About a month ago I was solicited over email by a marketing agent working on behalf of Shoes for Crews, a designer and vendor of its own line of work shoes and boots. They offered me a free pair of their boots — my choice — in exchange for a review on this site.
I was, at the time, extremely reluctant and uncertain about this. I have very little to offer as a blogger and “authority,” and the small service I do provide is largely predicated upon my credibility; in other words, I may not know much, but I try to be as honest, impartial, and accurate with the small amount of information that I do provide. Taking free swag in exchange for kind words seems like a slippery slope at best. It’s more important to me to be able to, in the future, recommend a specific product because it’s worked well for me — without anybody wondering if I’m getting a kick-back for it — than to benefit from occasional free goodies.
I eventually agreed under the clear and explicit terms that I would write exactly what I thought, with no prevarication or white-washing. If I liked the boots, I’d say that; if I had reservations, I’d share them; and if I thought they had no role in EMS, then I’d say that too, and in that case their marketing effort would be counter-productive. They agreed to this, which I suppose was a calculated gamble.
So here’s the review. I doubt that this company will be sending me more boots, whether or not they appreciate this post, but in the future the same type of situation may arise, so I’m very eager to hear any opinions — positive or negative — on this practice. Does it leave a bad taste in your mouth, and make you less inclined to run your eye over our next volume on drug interactions or pulsus paradoxus? Or do you find this sort of thing useful?
Shoes for Crews is not a new company, although they’re new to me; they’ve been around for several decades now. Their claim to fame seems to be their slip-resistant soles, which use a patented tread-pattern and material to allow high traction in dangerous environments like wet floors or oil splatters. Their line runs from slip-ons to high-top firefighting boots, and the general theme is similar to Red Wings — basically footwear for working folks who are on their feet all day and need both comfort and protection.
Lately they seem to have been making a marketing blitz, possibly due to enlisting the help of the service that contacted me, and I’ve been seeing their ads everywhere. I even received a memo from HR at my job offering a company discount for their products. The social media angle has been aggressive (via Facebook, Twitter, and obviously blogs like this), and on some level I have to admire it. After all, it’s clearly working.
In my experience, boots for EMS fall into about three ranges. There’s the low-end range, ballpark of $40 or so, which is mainly low-cut shoes you find at Walmart or other generic retailers, intended for waiters and entry-level jobs. They can look good and seem somewhat serviceable for brief periods, but invariably they fall apart, sometimes catastrophically, after a few months. After that, there’s the mid-range, around $100, where the bulk of workhorse EMS and police boots fall — Bates, 5.11, Rocky, etc. These are good boots that wear well and last, perhaps, from 1–4 years depending on care and your tolerance for their final appearance. (All of my own boots have been this type.) Finally, there’s the high-end lines — Haix, Danner, and others — usually in the $200 range. These should last approximately forever, are built from high-end materials with scrupulous manufacturing, and ideally add an extra level of comfort.
Shoes for Crews seems to sit on the low end of the mid-range category. Many of their boots are in the $70–$80 territory, which is a pretty affordable boot if you’ll wear it for a solid few years.
As I flipped through their collection, my first impression was that there weren’t too many styles that seemed suited for EMS. Typically our uniforms require black footwear that will take a polish, and I like a side-zip for easy ins and outs.
The models that seemed most appropriate included the Ranger; the Yukon; the Expedition; the Empire; and the Legionnaire. (None, sadly, included a zipper. Maybe next year.) Eventually, I settled on the Maverick, a recent release.
Here they are new out of the box:
First impression: well-built, good looking all-leather boots. They are relatively low-cut, but they are clearly boots and not shoes; here’s a comparison next to my 5.11 ATACs.
They do have a white-threaded stitching, adding a bit of accent against the black; however, it is barely noticeable and I doubt would run afoul of anybody’s uniform policies. After a few polishes it will probably fade completely.
The lacing system is a typical hiking-boot style, with hooks instead of D-rings for the top two pairs. This is supposed to make it easier to get your foot in and out, but to me it just adds to the lacing process and makes donning and removing them a bit of a chore. I also noticed a couple of the hooks get bent outward during regular use; they bent back easily, but it may be a common issue. Although I didn’t try it, I wonder if you could use a pair of pliers to fold them tightly in around the lace, converting them into semi-permanent lace-retaining tubes instead of open hooks.
Here’s the slip-resistant soles after some wear:
Slip resistance, although undoubtedly positive, is not exactly something I lay awake at night worrying about. However, I admit that these soles felt good, with solid traction on all surfaces including soapy washfloors and the occasional grease patch. They seemed to do well on loose soil as well, although I didn’t do much off-roading in them. They are also, for any aspiring ninjas, very quiet.
