Van Gorkom Custom Hiking Boots
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $1,600
The quality of these boots are matched by Charles' ability to fit people that can't find comfortable hiking boots. High quality, well made boots that fit right out of the box.
- They looked way better then the pictures online
- Incredible quality
---Perfect fit right out of the box and my feet are never comfortable in store bought shoes. In my case, there was not a boot company that makes hiking boots narrow enough for me.
---The lacing system really holds your foot in place where most shoes feel like they don't fit correctly and your foot slides around in the shoe.
Quality & Look
---When you have a large foot there can be that "frankenboots" type look; Charles and I had a laugh over that comment before he set out to make them. I can tell you they are the best looking hiking boots I've seen with leather that is of the finest quality.
---There is no lack of quality anywhere on the boots.
---The boots aren't cheap and the decision to spend the money has to be made on the confidence level you feel. Talking to Charles before ordering helped me decide he is an expert and I was in good hands.
---I can tell you this with out question. If you were able to put on a pair of his boots and wear them for 30-min, you would never question the cost. You would make the purchase because of their comfort.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $1600
Significantly overpriced for moderate quality fit and not very durable. Many would have better results by putting orthotic inserts in an average hiking boot. They probably would achieve equal (or better) fit, and durability. This is an example where the price you pay does not necessarily translate to "getting what you pay for."
- Looks good
- Website advertising is attractive, if not enticing.
- Extreme price point for an average boot
- There are better (fit and durability) "custom" boots out there that can be had for less money
- Not suited for backpacking.
The fitting is done by mail. This is not like a mail order shoe company where you can just send them back for a full refund and order a different size.
For this price, a person should consider purchasing a plane ticket and flying to a destination with a reputable custom boot shop, having their feet fitted for boots at a reputable "brick and mortar" store, and pocketing the difference in money saved.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: U.S. $1,400
These boots are NOT suited to significant backpacking or really anything other than day hikes over even terrain. While comfortable on the flat, the boots did not perform well under even moderate stress (steep uphill, rocky terrain, etc.), nor last more than a year before the Vibram sole separated from the leather. Van Gorkom's response when informed about the sole separating was "I guarantee fit, not performance," and told me to seek a local boot person, and that he doesn't "guarantee the boot glue he uses." All-in-all a disappointment from one who touts his boots as some of the best in the world. They were worth neither the wait nor the $1,400 price tag. Expanded review below.
- Easily broken in
- Nice looking
- Thin leather that scars easily
- The sole is too thin; cannot support trekking rough terrain
- Spotty workmanship- sole separated in less than 200 miles of hiking
Initially, Van Gorkom told me that he had an 8-month waiting list that I could get on by sending him a hefty deposit. I sent the deposit in right away, prepared to wait the 8-month period. Imagine my surprise when, 3 weeks later, he said that he'd had a bunch of cancellations, and that my measurement kit was on it's way! Hmm. Probably should have been my first clue, but I was excited to be getting "bumped up" in the order.
Van Gorkom requires the customer to perform self-measurements and produce paper impressions of your feet to help him get a sense of the boot he needs to build, and the boots do fit better than the average off-the shelf boots that I have purchased in the past. Because I have what is called a "tailor's bunion," and size EE feet with a narrow heel, I wanted to ensure that the toe box was big and the heel was appropriately sized, so I performed meticulous measurements. I also provided the additional notes Van Gorkom requested to explain what sort of terrain I hiked, and the kind of hiking/backpacking I did. I spent a fair amount of time complying with his measurement and note request, and then sent them off and waited.
In less than a month the boots appeared on my porch. Oddly, they were not the boots that I ordered! I had ordered the 18 cm boots, and what showed up at my door was a pair of 15 cm boots. I immediately emailed him about the discrepancy, but his response was that because of the size of my foot, and the way he makes the boot, that sometimes his 18 cm boots turn out to be less than 18 CM.
But they did not LOOK like the 18 cm boots, as displayed on his website, and they measured exactly the same as a pair of ASOLO 15cm boots. I got the uneasy feeling that he was shucking and jiving a bit too hard, but decided to see how the boots he sent me performed, regardless of whether they were 18 cm or 15 cm, as my expressed concern seemed to be met with denial and resistance.
