When the weather starts heating up, I used to put my boots away in favor of sneakers. But as a grown man, I can’t justify it any more.
A few weeks ago, I was thinking, “what looks more refined than sneakers but still has that casual flair?” And then a dude walked by wearing a pair of chukkas.
“Where’d you get those?” I asked.
“They’re Clarks Desert boots,” he said.
I took it as a sign and picked a pair up. I’ve been putting them through the paces the last few weeks and my verdict is in.
Clarks Desert Boot Overview
This iconic boot has its roots in the second World War when Nathan Clark, a British officer, kept seeing his colleagues wearing them off duty while in Burma.
With a family history of boot and shoe making (Clarks has been around since 1820—before Nathan Clark was ever born), Nathan asked around about these stylish pieces.
The story goes that what we now know as the Chukka boot style, all came from the same market in Cairo (thus earning them the Desert boot name). Two pieces of leather sewn to an unrefined rubber sole—that’s it.
Nathan picked up a few pairs of his own, brought them back to his family business, and launched a new phenomenon in 1950.
Things to Consider Before Buying Clarks Desert Boots
There are two major considerations to make before you go out and get yourself a pair of Desert boots from Clarks. At BootSpy, we’re all about style, so our number one consideration is if we have the right wardrobe to fit the boot.
Clarks Desert boots are casual. They don’t keep their shape very well, so they don’t work with tailored suits. Really, the style looks best paired with chinos or jeans. While they’re casual, we don’t recommend wearing them with shorts.
The second consideration is how often you plan on wearing them. Crepe soles are delicate—because they’re not hardened, they fray around the edges and can even chip out if you hit a rock the wrong way.
If you wear this Desert boot every day, you’ll likely wear through the sole in roughly a year and a half. But if you wear them two or three times a week, they’ll last for several years.
It’s also important to note that these don’t keep their shape very well. If you’re looking for a more structured boot, look at a service boot or Chelsea boot style. While you can add shoe trees in your chukkas to keep the shape, the leather on the Desert boot will relax over time.
Clarks Desert Boot Review
We have an in-depth YouTube review on the Clarks Desert Boot, so if you’re more of a visual person, we’ve got you covered:
When I first opened the box, I was hit with a wave of fresh leather scent, which is always promising.
I got the Beeswax colorway, which is a simple matte leather look. The light crepe sole offers a pleasant contrast to the leather, and I felt that this basic colorway is similar to what Nathan Clark put out into the world 70 years ago.
This is my first and only pair of Desert boots, and I was shocked at how simple they are. Clarks makes their iconic boot with only a few pieces of leather that are sewn and glued to the sole.
These slip onto my feet—I don’t have to untie them or anything—and the 10.5 (my sneaker size) fit well, so I kept them.
Leather Quality and Care
Because the Desert boot is so simple, Clarks has done a fantastic job offering high quality leather as the star of the show.
There’s no information about the leather grade on the brand’s official website, but looking at the exposed cross-sections, I’d guess that the Desert boot is made with the transition between top-grain and full-grain leather.
It’s not the highest grade, but it’s still priced fairly.
The Clarks Desert boot is made with pull up leather, which means the leather has been saturated with oils and waxes. When you bend the shoe, you’ll notice the creases become lighter. This is from the oils being pushed away from that specific portion of the hide.
This lends a custom, broken-in look for these boots, even when you’ve only been wearing them for an hour.
It’s easy to get rid of these light marks though—just rub them with your finger and they’ll disappear. The friction will heat and redistribute the oils in the leather so you get an even tone.
Pull up leather doesn’t need to be conditioned nearly as often as other types of leather. With regular wear (two-three times a week) clean and condition every six-nine months.
Part of the beauty of these boots is that they’ll develop a patina quickly and look as if they were built around your foot. The leather will hold onto its oils, so there’s no need to overwork it. We recommend only cleaning and reconditioning if you get water stains or if you’re in a hot environment.
We broke down the cleaning process right here on our YouTube channel:
Further Reading: How to Clean Clarks Desert Boots in 4 Easy Steps
The most distinctive part of the Clarks Desert boot is the crepe sole.
Crepe rubber is a coagulated latex which means the raw sap of the rubber tree is removed and treated in a way that creates long sheets of rubber. Crepe is fairly unrefined compared to other types of leather.
Because it’s relatively unprocessed, crepe rubber is very soft.
When you’re wearing any boot with crepe soles, you’ll notice they’re squishy. This has its positives and negatives.
On the plus side, they’re comfortable for walking around sidewalks and other flat surfaces. Crepe has a lot of grip on dry ground and is fairly silent.
But that softness comes at a cost. Crepe soles don’t last as long as other types of rubber soles. The heel can chip away if you step on a rock at the wrong angle, and they rub and pill at the edges.
The rubber also picks up a lot of dirt and grime from the ground, so your soles will look dirty within minutes of first putting on your boots.
It’s difficult for cobblers to resole the Desert boot. If you have an experienced shoe repair person you trust, you might get it done, but mostly, once the sole wears out you’ll want to find another pair of boots.
I’ll be wearing these bad boys once or twice a week to reduce the amount of wear-and-tear. If you’re looking to wear them as your main shoe, expect them to last roughly a year and a half.