The uppers are all leather, without any nylon or mixed surfaces. Although it takes longer to polish, I prefer this look to a two-tone or “patchy” style; one does wonder how well it breathes in the heat, but I had little trouble on some reasonably hot days. They felt decent in the cold as well (it’s been a rollercoaster month), so for moderately extreme temperature ranges I’d give them a thumbs up.
The product page makes the fairly strong claim of “waterproof.” Many boots say water resistant and some say waterproof, but within the low and middle price ranges this usually means some kind of external treatment or half-hearted membrane that lasts a year or two at the most. I saw no mention of a Gore-Tex or similar liner on mine, so that may be the case here as well. However, they do have a gusseted tongue, and on moderately rainy days, as well as a leisurely test session of soaking them in several inches of bathwater, I noticed not one drop of moisture penetration.
This is how they look after about a month of use (every shift at work plus many days off):
So they’re reasonably durable. The leather is actually somewhat soft, so I have some concern for how it’ll hold up in the long-term; you notice one small cut already on the left boot. I gave them one quick shine when I first received them, and that’s held up well. The particular style at the edges also seems to help prevent scuffing the toe. The included laces do seem pretty frail, already looking a little scruffly after a month, and I’ve read reviews that others have had similar experiences; laces are easily replaceable, of course.
These have a composite toe, which I found quite light compared to steel toes I’ve used in the past. Combined with the lower cut, they’re overall not heavy boots, although obviously heavier than a soft-toed variant. The good news is that the toe is very roomy and never felt confining, which is something I’ve always experienced with safety toes; the box is built quite high, which is actually noticeable from the outside, giving a bit of a square, blocky look.
How about comfort? These are actually quite comfortable boots. Partly it’s because of the low cut (which makes driving particularly easy), but mainly they just feel like boots designed for humans to wear, unlike many uniform boots which seem primarily intended as ornate buttcaps for bipedal robots. They are quite rigid, with a steel shank and more arch support than I’ve ever had in a boot, and the feel of the heel and overall “stance” against the ground is very stable and comfortable. I feel better lifting in these than in my current boots, extremely stable while stair-chairing, and I could almost certainly wear these to the gym to squat, press, and deadlift without any difficulty. The collar is heavily padded, and although it took a few days before it stopped feeling noticeably stiff against my ankle (the only real break-in), after that it’s been perfect. The insoles are replaceable, too, if you have your own orthotics.
My two biggest gripes, in the end, are these:
- The low cut. Every pair of uniform paints I’ve ever received has been (at least after a wash) laughably short, barely reaching my instep while standing and “flooding” embarrassingly whenever I bend my leg. As a result, wearing a low-rise boot like this makes the gap extremely noticeable; my pants almost don’t reach my boots even while standing. With properly-fitted pants, it wouldn’t be as bad, but I still feel that a medium-rise boot is a more professional look.
- No zipper. I tried to adjust to this, but particularly on overnight shifts, it’s a deal-breaker; having to lace and tie these every time I pull them on, and reverse the process to get them off (even just to rest my feet for a bit) is like switching from a cotton T-shirt to a corset. It’s enough to make me wonder if I could buy a center-zip panel like Haix makes and lace it into the front, but I doubt it would fit.
So with all of that said and done, what are my take-away impressions of these boots?
They are generally well-thought-out work boots, very appropriate for their primary market (for instance, warehouse personnel, contractors, or repairmen), and with an overall pretty good quality. They are obviously not specifically aimed at the EMS/fire/police market, but there are not too many gaps (targeted “EMS boots” are usually bizarrely overbuilt, anyway), and the main difference seems to be one of feel. My quibbles with them are enough that they won’t be replacing my existing boots, but I will wear them occasionally, and in fact they make decent-looking off-duty shoes (my girlfriend approves). Moreover, I know many field staff who don’t mind, or even prefer, low-cut and zipperless uniform boots, and for them I do recommend the product. The value is good, and if you can find some sort of discount (and they seem to be falling from trees), all the better.
I’d love to hear from anybody else who’s tried these, or better yet, one of the other Shoes for Crews models; I’d suspect that many of them are pretty similar in the overall feel, but there may be some important distinctions.
Best of all, SfC has provided me with a coupon code for one more free pair of any of their products to give away to one of you lucky folks. EMS Basics isn’t exactly The Price Is Right, and we don’t do a lot of contests, but here’s what I’d like to do: if you’re interested in a free pair of boots, post to the comments below describing:
- What boots you currently wear, and what you like/dislike about them
- What features are important to you in a pair of uniform boots