Waterfield FIELD Leather Backpack Review — $249

Phone reviews always talk about the screen-to-body ratio. This metric isn’t about how big or small your phone is. Instead, it’s about how much of the thing you’re carrying is actually useful. You want many pixels, not many bezels.

For a bag aficionado, it’s the same: You want a high contents-to-bag ratio. I have backpacks that I use and love, but they’re for carrying a lot of stuff, and that means I’d be carrying them mostly empty on most days. And this is why I love Waterfield’s new FIELD BACKPACK. It’s not too much bag. In fact, it’s just right for a photo shoot, a day hike, or a trip to campus.

Along with being purposefully small, it’s also designed deliberately for the digital lifestyle and has stylish looks to boot. It’s my favorite backpack by a long ways.



Most backpacks have excess pockets all over the place so you never know where you put your chapstick. And they have straps hanging off everywhere so you can adjust the storage volume. You end up with something that is anything but sleek and simple.

Not so with the Field Backpack.

It’s the exact opposite of the average bag you see on campus. The design is very intentional. And very simple. It has one main outer pocket, two side cases, and the main compartment.

There’s a trend for hipster backpacks to be, in my opinion, too rudimentary and too square shaped, which makes them awkward looking. (It’s NOT hip to be square.) The Field Backpack has a really nice, round shape. It’s simple but refined.

When you order, the backpack can be customized in two ways: First, instead of the brown with grizzly leather like I have, you can get an all-black version with ballistic nylon and black leather. It’s a little more professional looking. Second, you can get it as a sling. This means that, instead of two shoulder straps, it just has a single strap that can switch sides based on your preference. Check out their video here to see how this works.



While the leather on the main outside pocket gives the backpack a lot of style, the leather on the base gives it a lot of structure. In fact, the backpack stands upright on the floor quite easily. It’s actually surprisingly convenient to not have to find a desk leg to lean it against like I do with many of my other bags.

When I get home, I hang the backpack on a hook from the loop up top. This loop is sturdy and has a bit of full-grain leather rounding it off. Makes it comfortable in the hand. The canvas of the whole bag is sturdy too, and I imagine it will hold up well on outdoor adventures, although it’s clearly designed for a more digital lifestyle.

The buckle on the outside flap has a nice click. And I mean nice. Like it could easily replace your fidget spinner. And it’s super durable too.

The back is made of a mesh designed to provide more airflow and keep you cool.

Oh, and all the zippers are water resistant, so you can carry your tech in the rain and not have to worry!



For you digitalphiles, the Field Backpack upholds the moto “less UI; more UX” really well. (If you’re not a software designer: Less user interface means less clutter. More user experience means you’re happy with what the product does for you.)

Some bags I’ve had will zip open all the way down to the base, making it so your stuff can press against the open zipper and eventually fall out. But this bag can’t be opened very far, so you can wear it around and have lots of heavy stuff in it and not even need to zip it closed. Nothing’s going anywhere. I love that.

One frustration I had was that the clasps for the adjustable shoulder straps would slide. (It’s the photo above that looks like a Batman mask.) This never happened while I was wearing it and the straps were taut, but while they were loose. I ended up tying knots to keep them in place. That was a little disappointing for a bag that is so elegantly designed in every other detail. Honestly, I think you won’t have this problem if you opt for the Sling, which seems to be the primary version from Waterfield’s perspective.

The side cases are the highlight of the design. The zippers are tilted so that you can conveniently access them while the bag is still strapped to one shoulder as the picture shows. Talk about good UX! As the sales page shows, these pockets do expand into the inside of the backpack slightly. Personally, I wish they were even deeper so that they could hold more because they’re just so easy to access that I use them all the time.

The backpack also has a plush lining for the laptop slot. Its softness has surprised me over and over when my hand brushes against it. By the way, this slot is sized for 13″ and smaller devices (and so probably won’t fit a monster laptop if that’s what you own). In the big outside pocket, there’s another plush slot for your phone. That pocket also contains a narrow slot to hold your digital pencil. That’s essential for my workflow.

As with all Waterfield products, this has the gold interior lining, which reflects light really well so you can actually find your chapstick when you’re looking inside. Don’t settle for a bag with a dark interior!



I love Waterfield’s FIELD BACKPACK. I threw it on while driving my daughter to school, ostensibly to show solidarity with the kindergartners but really because I wanted to keep using it. I even wore it to bed once. I love it that much.

The quality is top notch. It’s designed deliberately for human use, made to be easy and simple and to accommodate your digital lifestyle. It’s purposefully small—that’s key. And it looks great: the wonderful result of tech meets leather.

Waterfield ZIP Laptop Briefcase Review — $219

UX (user experience) is a big topic in the Bay Area. And it’s not only important with software, but also with the briefcase that carries your hardware. It’s real meta. I like that.

This briefcase I’m about to tell you about has the perfect UX.

It’s the second iteration of Waterfield’s ZIP Laptop Brief, and it’s clear they paid close attention to the smallest details. In fact, my first draft of this review began with, “Wow, wow, wow. This bag is amazing!”

I still feel that way.


Deciding to Buy

The positive user experience started even before I made the purchase. When you’re buying online, it’s often hard to get a sense of the spatial aspect of products, but Gary, the founder of Waterfield, makes hands-on videos of everything they sell. His video overview gave me the sense of the size and dimensions, and I felt like this was the right product before I’d ever handled it myself.

I wanted a briefcase for my laptop and tablet and a few extras, but I didn’t want a bunch of unnecessary pockets that would complicate storing and finding things. The ZIP matches those criteria perfectly. It’s super sleek, just the right amount of bag and nothing extra.

Now I carry it when I travel, and I put my most valuable things inside. There’s not a bit of waste in the design, which might be a problem if you’re hoping to carry a lot, but it works great for my style.



I’ve ordered and used a lot of Waterfield bags, and this is the first time I’ve strayed from the waxed canvas with grizzly leather (which I’ve loved, and which is still an option for you, but this time I wanted a change).

The ballistic black is a cool synthetic textile. It’s clean but also sturdy and feels like it could take a lot of wear (though admittedly I haven’t had it long enough to verify that). It’s also incredibly water resistant. The leather accents look great with the black, giving it a bit more class. Personally, I like the look, but you can make that call yourself from the pictures.

The front pocket is hidden. The back looks super sleek–all black without significant seams. I just like the visual appeal overall.


Traveling with It

The grip on the inside of the shoulder pad clings, so it stays on well. If you want extra security, it’s comfortable wearing across your chest with the brief at your back. And the whole strap is removable, for when you want to be more streamlined. Oh, and it has a strap designed to slide over your luggage handle, making it an easy extra.

The zipper has a watershed design so you can carry your electronics in the rain without worry. I even tested this out: I put a tissue on the inside and then drenched the zipper with my water bottle, but nothing got through. I was surprised and impressed.

When the briefcase is zipped up, it’s thin and doesn’t take up much space. And it’ll even stand up on its own, though not too stably (depending on the weight and position of what’s inside).

The zipper also lets you open the briefcase 180 degrees, so it’ll lie flat on a table. This makes it TSA friendly, ideal for getting quickly through airport security. I’ve found this to be helpful when using the bag as a workstation too. It makes it easier to access things when you can lay it all the way open like that. And when you’re ready to go, you just grab the handles and everything folds to the inside. I love how simple and functional it is.


Delightful Details

This second iteration of Waterfield’s ZIP has only gotten more refined. For example, the zipper is positioned to one side, directly above the laptop slot, making it easier to access your primary item.

Another of my favorite UX design features is that you can charge your laptop while it’s still in the bag! They cut out a little notch to accommodate the power cord even while the bag is zipped up. What a clever thing to think of!

Oh, and as usual, Waterfield uses a gold inner liner, which not only looks good but also reflects light really well, making it easier to see your things (unfortunately, this doesn’t apply to the padded parts, which are the hardest places to see things).


Where to Put Stuff

On the inside, it has a couple padded pockets for power cords or a mouse. Next to these is another of my favorite features–a dedicated spot for your digital pen, where it won’t get lost.

On the opposite side are two additional padded slots, a larger one for a laptop, and a smaller one for a tablet. There’s also a velcro strap to keep them in place, but that’s a feature I generally don’t bother to use.

Between these two halves, there’s enough room to squeeze an extra shirt or other odds and ends.

The outside has a zipper guarding a pocket that rests flush with the side, but it’s designed to expand to accommodate more stuff if need be. It’s a good spot for your keys, wallet, or emergency floss.

The zippers on both this compartment and the larger one give me confidence that my stuff will never fall out, no matter what kind of turbulence we go through.



I’ve gone through several laptop bags, always looking for the optimal solution. The Waterfield ZIP Laptop Brief has been my favorite of the lot, and I’m grateful to have found it.

It’s thin and sleek, has sufficient pockets for what I need, but doesn’t go overboard like a lot of its competitors. It’s simple, functional, and looks great.

Most of all, it’s a bag I love using.




Ace Marks Wingtip Oxford Cuoio Antique Leather Shoe Review — $320

I had to wait a year for these shoes.

First, I measured my feet with the charts from the site. Then I made my purchase. Ace Marks has a unique business model, which I’ll explain below, but the bottom line is that they don’t warehouse their shoes, so it took a few months before my order was fulfilled.

When the shoes arrived, they fit on my feet, but they felt too snug. Fortunately, Ace Marks has a no-hassle return policy, and they even covered the return shipping. (Just make sure you only walk on carpet during your trial run.) Unfortunately, that meant I had to wait a few more months.

When the second pair arrived, half a size larger, they also felt too snug! I was shooting for the Goldilocks zone—I wanted these to be the perfect fit! So I bit the bullet and returned that pair too.

Fortunately, when there third pair arrived, now a full year from when I began, they fit perfectly. What’s more, my Ace Marks Wingtip Oxfords turned out to be well worth the wait.


Breaking in the Leather Soles

This is the first pair of leather-soled shoes I’ve owned.

When I finally walked out the front door, the tiny rocks on the sidewalk pressed into the leather. I could hear the crunch as they ground into the soles. I actually cringed when I felt the micro-tearing. It felt like walking on stained glass, crushing a work of art with each step. (That’s how beautiful the leather is.)

