I didn't know this thread existed, but someone elsewhere on SF asked about them and pointed me to this thread.
I don't know if it is OK to post links to non-SF locations (i.e. Reddit), so here's a copy-pasta of what I posted there:
These are damn fine boots, especially for the money. Great leather, design, look, build and value. Highly recommended. I can’t believe I typed so much so fast. I think I’m just pleasantly surprised and more than a little blown way.
The Full Story
I’ve been lusting for the LeatherSoul build of the Alden Tanker Boot (aka NST) on the Barrie last in brown CXL on Commando for a long time. They run a small batch every couple years, and in talking to Will via email it appeared they were going to skip a year for that build. I later heard that Alden of Madison was going to run essentially the same build, and planned to buy those – they graciously put a pair on reserve for me without a deposit (11.5D’s go fast!). Unfortunately for me, my air conditioning just died and replacing it was $6,000 (it was done today in fact). Along with it died any enthusiasm for spending $600 on a pair of boots. After waiting over a year to get the makeup I wanted (I’m not a fan of the toe on the Truebalance versions, and the other narrower lasts aren’t great for me), I was pretty damn bummed about it.
Around the same time I noticed a comment about Grant Stone here on GYW, went to their site and saw their Ottowa boot, which is a similar NST design. I read some other articles, reviews and threads about them, and thought (A) they looked like extremely well-made boots, especially for the price and (B) they were getting a lot of shade for the “made in China” thing and thought it seemed pretty unfair, at least in terms of the immediate belief that China=Crap quality. If you prefer to support USA-made products, I’m completely cool with that, but judge things for what they actually are. I’ve been to China quite a bit, and there are a lot of quality things made there. Anyway, with all that money out of pocket, a Freshman in college and other recent purchases, I wasn’t able to just do it. On impulse I reached out to Wyatt there and asked him if he’d consider a discount if I would review the boots (of course no promises were made or requested for a favorable tone – more on that later too). He agreed and offered me a code for about 40% off. Between my curiosity and the fact I could probably get about half that for the J.Crew Kenton boots (my review and follow-up of those are here) these are replacing, it made it a no-brainer.
Ordering and Delivery:
I ordered on Tuesday night, and they shipped from the GS warehouse in CT on Wednesday. They arrived this afternoon (Friday). Aside from alacrity of order/shipment, I also felt good that these weren’t a specially-prepared pair for review.
Makeup and Materials Details:
* Maker: Grant Stone
* Shoe Name: Ottawa Boot
* Design: NST (Norwegian Split Toe), also called “Tanker boot”
* Construction: GYW Construction
* Leather: “Crimson” - brown Horween Chromexcel, with a slightly reddish tinge
* Lining: Glove leather
* Welt: Split reverse storm welt
* Last: Leo last
* Lacing: 4 eyelets, 3 speed hooks
* Hardware: Antique Brass
* Sole: Double (?) leather sole
* Details: Cork footbed, steel shank
* Album Here
A quick word on the review thing:
In my career, I am a product analyst in the tech industry, and I also have a photography blog where I’ve been requested to review things (mainly provided at no charge) on occasion. Whether free, discounted or paid for in full, I don’t manage my opinions to please anyone. Aside from it being shady, I just don’t see the upside in it. I value my reputation, and I’m an honest and straightforward guy. Take that with whatever grain of salt you want. On the footwear side, I’m judging based on what I currently own: three pairs of Alden boots, plus two pairs of shoes, and I love all of them a lot – frankly GS had a tall order to compete with these. I have a pair of J.Crew Ludlow boots mentioned above that these will replace. I also have nine pairs of AE shoes (I’m not a fan of their boots, with one recent exception mentioned below). Personality-wise, I’m picky about details, but with perspective (in other words, I know the world is an imperfect place). I’ve done several reviews and first impressions here (and plan to do more once I get some downtime). Net: this is all just my honest opinion.
Nice box. Nothing is generic, and clearly they’re going for an experience here - Even the wrapping paper is branded and has a cool design on it. My shoes came pre-laced with leather laces (kinda cool) and inside of the box there was a “Thank You” card from Wyatt that appears to be hand-signed (which appeals to my Southern nature). Nice brown flannel bags with wood-knobbed pull-strings were included, as was a small keychain shoehorn that doubles as a bottle-opener. A+ on this one.
Honestly, my first thought was “Wow, these things are freakin’ beefy!” The leather felt great, and they looked really good. I immediately started taking pictures (my phone isn’t great - better pix eventually). It is CXL, so there are a few superficial things here and there in the leather, but everything looks really good.
