Rancourt Read Boat Shoes: Out of the Box
- Price: $250 MSRP
- Pros: Classic boat shoe design, More affordable than competition
- Cons: Some construction flaws, Stiffer materials out of the box
Looking back through Rancourt & Co’s archives on their website, the very first post about their company – before they even opened as an online store – was about Kyle Rancourt wearing a pair of Rancourt boat shoes. Back then, to order a pair you had to email Kyle directly. It cost $215, in case you’re wondering.
Without those first boat shoes, Rancourt wouldn’t be where they are today. Of course, today Rancourt is famous for much more than just boat shoes. However, every boot, wingtip, belt, and sneaker can trace it’s linage back to this shoe.
With less than a year to go for the shoe’s 10-year anniversary, it’s worth checking to see if Rancourt had it right all along, or if this shoe is the remnant of a time before Rancourt was the brand we know today.
The Read is Rancourt’s classic boat shoe, but that doesn’t mean it’s a cookie cutter copy of everyone else. Up front, the toe box is narrower in design compared to many of their competitors, and features a moc toe sewn with a heavily waxed, off-white colored thread. The thread that they used here is thicker and waxier than any other hand sewn that I’ve ever owned. It almost looks and feels like plastic. While others might not like this look, there is something distinctly nautical about it. Fitting for a boat shoe.
Further back, the shoe features a typical two-eyelet design with brushed silver eyelets. Natural colored rawhide laces run the length of the shoe. The quarter flaps themselves have some decorative stitching running from the anchor point on the toe. Again, this comes off as something you’d see on an actual boat, and helps set them apart from the very plain look of something like a Sperry.
As you continue towards the rear of the shoe, the brushed silver eyelets and rawhide laces wrap around the throat. The stitching used on this panel is tight and even, though there are a few loose threads at the end. This is something not present on any other Rancourt shoe I’ve owned.
This area is the largest point of concern. Out of the box, the left shoe came with a significant amount of bowing on the exterior side. I was able to partially remedy this by pulling the laces tight, though that has resulted in a bit of puckering around the throat. Keep an eye out for an update to see if this problem resolves itself with wear.
At the rear, the hand sewing on the back highlights the thickness of the thread with a big, chunky knot. Again, I don’t mind the look at all – and I like it more the longer I have the shoe – but this is something that might not be for everyone. Otherwise, the stitching is tight and leaves nothing to complain about.
The “Carolina Brown” leather is significantly lighter in color than what they advertise on the website. It also appears that this pair lost the “chromexcel lottery” as after just trying them on a bit of loose grain was visible on the toe. This is an unfortunate part of using this leather, and not something to hold against Rancourt. Inside, the shoe is primarily the roughout side of chromexcel. The the only exception being a tan heel bad running half the length of the shoe.
At the bottom, the shoe features a bright white boat shoe sole. The sole features tight sipping and Rancourt & Co branding in the middle.
Fit & Comfort:
These shoes are a standard length, but are fairly narrow in the toe. The chromexcel leather will be fairly forgiving compared to other leather types, but even with that I went a half size larger than I normally would from the Maine handsewn manufacturers. I measure an 11.75 D on the brannock and ordered these in a size 12 D. They are slightly too long, however the 11.5 D wouldn’t fit my toes. It would either crunch them or stretch to where they went over the sole edge.
From a comfort perspective, these shoes have a lot going for them. The most important item here is that, underneath the heel pad, Rancourt has built up a bit of arch support. On the first wear this made a world of difference compared to some of the other handsewns. Without opening the shoe up, I’m not sure if this is synthetic padding or leather, so if this support lasts is up in the air. Further, the leather underfoot and the midsole combine to provide a bit of shock protection. This isn’t a running shoe, but it is something you could wear all day without complaining.
If I had one complaint, the leather on these shoes is stiffer than any other unlined chromexcel I own. It doesn’t envelop your foot in the way that something like the chromexcel from Quoddy does. It’ll be interesting to see if it softens up with age.