I’d also crossed the point of no return(s), which gave me a little panic attack. At first I thought maybe I’d gone too big, because they had a little play in them, but then sitting in a leather lounge chair and working on my laptop for an hour made me think they might be a little small! It was stressful. I also got a blister on my left heel from wearing them. (Word to the wise: Don’t wear them for an evening out for the first time; give them a couple one-hour jaunts first.)

Now I’ve had them for a couple months, and I feel confident that I got exactly the right size. I just had to break them in a little to realize it. The leather started out stiff, but now it has taken shape, and I can wear them all day, no problem. They’re actually quite comfortable. The wear made a slight crease in the vamp too (a couple inches from the tip), which made them look barely not as good but made them feel WAY more comfortable.

As for the soles, they now look a bit rougher, as you’ll see in the pictures, but they have more texture and sound softer while walking on concrete. They’re also great for dancing—you just glide across the floor wearing them.


Taking Care of Them

I wore them to a concert, and when we came out it was raining! This happened a day after my shoe aficionado friend told me never to get them wet. Water makes them more susceptible to wear. It also dries the oils out of the leather. Fortunately, one time didn’t seem to hurt.

I also bought a pair of lasted cedar wood shoe trees from Ace Marks. These help the leather retain its smart shape whenever you’re not wearing them. Shoe trees also wick up the moisture that the leather absorbs from your feet, which increases the longevity.


A Well Sourced and Well Crafted Aesthetic

The two people I trust most about shoe fashion gave me opposite advice: One told me my shoes were a classic design that would never go out of style. The other told me to wear them often because they wouldn’t be in style for long. I’m certainly hoping the first is right so that my investment has a long lifespan. I guess time will tell. So far I’ve been getting a lot of compliments.

Every part of the shoe is imported from Italy, 100%. The factory is run by 4th-generation Italian artisans who are basically professional painters. They hand-dye and hand-burnish every pair. Some do more burnishing around the broguing (the pattern of punctured dots) and others less, which means your pair will be unique.

Matching your belt and shoes is crucial, so I also bought a belt from them, and the belt matches my shoes perfectly. They also ship one-size belts, which means I got to be part of the crafting process. I measured and cut off the excess length, punched new holes for the buckle, and then reattached it.

There are two basic shoe-stitching styles. Most shoes use a goodyear, which has a corked bottom, and the stitches are visible on the side. Ace Marks uses the blake flex, which hides the stitching in a seam on the sole (which you can see in the pictures). This makes it look sleeker, more refined. This also adds to the flexibility and comfort, letting it bend more at the ball of the foot. It’s a small thing that adds a lot more comfort.


The Business Pitch

I first contacted Ace Marks in 2017, and back then they were a five-person team (bigger, though, now I suppose). I spoke with Julian, who said to me, “We believe luxury is for everybody.”

The company started with a Kickstarter. That means a group of customers bought the product before they were manufactured. This process gathered specific data on the necessary quantities of each style, color, and size, which let Ace Marks manufacture the exact number required without excess, and they still follow that model to an extent. This saves them warehousing expenses (which is why I had to wait so long to get mine—well worth it). And the direct-to-consumer model cuts out middle men. All these savings are then passed along to the customer. You’ll find shoes of the same quality from competing brands for twice or even three times as much.

They also have a buyback program. So for $50, they’ll buy back your used shoes. These go to a charity called Career Gear, designed to help people to rejoin the workforce. These are people who need dress shoes and will use them to fit into new roles.



Julian told me, “Don’t be fooled by our price.”

When he encounters doubters online, he dares them to give Ace Marks a shot, which, considering their easy return policy, is not even a gamble. He says once people try them, they end up coming back for multiple pairs.

The Ace Marks Wingtip Oxfords are some of the coolest shoes I’ve ever owned, and I’m already considering which style to try next.


Waterfield COZMO Leather Laptop Bag Review — $369

I love this bag. It’s the sort of accoutrement you can be proud of. It’s goes well with a rugged style, but it’s handsome enough to carry into a board room.

I got Waterfield’s COZMO leather laptop bag as a gift for my brother who’s just starting his professional career. It’s a beauty, which I’ve tried to capture in the pictures. And while it’s an expensive item, it’s also a worthy investment. Because it’s sturdily built and has a classic look, I expect it to last for his entire career and beyond.

Why I Love Waterfield Designs

If you’ve read my backlog, you know I’ve reviewed a few products from Waterfield. They’re based out of San Francisco, CA, and their focus is on bags and carry tech. I keep coming back to them because they continually impress me. I’d feel pretty confident even endorsing items from them that I’ve never seen in person. That’s how reliable they’ve been.

If I had one critique, it’s that they have too many products, making it hard to sort through their offerings and decide. But that also means they probably have THE EXACT product you’re looking for. (As proof of this fact, with their sleevecases, they invite you to send your laptop dimensions so they can make a case that fits exactly! That’s impressive.) So whatever tech you want to carry, they’ve probably already designed a bag for it.

How It Looks

This is the perfect bag for a business exec. It’s beautiful but also super useful. I got the compact version, so that’s what you see featured in the pictures. It’s big enough for a 13″ MacBook, and it has a second spot for an 11″ iPad Pro. They make a bigger version too if you need it.

For most of their products, Waterfield uses waxed canvas or smooth nylon as textiles that supplement the leather. But this bag is uniquely (and beautifully) all leather. This makes it stand out in among its high-class peers.

I love the grizzly leather color. It’s subtly distressed and boasts a simple, rugged perfection, without being a showoff. Also, as with most quality leather products, I expect its texture to improve over time, developing that classic patina. That makes it a good investment. They also have a black version which is much more formal.

Also, the waterproof zipper hides the teeth of the zipper, making it look sleeker. It’s a nice touch aesthetically. It’ll also protect your gear if you’re ever in the rain.

What It’s Like Using It

I design software interfaces for work, which means paying attention to the smallest details of the user experience (UX). And I love a few specific features of the Cozmo’s UX that really stand out.

The first is the golden interior lining (Waterfield uses this on most of their products). It’s light and very reflective, which brightens the interior of your bag and makes it so easy to see things inside. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been grateful for this feature. It’s a small thing that makes a big difference in everyday use. It also has a padded compartment with a divider so it can hold both a laptop and a tablet.

The second way they nailed the UX is the travel strap. This extra strap across the back is designed to slip over the handle of your luggage, making it easy to tote through an airport. That makes the Cozmo the perfect carry-on, containing your electronics as you move through security. Now, to be perfectly candid, when I’m not traveling sometimes I wish I could ditch that extra flap of leather (obsessive minimalism), but it lays flat and I’ve learned to ignore it.

A third thoughtful feature is the piece of plastic in the bottom, which keeps the base firm and wide so that the bag stands up on its own.

The zipper extends even further than the breadth of the top of the bag, making the opening super wide and easy to access. It’s small things like this that make a big difference in the user experience, and it’s a big part of why I appreciate Waterfield Designs so much.

I’m also impressed by the tough construction. The handles are sturdy, thick, and feel great in your hand. I even tried carrying around my 50-lb kettlebell in it, and the bag barely seemed to notice. The walls aren’t reinforced, though, and I left it stuffed with junk for a few days. After that, the mouth of the bag hung open a lot more. So beware that your use will change the shape. If you’d like to keep it as tidy as a file cabinet, only store it with that sort of thing inside.

In Conclusion

If you’re on the fence, go watch the video they have about creating a Cozmo bag. It’s impressive. They start with a single piece of leather, which is then measured, cut, and sewn by hand. It’s quality craftsmanship. And the leather is truly beautiful.

Waterfield’s COSMO Leather Laptop Bag is a well designed bag. It’s handmade from the highest quality leather. It’s designed to carry your laptop, your tablet, and the rest of your business necessities. If you’re looking to invest in a bag that will go alongside you throughout your career, this is it.

Carets Minimalist FER Oxford Leather Shoe Review — $350

What you need to know right off the bat is that these are minimalist dress shoes. That means two things:

No heel.

Extremely lightweight.

Of course, it looks like there’s a heel. But your foot actually goes inside the heel, which keeps your foot level all the way across. They call this zero drop. If you’re looking for a shoe like that, you’ll have a hard time even finding a real competitor to the Carets Fer Cap-toe Oxfords. But let me take you through a few of the details.

The Company

The company is branded as “Carets Co.,” but the bottom of the shoe is branded “The Primal Professional,” which I wish were the company name, or the shoe-model at least. (I just think that logo is sweet!) Carets is a small startup, and they keep their production runs limited to manage costs and warehousing. Because these shoes aren’t a mass-market item (in fact, they’re practically bespoke), we unconventional-shoe enthusiasts have to pay a little extra.

Carets is run by a guy named Mountain, and I’ve been impressed by his company’s attitudes. For one, they send 1% of all their sales (which is greater than profits) to organizations focused on protecting the planet. With each pair of shoes, they send you free shoe-trees, which is a courtesy many upper-end companies offer. They’re also surprisingly generous with returns–more so than I’ve seen in any shoe company. They have a 365-day guarantee, and it’s just like what it says. You can actually wear the shoes outside (but keep them pretty clean), and Carets will still let you return them for a full refund. That means if you’re curious but not sure you’ll like them, you can just order a pair and try them out.

The team iterates like an software company. So, for example, the current Fers are version 4 (you’ll see this referenced on the site). And Mountain himself sends out a newsletter which details the changes he’s making with each version. As a writer, I’m a huge fan of the feedback-revision process, and it’s cool to watch this happen with a shoe. If you’re considering a pair, you should subscribe.

Wearing the Shoes

The Fer Oxfords are 10.78 oz., which is incredibly light for a shoe. Wearing mine makes me feel fleet of foot. (The weight is about like a pair of slippers.) That also makes them easier to carry along when you travel. The weight is shaved off primarily through the polyurethane soles, which are exceptionally lightweight (plus, as I said, the heel is hollow). But the leather itself (and thus the walls of the shoe) is also quite thin. Incidentally, I wore these one sunny Sunday and noticed that, like any dress shoe, they weren’t too breathable.

The feature that drew me to these shoes is the fake heel, which allows your heels and toes to remain at the same level, as if you were walking barefoot. Aside from being an ergonomic, hippie sort of thing, it’s also healthy for your spine and gait. With no heel to catch, the bottoms are smooth and slide easily across carpet. The soles are flexible too, which adds comfort.

