Helm Boots Hollis Review: Not for the Faint of White Midsole

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by  William Barton | Last Updated: 
Helm Boots Hollis Review Helm Hollis in Brown on Blank Background

Helm Boots is bringing American heritage boot styles back to Austin, Texas. You’re probably wondering if that’s a good thing.

In our Helm Boots review, we take a close look at the Hollis to find out exactly what this brand is up to.

White midsole, anyone?
Review Feature Image/Icon Image source: Helm

Helm Hollis

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Bottom line: The Helm Boots Hollis has a solid balance between a workwear aesthetic and a more dressy, narrow shape. Its two strong-suits are its quality leather and overall comfort with the lining and insole, but the rubber heel toplift is only 5mm, which will quickly present durability issues.

Ratings:

At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Design At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon
At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Quality of Materials At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon
At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Craftsmanship At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon
At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Fit & Sizing At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon
At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Value for Money At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon

Pros:

  • The Rockford leather is beautiful, durable, and classy
  • Blake Rapid Stitch construction is flexible, lightweight, but still offers decent water resistance
  • There’s a huge range of sizes available
  • The padded footbed and flexible sole make for a comfortable experience right away

Cons:

  • The toplift on the heel is 5mm, which will wear down quickly for me (under 12 months) based on how I walk

I like to think I was on the forefront of the great Californian exodus. 

After living in Cali for 25 years, I packed up and headed east for North Carolina. Many of my fellow statesmen, however, shipped off to Austin, Texas. 

Much more fun. 

One of those transplants, a friend of mine, said I absolutely had to try out Helm Boots. After checking out their selection, I landed on the Hollis

Keep reading to get my full thoughts.

Helm Hollis Overview

Helm Boots on white background

The Helm Hollis is a slimmed down cap toe boot. Two of the brand’s other most popular boots are the Zind and the Marion.

On one hand, the Zind is a sleek, classy plain toe boot. On the other, the Marion is a beefy cap toe made in the traditional American workwear style. 

The Hollis? It’s a marriage of the two. Some elements are reminiscent of American Heritage footwear, and other elements are akin to slim city-dwelling boots. 

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One thing that all Helm Boots have in common is the white composite rubber midsole. The brand’s philosophy behind it is that there’s “a fine line between good and great,” suggesting that they’re on the great side of that line. 

I personally dig the style. While some folks hate it, I think most cap-toe boots are a dime a dozen, and finding something unique is rare. To me, that white midsole adds a pop to the boot and separates it from the pack. 

Things to Consider Before Buying the Helm Hollis

Helm Boots hollis toe cap boot on model

The Helm Hollis sits solidly in what I call the “mid-tier” of boots. I classify entry level between $150- $250, mid-level between $250-$350, and anything beyond that top level. 

So the Hollis is up against some heavy hitters like the Red Wing Iron Ranger and Wolverine 1000 Mile.

When compared to those boots, there are some solid reasons to pick the Hollis, but it really depends on what you’re looking for. I’ll continue to explore which boot you should get depending on your needs throughout this review, but if you want to skip straight to the comparisons and alternatives, head down to the Alternatives section toward the end. 

Helm Hollis

The Helm Boots Hollis has a solid balance between a workwear aesthetic and a more dressy, narrow shape. Its two strong-suits are its quality leather and overall comfort with the lining and insole, but the rubber heel toplift is only 5mm, which will quickly present durability issues.

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Helm Boots Review: The Hollis

First Impression

Helm Boots hollis profile view on model

I picked up the Helm Hollis in the Brown colorway. I love a brown boot and was mainly interested in seeing the quality of the Rockford leather they use.

The shape reminds me a little of the Thursday Captain, at least in the upper. But the sole is much more rugged and dynamic looking.

From a style perspective, the Hollis is an awesome casual boot. The leather has a decent shine to it, but not so much as Horween Chromexcel, the cap toe and rubber lug sole is rugged, and the slimmed toe box makes it more classy.

It’s certainly not a dress boot, but the style is super versatile and you could pull it off with a pair of slim fit jeans and a henley, or rock it with a heavy wool peacoat and chinos. 

Leather Quality and Care

Helm Boots toe cap detail on hollis

As I mentioned, I picked up the brown Rockford leather option. The leather is tanned by Bermudez Leather in the Dominican Republic. 

It’s a hot-stuffed leather, much like Horween Chromexcel. However, it’s not quite as packed with oils and waxes as Chromexcel, which gives it a slightly more matte appearance. 

That said, across all the boots I own, the Hollis still is on the more shiny side, at least out of the box. 

It’s pretty evident there is a good deal of wax stuffed into this leather. It feels a touch stiff at first (though that didn’t make a difference in the break in period). As I took my first steps in the boot, I could see the creases really start to pop. 

