I’ve been on a big “USA-made” kick lately for my new boots.
That means exploring with different boot brands I’ve never tried before.
But in my search, I came across a lesser-known boot from one of my favorite brands: the Thursday Vanguard.
So when I saw the Vanguard, I had to get it.
In this review, I’m going to explain what sets the Vanguard apart from other Thursday Boots (hint: it’s more than just the USA-made origin), and by the end, you’ll know whether this boot is right for you.
Thursday Boots Vanguard Overview
At the time of writing, the Thursday Vanguard comes in six different leather options. I’m reviewing the Horween French Roast version, though I’ve also had experience with the Horween No. 8 (with my Wolverine 1000 Mile boots) and the Horween Waxed Cocoa (with the Thursday Loggers).
There’s one version of this boot that doesn’t use Horween leather, and that’s the Burnt Copper, which uses Thursday’s own Rugged & Resilient leather.
The Vanguard is a bit more expensive than other Thursday Boots. The biggest reason being that everything in the boot is American: the eyelets, the shank, the Poron midsole—it’s all made in the USA.
You may be wondering what the differences between the Vanguard and Captain are. Read my full breakdown of how the Thursday Vanguard compares to the Captain. And check out what a pair of Thursday Captains look like after four years.
Things to Consider Before Buying the Thursday Vanguard
Is USA-made a priority for you? If so, these are the Thursday boots for you.
But if that’s not such a big deal to you, there are a few other reasons why you might get the Vanguard.
The heel is a good centimeter taller than on other Thursday Boots. This may not seem like a lot, but a lot of guys find this a bit uncomfortable at first.
I know I did, but I actually prefer the higher heel as it helps my posture a lot and I’ve had less back pain after long days of walking. But it did take a week or two to get used to.
Also, the Thursday Vanguard features a 360-degree Goodyear welt, so it’s fully recraftable. That means when the sole wears out, you can have a cobbler add a new one. So if you want a pair of boots you can wear for years and years, collecting stories in, the Vanguard is a great option.
Thursday Vanguard Review
I expected these boots to be virtually identical to my Captains (with different leather, of course). But to my surprise, there are enough design differences to warrant a full post comparing the Vanguard and Captain.
If you’re really just comparing those two boots, head to that post for the best information. From here on, this review will focus on the positives and negatives of the Vanguard.
I picked up the Thursday Vanguard in the Horween French Roast leather, which has a subtle shine to it and a beautiful chestnut brown color.
The first thing I noticed is that the heel is higher than on my other Thursday Boots. And it’s higher than most other boots I have in my collection.
I measured the Vanguard against some of my favorites, the Captain, Red Wing Iron Ranger, and Grant Stone Diesel, and the heel of the Vanguard is a full centimeter taller than on those boots.
This felt a bit strange when I first tried them on, but as I said earlier, I actually like it as it helps keep my posture a little straighter throughout the day.
I love the style of this boot. It’s more narrow through the arch—I’ll discuss how that affects the fit later in the review—but from a style perspective, this helps the boot stay streamlined looking even after it breaks in.
Thursday sends along a pair of waxed laces in addition to the leather laces that arrive in the boot, but I’m sticking with leather. I think the leather laces add a layer of ruggedness and present the quality a bit more.
The tongue of the Vanguard rises about three centimeters above the shaft of the boot. Practically speaking, I’m not sure this makes much of a difference, but I think it looks cool.
It’s important to note that the tongue isn’t gusseted, so there’s a chance it may slide off to the side. My Thursday Loggers do that, which is a bit annoying, but doesn’t affect the comfort at all.
Leather Quality and Care
Most Vanguard leather options are from Horween, with only the Burnt Copper version being a proprietary Thursday Rugged & Resilient leather.
My Thursday Diplomats are in the Burnt Copper leather, and while I’m a fan of it, I would stick with a Horween leather for the Vanguard.
The leather is 2mm thick, and when you add that to the 1mm glove leather lining, you get 3mm of pure leather throughout the entire boot, which should prove to be plenty durable to whatever you plan on getting into with your Vanguards.