My pair seemed to be the right length and width, but the upper still fit a little loose, leaving them sloshy on my feet, so Mountain sent me a pair of tongue pads (a pad with adhesive on one side). As a side note, he sends these to any of his customers, another generous gesture. After I got those fastened on, the shoes fit better. (Although now the tongue pads catch my socks when I’m pulling the shoes on–so it’s a tradeoff.)

Aesthetic and Build

As you’ll notice in the picture above, the shoes look like they have a heel even almost directly from the side. It really is a clever design. I’m certain no one will notice the fake heel as long as your feet are on the ground. But if you rest an ankle on a knee, the jig is up. Still, it’s a good conversation starter.

These shoes are made with chrome-tanned leather, which is soft, uniform, and resistant to water damage. This sacrifices a little of the leather’s natural feel (and you don’t get that nice leather smell). But the tradeoff is that they’re more durable.

The soles are cemented on (which is fine, but I think actual stitching looks nicer). And on mine, the air-blown soles show some bubbles around the welt. It’s not noticeable unless you scrutinize them pretty closely, and yet for the price I expected a little more refinement. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of these issues smoothed out in later versions though. Carets also offers resoling services.

These oxfords are excellent from the minimalist perspective. The question is simply whether they’re adequate aesthetically. The closed-lace balmoral oxford design makes them a more formal style, while the cap-toe makes them a little less (they do have a plain-toe alternative though called the Zetone). The toe doesn’t follow the popular pointy trend, but I personally think a shoe should match the shape of a foot anyway. (I’m guessing you disagree though, ha ha.) Either way, I feel confident wearing mine. My photos should be enough for you to decide. And if they aren’t enough, you can always do a test drive.

Another innovative feature is the elastic laces. They’re awesome for slipping the shoes on. Mine were too long though, and I didn’t like the loops hanging down, so I traded them for a traditional lace. I like the look better now, but it’s less convenient. Not sure which way I’ll go in the long run. (By the way, Mountain told me they’ve already shortened them in the next iteration!)


I love the fake heel. It definitely keeps my feet and spine feeling better. I’m not, however, in love the soles otherwise. They’re acceptable, but nothing to rave about. The leatherwork is high quality, lightweight, and nicely done. Overall, I feel quite satisfied with them.

If you’re looking for a caveman dress shoe, the Carets Fer Cap-toe Oxfords are a remarkable choice. I’ve enjoyed mine.

I’m excited to see what Mountain and his team do in subsequent versions as well.

P.S. Mountain has offered our BestLeather readers a $35 discount too. Use this code when checking out: 1804-bestleather

UPDATE: 31 DEC 2019. After a year and a half of giving this generous discount, Carets has discontinued this code due to an inordinate number of people googling it and getting a free ride. Not to worry: the Carets return policy is still in place, so you can try out the shoes and see if they’re the product you’ve been looking for.

Wilcox Shiloh Leather Boots Review — $190

Man, these are beautiful boots.

They’re the Shiloh boots by Wilcox, which came wrapped in blue velvet, and rightly so.

But it gets better. The first time putting them on, they felt great. I mean it–my feet were loving them from the get go! It surprised me. I feel like that never happens.

So they’re surprisingly comfortable, and they look amazing–that’s a killer combo.


Peter was a kid on a motorcycle trip headed south–in a rebellious Che Guevara style, I imagine. On this ride, he went into a cobbler’s shop in Guatemala and found a pair of boots he just loved, loved so much, in fact, that he wanted to get some for his family and friends. That wish transformed into an epiphany, and all the sudden he was planning to start a boot company. After a lot of hard work, Wilcox launched its first product in 2014.

Today, with the exception of the footbed, the materials are all sourced from León, Mexico, a city famous for its artisan leather footwear.



That’s the word for this leather. It’s chrome-tanned, full-grain, with a wax finish, and feels soft to the touch. Really soft.

I wanted a slightly more formal look, so I got the Shiloh model, which you’ll see in the pictures. It’s a plain toe with no broguing. Wilcox also offers a cap-toe version (the Fairfax) with broguing (which are decorative perforations along the seams). Both styles come in the brown you see here and also in a charcoal black.

You know, I’m raving about this boot, but I feel like I need to offer some negative feedback or you won’t believe what I say. So here’s one thing I’m wary about. The leather, as I said, is super soft. You can actually make a mark on it just by rubbing it with a finger. Because of this, I’ve worried about scuffing them. But Peter, the owner, says that’s a feature, not a bug, and that I should be excited to have boots with individual character. So there you go.

As another fair-play note, the welt split apart leaving a gap on the left boot. You can see it really well in the photo below, but it’s not as noticeable on the ground, and I didn’t even bother contacting Wilcox about it.

On a personal note, I’ve been wearing mostly zero-drop shoes (no heels) for so long that it was fun to add an inch to my height. The Shilohs made me feel literally taller and bolder.

These boots can do about anything too. They’re nice enough to go with casual slacks, but they look even better with jeans. And they’re rugged enough to go tromping through the snow in. (The laces rise high enough that you don’t need to worry about moisture getting in, but they’re not insulated, so grab your wool socks.)


The interior is lined with a surprisingly soft calfskin leather. Yep, calfskin. It feels like a glove for your foot. It’s awesome. Your foot rests on an athletic insole with a memory-foam footbed below that–one of the reasons this boot is so comfortable. And there’s cork at the central part of the sole, which will slowly conform to your foot more and more over time.

The E-width seemed to fit exactly right. Well, almost. For the first couple days, my pinkie toes rubbed a little, but they’ve been good ever since.

The boot is built with a Goodyear welt, which shows the stitching around that top lip (the welt) and along the bottom of the sole as well (though on the Shilohs you’ll only see this bottom stitching between the rubber parts). Also, the welt on these is bold yet not too pronounced, which is a nice look. The 360-degree stitching means it goes all the way around the perimeter (not just part way). And the Goodyear method makes them easy to resole, which adds to the longevity. (If you’re the curious sort, look up “Goodyear welt” on YouTube.) The bottom line is that it’s a durable, water resistant way to build a boot.

The layering and stitching makes the sole pretty stiff, particularly at first. That should in theory be a downside for comfort, but, as I’ve said, mine have felt great from the first time I put them on. And for me, that stiffness actually makes them feel tough–the thick tread gives you a solid platform for going across uneven terrain.


Wilcox’s Shiloh boots have a beautifully simple design, they’re made from quality materials, and they deliver comfort that still surprises me.

I’ve received tons of compliments on them. They also happen to go with nearly every outfit I’ve got, which is another huge plus.

In short, they’re a remarkable pair of boots I’m excited to rave about.

Olukai Hāmākua Poko Leather Shoes Review — $130

Most days, I come home from work, and the first thing I do is take off my shoes. But–I’m not kidding you–I don’t do that with my Hamakua Pokos from Olukai.

Yeah, seriously. They’re so comfortable that I don’t feel the need to kick them off at the end of the day. For me, that’s rare.

And while they’re the perfect shoe for looking and feeling chill, the leather also looks great, which keeps them from looking overly casual. And the quality craftsmanship makes them ready for adventure as soon as you cinch up the laces.


The Hamakua Poko shoes are named after a mountainous region on the Big Island of Hawaii, and the Hawaiian culture is central to the Olukai brand. Each of their shoe designs, including these, are centered around the ocean lifestyle, which means they’re rooted in both comfort and durability.

Personally, I was drawn to the Olukai brand for two reasons: Most of their shoes are zero-drop (no heel) and many of the designs have a fairly wide toe-box. They’re also known for their drop-in heels. Once I got a pair of these shoes, I was pleased to discover the excellent build quality, and I’ve become a fan of the brand (these are my second pair of Olukais).


Despite the fact that they have laces, I want to call the Hamakua Pokos loafers. Or you could call them slides thanks to the drop-in heel. Whatever you want to call them, they’re comfortable. They’re made from top-grain nubuck leather, which is soft and sort of velvety to the touch. The leather is hand-sewn, and the seam design gives it a bit of a moccasin style.

Mine have worn well so far: I’ve walked 30 or so miles in them (but admittedly haven’t done any rugged or dirty terrain). The soles are pretty thick, and while that adds durability, mine took some breaking in. They were stiff at first and didn’t flex much as I walked, which caused a little chafing on my right achilles tendon. But after a couple days it was smooth sailing.

The insoles are made with a polyurethane gel wrapped in microfiber. They feel great to walk in, and these insoles are also removable and washable (which makes wearing them barefoot much more feasible). Combining that with the wide footbed, they call it “the perfect environment for you foot,” and I have to agree.

The outsoles are made with a thermoset rubber process, which casts a liquid into a die to create the distinctive shape. The sole itself is made of a combination of synthetic and natural rubbers which have never left a mark or scuff on any surface that I’ve walked on.


My friend Cameron told me that in Thailand it’s rude to show someone the bottom of your shoe. So it would be a bummer to wear these there because the bottoms are one of the coolest features. Similar shoes from competing brands have soles that wrap up around the sides and back, creeping up beyond their bounds, which I personally think is really ugly. The Hamakua Pokos do the opposite. The leather actually wraps under the tread–as if it’s retaking lost ground, which is the way you want the battle to turn, in my opinion. It’s a sweet design–or dank design, as one of my friends called it.

Before getting them, I was curious how the leather on the bottom would wear. And as you see in the picture below, it has gotten a little scratched from gravel and rocks. But the leather is dark enough it’s hardly noticeable. More importantly, the stitching that holds the leather onto the sole is holding up well. Not yet sure how it’ll hold up over the course of a year or more, but so far so good.

I did encounter one negative aspect. My fashionista sister gave these shoes a snooty look because they weren’t trendy enough. Aside from her, I’ve actually gotten a couple compliments on the shoes, but mostly people tend not to notice them at all. I guess that’s fine for an easy-going shoe like this.

Mine are the dark wood/dark wood style (which means dark leather for upper/lower), and that’s what you see featured in my photos. Olukai has a few other styles to choose from though, which you’ll see on the site.


Olukai’s Hamakua Poko shoes are a relaxed style and are built really well.If your feet have been asking for an easy going sort of shoe, these are probably the the ones.

