Treat Your Feet to a Pair of Custom Hiking Boots

custom hiking boots
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 adjusting a custom boot last.
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.


Filed under: Gear News

Comments

pillowthread
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November 16, 2011 at 1:38 p.m. (EST)

White's also makes a few models which might serve well as a hiking boots; I have a custom pair of their Lace-to-Toe Smokejumpers, which are decidedly amazing boots. Their prices are comparable to Limmer's products, and when I got mine a couple years back the wait time was just a few months.

giftogab
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November 16, 2011 at 4:01 p.m. (EST)

OH! IF only I could jsutify this sort of expense! It would be HEAVEN!

Rick-Pittsburgh
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November 16, 2011 at 4:07 p.m. (EST)

Or one could search til the end of time for that perfect boot that can take a few resoles. I love me some Scarpa SL's. 

Jake W
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November 16, 2011 at 4:34 p.m. (EST)

One day........I just fear that this dying art will have disappeared by the time I've saved up enough.

Bill S
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November 16, 2011 at 6:42 p.m. (EST)

Limmer's custom boots are well worth the price, given the longevity. Barb's are about 18 years old now, and the most comfortable boots she has ever had.

Callahan
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November 16, 2011 at 11:21 p.m. (EST)

What if I am are missing pieces of toes ?

Erich
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November 17, 2011 at 12:55 a.m. (EST)

Custom boots, or for that matter, any well made leather boot can be worth the money, both from the comfort perspective, as well as the longevity. One thing that many don't realize, is that fit has a lot to do with the last the boot is formed on. Everyone has different shaped feet. Some of the older Vasques, used to fit me well. My current pair, with Littleway welts, though narrower in the sole than my others, have always given me problems. My Galibiers have always fit me well. French boots(Galibier, Le Trappeur, etc.) have a narrow heel and a wider toe. German boots generally have a narrower toe and a wider heel. 

It is also important to remember, in this day of boots made from synthetic materials, that well made leather boots will require a longer break in period, and may require some stretching by a qualified cobbler. Break in can also be speed up by wetting the boots with warm water and then wearing them while letting them dry naturally. Dave Page in Seattle does great work, though doubtless there are other cobblers across the continent who specialize in hiking and climbing boots.

Rick-Pittsburgh
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November 17, 2011 at 1:12 a.m. (EST)

+1 on Dave Page. Honestly he is just about the only one I will get to do any work on my footwear. 

I think its safe that Randy Merrell deserves mention here:

http://www.trailspace.com/articles/gear-maker-profile-randy-merrell.html

philipwerner
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November 17, 2011 at 8:27 a.m. (EST)

For those of you on the east coast, Pete Limmer also has a partner who repairs 3rd party boots from any manufacturer. They might be worth a visit. Their shop is in Intervale, just outside of North Conway in the White Mountains. Just something else I learned in the interview with Pete that didn't make it into the article.

philipwerner
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November 17, 2011 at 8:32 a.m. (EST)

Callahan - from what Peter Limmer told me about the way he cuts his leather and makes lasts, it shouldn't matter if you are missing pieces of toes or entire toes. His custom boots are really individually made, every time.

I have some friends with very painful bunion problems, and I am going to recommend that they try the custom boot route or at least find out more about it.

BigRed
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November 17, 2011 at 9:36 a.m. (EST)

Just to be a bit of a gadfly: My wife has two pairs of Limmer customs from when she worked at the AMC years ago. She still loves them, but never wears them, I think because they are kind of heavy and clunky compared to more disposable boots. Also, I have a newer pair of mountaineering boots that weigh maybe half as much as a pair of Limmers. Don't get me wrong -- they are extremely well-made, maybe the best/only way to go for people who don't fit into standard sizes, and there's a lot to be said for their durability and longevity. But I personally prefer something lighter. (I might also say that I like boots that cradle the feet and absorb shock like modern running shoes, but barefoot/minimalist shoes are changing my mind on that score). But then maybe they've evolved a bit over time?

GaryPalmer
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November 18, 2011 at 5:02 p.m. (EST)

 

I stopped wearing hiking boots many years ago. I wear running shoes now for hiking. They are so much lighter and my ankles have gotten used to the weight.

