Wildebees leather boot- a brutal torture test

 

Model:

Kalahari 8.5 inch leather

These boots were sponsored by Wildebees for an expedition to walk the entire coast of South Africa and Mozambique. A distance of around 5700 km. From the outset I said that I would do an honest review, uninfluenced by my sponsorship. When the boots were offered for the expedition, I stated that I would not be giving them the required TLC recommended and would instead subject them to repeated baths in salt water, continual abrasion by rocks and sand and a lack of leather treatment. My mandate by the manufacturer, be honest, be fair and test them.

These boots were made for hunting and were never designed to be waterproof. The soles are also soft and smooth as they were designed to be quite, and not designed for muddy wet environments.

From the outset let me state that I am extremely hard on footwear and most boots fall apart on my feet after 6 months of continual wear.

These boots are extremely tough and well made. I have subjected these boots to one of the harshest environments in South Africa, namely the coast. No pair of leather boots can be expected to receive no care, be subject to salt water, sand, continual dampness, sweat and be expected to last. To start with I made sure they had about 100 km on the clock before I set out. Not that they needed to be broken in as they were comfortable from day one. They also had about 4 heavy leather treatments using the boot treatment supplied by the manufacturer before I set out.

Since then the boots have only been treated with standard dubbin or what ever else I could obtain about once every 2 weeks. Contrary to popular belief, Dubbin is not the best for leather treatment as it softens the leather and weakens it. It also removes the leathers ability to resist water.. They have been immersed in salt water at least twice a week. As a rule I try to keep them out the salt water but this is not always possible. They have also been hammered over the rocks and climbing cliffs. Unfair treatment to be sure. They have only produced three blisters in all this time, none severe, and that mainly due to walking in wet boots.

The greatest enemy of leather is human sweat. Our sweat produces enzymes and chemical compounds that break down the leather fibers elasticity rendering them brittle and prone to tearing. As the boots seldom dry out over night, they are constantly damp with sweat.

Ring eyelets

It did not take more than about 3 weeks and the eyelets started to rust from the continual exposure to the salt water environment. After 400 km, the base of the pillars separated from the ring eyelets and came off. The eyelets continued to hold fast though. Being steel eyelets they were bound to rust and bronze eyelets would have made a better choice. After 1400 km the posts finally started to pull out, necessitating repairs.

The soles

These are relatively soft, quite and flexible. They have no raised heel and no tread to speak of. They grip incredibly well on the hard, rough sandstone, when its dry, even when I had to climb out of some cliff sections. They are however a nightmare on smooth wet rock. They also tend to slip a lot on the soft sand dunes and muddy sections. After about 1400 km the sole is starting to show reasonable wear at the heel and the front started to separate. This meant that they needed to be repaired. Repairing them is a simple glue job.

Comfort

These boots were comfortable from day one. The high 8.5 inch uppers also allow excellent ankle support. Having walked through some very rough boulder terrain with a heavy 34 kilogram pack, where the rocks tend to roll underfoot. Not once have I twisted an ankle. My longest day hiking was about 17 hours over very varied terrain from rocks to soft sand and tar roads. I covered 37 km and although my feet were tired and sore, I received no blisters and was able to continue walking the next day. The high uppers also mean that very little sand gets into the boot and with long trousers, no sand gets in.

leather

The leather on these boots is tough, and the uppers are padded, offering ample ankle support and comfort. After 1500 km the leather still holds its shape around the heel and there is no discernible stretching of the leather. The boots have been subject to very sharp rocks and abrasion, yet there are no cuts visible in the leather. The toe cap is made of duplicate layers and my big toe nail’s (Even though they were kept short) cut through the inner layer after 600 km. Due to repeated immersion in salt water and sweat, after 1500 km the leather has started to crack through around the eyelets.

Inner-soles

After 1500 km the inner-soles are showing signs of falling apart and the plastic coating is separating from the cardboard. This is due to the continual dampness from wearing the boots continually without a break. I will replace them shortly.

At around 1700 km the leather split on the instep at the ball of the foot along the stitching.

At 2000 km the soles are now almost worn through. The lower ringlets have torn the leather or pulled out. The uppers have started to tear around the lining at the top and the padded tongue.

They have finally reached their end of life and need to be replaced.

I can honestly say that these are some of the toughest, most comfortable boots I have worn. Their destruction is the result of continual sweat and neglect. If the boots are treated properly and allowed to dry. There is no reason why these boots would not last double this mileage.

The second pair of boots I will try to treat better, however the nature of an expedition means they will be subject to abuse.

One Response to “Wildebees leather boot- a brutal torture test

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