Truth is, I’ve been wearing mine too often. Like even when I ought to be wearing something a little more dressy. But I just can’t help it. They’re so dang comfortable.

Although I’m not an islander (far from it, in fact), I respect the culture and the accompanying attitude.

And I love these shoes.


Shamma Warriors and Shamma All-Browns Leather Sandals Review — $85 and $70

Have you ever thought, “Dang, are my feet sexy enough to be on the internet?”

I have.

And although I’m not sure of the answer, here they are: my feet sporting some sweet new sandals—the Shamma Warriors (latest design, nylon straps) and the Shamma All-Browns (classic design, leather straps).

These aren’t just any sandals. They’re minimalist running sandals, designed to keep you as close to barefoot as possible.

I christened mine one early Wednesday morning on a sidewalk up the street from my house. I ran a few uphill interval sprints, and the Warriors lived up to their name.

I do believe they are the next best thing to barefoot.


I was impressed with these from the moment I opened the package. They’re very simple, but each piece is sourced from high-quality materials. The leather feels great, and it makes for an awesome texture to stand on. (Except they got a tad slippery in water.)

Due to the sparse design, they’re very lightweight. If you’re traveling, you can bring these as an extra pair of footwear without an extra thought. That aspect is a big deal for me. They’ll also save you packing a few pairs of socks.

Shamma sandals are constructed with Vibram soles. The Warriors, the thinnest type, are 3mm. You’ll notice in the pictures how easily they bend. I like that. The All-Browns, the medium type, are 7mm, which is still thin compared to most shoes. Shamma also sells a third, thicker type that I didn’t test. Personally, I love the barefoot feel of the Warriors. If you’re planning on heavy (or spiky) terrain, you might go up in thickness. I once hiked the Canadian Rockies in a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, and the Warriors feel comparable. You’ll connect with the earth when you notice the nuances of the terrain beneath your feet.

I wore my Warriors at Cobble Beach, OR, which is a bit like a ball pit, only it’s filled with smooth gray stones. It felt like a rough foot massage, which is to say good. My toes splayed in a more natural movement as the ground shifted beneath me.


When I ordered, I found their sizing guide to be perfect, so use that. (And make sure you tell your printer not to shrink the page to fit—another mistake I made.)

After that first early morning sprint, my feet bottoms felt a little raw. Also, on my right foot only, the strap between my toes rubbed a little. After a couple days, my feet broke in the sandals and everything felt great. If these are your first minimalist shoes, plan some extra time (more than a couple days) for getting used to the feel.  Also, if you’re hiking on sand or unstable ground, you’ll likely get things caught between your foot and the sole–huaraches work best on solid terrain. Just something to be aware of.

When they arrive, they’re not assembled, and I made the mistake of trying to lace them intuitively. (I’m a technical writer who knows better than to read the instructions.) That was a mistake, and I had to undo all my work. However, assembling them wrong taught me the benefits of the right way, and I can affirm to you that, yes, it is better. They stay on better, and the straps wrap in a way that feels right. I won’t recreate the steps here, but here’s a link to their lacing guide so you don’t get lost.

One downside on the All-Browns is that the heel strap still slips down, even after a month of adjustments and breaking them in. It’s just hard to make an adjustment in one place and have it flow into three different segments of the leather. This is no big deal if you’re mostly lounging, but if you’re covering ground, it’s annoying to stop and pull the back straps up. The Warriors, with their updated straps, fix the snugness problem. And it’s a cinch to loosen them up when you’re relaxing. In other words, you’ll benefit from Shamma’s latest iteration.

I did wonder whether the straps being on the ground would cause them to wear through, but so far I haven’t put in nearly enough miles to answer that question. So I talked to Josh, the owner, (who’s a genuine person, by the way, as you’ll see in his YouTube videos), and he said that the foot’s pressure is central, not on the sides where the laces are, so it’s mostly a non-issue. Customers occasionally send in their sandals to be resoled, and even fewer for new straps. Basically, you’ll likely wear out the sole first.


As far as looks go, the All-Browns do have the upper hand, what with the leather straps. And as you put them together, you get to trim the leather as the final step. There’s something satisfying about finishing the manufacturing process yourself. I liked that.

My little sister is my style consultant. I trust her expertise and her international fashion experience. She said she’s seen this style of Y-strap mostly on more feminine designs. I told her I’d seen pictures of Jesus wearing a huarache running sandal like this. That’s where the conversation ended. Bottom line is, if you’re male, these may push you toward metro and/or hippie. I’m okay with that. I love the simple design. (Another option is to order an extra SKU from Shamma called Power Straps, which give the sandals a more brawny look and, as a bonus, enhance the sandal performance for more strenuous and lateral activities.)

I think of these like Chacos but more minimal and with zero-drop (which is key)—plus leather for some extra panache. I wear them for outdoor adventures rather than as a fashion statement. Still, the simple design is cool.

But I took all these photos so you can give the final opinion.


I like both these pairs of sandals.

But I know you’re wondering which one I like better. If I could only pick one, I’d go with the Warriors. They’re the more recent design—they’re easier to adjust, and so they fit to your feet better. However, if you care less about utility and more about style, the all-leather straps on the All-Browns look great. They’re still functional, but they won’t stay as attached to your feet as the newer models.

Also, you need to decide which of the three thicknesses to get. Personally, I love the thinnest (the Warriors). But it’s a matter of how barefoot you want to feel. If you prefer to err on the side of caution, go with the middle thickness.

I was also asked why I’d pay $85 for these when flip-flops are so cheap. My answer: There’s no comparison. Shamma sandals are designed with minimalist runners in mind. They protect your foot, stay on tight, and still keep you tuned to the ground. If that’s what you’re looking for, this is an easy investment.

As close to barefoot as possible.


Waterfield Bolt Crossbody Leather Laptop Bag Review — $199

My new roommate can’t believe how little I own.

I just feel good about not having things. I recently learned there’s a psychological term for this: Obsessive Decluttering.

I realize this may sound like a contradiction, but I’m also continually hunting for quality items. Yes, that’s true. I will pay almost any price for a product that is exactly what I need and nothing more. Well, I needed a case for my tablet, and I found a solution with everything I needed and nothing more: the Bolt Crossbody Laptop Bag by Waterfield Designs.


I’ve reviewed several Waterfield products, and, like the others, the build quality on the Bolt Crossbody is impeccable. It’s made of a durable waxed canvas with full-grain leather for the accents. I tend to use mine for urban adventures, but I think it would withstand a wilderness (and rainfall) adventure just as well. That’s the kind of quality we’re talking about.

Beyond the leather and canvas, it’s the little things that drive this bag from adequacy to excellence. Sturdy YKK zippers seal the main compartment and protect the secure pocket in the back. The interior has a separate pocket lined with padding to help protect your tablet (or laptop) against bounces and jostles. It’s lined with a golden material, a color that reflects light really well, which makes it easy for you to see your stuff inside (I love that). The front has a magnet closure with a nice snap to it, inside of which is an ultrasuede pouch, just big enough to hold your iPhone Plus or Pixel XL. Stout rings hold the strap in place but also allow for some contour motion as you carry it.

In short, Waterfield has a lot of experience designing bags for tech, and that history has led to some insightful features. This attention to detail makes me excited to own this bag.


I’m an author who writes on a tablet—that’s an example of how I try to minimize what I carry. The Bolt matches that same ideal. I love it. It’s small enough that when I carry my lunch to work in it, I can throw the whole thing into the fridge. (Make sure your electronics aren’t in it when you do.) Because it’s small and lightweight like this, I’m never reluctant to bring it along.

The magnet on the outside pocket is a brilliant addition. It always stays closed, which looks nice, but it’s also super easy to access. Frustration free. A great feature.

There are a few slots to hold your pens, or, in my case, a digital stylus. (Really, they thought of everything.)

The handle on the back is one of my favorite features. It’s sewn tight against the bag, which gives you control when holding it, so the bag doesn’t swing around loosely. I’ve found myself using this handle (rather than putting the bag over my shoulder) about half the time.

I got the smallest size, which is 11×9” inches. That’s just right for my Pixel C tablet or your iPad. (They say it’ll fit an iPad Pro too, but I haven’t tested that yet.) If you need something bigger, Waterfield makes two larger sizes, the biggest of which is 14×12”, which should fit your 15” MacBook (or similarly sized laptop) just fine.


This bag looks great. The waxed canvas has both a rugged and a classy vibe, fitting a variety of styles. The dark chocolate leather is beautiful and provides a nice accent. In the photos, you’ll notice a slight shift in the apparent contrast between the leather and canvas; that’s all accurate though and just depends on the lighting.

Also, when you buy, Waterfield offers three colors of leather; I chose chocolate. They also let you swap the waxed canvas for a ballistic black nylon, which is a synthetic textile that gives the bag an entirely different look, which you can see on their site if you’re interested. These variations leave room for a lot of variety.

As usual, though, I’ll let you judge the style from the pictures.


I have owned three Waterfield products, and I’ve been impressed with each. The Bolt Crossbody Laptop Bag is my favorite though. It is built with the same quality I’ve come to expect from Waterfield, and it also matches the utility I’m looking for—without any excess.

Overall, I am an avid fan of their designs. I would eagerly buy another bag from them in the future to match whatever device I might own next.

Meqnes Handmade Moroccan Leather Weekend Bag Review — $795

The French word for leatherwork is maroquinerie. If you take a closer look, you’ll notice the root word Moroccan embedded in it. In fact, you might transliterate the word as “Moroccan artistry.”

“If the French guys give you a name, you know it’s a serious business.” That’s what Kamal Jahid said when I spoke with him over the phone about his upcoming Handmade Moroccan Leather Weekend Bag by Meqnes.

“Tourism is changing Morocco,” he said. In their rush to see site after site, tourists readily pay the same price for lower quality. That makes high quality no longer worth it. A people that were once famous for their leatherwork now create cheap products for undiscerning masses. And the craftsmen are not teaching their children either, so the art is dying.

That’s why Kamal and his co-founder David Liebers created Meqnes. They went directly to these marketplace artisans to talk in person. “They are generous and authentic–real people who sit down with you and ask about your family.” Together they made a deal: Meqnes would get a pledge from Kickstarter backers, and the artisans would then fulfill the order. Not having to stock these products lowers the risks for the artisans.

