So, crazy times, huh? We’re all living a strange version of Jello Biafra’s “Message From Our Sponsor,” locked in our homes and watching Disney+ nonstop. One day, though, this particular crisis will pass and the 16 or so motorcyclists who haven’t died or lost everything in the resultant financial collapse may be keen on getting a new pair of riding boots.
There will be no government money to repair roads in said near future, of course, so you’ll be wanting boots that are sturdy, waterproof and comfortable enough for you to walk home after losing your bike to an 8-feet-deep pothole.
WON’T PROTECT YOU FROM CORONAVIRUS
But Still Very Much Worth Wearing
My suggestion: the Hogg All-Weather Touring Boot from Yorkshire-based Altberg. They aren’t sexy but they are good. And they last a long time; I bought mine roughly four years ago and with minimal upkeep they remain in excellent condition.
Altberg’s factory is located in a tin shed of a building set on top of a steep hill in the middle of nowhere. Specifically, it is located on the outskirts of Richmond, a small market town that, according to Wikipedia, has produced a surprising number of theologians and religious separatists. It has also produced Mike Sheehan, Altberg’s founder.
Back in 1989 the shoe factory that had been there since the early 1960s shut down, the victim of a financial meltdown that had begun with the Black Monday market crash in 1987. (If you want to make yourself miserable, feel free to take note of the fact that the Dow fell 22.6 percent in that crash; whereas it has dropped roughly 28 percent since coronavirus appeared in the United States.) Closing the factory put some 320 people out of work, including Mike, who had been a production director there. Despite lacking any real business experience he decided to set up shop as a bootmaker, desperate to save at least a few of the jobs that had been lost. Like all good business decisions, this plan was concocted at the pub. So it meant that the first few years were pretty challenging.
Altberg, sometimes written as Alt-Berg, gets its name from Mike’s poor grasp of German. Thinking that the phrase meant “high mountain,” it felt like an appropriate name for a company wanting to make hiking boots. In fact, “alt Berg” means “old mountain.” Whatever. Thirty-one years later, hiking boots are still largely the company’s bread and butter – respected by the sort of nutjob hikers who tackle the Three Peaks Challenge as a light warmup for something “interesting.” Indeed, that’s how I first heard of Altberg; the name came up often when I worked for the UK National Parks. But the company has also branched out into providing boots for the British Army and a number of UK police forces, and, of course, motorcycle boots.
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Altberg’s motorcycle boots are only available from the factory and are generally made to order. To that end, if you are able to travel to Richmond it’s a visit I recommend. You can get a minor tour of the factory, checking out all the dangerous-looking machines used to make boots and having a cup of tea with the people who operate those machines, as well as getting fully and properly measured for the perfect fit. As an incentive, Altberg offers a discount to folks who show up and buy their boots in person. Meanwhile, the nearby Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors national parks offer up some incredible places to ride.
Understandably, not everyone is going to want to travel all the way to Yorkshire just to buy a pair of boots. So, of course, you can buy the boots from the factory via the company’s website. As I say, most of the boots are made to order, so be prepared to wait three weeks or so for delivery – longer if you order in the heart of riding/walking season or during a global pandemic. The Hogg High All Weather Touring Boots come in UK sizes 6 to 14, with half sizes and different widths available. Made in the United Kingdom (No. 14 on the Democracy Index), they retail at £299.99.
Aesthetics are, admittedly, the Hogg High All-Weather boot’s weakest point. Altberg makes better looking moto products – including the iconic Clubman Roadster, which is worn by most police riders in the UK – but I originally chose these because I wanted an adventure-style boot (I was riding a Suzuki V-Strom 1000 at the time, so, you know, it’s important to look the part), and I wanted something that I could comfortably walk a few miles in. I like to get off the bike and explore.
The boots have a certain “Might be cool to someone who was a big fan of Blade” quality to them that I’ve never managed to grow fond of, but I do like that they are absent any obvious branding or “bold” color schemes – basic black goes with everything. And beauty is in the eye of the beholder; I’ve had a number of people tell me the boots look badass, with their chunky Skywalk soles and all-leather construction. Indeed, they are chunky in all ways. And tall: coming up to my upper mid shin. I cannot now remember why I wanted boots so tall, but they’ve come in handy when riding through flooded roads – something that happens with regularity in Wales.