Helm Boots antique brass eyelets

It’s an interesting characteristic of the Rockford leather: the grain break is pretty significant, which I don’t think is an aesthetic issue with these boots because they’re more on the rugged side. But if you’re looking for a dress boot, I think the creasing here is a bit too much (not to mention that the style doesn’t really fit the “dress-boot” mold). 

Overall, the Bermudez Rockford leather is really high quality. Helm uses thick hides and the construction of the upper is super well done. The upper is mainly double-stitched, but there are some sections like the toe cap and along the instep that are triple-stitched. 

Based on the quality of the leather and how meticulously these have been crafted, I can see the Helm Hollis lasting a solid 5 years of everyday, no holds barred type wearing. 

But there’s just one issue with that…

Sole

Helm Boots sole branding detail

Because I just left you on a cliffhanger, I feel like I need to dive straight into what I consider to be the biggest negative on the Helm Hollis. 

It’s the rubber toplift, a.k.a. the heel cap. 

The actual insole, midsole, and outsole construction is fantastic on the Hollis. It’s a really well-built boot and the Rapid Blake Stitch construction hits a nice balance between flexibility, comfort, and water resistance. 

But the rubber cap on the heel measures only 5mm thick. 

Helm Boots rubber mini lug sole detail

Helm uses a ton of leather for the stacked heel, which is awesome, and speaks to the level of quality the brand is constructing their boots with. 

But I can say with a high degree of certainty that the top lift will not last more than 12 months. And it’s really just because of the way I walk. 

What’s the first thing to wear out on all of your boots? For me, it’s the heel. As I walk, my heels sometimes scrape the ground, which can cause a slant at the back. 

I’ll have to be very careful to get the top lift replaced because it becomes a hassle (and much more expensive) to replace the heel once you start wearing down into the stacked leather. 

Helm Boots mini lug sole traction

If I can catch the top lift before it bites into the leather, a cobbler can make a simple repair for $15 or $20 to add a new rubber heel cap. 

But I can’t help but feel the thin rubber heel is the weak point of an otherwise sturdy and durable boot.

Otherwise, there’s another side to the sole coin. The insole is super comfortable and made with extra padding. That’s pretty rare to see in boots at this level. I feel like most boot makers shy away from using synthetics in their insole because it’s not “heritage” or “cool.”

But when I think about how uncomfortable Red Wing Iron Rangers can be because it’s just leather and a little hard rubber between my feet and the ground, I wonder why more high-end boot makers don’t try to make the experience a little more cushy.

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Helm does a good job in the comfort department. I like the mini rubber lug sole, too. It has solid traction through rain and snow and is easy to replace at a low price. 

Of course there’s the cool white rubber composite midsole; a signature of the brand, if you will. 

Overall the sole is comfortable, flexible, and durable. But that rubber heel cap is going to be an issue. 

Fit and Sizing

Helm Boots leather break in crease

Helm has a huge selection of sizes for the Hollis. For D-width folks, you can find sizes 6-16. And if you have wider feet, you can get a EE width in sizes 7-13.

I picked mine up in my classic 10.5 D. It’s important to note that unlike many boot makers, Helm fits true to size. 

So where I buy a size 10 for Red Wings, Thursdays, and just about every boot I own, the 10.5 fit best in Helm’s sizing. 

Whatever size your sneakers are, get the same for Helm. 

Break-in Period

Helm Boots on feet midsole view

The break-in period is a total breeze. Or at least that was my experience.

Because the sole is a Blake Rapid Stitch construction, it’s quite light and flexible. There’s also the added padding in the insole, which makes these comfortable right out of the box. 

And while the Rockford leather may seem stiff at first, it’s actually quite supple and breaks in quickly. 

I didn’t have any soreness or blisters with the Helm Hollis. 

What do Other Reviewers Say?

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In reading through the 100+ reviews on Helm’s site for the Hollis, there’s some debate on the break in period. Some reviewers say they had a hard time with the break in (though they almost all say the boots are comfortable now after the break in). Others, like me, had absolutely no issues.

But another common thread I see is that Helm seems to attract people who are really picky about their boots. I’ve read through thousands of boot reviews at this point, and never have I come across so many comments like “They were the answer to my husband’s finicky ways.”

If you’ve only ever been burned by boot brands and have unique feet that don’t seem to fit in most boots, give Helm a shot.

Helm Hollis

The Helm Boots Hollis has a solid balance between a workwear aesthetic and a more dressy, narrow shape. Its two strong-suits are its quality leather and overall comfort with the lining and insole, but the rubber heel toplift is only 5mm, which will quickly present durability issues.

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Helm Hollis Alternatives

Thursday Captain

Thursday captain boots on wet ground

The Thursday Captain is one of my favorite boots and I recommend it a lot to new boot buyers. I’m offering it up as an alternative to the Helm Hollis because the shape is fairly similar. 