The materials on this shoe are what we’ve all come to expect from Rancourt. In other words, they are great. While stiffer than other pairs I’ve owned, the chromexcel is still that famous material we’ve all come to love. Rancourt has decided to use double layers on the tongue and eyelet flaps – measuring nearly 4 mm thick – which should provide even more strength here.
The laces are solid as well, almost too thick to tie a good-looking knot. Further, unlike most other brands, the laces are truly one piece that runs throughout the back of the shoe.
I’ve noticed that, apart from Sperry, most brands make their boat shoe soles too hard, but that isn’t a trap that Rancourt has fallen into. The sole feels and acts like a Sperry outsole, and that is a good thing. Of course, it’s likely that this softer compound will lead to faster wear on the outsole.
Ease of Care:
While natural leather will never be care free, these shoes should be as close to it as possible. Expect to condition every 4 to 6 months, depending on wear, and keep shoe trees in when not wearing to help them keep their shape. For conditioner, I prefer Bick 4. It’s the cheapest of the name brands, and seems to do as good a job as anything else. Alternatives include Venetian Shoe Cream and, if you’re feeling a bit flush, Saphir Renovator.
It’s also important to highlight that Rancourt still stands alone among the well-known shoe brands in offering a reasonable cost of resoling. If you’re just looking to get a new sole put on, Rancourt only charges $60 dollars. Their competitors, such as Oak Street Bootmakers and Quoddy, only offer a full refurbish service for around $130 dollars (which Rancourt offers as well for $135).
Normally priced at $250, this particular pair of Rancourt boat shoes were picked up during their recent crowdfunding request for $150. During the COVID-19 shut down, Rancourt offered to sell specific models at a steep discount in order to cover the costs of keeping the factory open. It’s hard to say this is a sale that you should wait for, this likely isn’t a sustainable price point for the company long-term and is extremely unlikely to happen outside of another global pandemic.
While it used to be fairly easy to find Rancourt shoes at a discount, it is much harder these days. Pairs will pop up on eBay from time to time, but otherwise you’ll likely need to wait for a sale from Rancourt themselves. Rancourt has a standing 10% off for signing up for their mailing list, and does offer sales on some of the big holidays.
Alternatively, Rancourt has their “Dirigo” line. These are shoes made with leathers that are either overstock or otherwise cheaper for the brand to pick up. If you’re flexible on color and material type, this can be a good option to save a little bit of money. It’s also possible to pick up something from the Dirigo line during one of their sales, saving even more.
If you’re looking for another option, the two most obvious choices are the Quoddy “Classic Boat Shoe,” which range from $275 to $325 depending on if you want to customize, and the Oak Street Bootmakers “Boat Shoe,” which comes in at $282. Alternatively, Sperry Gold Cup Line MSRPs at $159 if you want to look for something on the more affordable side. It is worth noting that all of these, especially the Sperrys, go on sale more often and at deeper discounts than the Rancourts.
First, if you managed to grab the crowdfunding batch, the value is great. Period. Next section.
What about those who didn’t? That is a harder to answer question. While the most affordable of the “big three” Maine-based handsewn makers at full price, the other two run sales more often, and at a higher discount, so it’s likely that pricing will depend more on when you decide to buy, rather than which brand you select.
You’re likely to find value in this shoe if you’re looking for a classic boat shoe with classic construction methods. Both of the other brands have changed the formula from what Paul Sperry first introduced more than half a century ago, either through construction or design. Rancourt stayed much closer to the original formula. In fact, when Sperry decided to introduce their current “Made in America” line, they opted to use Rancourt as the supplier.
The Rancourt boat shoe is a classic design, and the foundation of one of the largest American-made shoe companies. While there are notable flaws on this particular pair – the bowing in particular has me worried – the quality on the other pairs leads me to give them the benefit of the doubt that once the leather softens up these will be just fine.