Erich
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November 18, 2011 at 10:33 p.m. (EST)

I agree Gary, that for a lot of situations and locales, runners, or light fabric hiking shoes work well. On my summer approaches to climbs, I used to wear Converse high tops and throw the the Super Guides in the pack. However, I think there are still places where heavy hiking boots are useful. These include mixed alpine, where you might find yourself on trail, cross country, glacier travel, etc. This is less common in, for instance, the Sierras in summer, than for instance, in the North Cascades. I will vary my footwear and gear depending on the expected conditions. And I won't wear heavy boots unless I have to. This week,  I was in the Cascades testing gear and snow punching. I couldn't done it in light weight hikers, and was glad to have heavy boots, and my wool breeks!

Skimanjohn
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November 20, 2011 at 10:25 a.m. (EST)

Spot on Erich.I will not use gear for just the fact that they are "custom" nor the latest thing out.I use gear that works for the conditions I will incounter.I also have climbed and hiked into climbs in Galibeir boots,not shure the spelling on that is correct.Today I prefer some of the lighter mountaineering boots for a multitude of reasons.Weight and comfort during break in are two of the main ones.The Makalu,Super Guides and Peuterays were all very good boots but all mine have worn out,over 45 years of time,and so I have moved on to newer technology.ymmv

Erich
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November 21, 2011 at 9:58 a.m. (EST)

Yes, John, we all live and recreate in different locales and weather conditions. And certainly, I think that plastic double boots, are superior to, for instance, climbing the normal routes on Mt. Rainier, than a pair of Makalus. Sometimes, older technology is superior in some instances, but the locale may be somewhat unique. Super Guides, if they fit your feet, are still, I think, superior to plastic boots, for alpine style climbing. Long approach hikes, mixed ice and rock, where one person will lead the rock sections in mountain boots and the other will swing in crampons on the ice sections. A boot like the Super Guide, or it's lower cuff version, the Peuteray you mentioned, allows good performance in all these areas. But that type of climbing is fairly limited in the US, and fewer climbers do that sort of route these days on this side of the pond, preferring to do more pure ice routes, or more pure rock routes. Super Guides are still being made, and I would submit that it is not because of some misplaced Gallic stubbornness, but because they still sell well.

skibum12
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November 22, 2011 at 4:26 p.m. (EST)

I have a pair of Limmer Superlights and have to say they are the best boots I own.  The experience of when you pull them out of the box when you first get them is actually kind of memorable.  Cant put my finger on it.  I will say to "follow the instructions" after you get the boots is key.  Wore them around the house for a while, then light hikes.  Had some blisters which is normal wear and tear but then when that day came when no more blisters, hiking through the woods thinking to myself that this is the best investment I have ever made.  I've talked to others and its funny, you get the same feedback.

Erich
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December 1, 2011 at 7:52 p.m. (EST)

This, I think, is a somewhat related digression to custom or leather boots. Much of what we see in the outdoor industry in terms of styles or trends, are marketing related. I had a conversation with another skier recently, a mid thirties gentleman who was professing the advantages of a new(to him) wonder material. It breathes well, insulates in both cold weather and warm weather, sheds some rain and snow, and doesn't retain odors as much as other hi-tech materials. Further it comes from a renewable resource and is recyclable. The "new" material...merino wool. in the 60's and 70's I climbed in a merino wool sweater, I cycled in merino wool tights. By 1990, merino wool clothing was all but gone in NA. Now it is back, in force, as the latest hot, hi-tech material. What's new is old.

apeman
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December 2, 2011 at 2:37 a.m. (EST)

Erich said:

This, I think, is a somewhat related digression to custom or leather boots. Much of what we see in the outdoor industry in terms of styles or trends, are marketing related. I had a conversation with another skier recently, a mid thirties gentleman who was professing the advantages of a new(to him) wonder material. It breathes well, insulates in both cold weather and warm weather, sheds some rain and snow, and doesn't retain odors as much as other hi-tech materials. Further it comes from a renewable resource and is recyclable. The "new" material...merino wool. in the 60's and 70's I climbed in a merino wool sweater, I cycled in merino wool tights. By 1990, merino wool clothing was all but gone in NA. Now it is back, in force, as the latest hot, hi-tech material. What's new is old.

We do in the end seem to come back to what works evetually.........and finally throw the garbage to the way side after much money is spent on said garbage only to find out that we had it right years ago.  Kinda, storta funny I think.