And it ensures that the world will get to see real maroquinerie once again.


Meqnes will make these bags from a thick calfskin leather sourced from Poland. It’s full-grain, vegetable tanned leather. When you knead it between your fingers, it’s especially thick and full—feels hardy, like it’ll last forever. I mean it—just touching it is a huge selling point.

As you may have guessed, I am using one of just three prototypes of the bag. But it isn’t the final version to be produced with the Kickstarter funds. So while the leather is top notch, the prototype’s metals aren’t. This is because, as David, explained, “It was difficult to get them in small quantities, so the zippers and buckles will be a lot higher quality in the final version, made with solid brass from a designer Italian company.”


The dual handles are firm and comfortable. The shoulder strap is made from a single thickness of leather, which, again, is sturdy stuff. The strap is also removable if you’d like to minimize. At roughly 12”x12”x24”, the bag fits IATA (International Air) standards, so it’s an excellent carry-on companion.

When you zip the bag closed, the flap where the zipper ends hangs disconnected unless you also affix it to its clasp. This adds an extra step, which is a bit of a hassle if you’re frequently opening and closing the bag. The same goes for the buckle that crosses over the zipper and fastens in the center. And the pockets on the front are real buckles, which look amazing, but aren’t designed for quick access. These are each cool looking features (I love how they look), but they’re a slight drain on the user experience–giving up functionality in exchange for the aesthetic.

If you’ve watched the Meqnes Kickstarter video, you’ve heard Kamal talking about the bag’s structure. This really is a stand-out feature. By contrast, I was trying to find a tube of lip balm in the bottom of a different bag, and I could never quite tell whether I had searched the whole thing, because I could only see into the part I was holding open–it was frustrating. Not so with the Meqnes weekender. You just pull open the top, and you can see all four corners of the interior. Nothing gets lost because the sides don’t collapse. This made me smile. What’s more, the velvet red interior reflects light and makes it easy to spot even small items inside. (And it really is quite bright–I even undersaturated the color in a few shots to recover some of the blown-out reds.)

The interior has one large pocket across the back wall. Big enough for a laptop, and perfect for tucking in your shaving kit and other small items. And I like the simplicity.


I asked Kamal about how fashion changes people’s perceptions, and he said, “You have no idea how many deals I’ve closed in airports.” So his advice? “You gotta be proud, man. Get a suit and go out there and change the world.”

Kamal designed this bag to match that philosophy. It’s a bag that makes a statement.

I have the Bullet Black version, which has a rich and deep hue, and which shows the distinct patterns of wrinkles across the leather surface. The seams show the stitching, a white thread. And each stitch has its own unique but subtle length and angle–proof that it’s handmade. The felt interior shows through at the seams, splashing a nice accent color that you mostly only notice up close. Overall, it has an exotic feel, a tone reminiscent of the streets of Rabat or Marrakesh.

I rushed this bag’s review process because I wanted to tell you about it before the Kickstarter ended. That means I haven’t yet carried it around in a crowded public space, but I don’t doubt Kamal’s claims that it will turn heads. It really is a sharp looking piece of leatherwork.

The central evidence, though, is in the photos. You be the judge.


I like this bag. I like its backstory too.

If you want a fashionable accoutrement, one made of heavy leather and with an exotic air, I recommend the Handmade Moroccan Leather Weekend Bag by Meqnes.

Personally, I love it.

Lems Shoes Russet Leather Boulder Boots Review — $140

It’s pretty fun clomping through the snow in a new pair of boots.

I got these babies just as some major storms were sweeping over Utah. And being a reviewer, I was eager to test them in the worst conditions. So on my walks, I aimed at the biggest drifts and snowpiles. Sometimes I’d sink up to my knees. It was tons of fun.

And I’m happy to say the Russet Leather Boulder Boots from Lems Shoes proved themselves worthy.


First, let me give you a caveat.

Lems has an unconventional philosophy—a philosophy that impacts design and performance. And if you don’t buy into it, you probably won’t like wearing these boots.

See, Lems believes a shoe should fit the natural shape of a human foot—that means the toebox is wider than other shoes. Lems also believes a shoe should enhance what the foot does rather than alter it—that means these have no heels (i.e. “zero-drop”), which helps preserve the body’s barefoot gait. And last, Lems believes in minimalism—that means a thin, lightweight sole, which keeps you close enough to the earth to feel what you’re walking on. I happen to be unconventional (or hippie) enough to buy into this philosophy. And I love these boots. (If you’re curious but unconvinced, you might check out Born to Run or search YouTube for “Principles of Natural Running.” If you’ve never done athletic barefooting, know that it takes some getting used to. Muscles unused in a regular shoe will get activated in a minimal shoe, which means soreness in new places. Something to think about.)

The Boulder Boots are made with 1.8 mm full-grain leather that has a sleek finish. I was a little worried the leather might feel cheap and second-rate, but I’m glad to report that they’re good quality. The interior plaid lining is made from 100% cotton. The souls are air-injected rubber, which is surprisingly lightweight. Seriously, when you pick them up, you’ll be caught off guard if you’re expecting the weight of a thick rubber sole. They’re only 11.5 ounces! (Which makes them great for travel.) They’re so thin, in fact, that you’ll notice a huge difference when walking on concrete. They’ve kept me off my heels, really shifting each footfall to the front of my foot.


Although they’re minimal, I’ve worn my Boulder Boots out in snow for extended periods, and with wool socks they kept me nice and warm. Just make sure to lace them tight so snow can’t get in. I haven’t yet tested them in extreme temperatures, so that experiment is up to you. (I consider them more of the fashion product anyway.)

Oh, and by the way, when I wasn’t wearing wool socks, I did notice a little moisture from melted snow getting inside, which I suppose could be fixed with waterproofing spray. The bottom line is that they’re not waterproof and probably wouldn’t be great slogging through puddles.

I’ve gone hiking and have even done some sprinting in them, and I love they way they move and shift with your foot. They’re super flexible, which leaves your ankles plenty of mobility.


I loved the look of these boots straight out of the box. However, that was my personal opinion, and I actually worried other people might judge me for not having heels. (Yes, really.) Then I started getting compliment after compliment, and I’ve started to walk a little more proudly.

When you step forward, the toe of your back foot bends. This has created some slight ripples in the leather above the toe. You can hardly see it in the pictures, but if I were to change something about these boots it would be to smooth those back out. It’s not a dealbreaker, but maybe something for the shoemakers to consider when making the next version, if there even is a fix with leather this light.

Lems ships their Boulder Boots with two pairs of laces. The russet style comes with gold laces, which are kind of flashy, and a pair in a more conservative chocolate brown. I actually like the look of both, depending on the occasion. And speaking of colors, Lems makes the Boulder Boots in a raven-black leather, as well as several canvas hues too, so check those out on their site. There’s definitely something for everybody’s taste.

But I leave the final aesthetic judgement up to you…


The Russet Leather Boulder Boots from Lems Shoes have a roguish look. They’re lightweight and minimal. And while I don’t necessarily recommend them to everyone, you should consider them if you think organic is a good thing. Or if you want your gait to be as natural (barefoot) as possible. Or if you care about walking in style, ha ha.

I’m personally a huge fan of mine.

(P.S. If you’re still on the fence, Lems has a generous return policy, and, FYI, you’ll pay about $8 in return shipping if you change your mind.)

Megan’s Mark Leather Addison Tote Review — $208

I think I have—quite simply—found THE perfect leather tote.

It’s the Addison Tote from Megan’s Mark Leather, and there are so many things I love about it. But first, let me tell you some behind-the-scenes.

As a leather blogger, I spoke on the phone with Megan, the creator, before I ordered—wanting to get the inside scoop on the product. She told me she’s always been drawn to leather products with a classic aesthetic and personalized touches to show they were hand-made. She looked for simple design too—no buckles, zippers, or anything superfluous. But “it was hard for me to find my style,” she said, “so I created it.” Luckily, that happened to be the style I was looking for too.

She sums up her design philosophy with a simple line: “Let the leather speak for itself.”


First up, let’s talk about the craftsmanship and materials.

The tote is made in the U.S., sourced from Tandy Leather. The leather type is called oiled kodiak, and it’s chrome-tanned and medium temper, which gives it rich colors and a little bit of texture. Mine even has some unique scarring, which I like.


Megan makes two versions of this tote. The first is simpler and has a straight-cut edge at the top opening. I ordered the upgraded version, which has that top edge turned-down and stitched. And I love the contrast of that finished edge with the raw edges you’ll see on the straps. It really emphasizes the leather as a material and brings the design together in a way that makes it perfect for any occasion.

As I said, the leather has some imperfections, making it authentically one-of-a-kind. The stain is rich and warm, while still being perfectly modern. The rivets are a nice, complementary copper color.

On a personal note, the bag arrived during the coldest part of winter, and it had lighter marks across it where it was bent. This concerned me, because it didn’t look too great. But when I brought it out of the package and let it relax in the warmth of my home, all the discoloration went away. Now the bag is beautiful, as you’ll see in the photos.


Inside the bag, there’s a special treat (at least to any woman who’s previously owned a tote). The inner side features a small pouch, perfect for holding small items you’d rather not have floating at the bottom. It includes a clasp attached to a length of leather to keep your keys secure. It’s a thoughtful design, particularly if you ask my phone screen.

In the month and a half I’ve owned it, I’ve found many occasions to make it my companion. It’s a wonderful upgrade to my old shoulder bag and the perfect size for a busy mom—large enough to fit several items, and yet never so large that it’s in the way.

On outings with my baby, I slip my small purse inside, along with diapers, wipes, a spare outfit, and treats, topped with her favorite quilt and stuffed kitty—and it all fits wonderfully! I once loaded it full of Christmas packages and waited in line at the post office, and my shoulder felt no fatigue because the leather straps molded comfortably to its shape. I take the tote to church every week, where it fits an 8×11 binder, activities to keep children quiet, and my purse tucked inside. It’s been my car bag on day trips, my gym bag, and my favorite bag.


This tote has a unique, simple style that really sets it apart from something you’d find at Target. It’s made from hearty materials and was hand-crafted precisely. And, best of all, it has worked well for every situation I’ve used it in. If these are qualities you’re looking for, the Addison Tote from Megan’s Mark Leather is a great choice.