I travelled to Altberg’s factory to get measured back in the spring of 2016, so it should come as no surprise that my boots fit perfectly. I was measured as wearing a 9.5 UK, which aligns with my sizing in other quality boots. The internet tells me that 9.5 UK is 44 EU, which is indeed the same size as my beloved Red Wing Spirit Lake boots. My foot fits comfortably and snugly within the footbed, and laces, of course, help ensure a good, snug fit.
I WORE MY ALTBERGS HERE:
Made for Adventure: A Triumph Tiger 800 XRT in Scottish Winter
The boot is robust in construction, with extra leather across the toe to prevent a gear shifter from digging in. Additionally, there is extra leather on the “tongue” section of the boot that helps protect the shin from any bits and bobs that might fly up off the road. Hiking-boot-style padding runs the length of the shaft, all of which creates a boot that can be a little warm if worn in summer months. It’s never really bothered me but remember that I prefer to ride warm. When I ride with my Scottish buddy, Cam, he’ll be close to heat stroke when I’m thinking: “Hmm, I may take off one of my six layers.”
All that robust construction contributes to a boot that has a fair bit of weight to it. Placing them on the scale, each Hogg High All-Weather boot weighs 1.125 kg, or 2.48 lbs. That’s roughly the equivalent of strapping a six-pack of Bud Light to each foot. So, although the boots are comfortable enough to walk several miles in (I’ve done a 6-mile hike before) you may find yourself trudging toward the end of your walk. You’ll also need to be the sort of person who prefers stiff hiking boots – as I do. The sole of the boot is quite firm, which is obviously a good thing when it comes to motorcycling.
Featuring a Sympatex lining, the boots really are waterproof. In four years of ownership they have never let me down. The only time I’ve experienced moisture in the boot has come as a result of sweat when riding on a warm day. When I did an Iron Butt ride in nonstop rain a few years ago, the boots were the only piece of riding kit that didn’t disappoint. Obviously, my habit of treating them with Leder-Gris plays a part in their staying waterproof, but they really have earned my admiration and trust. Regular use of Leder-Gris (or Ducks Wax, or some other quality leather protectant) also helps keep the boots in relatively good condition. To my eyes, the boots do not show the thousands upon thousands of miles I’ve ridden in them.
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Light armor over the ankles, hidden between the leather and the lining further helps protect the foot and support the ankle. This isn’t offroad-level protection but it’s added peace of mind for anyone doing touring. To that purpose the boots are multi-day all-day comfortable; with the exception of my trip to Prague two years ago, I have always chosen my Altbergs for long-haul riding.
I’ll concede, however, that they aren’t perfect. In addition to making them ugly, the boots’ chunkiness means you may need to adjust your gear shifter and you’ll find it just a little difficult to be light of touch when riding something sporty. Additionally when riding bikes made by companies that don’t put enough effort into painting their engine covers (looking at you, Triumph) you may find the boots’ metal eyelets will scratch a pattern into said covers over time. And, obviously, it takes more time/effort to put on lace-up boots than those secured with zips/Velcro/buckles.
The Altberg Hogg High All-Weather Touring Boots’ £300 pricetag is a hefty one. But there’s no denying that they adhere to some life advice that former Common Tread stalwart Lemmy once gave me: “A good pair of boots will last you through three presidential terms.” Put like that, the sting of their cost isn’t as bad, and they’re less than some comparably high-quality Daytona boots.
The Altbergs really are durable as hell, offering a great mix of on-bike protection and off-bike comfort/usability. My go-to boot for big trips, I also occasionally call upon them when commuting because they are more reliably waterproof than any of the other pairs of boots I own. They’re equally perfect for camping trips.
Plus, the fact they’re made in Yorkshire is, to me, a pretty big selling point. Altberg is a company that was started by a group of people who refused to give up on their town and I admire that sort of thing. It’s what I love about Aerostich products as well. Your opinion on such things may vary, but I’m pretty sure you won’t regret owning a pair of Altbergs either way.