I followed his break-in instructions, and always kept them conditioned with a high-quality boot conditioner. They were immediately comfortable, though the toe box was tighter than I had hoped (it eventually stretched out) and the heel was looser than I had hoped, though certainly no looser than an off-the-shelf boot. Once they were broken in, I started to take them on the desert hikes available East of the San Diego area, and that's when the foibles of the boot started to reveal themselves.
As hiking boots go, I would say that the sole of this boot is simply too thin, and does not adequately protect the sole of the foot on longer hikes (in excess of 10 miles, like the Half Dome trail, or rocky trails like the extended Iron Mountain trail in the San Diego area) or hikes under load (i.e., backpacks) unless the ground is essentially soft dirt. That's not a feature that is usually associated with a high-end boot, and certainly not a fully custom-made boot, and I had written in my notes to the bootmaker that I frequent rough and rocky terrain.
He could have said that his boots were not suited to such terrain, or he could have built a thicker sole (after all he says he makes the boots not only to fit the user's feet, but to suit the kind of hiking the user describes. He did neither, as I asked for the 18cm, but got the 15cm, and wanted a boot for severe uphill and rocky terrain, but got street hikers instead.
Well, I thought, they ARE comfortable on flat, even terrain, even on long hikes, so I decided to use them only in those conditions. However, two weeks ago the Vibram sole, which has fewer than 200 miles on it, has now started to separate from the heel. I emailed Van Gorkom immediately, and he told me (this is a quote from his email to me in response):
”Please note that the only guarantee I make is that the boots will fit. I promise that I will use the best materials that I can get. I agree that the glue must be somehow defective, but I do not make the glue. I simply buy the best glue I can.”
Then he attached a set of instructions for how to fix a Vibram sole that begins separating from the boot, replete with photos and a materials list! I’m absolutely not kidding. Obviously he has had this complaint often enough that he had ready-made instructions to send out to the frustrated and aggrieved. Imagine being out on the Appalachian Trail and having the sole separate. Do-it-yourself repair instructions would provide scant comfort.
So this rounds out the review for Van Gorkom boots:
- I didn’t get the boots I ordered, and the bootmaker gave me a song-and dance,
- the boots were comfortable as long as the terrain was not stressful,
- the boots should not be ordered if your application is long over rough terrain, or if you are backpacking,
- the boots began to fall apart around the 150-200 mile mark, with evidence that this is a common occurrence, and
- customer service to resolve the defect was defensive and scant.
All-in-all I think a 2-star rating is more than generous, and may overstate the quality of the boots for anything other than stylish urban hikes.
The best footwear I have ever owned.
- Altering and customizing the boots to suit my personal needs. They fit perfectily.
After years of various orthotics and custom boots that never fit properly, I had developed ingrown toenails, hammer toes, and was on the verge of being crippled. After a year of wearing only Van Gorkom boots my feet have started to heal and I am now able to hike over any terrain.
Price Paid: $1600
I believe I've put Charles Van Gorkom's hiking boots through the test. I've owned them for almost 3 years now and have hiked up some 37 Adirondack high peaks.
The construction of the boots is a work of art. It took about a year for the boots to completely form to my foot. They are comfortable beyond words.
The fit is hard to describe. The entire foot is craddled in soft breathable leather. The boxie toe area is wonderful for going down mountains. The boots are not stiff when climbing and flex very well on steep assents.
I've tried many boots in the past and nothing comes close to comparing. Incredible boots!!
Use: heavy hiking
Break-in Period: wore daily for weeks before hiking
Weight: a few lbs
Price Paid: $3,000
Last year, I stumbled upon a list online of the year's top luxuries. Skimming through, I noticed Van Gorkom hiking boots. Having had difficulty finding comfortable hiking boots in the past, I considered purchasing them.
Unfortunately, they are $1,600 and take up to a year to be hand made and shipped. For $3,000, they would take a few months but after speaking to Mr. Van Gorkom directly, he assured me they could be ready for me in 6 weeks.
