There’s no more important part of a boot than its sole. It’s the first line of defense between your feet and the ground. But with so many soles to choose from, it’s hard to pick the one that’s fit for purpose.
It’s not just about the look; it’s about the functionality, so here’s a list of the different boot soles you can find on your footwear, along with their pros and cons.
14 Types of Boot Soles You Should Know
1. Leather Soles
Leather soles can be worn in wet conditions, though it’s best to stick with rubber soles in the rain because leather softens up when wet and can get damaged more easily—leather is naturally porous, so prolonged contact with water won’t do it any favors.
While many leather soles are pre-treated using a chemical called Butyl, which helps increase the water resistance, you may want to take extra measures, such as applying a leather treatment specifically designed for leather soles (I particularly like Saphir Medaille d’Or Sole Guard).
Such treatments not only help to increase the water resistance, they also nourish and soften the leather, keeping it supple and in tip-top condition.
Leather is one of my favorite sole types for its classic look and feel. Sacrificing some grip and durability for style is a given, but it’s a reasonable trade-off, in my opinion.
One of the most comfortable soles around.
Easy to resole.
Less durable than most soles.
Not water resistant.
They need to be maintained to keep them going for longer.
2. Combination Sole
A combination sole is exactly what it sounds like; a combination of two materials. It’s a leather sole with rubber stuck on top of it, usually at your sole’s heel and toe section.
This offers the same benefits as a leather sole, the superb comfort and look, and the additional grip and durability that rubber brings to the table.
A dress shoe with a combination sole works very well. The profile is still low and offers the same classic look as a leather sole, but the rubber adds a layer of protection, which should increase the lifespan of your boots.
The Thursday Cavalier is Goodyear welted, leather lined, and offers excellent value. This particular Shadow Grey version is forever battling it out for the title of my favorite casual everyday Chelsea boot, and even with 20+ pairs of shoes in my closet, it's very often my go-to.
Maintains a traditional look.
Increases the grip of your soles dramatically.
It should improve the lifespan of your boots.
A cost-effective upgrade.
Visible rubber when walking detracts from the look.
Offers no real waterproofing benefits.
Lose the nice clacking noise when walking on a hard floor, replaced with a rubbery squeak.
Dainite, a subsidiary of the UK-based Harboro company, is one of the premier ranges of boot soles, with the studded sole being one of the best soles.
A studded boot crafted from Dainite is usually expensive; you’ll often find the price of boots with studded Dainite well over the $300 range.
The plus is you’re paying a premium for a sole of serious quality, and you get a balance of a sleek profile, durability, comfort, and excellent grip. A notable example of a pair of boots with a studded sole is the Thursday Captain.
The Thursday Captain is an excellent deal. Made with Thursday's Chrome leather from Le Farc tannery (often compared to Horween Chromexcel), these boots are still holding up well after five years of wear. When (if?) these ever wear out, I’ll be getting them again.
Low profile, ideal for a dress boot.
Recessed lugs offer a good grip without compromising the look.
It has inspired several other brands to copy the recessed lug.
A sign of a quality boot.
A costly purchase.
You can find other brands using a similar sole for a lower price.
If boot soles were vehicles, the Commando sole would be the monster truck; it’s a chunky sole with deep lugs that can grip pretty much anything.
A Commando sole gives you exceptional grip and superb durability—they’re perfect for outdoor boots. Commando boots are often made by Vibram, like the Grant Stone Brass, so they’re great for when you need boots that can handle bad weather and even worse terrain.
The design was created by an Italian mountaineer, Vitale Bramani, who knew that leather, hobnailed boots just weren’t safe enough for climbing in. After losing several friends to climbing accidents, the Italian decided that what was needed was a boot with serious grip, and so the Commando boot (and, consequently, soul) was born.
The Grant Stone Brass boot is a total beast. The construction and stitching is meticulous and the build quality is the best I’ve experienced. While I personally prefer a slightly slimmer style, there’s no denying that the Grant Stone Brass Boot is one of the best value-offers in boots today.
Best grip of any sole.
A thick and durable sole can last for years.
Superb for working outdoors, hiking, and mountaineering.
Not suitable for a dress shoe.
Great as an outdoor work boot but poor for indoor use.
5. Ridgeway (Dainite)
Ridgeway soles offer excellent traction, though with shallower lugs than a chunky Commando sole, and it’s slightly thicker than your standard Dainite sole. You’re getting a better grip, which makes a Ridgeway sole an excellent choice if you’re after a stylish boot that still offers you the rugged feel of a solid work boot.
You’re more likely to see a Ridgeway sole on a high-quality country boot, as it’s stylish yet excellent for smart boots. Think showjumping boot rather than cowboy boot, and you’re in the right area.
Check out the Taft Dragon for a good example of a Ridgeway sole.
Compromise between grip and profile.
Excellent grip, as expected from Dainite.
