Viberg Service Boot “Tochigi Cowhide”: Worth the Price?
- Price: $710 [No Longer Available – other make ups $710]
- Pros: Unique Leather, Unbeatable Design
- Cons: Eyewatering Price
|Weight||990 g / 2.2 lb|
|Materials||Tochigi Vegtanned Cowhide / Itshide Studded Outsole|
|Country of Origin||Canada|
As I mentioned in my review of the Work Shoe Butt version a few weeks ago, the Viberg Service Boot really needs no introduction. This is really the genesis of the modern, sleek, military-style casual boot. If you’re interested in high-end footwear, I would bet you’re extremely familiar with this boot.
We go more into the history of this boot in that other review, and I suggest you check it out, but this second review shows just how versatile this boot really is. Sure, both of these boots are tan Viberg Service Boots, but next to one another they look very different.
Seeing as this is the second pair of Vibergs I’ve bought in as many weeks, you can probably guess if this is going to be a positive review already, but let’s dive in.
I have to admit, I was a bit scared when I ordered these Viberg Service Boots. On some pictures, such as this one from reddit’s u/swedishpiebacker, the boots can look somewhere close to bright orange. Thankfully, these fears were completely unfounded. The leather on the upper is much closer to a typical tan in most lighting – though it is difficult to capture in photos.
For this review, I tried to capture some pictures in both the sun and the shade, however in person they really fall somewhere in between. Rivet and Hide seemed to have captured the real color the best of anyone [UPDATE: They pulled their product discription].
Speaking of the leather, there is a lot of texture throughout. Large folds stretched over the heel counter, small creases on the shaft, rolls over the toe. There is a lot of character here. Just know that character can also mean imperfections.
The stitching on the upper is fairly good overall, though not the best I’ve seen. There are a few loose threads here and there. The only other real fault in looks is that the eyelets wander just a bit – sometimes over the stitching itself. None of these are deal breakers, but it is a shame to see a boot at this price have these issues when lower cost options don’t.
One change Viberg made to their typical service boot style is the tongue. On this pair, it is not gusseted (meaning it only connects at the bottom), and is cut even with the top of the boot. On typical service boots, Viberg cuts the tongue slightly higher and connects it about half way up.
Inside, the boots are unlined on the shaft, and lined under the vamp. The roughout inside the boot is extremely hairy, though that will wear smooth with age.
Mid- and Outsole:
On the mid and outsole, Viberg opted to continue the use of tan colors on this Service Boot. Maybe going a bit overboard.
The midsole of the shoe is a natural tan leather, with two rows of white thread. The stitching here isn’t nearly as good as the Work Shoe Butt pair from a few weeks ago. It isn’t a deal breaker, but it shows that their bootmakers can be mere mortals sometimes.
Below that midsole is a light-brown Dainite-style (though not Dainite branded) outsole. This sole keeps the side view of the boot lower to the ground. There was quite a bit of extra glue on both outsoles. Again, not the end of the world, but a shame to see.
The color of this outsole is really the only part of the boot I’m not sure about. There is a whole lot of browns and tans being thrown around on this pair. I think that, when it comes time to resole, I will be swapping these out for a more traditional black pair.
Overall, these boots are a striking pair, perfect for someone who already has a typical brown pair of boots in rotation. Of course, the inverse of that is these might not be the best for a first pair of boots. They grab the attention of anyone looking at you, and you need to plan your outfit around them.
They do have a decidedly southern-U.S. vibe to them. Where the typical Viberg best fits Seattle or Vancouver, and the Indy boot is more New England, these boots feel like they would be most at home in Texas or Georgia in the fall.
Fit & Comfort:
These boots are an 11.5 E in Viberg’s 2030 last. Viberg defaults to these on an E width, and a few years ago only offered their Service Boots in a E width. I think that an E is the correct width for most people, as the boot is not overly wide – particularly compared with other boots.
One item of note, the sole on Viberg’s boots can change the sizing. The boots with a traditional heel fit me ever so slightly shorter than boots on a miniripple. If you’re just on the edge of sizing, be sure to take this into account.
I measure between a 11.5E and a 12D on the brannock, and always go up a half size when in between sizing. These fit me very well everywhere except the toes, where I get a bit of toe pinch. I expect these to break in and fit well after a few wears. For comparison, I take a size 12D in the Alden Indy, a size 11.5 E in Whites, and a size 13 in most Nikes.
Viberg Service Boots are definitely on the “supportive” side of things when it comes to comfort. The shoe is designed to hold your foot in place, and not buckle under your weight. The other side of that coin is that you’re going to feel your feet hitting the ground.
While they do that well enough, they are not as good as White’s in that regard. This is a shoe that is designed for style first, then comfort.
Materials & Construction:
Here is where this boot gets interesting. The upper leather of this boot is from the Tochigi Leather Company in Tochigi Japan. They are one of the most famous tanneries that specializes in vegetable (or veg) tanned leather. In fact, Gear Patrol did an article on the best suede, chrome, and veg tanned leathers and listed them as the best veg tannery in the world. The other two in the article were C.F. Stead and Horween – certainly great company to have.
What makes this tannery unique is the slow process by which they make their leather. Veg tanned leather is already a slower process, but the guys over at Tochigi take even longer. It can take around 2 months to get to this state.
Veg tanned leather, this included, is going to patina significantly more than chrome tanned leather will. Expect these boots to darken significantly over time.
Viberg lists these boots has having a 2.2 – 2.4mm thickness to them, but these boots are closer to 1.8mm. The leather doesn’t feel particularly robust on my pair, though it also doesn’t feel delicate.