Fit and Sizing
Clarks Desert boots only come in the standard D-width. Most folks find they fit comfortably, but if you have a wider foot, these might feel a little tight. However, the leather stretches quickly (especially the suede models) so you shouldn’t feel discomfort for long.
The boot doesn’t have a shank in it, so it’s best to add an orthopedic insert if you have flat feet.
I wouldn’t recommend Desert boots for anything other than walks around the city or indoors. Both the fit and the delicate sole make these unsuitable for hiking, working, or doing something cool like playing street ball.
I see them more as an elevated alternative to sneakers. And like a standard pair of sneakers, they don’t offer a ton of ankle support. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but don’t expect these to be your go-to rugged boots.
I didn’t have any trouble breaking in the boots—the leather is so soft that I didn’t get any aches or pains. I ordered a half-size smaller than my usual and I still experienced a good deal of heel-slip.
The heel-slip is going away after a few weeks (I’ve worn them five times), which makes sense: the leather is stretching and forming to my foot.
There’s still a little slip in the back, but even brand new the heel-slip didn’t cause any discomfort.
I expect these boots to be fully broken in after another few weeks (about eight wears total).
What do Other Reviewers Think?
On Amazon, folks give the original Clarks Desert boot a 4.3 star average out of 5, which is solid considering they’ve racked up over 3,000 reviews.
For most people, it’s a year and a half cycle. You can expect these to go for about 18 months if you wear them as your main boot (meaning four to five times a week).
The crepe sole just doesn’t have the durability to go longer than that. And some reviewers take issue with that—they’re the “durability trumps all” crowd.
They have a point, but there’s no denying that style and comfort are just as important when choosing the right boots.
A simple way to ensure your desert boots make it past the 18-month mark is to wear them less frequently. If you wear them two or three times a week and let them rest with shoe trees, you should have them for several years.
Clarks Desert Boot Alternatives
Red Wing Heritage Weekender Chukka
The first is that the Red Wing Chukka is nearly double the price. With that added price comes a few features. The rubber sole isn’t crepe, but has been texturized to have that classic crepe look. It’s more durable, but has a “faux distressing” along the sides which may be a little off-putting for some.
The Red Wings also have a goodyear welt, meaning the soles can be re-done after they wear out. This is a huge advantage if you like to keep your shoes around for longer than two or three years.
J. Crew Macalister
If you like the look of Desert boots after they’ve broken in and lost much of their shape, check out J.Crew’s Macalister boot.
It’s made with soft Italian suede, which will meld to your foot in a matter of hours. It takes away some of the formality of the leather boot, but you end up with something that’s like a leather slipper.
The style isn’t for everyone, but one of the big draws to the Desert boot Chukka style is that stretched-out, relaxed leather.
Expensive Pick – Alden Unlined Chukka
If you absolutely love the Chukka style and have no problem investing a little coin into top-quality shoes, check out Alden’s Unlined Chukka.
Yes, it costs a pretty penny, but it’s one of the best chukkas you can buy.
Alden ditches the rubber sole altogether in favor of a leather sole with a reinforced rubber heel grip. The sole is attached through a 360-degree Goodyear storm welt, so you get a great deal of weather resistance here.
UK Pick – Loake Sahara
The shape and colorways are similar, but Loake replaces the crepe sole with a textured rubber sole that’s a little harder. You’ll get more mileage out of them, but they’ll be less soft on the feet.
My Thoughts Overall On The Clarks Desert Boot
What I Like
The beeswax pull up leather is excellent considering the price point.
The crepe soles are super soft and comfortable.
Clarks Desert boots are the original in a classic style that’s been around for 70 years.
What I Don’t Like
The lack of a shank can be difficult for flat-footed people.
The crepe sole wears out quickly compared to other kinds of soles, and it can get dirty quickly, too
Who is the Clarks Desert Boot for?
This boot is for anyone who thinks sneakers are too unrefined for a casual outfit. Or for anyone who wants the sophistication and style of a leather boot but doesn’t want to sacrifice any comfort.
The Desert boot has defined the Clarks brand. It’s what put them on the shoemaking map 70 years ago, and the style is still a beloved classic.
Nearly every shoe brand has their own version, so there’s no denying the impact Clarks has made in the fashion world.
The leather Clarks are constructed with is excellent quality, and they’ve done a good job sourcing fantastic materials while still keeping the price low.
The crepe sole has its pros and cons: on the positive side, it’s distinctive, super soft, and comfortable. On the negative side, it’s not especially durable and it gets dirty quickly.
At the end of the day, the Clarks Desert boot is a killer choice for those who want to keep their casual outfits elevated, but don’t want to wear anything that feels like it was made for the office.
Are Clarks Desert Boots comfortable?
Yes, Clarks Desert boots are very comfortable. The rich, supple leather is soft and breaks in quickly, and the crepe sole is spongy and easy on the feet.
Are Clarks Desert Boots worth it?
It depends. The materials used in Clarks are certainly worth every penny—it’s really a good deal. But these boots have distinctive qualities that may be big turn-offs for you.
Do Clarks Desert Boots break in?
Yes, in our experience, they break in very quickly because of their soft leather. Folks with flat feet may want to use an insert to help as they can be very uncomfortable.
How long do Clarks Desert Boots last?
If you wear Clarks Desert boots five or six times a week, they will likely last between 12 and 18 months. If you let them rest and add shoe trees when not wearing (only wearing them two or three times a week), they’ll last several years.