Hardwearing and durable.
A medium profile is suitable for both dress and work boots.
Surprisingly rare to find.
Expensive, Dainite plus scarcity equals cost.
All-rounder that doesn’t quite find a home,which possibly explains its scarcity.
I’ve worn wedge soles for both work and dress boots. I’ve found wedge soles protect your feet when walking on cold surfaces, like a concrete floor in a warehouse.
The rubber or polyurethane sole has a good grip, and as the bottom is flat, there’s a more extensive surface area in contact with the floor. I would happily recommend a wedge sole boot, though they’re not fantastic on slippery surfaces like ice.
That said, boots with a wedge sole can make great work boots, particularly for welders or ironworkers, since they’re sturdy and supportive for standing up for extended periods. They’re usually made from rubber, making them comfortable and durable.
But it isn’t only about function. Wedge soles also look smart, as you can see with the Red Wing Classic Moc Toe boot.
The Red Wing Classic Moc Toe boot has quite a large toe box, which can be off-putting for some, though it’s an ideal match for American Heritage workwear aesthetic. The Puritan Triple stitching, 360-degree Goodyear welt, and thick full grain leather footbed all make for a beast of a boot that will easily last years.
Works well as a dress or work boot sole.
Comfortable and durable.
Flat sole that doesn’t pick up debris.
Great for environments where there are trip hazards.
The thicker heel area offers excellent shock absorption.
Not great in icy conditions.
It doesn’t increase your height as much as a heeled boot will.
Crepe soles have been around for ages. They’re a traditional sole mostly made out of coagulated latex. The latex is pressed, rolled, and turned into soles.
I’m not a massive fan of crepe soles; they don’t go well with dress boots and are nowhere near as robust as actual rubber soles. They have a place, though, and the Clarks Desert Chukka Boot looks great with a crepe sole, as do several Red Wing moc toe boots.
Great for casual footwear.
Soft and comfortable.
Have a better grip than leather.
More durable than leather.
Pick up dirt and debris easily.
Quickly discolor the sole, which also alters color with age.
Restricted to casual wear.
As waterproof and oil resistant as a sponge.
Doesn’t age very well.
8. Cork Nitrile
Much like a combination sole, a cork nitrile sole is a mixture of materials, though in this case, we’re looking at a cork and rubber combination rather than leather and rubber. Like a combination sole, a cork nitrile sole brings the benefits of the two materials together.
You’ll find cork nitrile soles feel lighter than a standard rubber sole, and the rubber makes them much more durable than a cork sole would typically be. If I’m honest, they’re not the most attractive soles around, but they’re cheap, durable, and surprisingly comfortable.
If you’re looking for a justifiable reason to buy a pair of boots with a cork nitrile sole, then you’ll be pleased to hear that Indiana Jones himself favors these boots.
Much more durable than cork alone.
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Better grip than a leather sole.
They are suited to casual wear rather than dress wear.
Indiana. Jones. Boots.
Terrible in icy weather.
Not the most attractive sole around.
Over time, they’ll lose their comfort.
9. Rubber Lug
The rubber lug sole is one of the most widespread soles available. It’s an inexpensive, durable sole with a much better grip than leather.
While you’ll have to replace a leather sole every couple of years, a rubber lug will prove a much hardier addition to your boots, offering better grip and wearing down much more slowly.
It’s a great choice for work boots that will see some heavy footfall. I find a rubber lug absorbs much of the impact when walking, especially on rough terrain.
Plus, this type of sole offers you as much waterproofing as a more expensive Dainite sole will, but for a drastically reduced price. You’re obviously sacrificing some of the aesthetic, but you’ll likely not find a more resilient or cost-effective option for a work boot sole.
The Velasca Resegott is an outstanding boot and the price is very fair for the quality. The double-stitched stitchdown construction, heavy Vibram lug sole, oiled suede, and fully gusseted tongue make for a virtually waterproof boot that looks great and can tackle tough terrain.
Robust and hardwearing.
Great for Icy or wet conditions.
Lasts a lot longer than leather soles.
Ideal material for outdoor work.
Absorbs impact well.
Can be surprisingly heavy.
Can crack over time.
Not useful for dress boots.
Not the sleekest-looking sole, but great for trekking in poor conditions.
Large lugs will need to be cleared of debris often; there’s no sadder sound than your wooden floor being scratched by the stone stuck in the rubber lugs.
10. Camp Sole
A camp sole is a bit of an enigma, taking its name from the fact that, after a long day of hiking, it was (or maybe still is) common to swap your chunky hiking boots out for a comfortable pair of camp shoes, like a pair of moccasins.
A camp sole is a casual wear sole, ideal for a gentle stroll or wearing out to a meal perhaps. With a flat rubber sole and a low profile, you’re not going to find a camp sole on a pair of work boots, but a casual or dress shoe could work quite well.
