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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Gear Review: Esatto Custom Classic Hiker Boots

Is old world craftsmanship and custom fit worth the price?

by: Joel Nyquist


The Specs:
$899
5.6 pounds
Esatto.biz
Boots can often make or break a trip. You might carry spare gloves and jackets, and could even deal with a ripped pair of pants, but no matter how many days you’ll be on the trail, you’ve only got one pair of boots.

Sore feet and ill-fitting boots have dogged me on long trips, or anytime that I’m forced to be on my feet for long periods of time. Obviously, not such a great affliction for someone who likes getting deep into the backcountry. I don’t have any medical issues, freakishly wide feet, or extra toes, yet have never been really happy with my footwear.

So will a pair of custom-made boots, designed and constructed exclusively for me, be the answer to my problem? I contacted custom boot maker Alex Kovalenko, who runs Esatto out of Battle Ground, Washington, to find out.

The first step in the process is completing a Fit Kit, which consists of pressure-sensitive carbon graph paper and various measurements around your foot, ankle, and calf (see photos above). By following the detailed instructions you collect enough data to send off to Esatto for them to create a set of custom footwear just for you. As you would expect from a set of bespoke boots, you can also select the color, sole, laces, and any number of other features. I wanted a stiff sole which disperses load and shock well, and a high cut to protect my ankles from getting banged and to help keep pebbles and snow out.

Unlike mass-produced boots, each pair that Alex and his assistant create takes over 30 hours to make. They work on each boot individually, since nearly everyone has at least a half-size difference between right and left feet.

After around four weeks my boots finally arrived, and I immediately started wearing them around the house and everyday to work to break them in, as these are thick, old-school leather boots. I couldn’t wait to get into the hills and try them out. The first big hike I took them on was up in northern Scotland on the United Kingdom's highest peak, 4,409 foot Ben Nevis. While it lacks lung-bursting altitude the trailhead is so low it still boasts over 4,300 feet of vertical gain over five miles.

The path includes miles of pointy egg-sized stones. On the way down, many of my friends began complaining of sore feet, and that the stones were painful to walk on. I honestly hadn't even noticed them, the soles of the boots were stiff enough to protect me from the points and my feet felt great. I was happy to return to the car without any blisters, although I noticed that the flex point of the boot over the top of my toes wasn't in quite the right spot.

I contacted Alex, wrote some notes, and sent them back for a tuneup. He made some adjustments, and added a small loop on the tongue to better keep them in place as they had been sliding during descents. With the changes that Alex made, the fit and flex was now spot-on, and I couldn't be happier.

I continued wearing the boots every chance I could, and late in November took them to Yr Wyddfa (also called Snowdon) the highest point in Wales. By this point the boots were well broken in, and while the sole has maintained its stiffness and foot protection capabilities, the upper had now softened a bit and flexed with my steps perfectly. When putting the boots on, there is a solid “pop” when I slide my heel into place, almost like locking down a ski boot. The traction of the Vibram Kletterlift sole is fantastic, I was able to walk straight down slopes that have had me side-stepping in other boots. The sole shows nearly no signs of wear, and the leather is so thick (3mm) that even when the rubber gives out, I’ll be able to have the boots resoled without any problem. They truly are the kind of boot that will likely last as long as your knees will.

But that chunky sole, high collar, steel shank, and thick leather comes with a big weight penalty. Each boot weighs a massive 2.8 pounds, heavier than many insulated mountaineering boots. And the custom fit and craftsmanship come at a steep price, as well. But before you scoff and say that for the price of one pair of bespoke footwear you could purchase four pairs of other top-shelf boots, consider how happy you are to be with those other boots. If you are the lucky person who routinely has no fit issues, then custom boots aren’t for you. But if you have multiple pairs of boots sitting unused in your closet because you can’t find a pair that you like, you are likely a good candidate for custom footwear. And even though a Honda Civic and a Corvette will both get you from Point A to Point B, there is a big difference in how you get there.

After six months of testing, over 400 miles of walking, two of the three high points in the UK, and zero blisters, I am quite clear that the boots are the most comfortable underfoot that I’ve ever worn. The support, cushion, and firmness are all exactly what I would like every pair to feel like. But the substantial weight is quite tiring on long walks, particularly ones with a lot of elevation gain. And while the ankle support and thick leather is impressively robust, in my particular case it is a little overbuilt. If you don't need quite as much support, Esatto makes a much lighter Summer Boot, which is nearly 3.5 pounds lighter, and $200 cheaper.

Bottom line: Although the considerable weight goes against the “light-is-right” mentality, if you have fit issues or are consistently dissatisfied with your boots, then custom footwear might be a good option for you. Resoling a pair of favorite boots can make the price point more manageable over the long run (or hike), and it is hard to put a price tag on comfort.