Callahan
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December 11, 2011 at 10:04 p.m. (EST)

philipwerner

Thanks ,  i am starting to save up some doh now.

keeganuhl
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December 27, 2011 at 4:49 a.m. (EST)

1. Even if you're not interested in buying, if you are ever in the Mount Washington area of New Hampshire, the shop is worth a visit. You simply don't find people making things by hand with this level of craftsmanship anymore, its a dying art (Ken still does repairs on a sewing machine from 1904!). And the store is like a damn boot museum. My favorite thing is looking at the photos people have sent in of their boots all over the world, which plaster the shop like wallpaper. Check out this album of pictures I took on my last visit: flickr.com/photos/keeganuhl/sets/72157627008863273/

2. I agree that light hikers or running shoes are nice because of the weight savings, and for casual day hikes and such they are nice. But for any off trail trip of a couple days or more with a big pack (I do them in the Sierras of California), good sturdy boots like these are awesome. Running shoes last 1 or 2 trips max, and my feet come back bruised and battered. With a pair of their boots, you'll be comfy and protected in just about anything.

3. I first had a pair of their lightweight "stock boots," and while they were excellent, the fit wasn't ever perfect, and they are at the end of their lifespan (of about 10 years!). From the stories people have about 20+ years in their Limmer custom boots, they are well worth the price, and will save you from going through countless pairs of crap sneakers and lesser boots. You can resole them 2-3 times--for many it will be the last pair of boots they every buy. Mine should arrive in time for next season. Can't wait, and proud to support this family business. 

gonzan
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December 27, 2011 at 12:06 p.m. (EST)

Welcome to Trailspace, Keeganuhl! 

Great profile pic :) Do youi mind if I ask what lake that is, and when the photo was taken?

Tipi Walter
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December 27, 2011 at 12:37 p.m. (EST)

Okay, let's talk about Limmer boots.  First off, a whole line of these boots can be purchased, or used to be available, at certain outfitters and dealer shops.  I bought my pair of midweight (or is it lightweight) Limmers from a backpacking store in Boone, NC in 2001. Footsloggers.  So, a custom Limmer is not the only choice.

Now for the fun part.  After getting my nice, at-the-time $250 pair of Limmers in 2001 and using them near daily on rigorous backpacking trips in the mountains of NC, I had severe malfunctions, as follows---

**  The worst was the separation of the vibram sole from the uppers due to cut welt thread.  We're talking both soles coming apart where the white thread is sewn from the tread sole to the upper part of the boot.

**  The other problem was the inside leather heel portion splitting and tearing open---but this I considered to be normal wear and tear.

**  I called Karl Limmer (?) and we talked.  He mentioned something about accidentally using a batch of UNWAXED welt thread instead of the normal waxed thread---detailing something about unwaxed sliding and cutting itself apart on boot edges, etc.  Whereas wax thread is lubricated.

**  Before I called Karl I used a field repair by squirting a bunch of McNetts seam sealer into the open sole flap and went on my business.  Maybe this voided my warrantly?

**  I sent the boots back to New Hampshire for a repair and they fixed the two inside heel leathers and completely resoled both boots with new thread and glued on new heels.

**  And they charged me $90 for the repair.  They should of given me a new pair of boots since the welt thread was so pitiful, even tho I caused the inner heel split.

CHECK OUT THE FOTOGS


LIMMER-BOOTS-009.jpg

Here are the midweight (or maybe they're called the lightweight) Limmer boots.


LIMMER-BOOTS-011.jpg

Here's a shot of the leather heel portion that split in the first year of use, but fixed very well by the Limmer boys.


LIMMER-BOOTS-010.jpg

But here's the CLINCHER!!  After all the time and money and hassle, they send the boots back with new soles and new welt thread and new heels and yet the heel on one of the boots separates in the first two weeks!!!   Steamed, I now write long screeds on the Limmer debacle.

PRAISE ASOLO!  And here's where Asolo enters the picture.  Sure, my Asolo boots don't last more than about three years for each, but they sure are comfy and feel a whole lot better than my out of the box Limmers.  And my Asolo full leather 520 goretex boots are VERY NICE.  End O Rant.



Dewey
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December 27, 2011 at 7:56 p.m. (EST)

I saw my first Limmer boots some 40 years ago, on the feet of an American "draftdodger" who was on one of my silvicultural crews in the West Kootenays of BC. He told me in no uncertain terms that these were "the best boots, man" and he came from the isolated, rugged mountains of the eastern USA. I told him that they did not inpress me as being even close to my Galibiers or my handmade Pierre Paris and Son, Vancouver-made "light cruisers", which we all wore at work in forestry.

I was not impressed by the few pairs of them I have seen, then or subsequently and would not buy a pair. I would check with John Calden, here, if I wanted another pair of custom hiking boots and may yet buy some from him.