I decided to make the purchase, and was sent a packet containing instructions and materials. Measuring my feet, I was surprised to find that the sizes were a quarter inch different; this must account for my problem finding a comfortable pair of boots.
Measurements taken, I shipped the packet, and in 6 weeks my boots arrived: a lovely brown leather perfectly fitted to my feet. Upon taking my first hike in them, however, I was dismayed to find that they wore away the flesh where the boot bends below the toes quite considerably.
Mr. Van Gorkom had me strip the leather and make a 2nd crease to take pressure off of the first one. I then resealed the boot. This procedure works well for some months, then has to be repeated periodically (a process determined to be needed by the wearing away of my skin again). Other than that, they preform well and are certainly quite waterproof.
For $3,000, however, it is my belief that the shoe should not cause me distress, and I should not have to spend ample time every few weeks fixing them. As such, I am extremely dissatisfied with my purchase and consider it the most foolish purchase I have ever made. Live and learn.
Materials: Leather upper, leather lined, leather insole Vibram soles
Use: Mostly short day hikes, hilly wooded terrain
Break-in Period: virtually zero!!!
Weight: 2,5 kg ( 5,5 lb)
Price Paid: CAD1600
These boots are as near perfect as I'm ever likely to get. Great boots from a master craftsman, and a gentleman.
I'm a British ex-pat and I've been living in Southern China for the last 7 years. Now in my 50's and with a dodgy knee, I no longer do long distance hikes with a heavy pack. However, 4 dogs and and a home location backing onto Nanshan Mountain means that regular forays into hilly wooded terrain are the norm.
In this often hot and humid climate, my experiences with boots using modern high tech materials has not been good. Couple this with my 6 ft 5in 120+ kg frame and matching feet and I have a problem.
In August last year I contacted “Charlie the boot maker”. His email response was immediate and within a few days I had received his measuring kit; A tape measure, some special paper on which to make impressions whilst wearing damp socks rubbed in bicarb, and some very clear instructions.
The advised waiting time was 8 months. Payment was made in February and by the first week of April I was wearing the best fitting boots I have ever owned.
I chose the standard 15 cm boots but in black leather and with all hook hardware. Having all hooks means no threading of laces and makes regular care so much easier.
The leather uppers are of a fine smooth supple leather which requires little or no break in at all. Truly amazing. Everything does have a price though and the downside here is an increased susceptibility to scuffing.
The insoles are quite unlike anything I've ever seen before. Constructed from what appears to be a special cast foam base, additional foams of different densities are strategically placed and the whole top surface covered in leather, then hand stitched together. The result is an insole which genuinely works as an integral part of the boot.
The Vibram soles have a gentle camber, unlike Limmers and Meindl Perfekt which are flat. The stitching is internal which makes for a narrow high agility boot. The total sole thickness is just 16mm and is flexible straight out of the box. This compares with 19mm Limmer Mid Weight, 21mm Limmer Standard and 23mm Meindl Perfekt, all of which are noticeably stiffer, even after prolonged break in.
The weight of my pair is 2,5 kg ( 5,5 lb). For comparison, in my size (which is UK 13/US 14/EU 48) this is the same as my Limmer Mid-Weights. My Limmer Standards are 2,7 kg and Meindl Perfekts with their high ankle support weigh in at 2,9 kg.
The build quality is excellent and exudes a unique charm and character. Each one of these hand crafted boots is unique and made to fit an individual foot.
That said, out of the box the consistency of texture of the leather was not as good as I expected. An area on the outside of one heal showed noticeable creasing. In reality this is of little real consequence and as the boots wear in, it is already becoming less noticeable.
Hardware is all brass and each hook is secured by 2 rivets. This should help spread the load placed on the leather by lacing. The hooks themselves are all identical, rather wide and have a very low profile which actually grips the thin circular cord laces which were supplied. They will even grip flat laces and restrict the evening out of lace tension. Leather thong laces will simply not fit.
When measuring my feet I took great care to follow the instructions to the letter. I also repeated the exercise 3 times on different days, just to make sure. I also sent an SD card with photographs of my feet.
This care has clearly paid off as the fit of these boots is perfect.