Mid and Outsole:
On the midsole, Viberg continued with the veg-tanned leather – using a traditional midsole material. Underneath, they decided to go with Itshide’s studded outsole instead of Dainite. Since the classic outsole on the Viberg Service Boot is Dainite, I have to assume this is due to the Itshide offering a wider range of colors.
This outsole feels similar to Dainite on the first few wears, but does have a slightly easier break in. I’ve heard reports that this is slightly more brittle and prone to losing chunks along the edge, but can’t verify. Be sure to check back for a long-term review in a few months.
These shoes are made using a stitchdown construction. We go more in depth into exactly what that is here. The short version is that instead of the upper being rolled under the foot, it’s rolled out to the edge of the shoe. At least on the front of the shoe.
In general, stitchdown construction is slightly less durable than goodyear welt. The main reason for this is that as the front of the boot gets worn down it’s possible to wear out this leather. Once it’s gone, there is nothing holding the boot to the sole. Additionally, most believe that you’ll get fewer resoles from a stitchdown shoe vs. a goodyear welt, though Viberg claims the opposite.
Ease of Care:
These boots are going to require a bit more care than usual. First, because the leather on these is veg tanned, you’ll need to condition them slightly more often than you would a chrome tanned leather. Exactly how long will depend on how you wear them, but if you do your chrome tanned boots every 6 months, you might want to do these every 4.
As for which product, Viberg suggests using Venetian Shoe Cream on most of their service boot line. They even include a little bottle when you buy a pair. While VSC is a fine shoe cream, I personally find Bick 4 does the job just as well for less money. Even better, Bick is formulated specifically to not darken leather – great for a boot like this.
One thing you should be aware of is that heavier products, such as Obenauffs, can severely darken this type of leather. If you want to keep the lighter color, you’ll definately want to avoid products like that.
The other item you’ll definitely want to have is a pair of shoe trees. This natural-style leather is particularly susceptible to deep creasing. If they are allowed to sit overnight without something in them, they could get particularly bad.
When it comes time to resole them, you’ll have a fairly limited number of choices compared to other high-end footwear. It takes a different set of skills to resole a stitchdown shoe compared to goodyear welt. Further, a mistake on a stitchdown shoe ruins the upper leather – there is no rewelting these.
Thankfully, Viberg offers a semi-reasonably priced resole service. The cost is $135 plus shipping both ways. This is similar to Alden, though a bit higher than most other brands.
Pricing & Value:
When it comes to Viberg Service Boots, the price is not cheap. As of when I am writing this, they start at $705, and go up from there based on materials. Interestingly, even though this leather is substantially more than Horween’s chromexcel, boots with this leather are generally priced at or near the base price.
Unfortunately, these are mostly sold out. Rivet and Hide as a few pairs in the 1035 last as I write this, but that’s it. [UPDATE: They are sold out too!] Thankfully, Viberg and their stockists release numerous pairs every month so you’re bound to find one that works for you.
Sales are not super common, but it’s possible to find deals if you’re flexible on makeup. Particularly around the big holidays. Viberg also does a yearly sample sale, which is where I got this pair. It’s typically in person in New York City, but was online in 2021 due to COVID-19.
While I love these boots, it’s hard to argue these are a good value proposition. There are at least a half dozen other brands that make a similar boot for less money. White’s, Nicks, Wesco, Truman, and more each make a service boot in North America, and each cost less than Viberg. Further, for most of them at least, the quality is still impeccable.
Of course, Viberg is arguably the best at this style of boot. I bought this pair with my own money, so clearly I think there is value. However, there is definitely diminishing returns over 3 or 4 hundred dollars – and these boots are several steps beyond that.
The Viberg Service Boot, for many, is the pinnacle of boot design.
Sure, there are brands that are both more affordable and more robustly built. But, in many cases, the most extreme environment a boot will see is a bit of rain or snow on the commute into a desk job. Having a half inch of midsole leather is just for bragging rights at that point.
Viberg has managed to find something that fits in with an Americana look, the MFA “basic” look, and, while this pair certainly wouldn’t, you might even be able to pull these off with a business casual vibe in certain leathers.
It is extremely versatile, and built well enough that it will be able to handle anything the average suburban/urban guy can throw at it. I just wish it cost a few hundred less.
Looking for More Boot Reviews?
- Cyber Monday 2023: The Best Shoe and Boot Deals for 202311/29 UPDATE: With Black Friday and Cyber Monday in the rear view mirror, I don’t think any new deals will be popping up. I’ll leave this live in case anyone wants to check, but won’t be updating. Hope you picked up something great! Boys (and ladies shopping for men’s footwear)! It’s that time of year
- Should You Buy Shoes With Leather Soles?Background Leather outsoles have gone through a bit of a wild ride. The true OG of footwear, leather soles were pretty much the only option for almost all of history. It wasn’t until the 1800’s when Charles Goodyear – maker of tires and father of Goodyear welting’s namesake – created vulcanization that rubber outsoles became
- Warfield & Grand Batton: A Common Sense PickWondering if the Warfield & Grand Batton is right for you? We take a look at the materials, price, comfort, and more to find out.
- Nicks vs. White’s: Which Should You Buy?Nicks vs. White’s: Which of these Pacific Northwest Bootmakers is right for you? We take a look at cost, build, details and more to find out
- Grant Stone Cap Toe Forest Kudu: Still KickingWondering if the Grant Stone Cap Toe in Forest Kudu is still worth it after 100 wears? A deep dive review into a long-term wearer