Most boots made today are junk compared with those we bought in the '60s, '70s and up to when Scarpa changed their fine all leather boots about 8-9 years, ago. People will not pay for real quality and most hikers are urban indoor workers who tend to believe the marketing BS that so many gear makers spin, hence, they wear crappy footwear and never experience what really good boots can do for them.

keeganuhl
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December 28, 2011 at 5:52 p.m. (EST)

Gonzan: I took that self-portrait in Rocky Mountain National Park in September. Quick run into Dream Lake while my wife took a nap in the parking lot (I was in CO for a wedding).

In response to Tipi Walter: 

The stock boots that you purchased and rant about above are a whole different ballgame from the hand made custom Limmer boots referenced in this article. The stock boot and custom boot Limmer businesses are run by two separate companies. You can't compare factory made assembly line boots with custom handmade footwear. So your review of them is perhaps misplaced. (Although I had the same pair of lightweights that you photograph there and they lasted me a resoling and 10 years--albeit not under daily use.)

Second, I think a pair of custom Limmers goes for $600-700 these days. Pete Limmer purposely sets the price point within reach so more people can enjoy a custom fit. I'm not sure you can find cheaper custom hiking boots, the Gorkams start at $1600. If you work in forestry and are in the boots all day every day, perhaps it is worth spending that sort of money. But if you hike 20-30 days a year and want boots with a hand made custom fit that wont break the bank, you can't go wrong with Limmers.

I'm not arguing that they are as good or better than $2000 boots, I'm insisting that these $600 custom boots could be a better bet than multiple pair of sub-par $250 boots, especially if you have trouble finding a good fit with factory boots.

And plus, I'd rather support a family business that is handcrafting an excellent product than a large corporation any day of any week.

Rick-Pittsburgh
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December 28, 2011 at 6:09 p.m. (EST)

Hey keeganuhl, welcome to the wonderful world of Trailspace.

I have to say that one would think that even though the custom works and the stock are 2 separate entities that there still would be better QC implemented.

So Limmer admitted they screwed up on the welt thread for Tipi's boots. They fail... and he has to pay for it?

Granted he had to do a fix in the field but what else should he have done? Walked out in his socks?

This is a joke if I ever saw one. He did what he had to do because they made a mistake and it voided the warranty? Uh yeah, ok.

Regardless of how you dissect this scenario one still ends up with the same conclusion. 

He got shafted.

They made the mistake and would not stand behind their product. 

Regardless of whether they are 2 different companies or not they still carry one name... 

...Limmer.

Tipi Walter
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December 28, 2011 at 6:34 p.m. (EST)

So, if Ferrari makes a Ford and slaps "Ferrari" on it, we should do enough research to know beforehand that it's not a Ferrari even though they label it as such??  If so, what's the point of brand distinction?  Further, to think I would invest another $700 in a custom pair of Limmers is out of the question.  Once burned, etc etc.

Big name brands with high reputations like Limmer or WM or Feathered Friends or Valandre must be "unconditional" when fulfilling a decent warranty or instead must pick and choose their customers very carefully.  What would happen if Ed Viesturs came in and got a $250 Limmer boot and wrote a long screed about its failures?  Oops.  The pertinent relevant outdoor community would hear all about it.

In all fairness, maybe the $90 I spent was to fix the inner heel leather, and maybe they didn't charge me for the vibram resole.  But still, 90 bucks still sounds a little high for two heel patches.  The main bummer was how fast the welt thread separated from the uppers.

Dewey
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613 forum posts
December 29, 2011 at 1:19 a.m. (EST)

keeganuhl said:

You can't compare factory made assembly line boots with custom handmade footwear. So your review of them is perhaps misplaced. (Although I had the same pair of lightweights that you photograph there and they lasted me a resoling and 10 years--albeit not under daily use.)

 

And plus, I'd rather support a family business that is handcrafting an excellent product than a large corporation any day of any week.

 With respect to your first point quoted above, of course you can and should compare pairs of boots sold and intended for the same use(s) and in the same price point. How else can one detemine the suitabliity of a given boot for you and your needs?

The sad fact is and I speak from longterm, intense experience with footwear designed and built for outdoor uses, that SOME "factory" boots will be BETTER than SOME "handmade" boots. I would choose the older Scarpa M3s, or Galibier Peuterays or older Kastinger or Lowa fgl boots over the Limmers and I have had big name custom boots that are just junk compared to my old Kastingers or my Galibier Peuteray boots.

 

Your second statement is a subjective value judgement and has nothing to do with the actual quality of the boots or Walter's situation. I understand as I buy Canadian and support small business here, but, this is not due to anything other than my personal emotions. That said, Limmer should have fixed Walter's problem free of charge and even apologized.

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