[Jill Washburn and J Washburn wrote this review in collaboration.]

Waterfield Designs Syde MacBook Case Review — $159

I was so excited to get my new MacBook Pro. It’s such an elegant machine! But that excitement quickly turned to worry—I didn’t want to scuff it up! My solution was to put it inside a small protective case and then put that inside my actual bag—a hassle, to say the least, since these days I’m moving from class to class in an MBA program.

So began my frustrating search for a better solution, which finally ended when a good friend introduced me to the Waterfield Designs Syde MacBook Case.

The next day I walked into class and set my new case on the desk. I pulled apart the straps, the magnet clasp popped open, and I slipped the computer out. My classmate responded with, “Whoa! You just pulled a computer out of your purse.” He proceeded to admire the size and quality of the bag, which has now gotten more attention than my laptop.


This case is designed for a minimalist user. That was initially a concern for me. For starters, it meant carrying my binder separately, in my hands. I soon realized I could do without most of what was in there. And when teachers gave us handouts, they fit nicely into the bag’s outer sleeve, which provided safe transport till I got them home to my binder.

In the leather pouch on the outside, I put pens, wallet, calculator, and charger. That all fit, though it was a little snug (maybe it’s time for a slimmer wallet). Everything else had to stay behind.

If you’re a minimalist, or a wannabe like me, I think you’ll like the simplicity of the bag. There are no extra pockets, inches, or frills. But it won’t work well if you’re the type who likes to bring the kitchen sink.

The strap is adjustable, and the shoulder pad has grips, which makes it comfortable and stationary on my shoulder.


The main compartment is an exact fit for the 13” MacBook Pro. In fact, my friend told me that Waterfield delayed the final design till the latest MacBooks (with the lightbar) arrived so they could make sure the design had no excess. This main sleeve is pretty impressive. It’s cushioned in a high-grade neoprene that’s soft and great for absorbing shocks. As for keeping my MacBook safe, it put all my worries at ease.

The outer pocket and the handle are made from premium, full-grain leather. At first I was worried about scuffing up this leather, till I learned that mild wear actually gives the surface more character, which does make it look better over time.

The coolest part of the design is the silent, magnetic closure. (I consider it the spiritual reincarnation of the magnetic power plug from the old MacBooks—my favorite abandoned feature.) You just pull the handles, and the seam pops open. Then pick up the bag by the handles and the clasp gently snaps back closed—almost automatically. I love it! The magnetic closure also gives the bag’s opening some structure, so it’s never left hanging open. It’s a beautiful design and a remarkable match for the technology it carries.


I really like the look and feel of this bag. It’s perfect for conferences, recruiting events, interviews, and any other event in which you want a minimal, protective bag. And it’s quite stylish.

The strap and the fastening loops at first seemed too flimsy—not that I thought they might break, but they just looked dainty to me. Now I’ve gotten used to it, and the lightweight straps feel more fitting for the minimalist aesthetic.

The main compartment is made of a durable waxed canvas which has a rugged look that compliments many different styles. It’s soft to the touch and, like the leather, gains some personality with use.

The outer pocket is a beautiful, grizzly-colored leather. If this isn’t quite your style, Waterfield also makes this bag out of ballistic-black canvas, with either black or grizzly brown leather for the pocket as an accent.


This is a high-quality product, made from durable yet fashionable materials. It’s designed to fulfill the simple task of transporting your MacBook and its accessories in style, and it does this without an ounce of excess. I’ve been quite happy with my Waterfield Designs Syde MacBook Case, and I think you will be too.

[Megan Spencer and J Washburn wrote this review in collaboration.]


Wallis Standard Leather Weightlifting Belt Review — $150






I began bodybuilding almost two years ago.

At first, I didn’t understand the importance of protecting my lower back. But as I got into heavier weights, I realized how badly I needed a belt. A good belt. Something that would remind me to keep my core tight and activated, which, in turn, would keep my back self-reliant. Something for my core to press and strain against under heavy loads.

I started using the generic belts abandoned at my local gym. I tried the nylon ones and whatever else I could find. Then I tried on a friend’s more expensive leather belt, and it was like nothing else. It fit just right. It hit me that I was investing all this time in myself but hadn’t done the same for my equipment. When I realized this, I decided I was going to find a belt I would love.

My quest came to a close thanks to Instagram and a tip from a good friend. My first Men’s Physique competition will be in March 2017. I’m eager for the challenge, and I’m excited to bring the Wallis Standard Weightlifting Belt along with me.




About Wallis Weight Belts

I spoke on the phone with Garrott and Evan, the founders and craftsmen of Wallis Weightbelts, and I learned the story behind their products. They met in 7th grade band practice. After college, they landed at the same gym in Lubbock, Texas. That got them talking about their mutual passions, which led to making CrossFit weight belts.

Their high quality work has made a splash in the industry, and they’ve gained a faithful Instagram following, thanks in part to the high-profile CrossFitters who use their products, including champs like Brooke Ence (2015 CrossFit Games).

As far as the craftsmanship goes, they’re confident that no one does what they do with the same level of quality, and I’m inclined to agree.





First thing out of the box, I couldn’t stop handling this belt.

Just hefting it, you get a sense of its quality. It’s simply designed, and the detailing is beautiful. The belt is cut by hand from a single piece of thick, 0.8cm, cowhide leather (American and vegetable tanned). It’s sourced from the Hermann Oak Leather Company in St. Louis.

The tail of the belt is held down by a keeper. I’ve had the belt a month, and there’s only one problem I’ve seen—the hand-stitching on the keeper loop has unraveled slightly, though not enough to compromise the loop. It adds something to the rugged aesthetic.

The buckle is heavy duty. It employs double prongs, making an extra strong latch. It has a rotator around the end of it, which makes for smooth, easy buckling. And the buckle’s attached with a fixed loop to the main piece of leather by four Chicago screws.





The actual belt is 4 inches wide, enough to provide proper support through a variety of lifts, but not so wide that it impairs range of motion. The edges of the belt are burnished in black, giving it a smooth surface. It fits snugly to the body, and the interior suede feels great.

Just so you know, for the first two weeks of use, the stiffness of the keeper loop bruised me right under my rib cage. But now a month after using it daily, the belt has molded perfectly to my body and is incredibly comfortable in every sort of lifting position. It hasn’t decreased my satisfaction, but it’s something to be aware of—so expect to take a little time breaking it in.

Ten double adjuster holes run along the tail of the belt, spaced perfectly for a flush fit to the body. And they’re close enough that I never got stuck between a hole that’s too loose and the next which would be too tight. I used the sizing guide on the Wallis website, and the fit was so perfect that I’m currently using the centermost hole. That leaves me tons of room to gain or lose without growing out of the belt—another factor that adds value to a long-term investment.





I upgraded my belt from the “Standard Weightlifting Belt” to include some simple customization. I added my last name across the back, and it’s beautiful. The Wallis team did a fantastic job on this personalization.

The belt also uses contrast topstitching. You can request different colors, which is another way to make it more uniquely yours.





I love it.

The Wallis Standard Weightlifting Belt is a fine piece of a craftsmanship. I’ve loved using it. Its cost reflects its value, and I think it’s more than worth it. I’m glad to recommend it to my fellow CrossFitters and weightlifting enthusiasts.

[Jason Barrus and J Washburn wrote this review in collaboration.]




Rose Anvil Claude Minimalist Wallet on Kickstarter Review — $29

For the last 5 years, I’ve used a minimalist wallet called the Mojito.

It has gone head to head against many other wallet designs, and it won every fight.

So when I saw the Rose Anvil Claude Wallet on Kickstarter, I doubted it could beat the reigning champ.

But I tried the Claude, and I never looked back.





The body of the Claude is cut from a single piece of leather that’s folded on one side. The cash strap is a separate piece, sewn on the outside. I love that simplicity. Just two pieces, elegantly saddle-stitched together. (Just FYI, I actually haven’t used the cash strap yet, because I don’t carry bills, but I suppose you might.)

I was worried the angular design might mean it doesn’t hold the cards securely. But I’ve been carrying (and throwing) it around for several days, and it has a firm grip. The cards sit snugly and don’t shift around.

The Claude is also very thin, as advertised, which I thought might mean a compromise for strength, but it doesn’t. This leather is high quality. Sturdy but thin. Sometimes I can’t even tell whether it’s in my pocket because the mass is approaching zero.

It’s exactly what I’m looking for in a minimalist wallet.





When I transitioned from the Mojito to the Claude, I had to drop 2 cards because they wouldn’t fit. I now carry 2 credit cards, 3 miscellaneous cards, a couple blank checks, and a guitar pick. I’ll round up and say that’s 6 cards. That’s pretty much the maximum for the Claude. If you jammed 7 or 8 cards into it, I’m sure the leather would stretch and you’d be fine, but my recommendation is to get down to 6 cards.

So take out your wallet and start counting them before you order.

That said, I like that this forced me to rethink what I was carrying with me every day.





Christmas is coming up. The Rose Anvil Claude Wallet would make a great gift for the beloved minimalists in your life. If you want to get one, it’s on Kickstarter right now. The campaign is already completely funded, but it doesn’t hurt to contribute to the stretch goals.

I love this wallet. It looks great, works great, and it’s super thin. It’s easily worth $29.

I might even pay double. It’s that sweet.

rose-anvil-claude-wallet-on-kickstarter-review-29-img_20161027_180322         rose-anvil-claude-wallet-on-kickstarter-review-29-img_20161101_154223

Andrews Leather Monarch Shoulder Rig and Holster Review — $250

I’m not in law enforcement, and I don’t wear a gun on a daily basis. The truth is, my interest in holsters comes primarily from Indiana Jones and Uncharted.

In other words, I was imagining a quest for Shangri La instead of considering functionality. I spent a lot of time looking for a certain style, something with a renegade panache. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Andrews Leather Monarch Shoulder Rig and Holster, which excels in both style and utility.




About Andrews Leather

When I found pictures of the Monarch Shoulder Rig, I knew it was exactly what I wanted. But the site seemed a decade out of date, and I couldn’t find a place to order. I saw a phone number and called. A friendly voice greeted me: “My name’s Sam Andrews. I’m the owner.”

