Custom hiking boots nearing completion. (photo courtesy of Peter Limmer and Sons)
How often do you buy a new pair of hiking boots? What if you could buy a pair of boots that would last 25 or 30 years? That's one of several reasons some people choose to have their boots custom-made. Although they can cost anywhere from $700 to $2,000 per pair, custom made boots can last for decades and offer exceptional comfort.
If that sounds too remarkable to be true, consider the following. Some custom boot makers, such as Peter Limmer and Sons and Van Gorkam Custom Boots, make their boots out of a single piece of high quality leather that is designed to mold around the foot like a second skin. When sewing the shoe they minimize the number of seams to reduce possible points of failure, or avoid stitching altogether by using rivets, which are less susceptible to wear and tear.
Boots like these “are sent back to us multiple times in their lifetime for resoling” says bootmaker Peter Limmer, who just this year repaired a pair of Limmer Custom Boots that had been made by his grandfather back in 1948.
Many hikers also choose custom boots because they’ve given up any hope of getting a comfortable fit in off-the-shelf models. People with different-size feet, bunions, fallen arches, chronic blisters and otherwise “challenged” feet can often find relief if they can have a boot tailored for their individual needs, instead of attempting to shim an off-the-shelf boot with different sock combinations, moleskin or custom orthotics.
Peter Limmer adjusts a custom boot last. (photo courtesy of Peter Limmer and Sons)
Obtaining this kind of fit requires a very different fitting process than store-bought shoes. To obtain a custom fit, customers are required to send in tracings of their feet or measurements of their circumference at different points along each foot. From the measurements, many traditional boot makers will construct lasts, or models, that are shaped like the wearer’s feet. The lasts represent the interior dimensions of the boot and bootmakers build a shoe around them to guarantee a perfect fit.
If you decide that a pair of custom hiking boots is a good choice for you, be aware that this it not an impulse purchase. The fitting process takes time and some custom bootmakers can have a wait time of a year or more. For example, Peter Limmer only makes 225 boots per year and has an 18-month waiting list.
“It can be a hardship for some customers,” but the wait is worth it, says Limmer. “The fit is guaranteed.”
You can’t get a promise like that in an off-the-shelf boot.