the future) , no more contrasting tongues. A lot has changed since then. Right now, I’d price these boots at around $500 new. Viberg hasn’t decreased at all in their quality boots, but now with increased competition in the market, they may not be the “best bang for the buck”. In addition, Viberg has held a couple sample sales where you can get a new pair of one-offs for $400 and below once a year. I’ve also been noticing companies being more liberal in placing them at sale prices such as Mr Porter, Superdenim, and Brooklyn Clothing Co.
I think the era of Viberg’s dominance in the market peaked in 2013-2015, and now if I had a brand new footwear wardrobe, I’d look into other options such as Truman boots. However, that’s another day’s discussion!