The partially comprehensive guide to shoe soles

In recent times I’ve had  a couple of pairs of shoes resoled. In the grand scheme of things makes me something of a know-it-all, with regards to what goes on on the underside of Gentleman’s footwear. First I found a pair of custom-grade Church brogues, which I then had resoled with Dainite soles, then a pair of lesser brogues resoled with commando soles. This led me to believe quite firmly that I had a very solid idea what Dainite and commando soles were like.

At least until this photo popped up on Instagram:

itshidecommando

To fully appreciate the shift this photo forces on my perception of reality, read on.

So I had to engage my massive resources into an investigation into this matter, to clear the confusion and regain order in the sole universe. To start with I visited the Dainite website, and they kindly offer only 4 different soles, the first being the “Studded” sole, which happens to be exactly what I have in mind when I hear “Dainite sole”:

dainite by dainite

 

This style of sole is also described as “lug sole”, to add to the fuller picture.

When it comes to “commando” style soles you often hear them described as “Vibram” as well, so off there for my next piece of sleuthing. Vibram is a company that makes many a product, including the Five-fingers running shoes and a wide selection of soles for all manner of shoes. The list of soles available is longer and very much more varied than the conservative and traditional offerings from Dainite, and to be honest very much less interesting for the gentleman walker. Laboriously working my way down the list I came to the “Montagna block”, which is exactly the sort of serious sole I have on the underside of my Red Wing Ice-cutters. An excellent piece of rubber, and a good example of the commando style.

vibram_montagnablock

A proper rugged pattern and good soft rubber to enable both a grand grip and stealthy steps. An excellent choice for Sir.

So far, so good. We have the Dainite-style studded lug soles (let’s just expand the descriptions a little) and the Commando-style availabele from Vibram and others. Now what was the problem with the soles that started me off on this post?

Well, Itshide (which apart from anything is a remarkably stupid name for a company) do a Dainite-style sole which they proudly call the “commando”. Clearly completely incorrect and bonkers. What sort of confusing piddle is this? A commando-sole looks nothing like this…

 

In order of preference though, these are the types of soles I would recommend:

goodyear welted commando

 

1) Commando style – for the best grip, rugged look and decent wear. If there is a downside it is that they do have an unfortunate affinity for gravel and small objects, so carry a special tool to aid in their removal. A sneaky advantage for those dwarfish stature is that they add about a quarter of an inch of vertical height.

dainite soles

2) Dainite style – solid rubber and hard wearing. The lugs or studs don’t actually add much in the way of off-road traction, but they add a bit of heft and manly ruggedness to your shoes. And they’ll be much better in the wet with regards to protecting your shoes than plain leather.

ridgeway-sole

3) Ridgeway sole – should be a good bet for more rugged use and even handy in the snow. Similar in heft to the commando sole and unusual enough to be interesting.

victory_sole-loake

4) Victory sole – again similar to the ridgeway and commando soles. Used mainly by Loake, so likely the rarest of the three.

To round off this piece I thought I’d mention a few words about some of the other types of sole available for your shoes, and why I think they may be poor choices.

sole

1) Leather soles. As mentioned, my Church brogues had plain leather soles. These are to be considered equivalent to slippers and are fine for poncing around in a sanitised and climatise-controlled office environment if you are wearing a suit and tie and find joy in spreadsheets. Totally unsuitable for venturing outside in, and especially so if you might risk running into weather. All is not lost though, as you could resole them with more manly and proper soles.

stick on rubber sole

2) Glued on rubber sole covers. This is a true half-way measure to remedy the problem of the leather soles just mentioned. It will add a little traction to aid you in escaping pursuers in said office environment, but frankly it will be of almost no use at all when you’re standing in a puddle or find yourself faced with a muddy path.

duluthoxford

3) Christy soles, as very often seen on Red Wing, Grenson and others. These are the thick, heel-less foamy-looking white soles used on both work-boots and brogues alike now. They do provide a new look on old designs, which is nice, but do they really improve matters? Red Wing claim them to provide lots of traction in the workplace (not the same workplace as mentioned above, but an actual physically inclined workplace where there is real dirt, danger and un-curated facial hair).

In my experience though these soles have a couple of grievous issues:

  • They have no grip at all. I see mention of people wanting to use their Red Wings for winter use and can only comment that they are useless on snow and ice.
  • They have very poor wear characteristics, i.e. the soles wear out very quickly if used regularly (they’ll last forever if you never use them though). When mine wear out enough to justify a resole, they’ll have Vibram commando-soles fitted, which is a nice advantage of Goodyear welted footwear.