If you’re planning on wearing your boots mainly with slim fit jeans as a city-dweller, the Captain is a little more sleek and dressy (but it still has a rugged cap toe look). 

The Hollis absolutely uses better quality leather. But the Captain is 33% less expensive (and features excellent construction). 

I can’t say one is better than the other, but if you have budgetary concerns and that extra $100 is concerning you, check out the Thursday Captain.

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 four years of wear. When (if?) these ever wear out, I’ll be getting them again.

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Red Wing Iron Ranger

Red Wing Iron Ranger 5

The Red Wing Iron Ranger is an old classic. It’s definitely more bulbous and bulky compared to the Helm Hollis, so it’s not a great choice if you plan on wearing your boots to the office. 

But if you’re in the market for a boot that can tackle more rugged projects, I would opt for the Iron Ranger over the Hollis. 

The Iron Ranger is not nearly as comfortable as the Hollis, but if you’re trudging through the mud and cruising through brush, comfort isn’t as high a priority as durability. 

The Iron Ranger’s leather is more scratch resistant (or at least it shows its scratches less prominently), and the Vibram mini lug sole stands up to tough treatment better. 

Grant Stone Cap Toe

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Grant Stone makes some of the best boots I’ve ever tried on. While I haven’t personally worn their Cap Toe boot, I own a pair of their Diesel boots, which are essentially the same thing (but with a plain toe). 

It’s a bit more expensive at the time of writing ($335, compared to the Hollis at $295), but the leather quality, construction, and style is more up my alley. 

Grant Stone uses all leather through the insole and midsole, which bodes well for durability, and the use of full grain vegetable tanned leather heel counters speaks to their attention to detail. 

I think the only reason I would pick the Helm Hollis over the Grant Stone Cap Toe is if you really like the white rubber midsole on the Hollis, or if you like the extra height in the toe box on the Hollis. 

The Grant Stone Cap Toe is much more narrow at the toe, particularly in height. Stylistically, that might not be your thing. In that case, the Helm Hollis is the better choice. 

Grant Stone Cap Toe

Grant Stone makes some of the best boots I’ve ever tried on. While I haven’t personally worn their Cap Toe boot, I own a pair of their Diesel boots, which are essentially the same thing (but with a plain toe).

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My Thoughts Overall On the Helm Boots Hollis

What I Like

  • The Bermudez Tannery Rockford leather is beautiful, durable, and classy.

  • Because Helm uses a Blake Rapid Stitch construction, these boots are flexible, lightweight, and still offer a good deal of water resistance. 

  • With sizes 6-16D and 7-13EE, there is a huge range of sizes so you’re almost certainly able to find something for you. 

  • The padded insole is rare in boots at this level, and it makes for an immediately comfortable experience. 

What I Don’t Like

  • The rubber heel cap (or top lift) is only 5mm thick. For me, the heel rubs down quickly, so I believe I’ll need to replace this within 12 months. It’s an easy operation for a cobbler and only costs $15-$20, but it’s still a hassle to bring my boots in. 

Who is the Helm Hollis for?

The Helm Hollis is an excellent choice for you if you’re looking for a quality versatile everyday boot made with top-notch leather and durable construction.

The Verdict

I like the Helm Hollis a lot. It’s two biggest points in favor are the superb leather quality and the comfort. 

Not many boots in this price range make the kind of effort Helm does on comfort. The padded insole is a big win in my opinion, as I don’t think discomfort is a virtue (though some in the boot community would disagree with me).

My biggest issue is the rubber top lift (or heel cap). At 5mm thick, it’s going to wear down quickly (likely within 12 months of regular wear). 

If I catch it before it bites into the leather heel stack, it’s a quick and easy fix at the cobbler for $20 bucks or so. But if I don’t catch it in time, it can cost $70-$80 to replace the leather heel stack, which is a tough pill to swallow given that’s nearly a third of the price of the boot itself. 

If you’re set on getting the Hollis, you won’t be disappointed. For me, I would pay an extra $40 or so and get the Grant Stone Cap Toe for all its vegetable tanned leather goodness.

Helm Hollis

The Helm Boots Hollis has a solid balance between a workwear aesthetic and a more dressy, narrow shape. Its two strong-suits are its quality leather and overall comfort with the lining and insole, but the rubber heel toplift is only 5mm, which will quickly present durability issues.

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FAQs

Where are Helm Boots made?

Helm Boots are designed in Austin, Texas and manufactured in Brazil.

Are Helm Boots comfortable?

Yes, Helm Boots are extremely comfortable—more so than many other brands at the same price point.

Are Helm Boots waterproof?

Helm Boots use a Blake Rapid Stitch construction. While they’re not waterproof, they’re quite water resistant. So long as you don’t stand in a puddle, your feet shouldn’t get wet.

3 Things Every Boot Wearer Should Own

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