I love Horween Chromexcel. I own about four or five pairs of boots from different brands that use Chromexcel, and I love the way it creases and patinas. Plus, because it has some natural shine to it, you can condition your boots often to keep them classy looking, or let them get beat up and scuffed. You have more options than with the Rugged & Resilient leather.
Also check out the Horween Waxed Cacao. Of all the leather options, that’s my favorite, but I don’t like the Cuban logger heel on the Vanguard (plus I already have the Thursday Logger in Waxed Cacao).
Horween leather is an aniline leather that’s partially vegetable and chrome tanned, and there’s some oil-tanning as well.
This results in a leather that balances pliability, durability, and requires very little care. You can get away with treating these boots once a year—maybe even less frequently.
The outsole is quite similar to other Thursday Boots: it’s a rubber studded sole that provides decent traction in the rain, but doesn’t get crammed with crud.
I like the Thursday studded outsole. I think it could be a bit harder to help with abrasion resistance but the top lift (or heel cap) is a solid centimeter thick so it has a lot of life in it.
As a rough estimate, I’d say the heel has about two years of hard wearing in it before you’ll need to get the top lift replaced. This is the cheapest and easiest repair a cobbler can do to your sole, so make sure you swap out the top lift (heel cap) before you start wearing into the stacked leather heel.
The insole is different though, and much more in line with other American heritage bootmakers.
Thursday has a leather footbed, with a Poron and cork midsole.
I like the addition of Poron, though many guys feel that anything other than leather and cork is a cop-out. To me, the Poron helps make this boot more comfortable. And because I walk around a lot and am on my feet throughout much of the day, I’ll take the extra shock absorption.
Sure, it comes at the expense of some longevity, but I prefer to save the trouble for my back and knees, and I have no doubt these boots will last many, many years.
These feature a 360-degree Goodyear welt, which makes them quite water resistant. I’ve never had an issue with any of my Thursdays leaking water (even when my feet were buried in snow).
Fit and Sizing
Thursday recommends that you order a half size smaller than your sneaker or dress shoe size. I’ve done the same for all my Thursday Boots and have gotten a perfect fit every time.
The Vanguard is a bit different though because the arch is slightly more narrow than most other Thursday Boots.
If you have wider feet, but still normally order a standard D-width boot (as opposed to a EE or EEE), then I recommend getting your sneaker size. You’ll have more room in the toe, but you won’t feel squeezed into the boot.
That said, even if you get your Vanguards and feel they’re a bit snug in the arch, give the leather some time to stretch out. Before you wear them outside, however, leave them on your feet inside for a few hours. If you start to feel tingling, then they’re too small. And if your feet are sliding around, they’re too big.
The Vanguard only comes in D-widths, which is a bummer if you have a wide foot. Usually Thursday has at least one color option in a wider EE width, but that’s not the case here. If you have a EE/EEE foot, then check out the Thursday Captains instead.
Horween Chromexcel usually has a mellow break in period. The leather felt a little stiff in the first two wears because of the three millimeters of thickness (upper leather plus lining), but it only took a mile or two of walking to break in.
Because the Vanguard doesn’t have an EVA-comfort strip like other Thursday Boots, the insole also takes a little more time to break in as the cork midsole takes a few miles to conform to your foot.
As always, I recommend wearing a thicker pair of socks the first few times you wear a new pair of boots to ensure you don’t get blisters, and to stretch the leather a bit. But even if you wear crew socks with the Vanguard, I bet you can still go on a five mile walk without any troubles for the first wear.
What do Other Reviewers Say?
At the time of writing there are nearly 1,000 reviews for the Vanguard on the Thursday website averaging out to a 4.8 out of 5 stars.
So many of the reviewers mention that the Vanguard is their second, third, or fourth pair of Thursdays.
I mean, I can’t judge, as the Vanguard is my eighth pair.
Reviewers who own both the Vanguards and the Captains appreciate the boost in quality, but many miss the speedhooks. It’s true: the Vanguard takes a little long to put on and take off.
Thursday Boots Vanguard Alternatives
The Thursday Captain is the most obvious alternative to the Vanguard for a few key reasons: first, it’s about $70 less expensive. And second, there are more leather options, and some of those leather options are available in EE/EEE widths.
