Picking footwear in the colder months is easy: Snow outside? Boots. No snow outside? Boots. Chunky or slim profile, it’s your pick of the litter, any one you choose will look great.
But when things start getting a little warmer and our wardrobe changes from layers to light colored heat-friendly outfits, those winter boots can begin to feel out of place. Jeans and chinos tend to be a little slimmer, hemmed a little higher, and your chunky shit-kickers don’t work anymore because their proportions are off with the rest of the outfit.
That’s where the desert boot comes in. A chukka-style boot made of a single layer of leather, usually suede, with a thin profile sole. Desert boots are the perfect footwear chameleon: They work dressed up with chinos and a blazer, but don’t make you dressed up when you’re just wearing light wash jeans and a t-shirt. In fact, they’re so versatile they can be worn in the winter months, as long as you don’t try to slog the suede versions through slushy conditions.
The original desert boot was invented by Nathan Clark and launched from the Clarks brand in 1950. During his service in the British Army, Mr. Clark discovered a similar chukka-styled boot while exploring the bazaars in Cairo. This boot had a crepe sole: a lightweight, light-colored, bouncy rubber that provides a comfortable sole for long days.
The crepe sole is a big reason for the desert boot’s massive success over the last 65 years.
However, after owning 2 pairs, it’s also the thing I dislike most.
Crepe rubber is a “coagulated latex,” meaning it naturally has a bumpy, soft texture. While it’s comfortable and looks fantastic on a new pair of Desert Boots, the qualities of crepe leather also mean they get irreparably dirty. If your sneaker soles get dirty, simply brush with some soap or OxyClean and you’ll have sun-bright soles again.
But with crepe soles, it seems like the dirt gets sucked into the rubber. So, after only a brief number of wears, the beautiful, light crepe soles get dark. And not in a, “oh these shoes have a dark sole”. Dark as in, clearly they’re dirty. As the crepe sole wears and hits the elements, its bumpy texture exaggerates. The result is a beautiful casual leather boot with gross, bumpy, dirty soles.
I first mentioned Clarks Desert Boots 5 years ago. I continued to wear them into the ground. They’re a fantastic and comfortable boot with extreme versatility.
Eventually my 2 pairs became unwearable because of the dirty crepe sole and the unstructured leather losing its shape. So this time I decided to give Clarks Bushacre 2 a try.
The Bushacre 2 is the same style leather upper, but with a more traditional smooth rubber sole. While the desert boot’s crepe sole is initially a light cream, the Bushacre 2’s sole is medium brown. That means while you lose the great look of the light leather on the light sole in the beginning, you gain a sole that can be cleaned and won’t suck up dirt. Since my Bushacre 2’s are new I can’t say for certain that they won’t get bumpy the way the crepe sole does, but because they’re completely different kinds of rubbers and the crepe sole starts out textured, the chances of it happening are unlikely.
There are rumblings on the web that Bushacre 2’s are Clarks' cheaper model, intended for sale at discount stores like Nordstrom Rack. In fact, Clarks doesn’t even sell the Bushacre 2 on their website. Some assert the leather on the desert boots is of a better quality. However, I have not been able to find any official information on leather or construction quality for either. In-person impressions leave me feeling they’re practically identical in quality and construction. Only time will tell, and I’ll be sure to check back in if I’m proven wrong. But I place my bets on the Bushacre 2 having a longer service life purely because of the advantages of its traditional rubber sole.
Having said all that, the desert boot is still a fantastic choice, and there are good stylistic and heritage reasons you may opt for the original.
The Bushacre 2 comes in a host of colors just as the original. My choice is the Sand Suede. In my opinion, it’s the most versatile of the options. A light, light tan, the Sand Suede looks awesome with slim chinos of any color, as well as light OR dark denim. The other colorways like Beeswax Leather and Dark Brown are great choices too, though they’re look is definitely less spring and summer.
They're affordable too – only $60 on Amazon.
BUT you have to do this…
If you're going to buy Bushacre 2's or desert boots, please learn from my mistake. You HAVE to use shoe trees. The leather is only one layer thick, so after a lot of wearing it begins to wave and pucker and the toe box collapses, losing their smooth silhouette. Shoe trees are made of cedar so as well as keeping shape they also draw out moisture and keep them smelling fresh. Shoe trees can be had for around $20, but if that's not in your budget, at the very least keep the cardboard insert that comes in the boots and put them back in every time you take them off. This will easily multiply the length of time you can wear them.