He spoke with a kind, mild, sincere tone. And although he mentioned being overloaded with orders, he seemed in no rush as he chatted with me. He told me he doesn’t do email—his hunt-and-peck typing is just too slow. And he prefers speaking directly with the customer anyway.

Sam said he’s been doing leatherwork for 41 years. It began when as a teen he cut apart a ruined police holster. Later he served as a police officer but left “because of the politics.” That’s when he stumbled into leathermaking as a career, and his business has been quite successful ever since.




I first put on Sam’s Monarch shoulder holster while standing in front of a mirror, and I couldn’t help but grin.

The shoulder straps are made of a lightweight suede, which at first seemed a little too lightweight. But I soon realized this was for comfort. The suede trades durability and gains softness. It’s comfortable against your back and conforms to your body. I’ve never tested my bodyweight against it though, and I wouldn’t plan on hanging from it while sliding down a zipline. But it’s more than adequate for carrying a Glock and a couple loaded magazines.

The holster, on the other hand, is made of a heavy, cowboy sort of leather, stamped with the Andrews brand. Its weight helps balance the rig—the opposite of top heavy—keeping the equipment where it should be.

Sam shapes each holster to fit an exact model of gun, in my case a Glock 19, and you’ll see this in the contours of the molded leather.

I ordered the regular-sized Monarch Shoulder Rig, but Sam also makes an XL, because “some customers can’t fit their shoulders through a doorway.” That comment made me chuckle.





“Most shoulder holsters are designed by people who’ve never used one,” said Sam.

By contrast, he has years of law-enforcement experience and knows what functionality is needed. Even today, he tinkers with his designs, intent on finding what works best and what’s most comfortable. He told me this iterating makes the job fun. It also means he takes feedback from customers seriously.

One feature that grew out of this expert knowledge is the back strap, which steadies the rig and keeps it from swinging, particularly when you’re bending down or leaning forward. It’s a helpful feature that you won’t find on competitor’s rigs.

The holster is snug and grips the gun tightly even without the snap. In fact, there’s a specific screw outside the trigger guard that will let you adjust this tightness.

The holster snap is directional (this fact was even marked with a tag). That means you don’t snap it on straight down, but sort of at an angle, like you’re hooking over a latch. Just something to be aware of.

The holster also includes a belt strap, so you can take it off the shoulder rig and put it on your belt.

I’ve worn this rig a lot, for hours and hours. Since I don’t regularly carry a gun, I wore it during more mundane activities: making an omelette, doing pushups and pullups, watching Stranger Things, doing laundry, and driving to the shooting range. I’ve put in enough time to confidently say that this rig is very comfortable—I’ve even taken a nap wearing it. I love it.

There’s one functionality caveat I should warn you about. The barrel of the gun points horizontally behind you when you’re wearing this rig. It might even point slightly up, depending on how the straps are situated. This means the gun points at people during regular use. I don’t consider that a safety issue, but it made a few bystanders uncomfortable as I wore it.





The Monarch design is beautifully simple: four leather straps held together by two layered cross-pieces and a bunch of thumb screws.

I will mention that when I first got the rig, the suede underbelly shed all over my shirt. Now that I’ve used it a bit, the shedding is gone.

Interchangeable pins in the shoulder straps make the rig adjustable, which is great. You can unscrew them with just a fingernail, but the thread angle is so shallow that I’ve never worried they might come loose. I changed my rig to make the top section (above the cross) longer and the lower section shorter. This shifted the cross more squarely between my shoulder blades (I’m all about the look).

And speaking of the look, Sam told me something for the sake of “sheer bragging.” A new Magnificent Seven movie came out September 23rd, and all the stars in it are wearing Andrews Leather. Also, two of the heroines in the upcoming Fast 8 movie will be wearing Monarch rigs—just like the one you see here. (As Sam told me this, he mentioned that Hollywood is king of last-minute changes, which “had me running around with my hair on fire.”)

In my mind, this connection with the movie business serves as a solid endorsement for the aesthetic.



BestLeather Conclusion

I love my Andrews Leather Monarch Shoulder Rig and Holster. It’s a fine piece of craftsmanship that looks awesome and works even better. Seriously. I’ve given you details on what I like with a couple very minor caveats. Overall, I think it’s a fantastic product.

Normally a link to the product page would be enough. In this case, I’ll also link you to Sam’s contact page. When you call, tell him J at BestLeather sent you.




Moore and Giles Benedict Bison Weekend Bag Review — $925

Man, this is a dang good-looking bag.

It’s the Moore and Giles Benedict Weekend Bag. I’ve owned it for about four weeks now. It has accompanied me on a 4-day and a 5-day trip. So far I’m loving it.

The leather itself has such a cool feel—soft, yet textured. The bag’s design scores high marks for style. It’s also spacious and durable. This is certainly one of the most impressive leather products I’ve seen in a while.



Moore and Giles was founded in 1933 during the heart of the Great Depression. They’re headquartered at Forest, Virginia. They’ve posted some impressive videos on their site that show the leathermaking process and give you a good idea of their concern for quality.

On their site, they list kindness among their key values. Maybe it’s the Buddhist in me, but that goes a long way in my book.

They’re also environmentally conscious. They point out that hides are a byproduct of food sources, so they take what would essentially be a waste product and transform it into luxury bags and other leather goods. It’s a pretty cool take on sustainability.



The Benedict Weekend Bag is constructed from nubuck leather.

Nubuck is an older word that likely comes from “new buck(skin).” Craftsmen create this type of top-grain leather by sanding off the upper (outside) hair-cell layer of the hide. This leaves a luxurious nap of short protein fibers with a soft, velvet-like surface (similar to suede). This buffing smooths out blemishes and makes the leather more capable of absorbing dyes and finishes, which provides for more consistent color across the surface. Because it’s not a full-grain leather, that means some of the scratches and uniqueness of the original hide can be lost, but I found my Benedict to still have tons of character, which you’ll see in the pictures.

The nubuck process is similar to but generally more expensive than crafting suede. It results in a product that’s thicker, stronger, and more resistant to wear, yet still soft to the touch. It can also mean the product is not as resistant to scratches, but I haven’t had any problems with my Benedict bag, no more than other leather products I own.



I upgraded to the Benedict wanting something for longer trips, and it more than met my needs. I packed for a 5-day business trip (including 3 pairs of shoes), and everything fit nicely. It’s big. It also has clasps on each end which you can release to give yourself more room. Then when you clip them back down, the bag becomes the perfect size for shorter trips. I love this adjustability.

The handles are thick and sturdy and feel like they could heft a weight set inside. The shoulder strap is hearty too, and it’s layered for comfort when carrying a heavy load.

The interior walls are lined with pockets in a variety of sizes. I’ve found other bags with pockets that are too big to be useful, but these are just right. I put my toiletries and other accoutrements in them for quick access. It also comes with a gift bag, a drawstring you can put the Benedict inside, which I think makes the perfect travel laundry bag.

The bottom of the bag has a stiff footing that gives some stability to whatever you pack in it. When you lug the bag by the handles, this footing keeps it from flopping and bending so much, which means it’s easier to carry. This also adds to the aesthetic—the Benedict always looks its best.

I haven’t had any troubles keeping mine clean. If yours does need cleaning, Moore and Giles recommends using mild soap and water with a cotton cloth. But it’s recommended to just let stains work themselves out with use.





As far as style goes, this bag is versatile enough to fit with boots and jeans or a business jacket.

The interior is lined with an interesting textile. I suspect it’s a synthetic fabric, maybe vinyl. If so, it should be water and stain resistant and durable against wear (though I haven’t purposefully stained it). It feels papery, is somewhat stiff, and makes a ruffling sound when you move it. It adds body and structure to the bag, so when you pull it open it stays open, and when it’s empty it still stands upright. This makes packing a breeze—it’s easy to access and work with. This also makes it a great container for holding your stuff once you arrive—and not just in transit.

The leather has distinct lines running through it. These vary in size and direction, giving the bag a crude and natural feel. It also means that your bag will have a unique fingerprint.

I ordered the Nubuck Bison Chocolate variation, but Moore and Giles has a variety of colors and finishes. (To find them, just type “Benedict” into the search bar on their site.)




Accessories Case

I also got a Moore and Giles Accessories Case which runs at $180. When it’s in your hand, you get a strong sense of its quality workmanship. Like the bag, it’s made with American bison nubuck leather. It is soft to the touch on the outside. The inside is lined with a plush wool, ideal for protecting whatever valuables you want safe from scratches (a watch, for example). For you fishers out there, the wool also makes an ideal surface for hooking barbless flies into. I’m sure there are a variety of other uses you could find for this case too.

moore-and-giles-accessories-case-nubuck-bison-review-180-bestleather-org-dsc01180 moore-and-giles-accessories-case-nubuck-bison-review-180-bestleather-org-dsc01182 moore-and-giles-accessories-case-nubuck-bison-review-180-bestleather-org-dsc01185 moore-and-giles-accessories-case-nubuck-bison-review-180-bestleather-org-dsc01193

The Moore and Giles Benedict Weekend Bag is a fashionable leather piece. The craftsmanship is astounding. Its hardy structure means it’ll outlast competing bags. And its elegant design will draw compliments.

It’s an investment with a high price point, but, especially for a person who travels to earn, it promises a high-value return. I, personally, have been super impressed.





Les Cuirs Peussou Handmade Leather Belt Review — $80

I’ve recently been shopping among small-time leathermakers, in search of something more unique, with a customized feel. I found a Handmade Leather Belt from Les Cuirs Peussou. This belt traveled so far in transit that I don’t actually know how to pronounce the shop’s name. Luckily, I’m a writer.



About Les Cuirs Peussou

Les Cuirs Peussou is a one-man operation based out of Veyrac in the heart of France (near Limoges). The maker’s name is Remi, a craftsman who sells handmade products through his Etsy store. When I exchanged emails with him, I asked about his passion. Here’s his response, which is so candid you can almost hear the accent:

“I hope the description would be clear and apologize on my non perfect English (this is not my mother tongue).

“I do my best selecting the highest quality of leather from local tanneries. I would like to develop a brand which purpose is an original way of thinking in leather products, particularly in the colors. I spend lots of time to create my own tones from basic primary colors (blue, yellow, and red).

