America’s story is built on the heels of solid work boots. But, are your boots made in the USA?
Buying any product made in its country of origin is always a good choice. You tap into local craftsmen and support a local economy.
Boots badged with the American flag can inspire a special kind of patriotism. It reduces the carbon footprint, keeps the money close, and promotes local jobs. You feel like you’re supporting the hometown team.
But, how much of your boot is made from American-sourced parts? Well, the devil lives in the details. With boots made in the U.S., the details are entrenched in semantics, historical amendments, and degrees of tolerance.
If you’re in the market for work boots that are made in America, here’s what you need to know before you open your wallet.
A Quick History of ‘Buy American’
A century ago, America was in crisis. Stuck between two world wars and in the throes of the Great Depression, the U.S. economy was trapped in a tailspin toward financial disaster.
To help right the ship, President Herbert Hoover signed the Buy American Act at the end of the Great Depression. It directed the U.S. government to prioritize buying domestically made products over imported goods. It was a shot in the economic arm, infusing money back into the struggling economy.
Fast forward 10 years and the U.S. was back in another world war. Sending soldiers off to the theater of war with Italian boots, German guns, and Japanese knives didn’t inspire a lot of confidence. And it wasn’t good business. So, Congress took the Buy American Act to the next level, requiring the Department of Defense (DoD) to adopt the same stringent requirements, and then some.
The 1941 Berry Amendment mandated that the U.S. government source American food, clothing, fabric, and metal “whenever possible.” There are exceptions, but anything that the DoD needs to keep U.S. forces supplied needs to be sourced from U.S. soil. It’s the most stringent interpretation of the “made in America” declaration.
Berry-Compliant Boots: Made in the USA
To understand what Berry compliance means concerning boots, we reached out to Dominic Basilio, Director of Commercial Military Sales at Rocky Boots.
Rocky has manufactured boots in its Ohio factory since 1932. Its most popular model, the coyote brown Rocky S2V Tactical boot, is the preferred boot of choice by U.S. infantry soldiers.
To supply soldiers with boots that meet DoD requirements, Basilio lives and breathes the Berry Amendment minutia. In the world of boots, Basilio explains that for “everything from the hides, hardware, and stitching … a Berry-compliant boot need to source every material from U.S. soil.”
To be clear, the boots aren’t truly Berry-certified. “That’s on the suppliers,” Basilio clarified. “The mom-and-pop shop in Kansas who supplies the leather? It’s on them to self-certify their products as 100% made in America.”
While it’s by and large an honor system, the pool of approved resources is small. It would be detrimental to a supplier to fudge the facts. A breach of faith risks losing lucrative contracts with the government.
In short, any manufacturer of a Berry-compliant boot can only source materials from companies who themselves are Berry compliant. Berry compliance assures the buyer (usually the government) that every component in the boot is made from materials that are 100% made, grown, or sourced in the U.S. These boots are then stitched together on U.S. soil by a U.S.-owned company.
Must everything be sourced in the U.S.? Simply put, no. The continental U.S. is a temperate environment that supports grain, cattle, and ore. Conditions don’t support the growth of the upward of 20 individual raw materials that are compounded into a rubber that lugs the boots’ soles.
Hence, the clause “whenever possible.” To be Berry-compliant, these materials are mixed together in a plant on U.S. soil.
Detangling ‘Made in America’
In Basilio’s world, there’s Berry-compliant, and then there’s everything else.
“Berry is the one clear line between a truly ‘made in America’ boot,” explained Basilio. “Below that threshold, the standards are looser. There’s no governance.”
The FTC does have guidelines that outline what constitutes made-in-the-USA claims. Products advertised as “made in the USA” need to be “all or virtually all” made in the U.S.
But there is no requirement for a manufacturer to register made-in-the-U.S. products. The terms become more of a general rule of thumb for legal teams to interpret. And this is where the authenticity of origin can begin to slip. However, there are some general standards that you can follow.
Made in America
Made on American soil using parts will all (or virtually all) components sourced in America.
What’s “virtually” mean here? Well, that’s the difference between Berry and, in Basilio’s words, “everything else.”
The FTC wrote an entire standard on the word “virtually.” The FTC further muddles the term, identifying products as made from “negligible foreign content.” This is equally vague, but it puts it back on the makers to label boots in good faith.