A camp sole is lightweight and stylish, and you’d be surprised at the amount of grip you get for what’s essentially a flat rubber sole. Rancourt & Co offers a good range of camp sole moccasins, such as the Gilman Camp-moc.
Stylish and low profile.
Surprisingly good grip.
Versatile; can be used for numerous roles.
Not suitable for rough terrain.
Poor arch support.
11. Raw Cord
Another rare sight these days is a pair of boots with a raw cord sole, though it’s hardly a surprise given their origins. Raw cord soles were introduced during World War II when a considerable shortage of materials due to the increased need for combat boots meant a new sole had to be found.
The solution was to melt down old car tires, which had a stringy nylon chord inbuilt for added durability on the road. This new material gave birth to the rather odd-looking raw cord sole, though now these rare soles are created from polyamide rubber cord instead.
The raw cord sole is well-cushioned and durable, as you’d expect from a sole that has a nylon cord permeating throughout the rubber. They also offer solid grip, which was their primary goal when used for combat boots during the 1940s.
The unique history behind them.
Durable and hard wearing.
Inexpensive material, especially the originals using melted down tires.
Rare to find boots with these soles.
Not the most appealing to look at.
Polyurethane is rapidly becoming the most popular sole material, thanks to the seriously impressive benefits of this relatively new organic polymer. Polyurethane, or PU, as it’s widely known, is a natural progression in sole technology.
When you list the requirements for a great sole, you usually have to pick one material over another; leather for comfort and style, Vibram for durability, and so on. But with PU, science has found a way to blend as many features as possible into one material.
Polyurethane is low-density, flexible, and cheap to produce, making it an ideal material for a boot sole. It’s flexible, elastic, and incredibly comfortable while remaining super durable.
You can find PU soles on anything from safety boots to sandals, running shoes, and Wellington boots, and thanks to being pretty much waterproof, its benefits are plenty. While leather is more stylish and breathes better, your PU boots will last a lot longer and cost a lot less.
More durable than leather.
Cheaper and lighter than vulcanized rubber.
Useful for several types of footwear.
It doesn’t lose comfort over time as EVA does.
More breathable than PVC.
Not great for a dress shoe; it’s not stylish like leather or Dainite.
Not as environmentally friendly as natural materials.
Just isn’t as stylish as more ‘traditional’ soles.
PVC, or Polyvinyl Chloride, is quite similar to polyurethane as a material in that both offer great chemical resistances. PVC is also waterproof, acts as an insulator, and is a durable material widely used for footwear that might see a lot of contact with water.
As a sole, PVC does offer several advantages to other soles, though there are negatives that can’t be ignored. PVC soles are notoriously slippy, have poor overall grip, and are not very porous, so you can often find your feet getting sweaty.
I’m not a fan of PVC soles or, indeed, PVC on footwear in general. I find it to feel much more like plastic than any other materials on offer. It is durable, so you’ll get a good investment return, but other options are available that simply do a better job.
Chemical resistance could be ideal for a work boot in an environment where that is a concern.
Pressure molding creates a very strong, stable mold.
It can be like walking on ice skates; the grip is negligible.
Very dense material that won’t let your feet breathe.
Feels cheap and tacky.
It doesn’t look terrific, although that’s not the primary goal for a waterproof work boot.
In case you were wondering, it stands for Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene; yeah, I call it ABS too. ABS is a bit of a newcomer to the boot sole market.
It’s been around for about 50 years, which is a fair point when you remember that the Romans wore leather-soled boots 2000 years ago.
ABS is a tough material made from a cheap, readily available polymer that’s flexible enough to mold easily. Because of that, you’ll often find running shoes made of the material. They’re resilient yet pliable enough to be great for sports shoes.
As well as being handy for running shoes, ABS is resistant to solvents, acids, and oils, making it a great sole for a work boot where you’re working around toxins. The sole can be molded to create a solid grip, and you’ll find it to be surprisingly comfortable.
The arch-enemy of ABS soles is extremes of temperature. They don’t handle extreme cold or extreme heat very well. It’s not unheard of for an ABS sole to begin to weather and crack if exposed to extreme temperatures for long periods.
Inexpensive material reduces the cost of the boot.
Resistant to oils, acids, and chemicals.
Comfortable and shock absorbent, which is why many running shoes use ABS.
Long lasting, polymers are hardwearing.
For indoor use only.
Poor heat and cold resistance.
Not easy to resole.
It’s easy to forget just how many options are available for boot soles, and each type of sole serves a different purpose. Some are built for durability and traction, and others are built to be cheap and easy to attach.
If I’m going for a hike, I like the Commando type sole. Sure, it’s a bit heavy and clunky, but if I’m ever crossing mud or ice, I love the feeling of stability under my feet. For city-living, I often find myself opting for rubber studded soles for a mix of comfort and traction. And for more formal events, leather is the only way to go.