Footwear

Smoke Jumper

So years ago I saw on Instagram (I believe it was Papanui’s) a pair of John Lofgren donkey punchers. At first I was like wtf is this? It was a pair of boots, but with lace holes that seemed to extend further down the vamp than normal so that they kinda looked like an angry pug. And then there was this funny moustache thing coming out from the laces and the curvy, slightly effeminate heels. I was not immediately taken by the style but the image swam to the back of my mind to be retrieved at a later date.

During my visit to Blue Works vintage clothing I saw Steve wearing a similar design but without the moustache (which I later learned is called a false tongue or kiltie). I believe his are a two-tone version where the upper and the lower leathers are different colours. The combination of extra lacing and rounded toe makes for a heavy-duty, tough-looking boot. Steve was wearing his with OG107 fatigue pants and I thought they looked bloody great. I learned that his pair was from Wesco and I slowly but surely fell down the rabbit hole of Pacific Northwest boot companies.

Anyone interested in menswear, workwear or raw denim knows Red Wing. They’re a household name. But the bootmakers of the Pacific Northwest region of America have their own rep and diehard followers, many of whom use their boots for the intended purpose: logging and firefighting. The most famous brand in this group is undisputedly White’s. Their iconic Smoke Jumpers are named after the brave firefighters who parachute into wildfires. Although these boots are very customisable and have been adopted for fashion purposes by some, their form derives from their function.

The original versions of Smoke Jumpers usually come in 10-12 inch heights to maximise foot and ankle support for the wearer (often as they try to negotiate steep hills, uneven ground, for 12 hour working days). The logger/cuban heels allows better traction and gait and provide the wearer maximum comfort. White’s also come with “arch-ease” where leather layers are stacked to support the foot arch so the wearer’s weight is spread over a wider area. Firefighters, loggers and White’s fans swear they are slipper/sneaker comfortable after the break-in period (which can be painful). The removable false tongue was originally included to protect the actual tongue from the laces, but these days the tongue is made materials tough enough to stand up to the laces. False tongues are still included because traditionally that’s just how logger boots are supposed to look. The extended lacing called “lace-to-toe” allows further adjustments to secure the boot to the foot more tightly and may prevent tripping. Roofer boots aka monkey boots also feature LTT for similar reasons.

The boots are constructed using a stitchdown method, which differs from goodyear-welt in that the upper is turned out and stitched directly to the midsole and outsole as opposed to a welt strip. If you live in America, you can easily send the boots back to White’s for a resole or even a rebuild. The boots are individually hand-made and you can see the quality is really a step up from entry-level boots like my Chippewas.

The custom options are also mind-boggling and a bit overwhelming to a newbie. Luckily there is this helpful guide on reddit and also this enormous Styleforum thread which is extremely informative and entertaining to read through. You can really customize anything from having different combination of leathers and colours on the uppers, to different boot heights, to different materials for hardware. You can have all eyes for the laces or eyes and speedhooks, cuban/logger heel or block heel, different heel heights, or different sole options. I originally thought I wanted a wedge sole, but ended up ordering a logger/cuban heel to take advantage of the arch-support system (the wedge sole needs a flatter shank and therefore the footbed is flatter and less arch-supporty). I was really tempted to order the boots in the “Hotshots” configuration (black smooth upper and black roughout vamp) because I watched “Only the Brave” recently (complete tangent – you should definitely check this movie out – it is based on the tragic true story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots).

In the end, I opted for unlined black chromexcel uppers in a 7 inch height which is about as tall as I’d be willing to go before the lacing becomes too unweldy. I went for the Vibram 100 lug soles to maximize my wear before a resole is required (not exactly which cobbler can do stitchdown resoles in Sydney since it’s a bit trickier than goodyearwelt) and standard heel height plus logger heels. I got speedhooks for the shaft with eyelets for the top holes which are a bit more secure. Contrary to what the Japanese market loves to do, I didn’t get a double midsole. I think the lug soles are tall enough (I stand a good 2 inches taller with these boots on).

I ordered these boots from Baker shoe around May but thanks to a PayPal stuff up, didn’t get them til this week. But all thanks to the Baker shoe guys, they got the order done pretty quick and I had my boots in about 4 weeks from the day we realised the error had occurred. They even threw in an extra set of leather laces for me.

The first thing I noticed when I took the boots out of the box was how substantial they were. These are serious boots and make my other boots look like little flimsy toys. The clicking is immaculate and the stitching is neat and consistent. I know some people have issues with White’s being more function than form (which I don’t really think is a fair gripe since they are designed for function) so the occasional aesthetic oddity creeps up. I couldn’t see anything wrong with my pair except a bit of leather fibre had managed to get caught under a stitch so I prized it out with my awl (handy being a leather-worker).

First day wearing them was not nearly as painful as some make it out to be (there’s even a name for it: white bite). No doubt being unlined chromexcel and wearing thick boot socks helped. There was a tiny bit of pressure over the toes and that was about it. The higher heel and strangely supportive arch does take a bit of getting used to. A week and a half in and they are almost slipper-like. They are very comfy boots and I can see myself reaching for these over my less supportive shoes in the future. These are heavy boots though so I do notice the difference when I am say, going up a flight of stairs.

The profile looks extremely bulbous from the top down but side on, they have a certain sweeping grace to them. I do love the lace-to-toe look and have discovered a treasure trove of Japanese makers who do LTT. More on those in a later post…

Fit-wise I have read some people size a half or full size down from their brannock size. However going true to size allows thick socks to be worn, and since I would primarily be wearing these in the cooler months, I went TTS. The toebox is roomy but I didn’t have any heelslip and the extended lacing allows for more adjustment. I’m not sure if they will become more roomy as the chromexcel wears in and stretches a bit – will report in later.

These are strictly workboots so really they only go with workwear/military styles, which is fine since I almost exclusively wear denim these days. They would definitely work with chinos, fatigues, and possibly even some heavy tweeds.

If you like the logger boot look, other options to check out are Nick’s, Wesco, John Lofgren, Lone Wolf, and Rolling Dub Trio.

One thought on “Smoke Jumper

  1. to me this vibram 100 sole fits better for hiking in mountains, for city road the mini lug vibram looks better, the cxl black looks fantastic, please update later if they have loose grain problem.
    I have been a red wing boots lover for years and looking to buy a pair of white’s or nicks in the coming month, may start from the semi-dress model as it looks fit better with my office life style.

    Like

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