Oh, to add a final twist to an otherwise sordid story, it appears Itshide do in fact wish to redeem themselves, as they also do a commando-style sole that is marked as just that, “Commando”. We are not amused!

commandomain

Addendum:

Red Wing enthusiast and conspiracy theorist, Scratch, brings up a good point in the comments below. Does Red Wing buy their Christy-soles from Vibram, or are they an own-brand knockoff of a design that might have expired rights? They certainly use Vibram-branded soles for the Ice cutters, as show below, but have their own logo on the Looks-Just-Like-Vibram soles on 877 boots and their like. I will endeavour to get to the bottom of this…

vibram sole ice cutters

877 christy sole

19 Responses to “The partially comprehensive guide to shoe soles”

  1. Scratch

    I do love a Dainite “golf shoe” sole. They are mustard and do provide great grip on wet streets.
    It should be noted however RE the Christy. The official Vibram Christy sole wears quite solidly in my experience.
    The “Christy” on a Red wing boot is not branded Vibram and I have no reason to believe it is anything other than a Red Wing version even or copy of the Christy sole. It is this that the quality is appalling on.
    I have Yuketen Maine Guide boots with the real deal Vibram Christy on and they are great. An equivalent age Red Wing is worn so badly they are literally totally bald of tread and the heels have a quarter of an inch now missing. They are approaching unwearable.

    RedWing remain utterly silent on this matter. I am sad to say that I can only conclude that these particular redwing boots are built to fail and to provide the most profit to RW by utilizing a vastly inferior outsole.

    I say this with a bit of a heavy heart as RW appear to have a “built to last” “get what you pay for” ethos. Their production of boots that deteriorate within a year & that retail north of £200 indicates neither of these motto’s are true.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad

      Excellent comments! I have added a small addendum to the original post and will attempt to discover more about this possible conspiracy. I totally agree that for the price the RW soles should last very much longer than they appear to do. I wonder what the similar soles on Grensons last like?

      Reply
  2. Scratch

    Heh – I know not – but I suppose it begs the question, did RW develop this sole before Vibram or vica versa?

    Eitehr way, it is a cheap trick to get people to buy more pairs of their boots as I’m sure you know, few people have the wherewithall to get their boots resoled no matter how much the idea appeals.

    I’m sure the powers that be at Red Wing figured this out many moons ago!

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad

      I had to giggle a bit when I saw one review describing them as having “commercial construction”. I’m sure it wasn’t intentionally funny, but I read that as “soles that keep making business after the initial purchase”. It does appear that people are quite willing to forgive the poor soles though!

      Reply
  3. Brian in Alberta

    Do you realize that you are committing a menswear blasphemy by suggesting that leather soles are unsuitable for use almost everywhere! That said, I will stand with you. I have one pair of leather soled boots left in my collection. I wear them regularly but they will likely be the last pair of leather soled footwear I own. It’s my understanding that leather soles continued to be used after the development of useable rubber versions largely because the shoe makers didn’t want to have to maintain stocks of rubber ones. And then of course leather soles became “traditional” and rest, as they say, is history.

    Another type of sole which can be very nice are made by Reltex of France (http://lactae-hevea.com). I have owned boots with these soles and they were great to walk on. My favourite American maker is now offering Reltex soles as an option on some of there products (http://www.rancourtandcompany.com/blog/2013/02/12/the-best-rubber-soles-in-the-world-lactae-hevea/).

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad

      Many will probably think it blasphemy, but I’m an engineer and tend to look at things in terms of whether they are fit for purpose. Plus it’s my own and sincere opinion and I never wear a suit or fancy indoor shoes. Thankfully!

      Just had a brief look at the Lactae Hevea (now theres a brand name that will be tricky to go international with!) and I hope they work better than they look. Certainly in the light colour they look like porridge 🙂 Would certainly be interesting to try some though. There is always room for progress!

      Reply
  4. Thats About It

    “[..]manly and proper soles.”