If you have wider feet, check out the Captain. Make sure to check out all the different leather options in the Captain before buying the Vanguard, because there might be something in there you like better from a style standpoint.
All Thursday’s leathers are good, so you can’t really go wrong. I personally prefer the classic look of the Horween Chromexcel over the Thursday Rugged & Resilient leather, but that hasn’t stopped me from getting several pairs of Rugged & Resilient leather boots.
I always recommend the Thursday Captain for first time boot buyers (at least first time buying a good quality pair of boots). To me, it’s the best value in the boot game for people looking to invest in their first pair of great boots.
The Vanguard is a step up in quality in most regards, and is well worth the extra $70 if you’re buying your second or third pair of boots (or eighth).
For a deeper insight, read my full Thursday Vanguard vs Captain comparison.
Oliver Cabell SB1
It’s along the same price as the Captain, so you’re also getting a bargain there.
The main downside to the SB1 is that it features a Blake stitch which is less durable and more difficult to resole. It also has significantly less water resistance compared to the Goodyear welt on the Captain and Vanguard.
The only reason I would get the Oliver Cabell SB1 over anything from Thursday would be if you like the contrasting natural leather midsole. It’s purely an aesthetic choice, as construction-wise, I’d opt for either the Captain or Vanguard.
Red Wing Iron Ranger
It’s made in the USA, and has a full leather and cork insole and midsole.
The big difference is in the looks: the Red Wing Iron Ranger is way more bulky and bulbous. I have a slight preference for the S.B. Foot Tanning Company leather compared to Horween’s Chromexcel, too, but not nearly enough to warrant the $100+ price jump.
If you’re looking for a rugged American boot you can really beat up, I’d opt for the Red Wing Iron Ranger. But if you’re looking for something more fashion forward, I’d stick with the Thursday Vanguard.
My Thoughts Overall On the Thursday Vanguard
What I Like
Horween Chromexcel leather is one of my favorites because it’s rugged, durable, and it ages and patinas really nicely.
The heel on the Vanguard is a full centimeter taller than most of my other boots, which helps with my posture and also gives these a distinctive look.
There’s virtually no break in period with these boots and they’re comfortable right out of the box.
Thursday offers free shipping, exchanges, and returns. They’re one of the best in the business for online boot shopping.
What I Don’t Like
I wish they would add a tongue gusset because the tongue tends to slide around.
Who is the Thursday Vanguard for?
The Thursday Vanguard is an excellent boot for you if you’ve already been introduced to the world of high quality Goodyear welted boots and you want to take it to the next level. They’re also a great choice if you like the look of Thursday boots but wish they made some at home in the USA.
I’m a big fan of the Thursday Vanguard.
I expected it to be a copy of the Captain with a different type of leather and made in a different factory. But there are enough differences beyond that to make me happy that I own both.
To me, the biggest positive is the Horween Chromexcel leather. The Vanguards are the least expensive boots I own with this type of leather—my other boots with Chromexcel cost at least $350. Based on that fact alone, I already feel like the Vanguard is a stellar value.
But I also appreciate that these are made in the USA. That said, I don’t feel there’s any significant step up in construction quality when comparing the USA-factory made to Thursday’s Mexico factory.
I like the tall heel for the Vanguard—that’s the most distinctive aspect of this boot and is what surprised me the most.
I wish there was a tongue gusset and speedhooks—that would make this a perfect boot. But the lack of a tongue gusset is a minor annoyance, and without speedhooks, I just have to put up with my family making fun of me for taking a while to put on my boots (as they slip on their inferior sneakers).
If you’re looking to buy your first pair of boots, I still recommend the Thursday Captain because the sub $200 price is the best value in boots I’ve found. But if you want to take the next step in quality, the Vanguard is an obvious choice.
Where are Thursday Vanguard boots made?
Thursday’s Vanguard boots are made in the USA. The materials are all sourced domestically, including the leather from Horween in Chicago.
Are Thursday Boots made in China?
No, Thursday Boots aren’t made in China. They’re either produced in Mexico, or in the USA. The majority are made in a factory in Leon, Mexico, and the Vanguard and Logger are both made in the USA. Thursday sources all their leather from the USA, with the exception of Shell Cordovan, which comes from Italy.