They are supremely comfortable at all times. The padded central part of the bellows tongue locates perfectly between the two sides of the uppers and so prevents any sideways tongue slip.
There is a comfortable space around the toes but the way in which the rest of the foot is held means that there is no rubbing movement of the foot inside and no blisters. Steep descents are a joy.
Minor niggles aside, these boots are already my favourites.
As for the cost, CAD1600 works out at just CAD 40 /hour including materials. There are very few professionals at the top of their trade whose services can be bought at such a reasonable price.
Dealing with Charlie is also pleasure. Prompt courteous and always helpful, he's now looking towards his retirement and well into his final 300 pairs of boots.
Use: Serious backpacking
Break-in Period: Heavy backpacking
Weight: 4 lbs
Price Paid: $900
Mr. Van Gorkom makes a spectacular boot. Fit is to your feet, custom made, and when broken in, the boots are as comfortable as bedroom slippers. They are heavy boots, but they are not made for a stroll to get a latte', they are designed to be used on rough trails with a large pack, and provide exceptional support when used like this. I have always had a hard time with boot fit, I have a very high arch, and my heels are very narrow in relation to the rest of my feet.
Just as important is Mr. Van Gorkom's commitment to the satisfaction of his customers. When my boots arrived, they fit wonderfully right out of the box, with one exception - soon after beginning to use them, they began creasing painfully over the toes. Mr. Van Gorkom suggested I return them, and he then worked more oil into the boots to improve flexibility. After a number of months of break in, this problem persisted. I returned them again, and Mr. Van Gorkom disassembled them, and by looking at the inside, discovered that my feet flex in an abnormal manner (which probably explains why all my other boots fit poorly).
He completely re-built the boots, from the sole up. Upon return to me, the improvement was apparently immediately, and has gotten nothing but better since.
I have had other custom boots where the maker blamed the user's measurements for fit problems. Mr. Van Gorkom simply said that he guaranteed satisfaction, and he made good on that guarantee.
The wait list is long, the boots are expensive, and if you spend a lot of time in the backcountry, especially if your feet are hard to fit, they are worth every minute of wait and every dollar spent.
Use: long day hikes/granite
Break-in Period: Still at it
Price Paid: ~$500 U.S.
I sent the e-mail I've copied below to Charlie Van Gorkom a couple days ago following a recent hike on the Mt. Whitney trail. Up to that hike I had been wearing Danner boots, pretty expensive, pretty light, and pretty hard on my feet. I'd always lose toenails and develop blisters galore. Most likely it's my feet and not the Danners but that didn't ease the pain.
I began surfing for custom boots and came upon the Van Gorkom site, became convinced that Mr. Van Gorkom could fit my feet, and ultimately wound up with a pair of his hikers. During the process I e-mailed an early difficulty I was having and, whoa!, Mr. Van Gorkom CALLED me a little later THAT EVENING to make sure all was well. Pretty good customer service. The email below pretty much sums up my overall impressions, in case you're wondering what sort of shop that Van Gorkom guy is running.
-July 24 -
Hello again, Mr. Van Gorkom.
July 22 has come and gone and I'm standing here with ten toenails and no blisters and I marvel how well my Van Gorkoms performed on this year's Mt. Whitney hike! They got beat up, dirty, wet, twisted and scuffed and through it all, for hours without end, my feet remained unscathed. Thank you, thank you. And my concern with weight was unfounded. Yes, the Van Gorkoms are heavy by any standard but not once in seventeen hours was I conscious of the weight of my boots (that's not to say that it wasn't great taking them off at the end of the day!). These boots are going with me wherever the trails take me from now on. Well done, Mr. Van Gorkom.
Keep up the good work!
Use: Steep rough trails with heavy pack; Scrambling; Long hikes
Break-in Period: 5 days
Weight: 3 pounds each
Price Paid: $583 U.S.
Van Gorkom hiking boots are a miracle. After five days of breaking in by wearing them everywhere, I took them for their maiden hike. I carried 36 pounds up a 4-mile 3000 foot vertical gain. Uphill no pain, total comfort. And downhill–no pain, total comfort.