    Yes, perfect for the ‘city outdoorsman’, ‘urban sailor’, ‘chic lumberjack’, or other urban dwellers trying to stylize their life that is mainly spent in an office work environment, as being ‘rugged and manly’. If extra ‘manliness’ is needed, one can always add a full beard and a bunch of tattoos.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad

      Perfect for the person that lives a real life, to my mind, though I see where you are coming from. For me, shoes that can’t be worn outside in average weather are really of no more use than slippers. Whereas proper footwear makes life less arduous and fraught, I fail to see how a full beard and any number of tattoos can do the same. Tweed, however, is a different matter!

      Reply
  5. Iskandar

    Those crepe sole has a purpose for comfort sole as most RW do not have insole to pad the feet for a long day of walking. RW crepe sole are more sturdier and lasting than the Vibrams. Have use both but the vibram’s are more comfortable as they are more softer. U can feel the difference while walking in them. Yes they do wear fast but they aid the breaking process. love them.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad

      I’ve actually been in touch with both Red Wing and Vibram, and Vibram supplies the crepe soles that Red Wing uses. Why the Red Wing soles wear faster than the ones supplied to say, Yuketen, is still a mystery though. And also, why Red Wing would chose to use a sole that wears so poorly on a pair of premium boots is also a mystery. We do love them though!

      Reply
  6. Wolf

    Just wanted to share my experiences from the white Red Wing soles (Christy). They are the same as yours. They are nice during summer, but on ice and snow they are down right dangerous. I brought mine to a skiing holiday last year and I fell several times. For use in snow I would not recommend at all.

    Since I am planing to use my Red Wings the next winter up in Sweden, I have just given them in to my shoe repair guy to have the sole replaced with a Vibram Montagna block (just like the one above). Hope that should work better.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad

      Oh my, snow and Christy soles? That can only be disaster. A less grippy sole would be difficult to design, unless it was one of their totally flat leather soles, which would be even more useless on snow. My Red Wing Ice Cutters have a proper rubber Vibram commando soles which is terrific on snow and ice. Then again, the Ice Cutters are made with winter in mind, something the Christy soled boots obviously are not. The lack of any lining is a clear hint, and they are miserably cold at even modest temperatures.

      Reply
  7. Riddlywalker

    I kept a pair of redwing chukkas going for five years with a regular smear of clear ‘shoe goo’ on the heel every few months- they were my go-to work boots in all that time… Of course the replacement pair are hideously uncomfortable because of bad construction…. Argh.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad

      Shoe-goo is a good idea indeed! I have been keeping my sons skateboarding shoes alive with the goo (otherwise they tend to last a few weeks, which is totally unacceptable). I agree that not all Red Wings are all that well made. My 877 are not very comfy, but the Ice Cutters and Super Soles are much better.

      Reply
  8. Mr Badger

    Interesting post.

    Spent most of my school hols working on an uncle’s farm. Summer 1984 between fifth and Lower Sixth, I worked in a Jones the Bootmaker (or whatever it was called then) shop.

    I inherited the skills to polish, or “bull” shoes and boots, and to care for them, from my father, who had been in the RAF. This was helpful when, in 1982, I joined the school CCF.

    I learnt heaps that summer about shoes, their construction, maintenance, repair, usage, terminology…

    I must, I am afraid, take issue with you over your second suggestion: glue-on rubber soles.

    They, said my mentor that summer, unbalance the shoe, create a thicker sole, yet with a relatively lower heel, and also unbalance the gait of the wearer.

    And yes, water still penetrates the sole.

    I spent 10 years as a recce officer wearing a variety of boots (DMS, desert combat boots + c) and Sanders’ Oxford in brown. Indeed, I am wearing a pair of these today. Worn on rotation, and repaired each three times or so, this pair has lasted 16 years. Shoe trees help, too.

    I now work in things rural and equine, and if smart-ish and outdoors, one cannot beat a pair of veldtschoens in tan and with Goodyear-welted commando soles. Am also a fan, if shooting, of heavy, zug-leather boots such as the Rannoch by Hoggs.

    And wellies, Aigle being my choice.

    Tweed, corduroy, moleskin, wool and waxed cotton worn elsewhere.

    A thoroughly enjoyable blog and a pleasant way to spend an hour or so in the office when I should be working!

    Keep up the good work.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad

      Thanks for the long and detailed comment! With regards to the point you take me to task on, I will, in my defence point out that the mention of the glue-on rubber soles is prefixed with “To round off this piece I thought I’d mention a few words about some of the other types of sole available for your shoes, and why I think they may be poor choices.”, so I’m hardly giving them any sort of strong recommendation! 🙂

      Reply

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