In general, hardware, stitching material, or nails could be sourced from abroad, but the majority of the boot is made in the U.S. from U.S.-sourced materials.
Manufactured in America From Global Parts (Assembled in America)
American workers assemble boots from globally sourced materials on American soil.
This is where negligible transitions to noticeable. Boots will use major components imported from abroad — soles, midsoles, uppers — but will be put together in a factory on U.S. soil.
This is a way to leverage high-quality components that haven’t been certified as being Berry compliant. The materials sourced from abroad can be as small as hook and hole hardware to entire midsoles, outsoles, and uppers. However, the boot’s final construction happens in a factory on U.S. soil.
Handcrafted in the USA
These are your artisanal boots, handbuilt by craftsman who cobble leather boots on American soil. The time, materials, and effort required to break them in will yield a wonderful boot. To keep costs from skyrocketing, they may source some components globally.
For example, Truman Boot Co. handcrafts their boots in Eugene, Ore. However, they source their leathers from global tanneries. Sometimes this is because leathers are unique to the region of origin; for example, Kudu hide comes from a South African antelope.
In other cases, the price and availability dictate the leather choices. Bend leathers — used for insoles, midsoles, and heel bases — are hard to source in the U.S. Almost every boot manufacturer sources bend leather from León, Mexico.
The Best Boots Made in the USA
If you’re in the market for a work boot that’s made in the USA, we’ve done the research, called the companies, and identified the best of the best in these boots.
There are others, to be sure. If they’re not on this list, it doesn’t exclude them. But, you’ll have to do your own research to determine just how much of the boot is truly sourced inside the U.S.
Danner is crystal clear in their made-in-the-USA boot specs. The company has a page dedicated to breaking down its tiered materials’ origin rankings. On it, they clearly identify boots that are “made in the U.S. with imported parts,” “made-in-the-U.S. work boots,” and Berry-compliant boots.
American enough to make a bald eagle shed a tear of Bud Light, Danner’s 100% certified made-in-the-USA Rain Forest boot ($360) stands at the head of their consumer Berry line. The boots’ Berry compliance rating requires the company to back its U.S. material sourcing “down to what the cows eat,” according to Danner.
The Rain Forest doesn’t skimp on the details, either. The all-purpose, 8″ work boot has a GORE-TEX inner bootie, rendering the boot 100% waterproof. A soft, brushed liner protects the GORE bootie and wicks moisture away from the feet while adding comfort.
The full-grain upper is stitched down to a fat, Vibram logger-style outsole. For those in the know, yes, Vibram is an Italian company. Danner sources the aggressive 132 Montagna sole from Vibram’s North Brookfield, Massachusetts plant.
This also allows the Rain Forest to be entirely re-craftable. When the outsole wears out, send it back to Danner, and they can re-sole it or even rebuild the entire boot.
At first blush, the Rain Forest looks stout. It’s slimmer than how it looks online and feels light on the feet. If you’ve worn the Danner Light, the fit will be very similar.
The Rain Forest is built on the same 650 last and tends to run narrow. The break-in period on the 2mm, 8-ounce leather is null, making it damn comfortable right out of the box. It’s second on this list only to Carolina’s AMP USA wedge sole boot.
All Rain Forest models come EH-certified (meeting or exceeding ASTM F2892-11 standards). For a few extra bucks, the Super Rain Forest is available in a 10-ounce leather model ($380). It’s also available in a safety toe model ($390) and a 200g insulated ($395) version.
If American-made is a deciding factor, you simply can’t buy a better American boot for the buck made for nonmilitary use.
Carolina Boots takes the made-in-the-USA standards very seriously. While they offer a Berry-compliant line of boots for the DoD, their Union Local 1776 factory in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, also makes a civilian work boot that nearly meets Berry specs.
From cutting the leather to stringing the laces, no less than 96% of Carolina’s AMP USA steel toe boot ($170) is sourced in the U.S. and constructed at Carolina’s Cove Shoe factory. Still, Carolina toes a conservative line, identifying the AMP’s origin as “made in USA from global parts.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find another boot labeled “made in the USA” with this high percentage of U.S.-sourced materials. And it’s that kind of transparency that makes this boot a 20-year stalwart in Carolina’s lineup.
The 8″ tobacco moc-toe boot rides over a wedge outsole. People who stand on hard surfaces all day swear by them for comfort. Why? Instead of putting pressure on the heel and ball of the foot, the flat outsole disperses your weight across the entire sole.