As mentioned before, these are a hand-stitched split-toe, most often called an NST or Tanker. Some folks have said the Ottawa boots are knock-offs of the Alden NST, and while at a glance they do generally resemble them I’d say the shoe industry has many, many classic designs that makers put their own spin on. How many longwings can you count? If you put an AE MacNeil next to an Alden longwing in similar leathers, most people will struggle to identify which is which. Same thing with my natty CXL AE Academys vs. the Alden plain toe derby. That isn’t just to say there are differences in build, lasts, etc., but that lots of classic designs get picked up and put a spin on. And so it is here. The heel counter is more in the zone of a service boot (where Alden has a very simple, clean design) and Grant Stone (GS) incorporates some motion in the cut. They go with a 4/3 eyelet/hook design vs. Alden’s 5/4, which are beefier-looking and allow use of leather laces. I switched to the (included) cotton laces, which aren’t waxed. I was a little chafed at that, but once they were on the shoes they looked pretty good. I might still go back and wax them. The laces are wider than my Alden laces by 1-2mm, and with the much beefier eyelets and hooks I don’t think narrower laces will look good. Probably more on that when I follow up. Beyond the heel counter, the cut, last-shape and stitching choices are a little different when I look at the pictures of the two, and looking at my Alden Barrie-lasted boots. The Aldens NSTs present elegance, the Grant Stones are a little more casual and rugged-looking, but still can dress up. They come from similar origins, but they really have distinctive looks.
Build & Quality
Other than a few small bumps that I’m guessing came from being sloshed around the box, I literally can’t find anything to gripe about. The stitching looks perfect. There are zero loose threads inside or out. The sole stitching is perfectly done and has a very premium look to it. The stitching on the uppers is tight and well-done from everything I can see. The welt joins are extremely tight. The lining is super-soft – only my Alden Suede WTB’s are as soft. I guess the only quibble I have is the exposed backing on the eyelets that Alden covers with a strip of leather to protect the tongue.
Fit: Damn near perfect. The Leo last is close to the Barrie last for me dimensionally, but feels different and might actually fit better than my leather Alden wingtip boots on Barrie. They fit similarly out of the box as my suede Alden wingtip boots (which are my most comfortable boot, though these are already a close second out of the box). The last feels a tiny bit looser in the heel (though my understanding is the footbed is pretty generous on cork, so I’m guessing that is temporary – it is very minor in any case), a little more tapered in the mid-foot and finishes in a way that seems paradoxically more tapered and more generous at the toe. I’ll have to go back and mix pairs on my foot at some point when I do a follow-up, but the net is the Leo last is pretty much perfect for my foot (at least from try-on and a night of wear). I’ll wait until break-in is done to call it between Leo and Barrie. But it will be close unless something breaks on the GS.
This is easy - these are great. I’d recommend them to anyone on merit alone. Considering the price, they’re amazing. I liked the Kentons, but these are in a different league in just about every way. I’ve been a big fan of the Allen Edmonds Higgins Mill boots too, but pretty much the same thing applies here too. The HM’s are really nice boots, but the Grant Stones punch in a higher weight class despite a similar list price. The personality is different than Alden – I don’t think anyone who looks more than superficially will think these are Alden NST’s – but first impressions are the quality is really similar. I’d like to see some options with commando soles (I seem to be in the minority of people who don’t like Dainite), and some shell would be nice…
I’m heading to Japan in a day or so, and I’m going to take these and stomp around in them. It is actually the same thing I did with my natty CXL Indy boots, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ll try to take some good pix. Hope this stupidly-long write-up helps. I’ll have a few chances to answer questions Saturday, but will be out of pocket traveling for a while after that, but will follow up during the trip.
Post-Japan Update: Album - I've worn them 7 times and put easily 35 miles on the boots (walked all over the place in Japan), and the Ottawa boots performed really, really well. I did manage to ding the sole at the toe, and it bulged a bit for a couple days while I...trained...it back into shape (meaning I rubbed it on metal or marble floors to get it to a regular shape).
Comfort: In a word, flawless. I was right about the Leo last. Haven't had a chance to get my Alden's back on my feet since getting home, but I'm really happy with the fit and comfort of the Leo last. My AE's were really working on my pinky toes the days I wore them - not normally an issue at home as they see 1/2 the mileage - but felt good every day after wearing the Grant Stones.
Durability/Quality: I'm impressed so far. No evidence of loose grain at all, just some subtle rolls and general wear - I'd guess they're keeping a close eye on clicking - probably easier when production volume is small, but really great nonetheless. The CXL is really soft and thick, so it does catch marks, etc., but they pretty much disappear with a firm rub with a damp finger and a bit of brushing. As expected, the tongue is taking wear from the exposed backs of the eyelets, but I just wiped a tiny bit Saphir Renovateur on them and brushed and the leather returned to its regular color, though the indentations remain. I'm OK with that. The eyelet backs are very smooth and I'll just keep an eye on it.
Final Comments: I'll wait a few months to do a formal, separate update, but I'm an unreserved fan at this point. For initial quality, I'd rate the GS boots as good or better in terms of build and quality to any of my Alden boots - not something I say lightly at all.
Where I am today:
I've got easily 70 miles on these boots, and they have been just plain fantastic. They feel like lifetime-quality. The leather is aging really well. I wore them on a trip to NYC last week, and put at least another dozen miles on them stomping around. I feel like any issues I'd have would have shown up by now, and they're getting more wear than any of my other boots at this point. This pic is after a long day of running around NYC:
I'd really love to have a pair of their tan calf plain-toes, and will probably find an excuse to order a pair sooner or later.
While I got mine at a discount, I'd feel just as good about them at their full price of $360 and recommend them without reservation.
Edited by M635Guy - 11/24/16 at 7:11pm