A comparison of manufacturers
The opinions of four Bootmen
- 1 -
I have engineer boots of various heights by Carolina, Chippewa, and Wesco, plus some odds and ends I can't identify, and a custom pair of crotch-highs by Nick's of Toronto. I would rank Carolina lowest, Chippewa in the middle, and Wesco on top in order of sturdiness of construction and overall quality. Price is about in that order, too. Here are some comments on these boots:
Carolina: These are relatively inexpensive. They are fairly comfortable. The soles are not genuine Vibram, but are stitched-on construction. The leather is of so-so quality, but they are a decent value for the money. The taller boots may not fit if you have very large calves. These are a good boot for knocking around and beating up.
Chippewa: The high shine version has a shine that's not real polish. It's some sort of sprayed-on lacquer, that had bubbles and stuff (lint, crud) imbedded in it, like a really bad auto paint job done in somebody's driveway on the weekend. I stripped this crap off (with rubbing alcohol), and found a nice semi-gloss finish underneath. I rather liked the way this looked, so I left it, although this seems to be a good base that would take well to a proper high shine, if I were so inclined. The soles are genuine Vibram, and the construction is quite good. They leather is not too thick, and is prone to creasing, but they are lined, and this makes the shaft nice and stiff. At least at one time, Chippewa offered both lined and unlined versions, so note what you buy. The oil-tanned version has a bit thicker leather.
Wesco Boss: I have several pairs of Wescos, from short to 20 inch knee-highs. The taller boots were custom made to measure, while the short ones were stock. I suggest going the made-to-measure route, particularly if you have large claves, or odd-shaped feet, as I do. Plus, with custom ordering, you can make the boots personalized. The options listed on the Wesco website are only the beginning of what is possible, although you should go through an experienced dealer like Stomper's or Big Black Boots is you are considering serious customization. The made-to-measure boots were immediately comfortable, without any break-in. By going the custom route, I was able to not only comfortably fit my calves, but have them cut big enough to fit over chaps plus jeans. All of mine have the oil-tanned leather, which is quite thick. My unlined Wescos have thicker leather than the leather plus lining combined on the Chippewas. However, the oiled leather is very soft, particularly if it is kept properly greased. As such, my knee-highs do not stand up by themselves well, and have developed some nice folds around the ankle, which some find appealing. They came out a little taller than I expected, and came into the back of the knee, so I was glad to have them drop down a little as the creases developed. (Wesco measures the height of their lace up and engineer boots differently, with and without the heel, respectively, and this caused me some confusion when ordering Boss to the same measurements as my Highliners, making the Boss come out 2 inches taller than I wanted.) On the other hand, my shorter Wescos are lined, which makes for a rather stiff shaft, which would cause a tall boot to stand up quite straight, and not drop down with wear. The Wescos also have a certain look about them which no other boot imitates. The Wescos are hand made, and are considered as work boots by the maker, who is therefore not overly obsessed about little cosmetic details. Therefore, you may see little variations in the stitching, etc, but these are not quality defects, but rather contribute to the individual character of each boot.
Overall, the Wescos are my favorite engineer boot, and have no comparison. They have developed a truly unique character as they have worn in. But there are times when I like to wear the others, too.
- 2 -
I have both the Chippewa and Wesco engineer boots... two pair of 17" Chips, one in the shiny leather and one in the oily finish, and three pair of Wesco Boss, 14", 18" and 20", all in the oily finish. The Chips collect dust on the shelf and the Wescos get worn all the time. The Wescos just look and feel better to me.
The Wescos are made of much better quality leather and they're a lot more sturdy and rugged than the Chippewas. They're also heavier, but I don't find that to be a problem. Both the Chips and Wescos are very comfortable. Leather linings add to the comfort of the boot, plus it makes it so much easier to get them on and off. I recommend getting leather lined boots.
My very first pair of Wesco engineers are now more than 20 years old and they're still looking good and wearing well.
Of course you'll pay more for the Wescos, but in this case you definitely get what you pay for. You will not be disappointed!
- 3 -
Chippewa High Shines are nice boots, but nowhere near the quality of Wescos. Of course this is reflected in the price. Wescos for me are much more comfortable, but my feet are super fussy.
- 4 -
I've owned Carolinas, Chippewas, and Wescos. Forget the shine, and go after quality. If you have big calves, you need to go custom, and that means go for quality, comfort, and fit! After buying Wescos, I would find it hard to return to any other brand. They are the most comfortable boots I have ever worn. I have 17" Boss boots.
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