The tread is too shallow for reliable traction outside. However, this boot excels on the hard, smooth, slick surfaces you find in warehouses.
Not surprisingly, the AMP is the most comfortable work boot on this list. The leather is soft and supple, and the footbed is plush.
The fit does trend wide, though. There’s some lateral play, and it doesn’t feel as secure as Nicks or White’s boots. But, it makes it a good choice for wider feet that veer more toward E than D.
Price-wise, the Carolina AMP is very approachable — nearly $50 below a similarly U.S.-made specced moc-toe safety boots. This makes Carolina a fantastic option for those on a budget who appreciate an American-made boot, but who demand a capable work boot.
There’s something in the water up in Spokane, Washington, and we’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.
The Palouse region makes some of the finest handcrafted boots in America. Nicks, JK, White’s — they all call the Lilac City home. It’s like a work boot mafia up there.
And they clearly know what they are doing. Walk into any fire camp, and the crew will likely be split in half, wearing White’s Smokejumper or Nicks Boots’ Hot Shot boots.
Nicks Hot Shot is an NFPA-certified boot, classed as personal protective equipment (PPE) for wildland firefighters. In addition to the required tall leather shaft and laced closure, the Vibram sole is melt-resistant and anchored to the boot with fire-resistant Technora thread.
Very few jobs need this kind of heat protection. To that end, Nicks offers a nearly identical boot without the fireproof soles. Their BuilderPro ($525) keeps the high arch, 10″ shaft, and burly 8mm roughout leather. Nicks mounts it to a Vibram V-100 lug sole for a broader utility work boot that still meets near-Berry standards. Outside of heel cap nails from Japan, Nicks sources materials entirely inside the U.S.
Nicks BuilderPro anchors the full-grain leather shaft to a Vibram sole with a McKay lockstitch. This stitches the insole and liner to the welt and midsole inside the boot, instead of the outside. In short, it seals the boot’s interior before the outer leathers are stitched together, locking it to the outsole.
This method also prevents the elements from creeping in. We’ve hiked all winter in the Idaho foothills wearing the Hot Shot (the same boot, only NFPA-certified) through mud, streams, and snow — and they’ve remained dry every time.
Compared to White’s, we found that Nicks run slightly narrower and that they have a higher arch and stack. The heel has a more direct drop underfoot, giving it a chunkier platform.
Keep in mind, you can choose from three lasts or even send your foot’s measurements for a fully customized boot. Most notably between the two, though, will be the break-in period. You just don’t experience the month-long struggle that you might experience with a new pair of White’s.
It’s been said there are two things in life worth spending extra cash on: a good bed and a good pair of boots. If you aren’t in one, you’re in the other.
At $525, the BuilderPro is undeniably an expensive boot. But if you break it down to wears per dollar (and you wear your boots all day), the BuilderPro is a boot that you can wear long after a boot half the price fails.
The OG Spokane boot is undeniably White’s. Founded before the Civil War, White’s moved their operation to Spokane in 1915, shoeing the frontier with handcrafted boots that were made in the USA.
White’s boots are still handcrafted in their Spokane factory, sourcing hides from the Siedel or Horween tanneries (in Wisconsin and Illinois, respectively). To keep costs reasonable and the quality high, some components are sourced from abroad.
Thick bend leathers — the leathers that build up the insoles, midsoles, and heel bases — are sourced from León, Mexico (as most companies do). Some hardware is sourced from U.S companies that import from overseas.
White’s offers a full line of stout, work-ready boots, hardy enough to work the fire line. For more pedestrian pursuits, White’s offers the 350 Cruiser ($560), a lower cut boot with an identical construction style as found in their Smokejumper. Both styles are hand-lasted, hand-bottomed, and hand-welted.
The most notable differences between the Smokejumper and Cruiser are upper height and last. The Cruiser has a 6″ upper, rather than 10″, and is built on the 55 last. However, the Smokejumper is built on the 4811 last, which has a higher arch. This makes the Cruiser 350 much more approachable as a daily driver.
The 6-inch shaft is laced through four pairs of eyelets and close around the ankle with three hooks. A fifth eyelet tops the ankle.