The last mile I practically jogged downhill. And this is with a broken big toe, by the way. But absolutely no pain! Not even those little nagging "normal" pains like where the tongue slips and digs into your shin, or the back pad rubs against your ankle. No pain at all!
Understand that the last year has been full of bruised bloody toes. Lost toenails. Blisters. Skin rubbed raw. Tried several high end off-the-shelf boots. Tried adapting boots with felt pads. Nothing worked.
I took to hiking with Chaco sandals to eliminate the pain. Of course the open, slightly loose nature of the front of the sandals eventually led to me tripping on a rock with 55 pounds on my back, slamming a tree with my foot and breaking my big toe. That day I began to accept that my love of hiking and climbing would demand constant pain.
Enter Van Gorkom Boots. Charles Van Gorkom is a master bootmaker. And when he gives his word about your custom boots being perfect for you, he certainly means it. Thank you Van Gorkom Boots. My hiking life looks bright again. I will recommend Van Gorkom Boots to any hiker, backpacker or climber I meet.
Use: rough trail w/heavy pack
Break-in Period: zero
Weight: not sure
Price Paid: $675
I have never felt so compelled to endorse a product as Van Gorkom boots. Last March I decided to book a sheep hunt in the Mackenzie Mountains and started the search for a new pair of appropriate boots. Research led me to Charlie Van Gorkom. After a couple of pleasant phone conversations it was an easy decision based on his confidence and commitment to properly fit my flat narrow feet.
I have tried about every boot under the sun including another pair of customs. Charlie was substantially backlogged but made an incredible effort to deliver my boots just before my hunt. I actually received them the day of the hunt, allowing zero break-in time. I took them along anyway with my other well broken-in customs.
When arriving in base camp I decided to try the new Van Gorkoms to see how long my feet could stand them. All kidding aside, I never took them off for six days, except when getting in my sleeping bag. They fit like gloves from day one. Not one problem. The entire hunt I never put on my old customs. I am 100% satisfied and highly recommend these boots.
I got these boots in '96 whilst in Canada, my home country. Went to England and hiked the Lake District wearing them. Coming to the U.S. alas they resided in the closet for some time. Wonders never cease. I was sitting in a doctor's office recently and picked up a Vogue magazine to read whilst my wife was with the doctor. What prompted me to turn to the page of many in the book to come across your advertizement of MY BOOTS? which I love. They are numbered 9c C14017. 4780092. Perhaps you can reply as to when I purchased them and to the price?
Keep up the good work. They are priceless.
Regards Les Tindall in Florida, U.S A.
Break-in Period: several weeks
Price Paid: about $600
I bought a pair of hiking boots from Van Gorkom several years ago. We planned a trip to the Annapurna circuit in Nepal. After training all summer for the trip, we finally went to the mountains of Nepal with the boots. I didn't take any other footwear with me.
After wearing the boots for 13 hours a day, seven days a week for a month, I would highly recommend these boots. We traveled over 150 miles and never had a problem.
Use: extensive backcountry, mountain climbing
Break-in Period: none
Weight: very light in light of their sturdiness
Price Paid: do not remember
I bought a pair of 18 cm boots and a pair of 15 cm boots some 16 years ago directly in Smithers from Charles van Gorkom. I have "problem-feet" and nevertheless spend most of my free time outdoors, on top of mountains, in the Arctic.
Van Gorkom boots are the most comfortable footwear I have ever owned. You put them on and do not wish to take them off. They come with my highest recommendation. All of my friends that followed my recommendation have the same experience.
Materials: leather, etc.
Use: hills, rocks, light pack.
Break-in Period: none ! I should have but they fit so well... no problems.
Weight: 190 lbs
Price Paid: n/a
First trip was six days in the bush in Limpopo Province, South Africa. I wish that I had bought Van Gorkom boots years ago.
Charles uses the best material available, builds them in the best way possible and makes them fit your whole foot perfectly. Also his service is A-1. It doesn't get any better.
Where to Buy
The Van Gorkom Men's Custom Hiking Boots is not available from the stores we monitor.
You may be able to find it new or used at one of these sites:
Or you may want to check for a dealer list or direct sales on the Van Gorkom website.
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