“And I always try to improve comfort of my products. My way of thinking of the work is to be perpetually in evolution, to offer better and better quality.”

— Rémi DRENO



The leather for this belt comes from the Gal tannery in Bellac, France, which has a reputation for quality leather, and from what I’ve seen this belt lives up to that. It’s sliced from top-grain leather, polished to a smooth finish.

The leather wraps back on itself to fasten the buckle, and this segment is hand-punched and saddle-stitched (two needles go through each hole in opposite directions for added strength). This gives the finished product a slight variance or ruggedness that adds to the visual appeal, a detail that requires a close look to really appreciate.

The leather is finished first with bee’s wax and then with Remi’s homemade leather polish. The leather feels smooth to the touch (despite the visual texture).



The back of the belt has a suede finish which is soft. Although this doesn’t show when worn, it makes the belt seem more formal to the wearer.

I found my belt to be right on the edge of being too small. So you might consider getting one size larger than your other belts. (Or maybe I need to cut back, if you know what I mean.)

I don’t have a lot more to say about the functionality. It kept my pants up. I did actually test the durability by hanging my body weight from the belt. The leather and the buckle held up just fine under my 180 lbs. There was no creasing or bending. So it’s durable.



The leather is vegetable tanned, which makes it adaptable for dying. On the style I selected, Remi created a black texture that creeps inward onto the brown and looks really cool. It feels stylish in a rugged kind of way. And the contrasting colors make it fit nicely with a variety of outfits.


BestLeather Conclusion

This belt is standard in its functionality. What’s unique about it is that it’s handmade by a French craftsman. It also takes a classic style and blends the hues, giving the belt an uncommon fashion advantage. If you’re looking for a unique accoutrement to give some dash to your wardrobe, take a look at Les Cuirs Peussou’s Handmade Leather Belt.



Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review — $190

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org DSC00980

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org IMG_20160718_110540784

The name chukka comes from the Hindi word chukker, meaning a circle or turn. This word was used in polo to mark periods of play. But polo players wear riding boots, right? Yes. The fact is, it’s unclear how this style of boot got its name, but some speculate that off-duty polo players might’ve worn something comfortable like the chukka boot while strolling town (which happens to be another connotation of the word chukker—e.g., to walk a casual loop).

But I was on the lookout for an unconventional style of chukka boot. I wanted a zero-drop version, the kind that doesn’t have any rise beneath the heel. I won’t get into the why here (there’s plenty already published if you’re the curious sort), but I will tell you what I found: Soft Star’s Hawthorne Chukka Boots.

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org IMG_20160718_110953992

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org DSC01000

About Soft Star

Tim and Jeanie Oliver founded Soft Star 30 years ago. The company made shoes with a soft structure for kids, to allow for more natural foot development and growth. As they had success with those initial products, they began to expand into adult footwear. They attribute a spike in their success to the publishing of Born to Run in 2009—when so many people started looking for a minimalist running shoe. Their latest product is an adult fashion boot, which I’ll tell you about.

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org DSC00988

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org IMG_20160718_111449466


The structure is like that of a traditional chukka boot. It’s ankle high, and open laced (which means the vamp, the part that covers the toe, is underneath the quarters, which the laces are attached to). This open lacing creates a distinct shape: a straight line comes to a point at the bottom of the laces and then curves back toward the heel and down. This simple structure gives the boot lot of character.

And speaking of simple, this is an unlined shoe, meaning there’s only one thin layer of leather over your feet, with no extra padding or lining. This adds to the comfort factor and reduces the weight and bulk. But it also means the boots don’t have the typical body and form of other shoes. This boils down to a simple functional fact: you can’t wear them unlaced. (They’re about my only shoes that I lace up.) But even laced, they feel great. They’re made of a soft, flexible leather, almost like a slipper.

The laces have no metal eyelets, just three holes punched in the leather. Again, an exceptionally simple style that impacts form and function.

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org DSC00990

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org IMG_20160718_111504994

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org DSC00998


They’re way comfortable—this is one aspect I’m particularly excited to talk about.

The insole has a rubber bottom to keep it from slipping, and it’s suede on top, which is soft against your foot.

The soles are fairly thick and give you great padding when walking on concrete and other unforgiving surfaces. They’re not bad for just standing in either, almost like you’re on a firm yoga mat.

The leather upper stretches slightly, so you might end up wanting a size smaller than you’d otherwise expect. I, however, actually fit my foot into a pair two sizes down from what I settled on in the end. So it’s a matter of whether you can stand a tight feel while the boots stretch to fit your foot. I do sometimes wish I’d gone a size smaller.

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org DSC00994

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org IMG_20160718_111134110


The name of these Hawthorne chukka boots got me excited—it suggests an American classic, something rugged and vintage. It made me want to wear them while milling around some dark, New England forest haunted by the ghosts of dead authors. The color and finish of the leather reinforce this aspect, and I like the simple black laces against the brown.

I have to be honest, though: parts of the look took a little getting used to, and my opinion has gone back and forth a few times since they arrived. (Maybe I’m just not quite hipster enough.) Some days I feel like they’re a tad too primitive. Mostly it’s the flat toe that gets me. I wish it had a little more body at the end, like a curled fist (which would’ve given my toes more room in the smaller size). Other days, I love the look and the funky hipster vibe they give off. On those days, I think of them as rudimentary urban moccasins, and I like the look a lot. In the end, it’s your call—the photos are frank about the unconventional style.

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org DSC00987

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org IMG_20160718_110843039

BestLeather Conclusion

If you decide to order, I recommend this method for getting your shoe size right: Put your heel against a wall, and put a thick book at your toes to mark the distance. Then move your foot and measure. I discovered this method late in the game, which meant I should’ve had a major headache doing several exchanges. But Soft Star’s customer service is a wonder—so quick to help. They sent a prepaid label for the returns, and the new pair arrived right away, saving me time, money, and stress. I’m sure you’ll have a similar experience.

Soft Star’s Hawthorne Chukka Boots are lightweight, soft, and flexible. They have a unique visual style that makes a statement. They’re also zero-drop shoes, which means they have all the accompanying benefits. Most of all, they’re exceptionally comfortable.

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org DSC00999     Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org IMG_20160718_111016975

Soft Star Hawthorne Chukka Boots Review $190 BestLeather.org DSC00984


Lems Nine2Five Coffee and Cream Shoes Review — $125

Like other bandwagoners, I became a fan of minimalist shoes after reading Born to Run. I bought my first pair and transitioned instantly, which gave me sore muscles in my shins and feet like never before. Of course, wearing the shoes strengthened those atrophied muscles and changed my gait a bit. But I’m not here to convert you. This review’s mostly for people who are already looking for a leather zero-drop shoe (shoes without heels). If that’s you, you’re in for a real treat, because the Lems Nine2Five Coffee&cream are my favorite.




About Lems Shoes

The Lems team is just 5 employees. That amazes me. Especially for a company with so many products and so much success. They’re American, family-owned, and they’re concerned with what’s right more than what’s profitable—so says their mission statement. They also care about customers and feedback, which I can vouch for. When I emailed questions, I always got a quick reply from Audrey, with a tone that implied a friendly smile.

You should know about one potential frustration though: Lems doesn’t provide free return shipping. It took me two tries to get my shoe size right. So expect to spend an extra $12 or so (unless you’re a better guesser than me) as their awesome customer service gets you into the right size.





A Cherokee proverb has become a common American saying: “Don’t judge a man till you have walked a mile in his shoes.” Well, I’ve walked a mile a day in these Lems for the last seven weeks, and I’ve gotten a pretty good feel for judging them. Not only walking, I’ve run sprints and played a little frisbee (which includes lateral movements), and, even unlaced, they’ve performed well. I’ve been rough on mine, and they’re holding up, but I don’t expect them to have the same tenacity as something more traditional—that’s the tradeoff for the lightness. Totally worth it, if you ask me.

The soles are thin. Real thin. I took the insoles out of mine to add more width for my wide feet, and that made the bottoms even thinner. So thin that when strolling through the neighborhood, I gravitated toward walking in people’s yards. If you’re planning some extensive walking on concrete, these probably aren’t the shoes you’re looking for. (In their defense, it’s not the shoes that are unnatural, but the walking on concrete.) Concrete also happens to be where bone micro-fractures are most likely to happen, something you’ll hear about from the naysayers, and something to be wary of. Just make sure to do your research.

Overall, I love the thinness. This factor will shift your walking style, more forward off the heels, as if you were barefoot. I consider this a good thing.




These shoes are also extremely lightweight—literally more lightweight than my flip flops. This airiness makes them particularly comfortable. I don’t find myself slipping them off every chance I get like I do with other shoes. (Unless I’ve worn them in the sun on a hot day, of course, as they don’t exactly breathe like a sneaker.) They’re also great as a spare shoe when traveling because they hardly weigh down your bag. They also conform to your foot, so when you bend your toes, the toe of the shoe bends too.

This isn’t a great venue for a treatise on zero-drop shoes. But the short of it is that they let your feet be what they evolved to be, which helps balance your spine. I’ll also add that a few of my favorite internet celebs are in to the barefoot / zero-drop shoes, people Tim Ferriss, Kelly Starrett, and Sergey Brin. And I’m pretty sure God is a barefooter.





The Nine2Fives are a good fit for summer barbeques, firework shows, and lounging in the shade. I’ve also been wearing them to work, and because they’re leather they give off a professional, classy vibe.

I got the Coffee&cream variation—brown leather, cream sole. If you want to take the formality up a notch, there’s another version with brown leather and black soles, and another with black on black. Also, my buddy Victor reviewed the Lems Mariners, so check those out if you’re looking for a completely different flavor.

I love the shape of these shoes. The wider toe box feels really good—spacious and natural. But I think it looks good too. It gives them a more masculine feel, almost like the nose of a 1-ton truck. Or like the shape of Spider-Man’s foot in the old comic books—which means it’s the shape of an actual human foot rather than of a shoe. To me, this is awesome, but I’ll leave the final aesthetic judgement up to you.



BestLeather Conclusion

I love these shoes. They’re lightweight, comfortable, and classy. Having mentioned a few things you should be aware of, I’m ready to fully endorse these babies. If you’re looking for a stylish zero-drop shoe, you have to try out the Lems Nine2Five Coffee&creams.