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READERS COMMENTS

Star Star Star Star Star
Tim
Jun 18, 2014

I wish to spread the good word about Esatto. About six years ago my feet, which had always been too wide for most shoes and boots, developed an odd curve from the heel to the toe that made is impossible for me wear any store-bought shoe of boot. I finally accepted what boot and shoe salesmen had been telling me I needed my boots custom made. I chose Esatto because I liked the comments its customers made, and because I liked the look of the Esatto Classic Hiker. The boots Esatto made fit me exactly, no break-in required, and I have been wearing them almost every day for the last six years.

A couple months ago, one of the threads in the welt of the right boot broke. Esatto told me to send them in so they could fix them. I received the boots back to discover that Esatto had put completely new welts and new Vibram soles on both boots free of charge. The Esatto classic hiker is a high, high quality boot. They have never let me down in any terrain. I can hike in them all day (in fact I did the day after I got them) with never a blister. I liked them so well that I ordered a pair of the Rugged Walker shoe to wear when boots wouldn’t be appropriate. They fit exactly as well as the boots.

If you’re hesitating because of the cost, consider them an investment. Drawing on my own experience with other high-quality hiking boots, I expect these boots to last over 18 years perhaps much longer because I have never bought a boot as well made as the Esatto Classic Hiker. Consider the number of ill-fitting hiking boots you would have to purchase over 18 years, and you’ll see what I mean about Esatto being a thrifty alternative. Thank you, Esatto, for solving my boot and shoe problems.

Star Star Star Star Star
DH
Jan 04, 2014

Where to begin? I spend all my free time outdoors. On average I back-pack 20-30 miles a week, sometimes more. I have tried every boot out there and thought blistered achy feet was normal, this season alone have worn out two pair of "quality" boots. I contacted Alex with Esatto and after I brief phone consultation we decided the Classic Hiker would meet my needs while backpacking. Four days after our conversation my Fit Kit arrived. The process couldn't have been made easier, simple to follow instruction and everything you need to properly measure your foot. I sent my order form back to Esatto and from the initial phone call to receiving my custom made boot was only four short weeks. Not to mention the exceptional customer service. I was pleased a couple weeks in to get an email of a picture of my boots being made. The day my boots arrived I had just got back from a backpack trip; my feet were blistered, bruised toe nails, and ached like none other. I thought it would be at least a week before I could hike. I put my boot on for the first time and was amazed at how comfortable they were. They wrapped around my foot perfectly and to my surprise my blisters actually healed while wearing the boots. Hiking has never been so comfortable. My Classic Hikers have replaced every shoe I wear and is easily the best investment I have made.

Star Star Star Star Star
DH
Jan 04, 2014

Where to begin? I spend all my free time outdoors. On average I back-pack 20-30 miles a week, sometimes more. I have tried every boot out there and thought blistered achy feet was normal, this season alone have worn out two pair of "quality" boots. I contacted Alex with Esatto and after I brief phone consultation we decided the Classic Hiker would meet my needs while backpacking. Four days after our conversation my Fit Kit arrived. The process couldn't have been made easier, simple to follow instruction and everything you need to properly measure your foot. I sent my order form back to Esatto and from the initial phone call to receiving my custom made boot was only four short weeks. Not to mention the exceptional customer service. I was pleased a couple weeks in to get an email of a picture of my boots being made. The day my boots arrived I had just got back from a backpack trip; my feet were blistered, bruised toe nails, and ached like none other. I thought it would be at least a week before I could hike. I put my boot on for the first time and was amazed at how comfortable they were. They wrapped around my foot perfectly and to my surprise my blisters actually healed while wearing the boots. Hiking has never been so comfortable. My Classic Hikers have replaced every shoe I wear and is easily the best investment I have made.

Star
Guy
Nov 20, 2013

I'm a backpacker with hard to fit feet. I finally decided to spend a lot of money (that I really could barely afford) for custom boots from Esatto in 2008 for "the fit I've looked for all my life" as advertised. Long story short, my experience wasn't good. They were heavy, crude, and, most importantly, tore up my heels after only a few miles into every hike/backpack, something no off-the-shelf boot ever did. After two returns to the previous owner and one to the current (with months of waiting), I now have rebuilt boots that are unwearable due to crippling pressure on my Achilles tendon. My orthopedic doctor says they're lucky I don't sue. Buyer beware. I hope no one else has to pay a lot of $ and suffer as I did through years of experimenting with these "custom" boots. I hope most of their customers are satisfied; I, however, had a miserable and expensive experience that I, sadly, regret.