The Cruiser is available in Chromexcel, waxed flesh (6- to 7-ounce Horween), or roughout (a durable 7- to 8-ounce full grain). It’s undeniably a heavy-duty leather — some three to four times thicker than Red Wing’s Iron Ranger — and you are reminded of it every time you lace into them. It’s glorious.
The Vibram sole is double-stitched to the boot with a Rapid E sole stitcher. The traction isn’t aggressive. It’s not meant to be a forestry boot. The minimal tread strikes a preferred balance of sidewalks and trails.
If you’ve been on the forums, you’ve read about the “White’s bite.” The bite is real. We felt it most aggressively over the top of the foot, where the ankle meets the foot.
It can help if you skip that first speed hook or add a touch of conditioner oil over the bend of the foot. After about a month or so, the boots begin to give and form to your feet. And this is when your lifelong relationship with the boot begins.
Like any full-leather boot, the 350 boots will fade over time to reflect the way you wear them, giving them a gorgeous finish. And when you wear out the sole or shanks, you can send them back to Spokane to resole or completely rebuild your beloved White’s.
White’s 350 Cruiser was our top pick for 2021’s best American-made work boot.
Red Wing’s site is less clear on sharing what is and what is not made in the U.S. You have to dig a little and look at each boot to find the country of origin.
However, Red Wing’s iconic line of Heritage work boots is completely sourced — down to the brass — in Minnesota or Potosi, Missouri, making this one of the purest made-in-America boot you can find.
Red Wing offers both capable work boots and a Heritage line of boots, both made in the U.S. Their Heritage boots exude vintage, traditional materials and heirloom quality. At the tip of the feather of Red Wing’s Heritage line is the iconic Iron Ranger boot ($330).
This boot is named after Minnesota’s Iron Range mountains, where miners still trolly taconite ore out of the hills to produce iron. The boot’s 2mm full-grain leather is triple-stitched and patched with an extra protective leather cap over the toes. Polished nickel eyes and hooks ride up the 6″ shaft to close the boot around the ankle.
The Vibram 430 Mini-lug outsole comes from their Massachusetts factory and is sewn to the cork midsole and with a Goodyear welt. It’s a negligible lug, providing just enough bite on sloppy sidewalks or in the back end of a restaurant.
The Iron Ranger lists for $330 and requires you to cash in some time to break them in. Expect a solid month of wear before the 2mm full-grain begins to form to your feet.
If you are upping your game from sneakers or desert boots, we highly recommend stepping into a pair of Iron Rangers. The comfort, the looks, and being handmade in America from 100% U.S.-sourced material — you really can’t go wrong with the Rangers.
KEEN’s American Built line is assembled in the United States using “the finest materials from around the world.” High-quality components — the stitched uppers and rubber outsoles — are manufactured abroad and shipped to KEEN’s Portland facility where the boot enters its final construction.
This process allows the KEEN to employ people in Portland and expand manufacturing capabilities, which in turn allows KEEN more control of the final boot. As a buyer, you get a comfortable boot with a polyurethane midsole that doesn’t compact over time, giving the boot its durable construction.
KEEN’s Portland boots ($210) are as roomy, flexible, and comfortable as you can get for a boot that provides real utility. Much of the comfort is born of their standout feature — the Bellows flex. The soft, corrugated rubber toebox bellows aim at making work below the knees easier.
The forefoot material bends three times more easily than a comparable forefoot made of leather. This is a helpful improvement, not a gimmick. In our opinion, this takes away from its looks. But, when function is more important than fashion, we like the result.
The imported sole of the boot is well made, and traction is excellent. Its aggressive lugs do well in mud, and its ample thin sipes provide great traction on snow and ice. KEEN claims that Luftcell air-infused technology keeps weight down, and we didn’t notice them being particularly light.
They probably are lighter than other boots with rubber as thick as these. However, our tester didn’t notice, and the scales corroborate that, as each boot is exactly 2 pounds in a size 10.5D. The arch feels low, similar to other KEEN work boots, so we recommend an insole for users with high arches.
Warmth is good to around 30 degrees. The Portlands are not insulated, but they have a quality liner. The KEEN.DRY bootie liner traps heat well enough for most seasons. A thick wool sock makes them usable a bit below freezing.
At $210, the Portlands cost more than similar boots from KEEN, which sell for about $175. Supporting U.S. jobs is worth something, and around 20% seems reasonable.