TB Phelps Weekender: Out of the Box
- Price: $260
- Pros: High Quality Materials; Extremely Supportive
- Cons: Runs Hot; Additional Care Required
Disclaimer: TB Phelps provided these shoes at no cost for review, however, this had no impact on the thoughts below. TB Phelps was not given the opportunity to review, edit, or change the content.
If you’re not familiar with the brand, T.B. Phelps has been around since 1938. Originally starting off making leather bags, they expanded into other leather products over time. You can really tell that the leather choices are at the heart of what they do. Offering a variety of products in sheepskin, deerskin, elk and more, they offer a way to take traditional designs and give them a slightly different style. It’s a look that I feel works best with shoes that lean into that outdoorsy feel – and may be best exemplified in the TB Phelps Weekender.
When it comes to designing the Weekender, TB Phelps leaned heavily into the rustic design. It’s a choice that I think makes a lot of sense. Elk is a thick leather – and bison is even thicker. Trying to get something that focuses on a more city-focused look was not going to work.
Speaking of that leather, it’s really the star of the show here. A medium brown with noticeable natural creases and variations out of the box, you can tell it’s something special.
Starting up front, the toe box is accented with a thick tan-colored thread, with a bit of sheen from its heavily waxed nature. The toebox itself is visually a bit longer and narrower than what you might see on other handsewns such as Quoddy, Rancourt, or Sperry.
Moving back, the elk leather continues on the quarter. Here, you will find three matte brass eyelets with dark brown laces running through them. Around the collar, a thick padded ring continues to emphasize the casual nature of the shoe.
Inside, the shoe is lined throughout with a dark tan leather lining.
One feature of the outsole that does pop is the rear heel counter. Here T.B. Phelps used bison leather. While similar in shade to the elk, the crinkled appearance is something that you don’t normally see on shoes like this. It offers some nice variation, and should hold up better on a more high-wear area.
Mid- and Out-sole:
The black outsole is typical of what you would find on a camp-style outsole with one major exception. On the bottom of the shoe, where camp soles normally have a cut out, the weekender features a bison-leather panel.
Initially, I was a bit confused as to why this was there, thinking it was an odd place for a pop of leather. It turns out this is actually part of the construction of the shoe and hides a shank. While I do wonder how well this leather will hold up, seeing that this is designed to help keep the structure together it makes a lot more sense. Keep an eye out for an update to see what this looks like over time.
Fit & Comfort:
The TB Phelps Weekender, built on their Michael last, fits slightly narrow and slightly long compared to most other handsewns. If you have narrower feet, or plan on not wearing socks, I’d suggest going a half size down. If you have normal width feet or plan on wearing socks, I think that going with brannock sizing is going to fit you best.
For reference, I measure around 11.75D on the brannock and take these in a size 12. I wear a size 11.5 in Quoddy, 12 in Rancourt, and 13 in most Nike sneakers. For a full list of sizing in every shoe we have reviewed, click here.
From a comfort perspective, these shoes are incredibly interesting (in a good way). As someone who has worn handsewns for decades, I went in expecting more of the same. I was wrong. In short, these are more than just boots in name.
The first thing you notice is the thickness of the leather. Unlike other handsewns, the Weekender feels heavily padded throughout the shoe. It genuinely gives support – not something you might expect with a shoe this style. The flip side is that the shoe runs fairly hot. If you do take these on a hike to enjoy that support, you’ll probably want to make sure the weather is on the reasonable side.
The next thing you notice is the shank. The front of the shoe flexes like any other camp-sole equipped shoe, but the back 2/3rds of the sole is quite firm. Again, this feels significantly more supportive than any other handsewn I’ve ever wore.
Materials & Construction:
As mentioned above, this shoe really stands out because of the materials used. The majority of the upper is elkskin, a very soft and supple leather. The hand is closer to a glove leather than a typical shoe leather, and that is exactly how it feels putting them on. It’s perfect for a handsewn style shoe.
