When I was a teenager I had a pair of sandy-suede Desert boots, a.k.a. Chukkas. I regretted for a long time not having those boots any longer, but now I have a new pair: *The Hawthorne Chukka by Soft Star Shoes.

Hathorne Chukka BootI consulted Wikipedia on the difference between a Desert boot and a Chukka. Both the Desert and the Chukka are an unlined, ankle high boot, with open lacing and 2-3 eyelets. The upper is made in two parts. The main difference is that Desert boots are always suede uppers with a crepe sole. A Chukka can be a suede or leather upper, with either a leather or rubber sole. There is a vague connection with the game of polo. (If you, like me, are interested in the history of names, you may enjoy this site.

So, now we are all clear on what a Chukka boot is, yes? Let me tell you about this particular Chukka.

There is so much to love about this boot. First they are, of course, by Soft Star Shoes, which if you didn’t know, means handcrafted – by actual elves who dwell in Oregon – or so they claim. Soft Star Shoes makes minimalist footwear and you can read more about what makes a minimalist shoe, in my words, here.

The Construction

The Hawthorne Chukka (like all Soft Star Shoes) are zero rise (no heel at all) and are totally flexible, like so:

Hawthorne SoleThe sole is made up of two layers: the first is a 4mm leather midsole, which is the tan layer you see. The outer sole is by Vibrams: an 8mm Geo sole, for a total of 12mm, which makes them the most ‘padded’ minimal shoes I own.

For fall-into-winter footwear this is a good thing: It is extra insulation from the cold and damp.

(I must confess that I have worn Soft Star Merry Janes for 3 winters with wool socks, but even then, my feet got cold – and sometimes wet. I looked for a minimal boot that would cover the top of my foot completely last winter but my local search was unsuccessful: I was really happy to hear Soft Star Shoes was making one!).

The baHawthorne Chukka, back viewck of the boot has some nice detailing with contrast stitching on the heel strip and a loop for pulling them on.

Wearing Them

They are very comfortable and I didn’t need any break in time, I suspect because the leather is so deliciously soft.

They attach to the foot snugly with no pressure spots. The laces seemed overly long but they have become more supple as I have worn them a few times and I have decided they are fine.

I was told (by one of the elves) that they run small and weren’t available in my usual Women’s 6 so I decided to try the 7. They are a great fit width-wise, and only a tiny bit too long; my foot slips ever so slightly into the toe box with each step (I suspect this is not going to be an issue as the weather gets colder and I transition into thick socks).20150829_111718

I was slightly disappointed to see that they do not have a suede foot bed like my other Soft Star Shoes, but smooth leather. The leather is admittedly lovely, but I suspect it contributes to the foot slip. This is an easy fix by wearing a thicker sock or an innersole. Soft Star Shoes make a nice sheepskin pair and since I already had them on hand I tried them out; for putting the boots on my bare feet sans socks, I prefer it – but it may be a matter of taste.

I wore the boots all day – only an hour of steady walking – but I felt like I could walk in them all day.  They also provided great traction: see the Vibram’s sole?

Looks

The charm of Chukkas is that they look good with jeans and casual pants, and if you follow fashion at all, you’ll be aware that women are wearing short boots with skirts. So naturally, I tried them out with a few choices.

I am pretty conservative about shoes: most of the ones I own are neutrals but I loved them in this red that Soft Star is calling Currant. It is such a happy colour.

20150831_171345They also come in Oxyx and Chicory which I also like, though in my opinion the Chicory is not that far from the red. I also love the over stitching around the upper. In a minimalist boot (on my foot at least) I find it gives the sole more structure.

In summary:

Positives:

  1. Zero rise and minimalist (full flex of feet).
  2. Good traction with a Vibrams sole.
  3. Plenty of room in the toe box.
  4. 12 mm between your foot and the ground – for warmth, dryness and cushioning on hard ground.
  5. Wear-out-of-the-box comfortable.
  6. Very light weight (9 oz.) and great for packing because you can fold them.
  7. Smart enough to take you from the trail to … anywhere … just about.
  8. An investment piece. Who knew Chukkas were ‘old school cool’?

Negatives (potentially):

  1. Small make – you may have to size up.
  2. Slippery foot bed.
  3. Price point: $190USD.

Since I own 5 pairs of Soft Star shoes, I am obviously a fan, but seriously I tried to come up with more negatives for a balanced review. But – unless you don’t like flats – I can’t think of more to add except a discussion of the price point: Only the Soft Star boots are priced higher.

But taking into consideration the value, I think this is a fair price. For one thing, they can be re-soled. I am anticipating several years of service from these boots at least, and to back this up, my first Soft Star purchase – Merry Janes, will be seeing their 4th winter this year and are still in mint condition. I wear them through all seasons – except in heavy rain and snow – and I am anticipating the Hawthorne Chukkas will be the same. Even if you get three years from them, it works out to $65 a year. I have bought quite a few shoes at that price that barely saw me through a season.

I am also looking forward to seeing new colours in this boot. I would really enjoy having the look of my old sand Desert boots but a high quality, which to me means a minimalist design.

*This addition to my footwear collection was a generous and most welcome gift from Soft Star Shoes.

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