Star
deltazen
Oct 22, 2013

Few feet are standard or average, and therefore very few off-the-rack boots will fit correctly.
Custom built boots are the only way to go. Want the best and one of the oldest?
Limmer Boots, made by third generation bootmakers Peter J Limmer & Sons, Intervale, NH.

www.louisvuittonbeltscheap.com
Apr 19, 2012

Both men and women, tie belt must pay attention to, www.cheapsunglassesexport.com which is in the details of social etiquette, out the door take a look at your belt is appropriate www.cheapsunglassesexport.com tie, belt there is no "abnormal", it is inappropriate in public or in front of others moving belt; www.louisvuittonbeltscheap.com so must pay attention to.xyzboy6666

www.louisvuittonbeltscheap.com
Apr 19, 2012

Both men and women, tie belt must pay attention to, www.cheapsunglassesexport.com which is in the details of social etiquette, out the door take a look at your belt is appropriate www.cheapsunglassesexport.com tie, belt there is no "abnormal", it is inappropriate in public or in front of others moving belt; www.louisvuittonbeltscheap.com so must pay attention to.xyzboy6666

Greg Loftus
Apr 10, 2012

I bought a pair of usedHan Wag years ago. Normally I would never do this but they did not have any wear on them at all and so I took a chance. I used these boots for over ten years and was getting ready to put on my 3rd sole when my buddy called up with a new pair he got and did not need. These were just a little larger and perfect for winter f0oot wear. Han wag has been the best boot I have used and I have no special issues around mt=y feet. Did 800 miles through Engalnc, Ireland and Wales in very cheap boots in the early 90s and the first 100 or so miles really hurt. I noticed after mile 800 and the boots in shreds that you could hit my feet with a hammer and I would not have felt it on the soles. Cheap boots made tough feet. I have looked att the cyustom boots and often wondered and one day if I can afford a pair I will try it. In the mean time Han Wag works for me.

JustMike
Mar 26, 2012

I bought my first pair of Esatto boots for the 2005 backpacking season. So how are they doing after 7 seasons? I like them even more than I did after the first season. They’re holding up well, on their third set of soles, and the uppers still have a lot of life left in them. After the first season of total foot comfort I thought the price of the boots was worth it. But spreading that cost out over the past 7 seven years (with what looks like several more seasons left in them) it’s proved to be an even smarter buy for me.

JJ Murphy
Mar 09, 2012

I wish I had known about Esatto Custom Hiking Boots before I blew a fortune on Deer Ridge Custom Shoes who produced a product so inferior I'm considering taking them to court.

BP Web Producer
Mar 07, 2012

In the field shots of the boots have been added. Just click on number 3,4, or 5 under the main image.

Esatto - Alex
Mar 07, 2012

Thank you Mary for you feedback!

JM:
Regards our Summer Boots size 9 approximantly weigh 2.2 for a pair and the Classic Hiker weigh about 5.6 pounds due to thicker leather and heavier sole. Classic style is design to last over 10 years with proper care.

Rick:
We take measurements with customers preferred socks and without socks. This gives us more information about the customer size and incase someone made a mistake taking measurements we can compare measurements.

Joel N.
Mar 07, 2012

Rick- here are the socks, I like them a lot, too!
http://www.backpacker.com/gear-zone-mothers-day-gift-guide-dahlgren-hiking-socks/gear/15594

Joel N
Mar 07, 2012

JM- The math adds up since 2.8 lbs is the per boot weight. Total weight is 5.6 lbs, the summer boots are ~2.3 lbs per pair.

Matt- Pics coming soon!

Rick- I wore some midweight Dahlgren socks most often, and used them in the fitting process. You trace your bare foot and then do a trace with your favorite socks, too

Joe Katz
Mar 06, 2012

I appreciated the review. I've worn boots made by The Russell Moccasin Company in Berlin, WI for many years and agree the price is worth every penny.

Matt
Mar 06, 2012

Pics of the boots would have been helpful. But thx for the write-up

Mary
Mar 06, 2012

I was buying a new pair of boots every year, hoping that I finally had found the "right" pair. In the store, they seemed fine, but on the trail, I always got black toes &/or blisters. I finally figured out that for the money I had spent, I almost could have had a pair of custom boots. So a few years ago, I ordered a pair from Esatto. At the time, there was no summer boot option, and I really hesitated, because I knew it was more boot than I needed. I went for it, though, and it is amazing what a difference a custom boot makes. I LOVE the fit. They ARE heavy, and that does limit the miles I can cover. But an ill-fitting boot also limited the miles I could cover.

JM
Mar 06, 2012

How can one summer pair be 3.5 lb lighter from a 2.8 lb winter one? mathematics don't click.

Scott Kent
Mar 06, 2012

Resoling makes custom or semi-custom boots a great value. At Renaissance festivals there are several custom boot and moccasin makers like Catskill Mountain, Turtle Island Moccasin, Windwalker, and Olde Soles (Native Earth Moccasins). Olde Soles does off the shelf boots, custom boots, and modified off the shelf work for a custom fit.
I was even thinking that hiking the AT in a pair of these would be great as you could use a softer sole in the South and then switch to a firmer sole for Pennsylvania or the White Mountains.

Chick
Mar 06, 2012

limmercustomboot.com does the same thing for $625. (Got my 1st pair in the late 80s for half that.) They've been around for something like 100 years. Heavy leather classic boots with full steel shank.

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