I mentioned above that the thickness of the leather is the first thing you feel, and I mean it. Including the lining, the leather on this shoe is around 4 mm thick (10 oz. thickness). That is just about as thick as footwear gets.
If you’ve never owned a pair of shoes in elk – or it’s cousin deerskin – you should know that the trade off for that softness is this leather is more susceptible to scratches and scrapes. In fact, just about every pair of shoes in this leather will have small abrasions even when they are brand new. That being said, this is a characteristic of the leather and isn’t a major durability concern. T.B. Phelps themselves say they picked elk for this boot specifically because it lasts.
There are a few other leathers here as well. The backstay, and the leather pad on the bottom, are bison. Inside, the shoe is fully lined in cowhide. The laces are also leather, however this is really the only place where the materials were not a slam dunk. It isn’t the end of the world, you can pick up a pair of raw hide laces for pretty cheap, but it is noticeable.
Overall, the materials of the upper are really impressive. They make this shoe stand out just that little bit from their competitors.
The only part of the shoe that isn’t leather is the outsole, primarily made of black rubber. Often, this cut out is just for looks, however on this shoe that cavity is used for a shank. This outsole is held on by blake stitch construction.
In between the outsole and the lining, the shoe features a memory foam padding system. Initial impressions show that this feels great. Be sure to check back for the update to see how this holds up over time.
Ease of Care:
The elk skin outer of the TB Phelps Weekender will take just a bit more care than a typical calf hide shoe, but not much. As the leather is significantly softer than most, you want to make extra sure it does not get dried out. In other words, you’ll want to condition slightly more often. This is especially true if they get wet – the larger pores of elk skin means that the oils can escape more easily when damp. At the same time, it is much more absorbent than more common leathers so you’ll want to use smaller amounts of conditioner when you do oil these.
While some say that you can use normal leather conditioner on elk, most recommend something a bit thicker. Often suggested is something like Obenauf’s Heavy Duty Conditioner. It will sink into the leather a bit more slowly than traditional conditioners. If the only thing you have on hand is some Bick 4 or VSC, you can use them if you are careful not to over condition.
Elk skin is more likely to scratch, but it’s best to embrace this style. It comes with the territory and plays into the rustic look of the shoe. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get the scratches out of this leather anyway.
It wouldn’t hurt to use shoe trees, however elk is a fairly crease-resistant and structured leather already so it isn’t as critical here as it might be on other shoes.
Pricing & Value:
The TB Phelps Weekender costs $260. It’s available at a few different retailers, but the price seems fairly consistent across the board. While it doesn’t look like there are regular sale dates, at time of writing TB Phelps does offer a 10% off coupon when you sign up for their newsletter.
When it comes to competition, there really isn’t that much to compare in this price point. Most of the handsewn brands we have covered here have all moved their pricing to at or above the $300 mark. The companies like Sperry and Sebago are all below it.
Of course, the comparisons all go out the window when you look at the materials. I wasn’t able to find another handsewn boot in a similar material at any price. If you’re looking for a chukka handsewn in an interesting leather, there really isn’t anywhere else to look.
I strongly believe that if you’re going to enter an established market you need to differentiate yourself or risk being lost. Infiniti doesn’t do poorly as a car brand because they are bad cars, but when people think of a sporty brand you get BMW, luxurious is Mercedes, reliable is Lexus, and affordable is Acura. There just isn’t any one thing Infiniti does best, so they are almost nobody’s first choice.
Shoes are the same way. There are literally hundreds of brands out there that are effectively anonymous.
TB Phelps saw a crowded market and decided to do something that makes them stand out – in this case the materials.
If the idea of a leather other than cow or calf – and the extra attention and cost that comes with it – doesn’t appeal to you, these might not be the best choice. However, if you are the type of person who wants something a little bit different, the TB Phelps Weekender might be exactly what you’re looking for.