User Review: Van Gorkom Men's Custom Hiking Boots
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.