Founded in 2009 by Joshua Bingaman, HELM Boots is working hard to transform the men’s footwear industry through classic and uncompromising styles.
But what we think really sets them apart from many of the other chukka or chelsea boots available on the market is their quality craftsmanship.
Reviewing a HELM boot
One look at any product page on the HELM boot website and you will quickly see what we are talking about.
Take, for example, the Muller Teak that we absolutely love the style of:
With a shell made from full-grain Horween Chromexcel leather, it’s made to last a lifetime.
Leather-snobs love to hunt out for shoes made from Horween due to their rich heritage.
Founded in 1905, Horween Leather Company is based in the USA and tans all their leather here as well. The leather, with time, creates a beautiful patina that can withstand a ton of wear.
If you noticed in the description above, these boots are made from full-grain leather as opposed to top-grain or genuine leather.
What does this mean and why does it matter?
Here’s a brief look at their key differences:
Genuine Leather / Bonded Leather
This is the leather that marketers have trained you to like. While it evokes the smell of leather and looks like leather, it hardly passes as either durable, or to be frank, leather itself as anywhere between 10% and 90% of the product sold contains leather.
So, what is bonded leather?
It’s is a mixture of the left-over leather bits from the tanning process mixed with polyurethane or latex (source).
This leads to a product that will inevitably crack or dry out with age.
The outer most layer of the skin is described as top-grain leather. Nearly just as good as full-grain leather, top-grain leather went through a process that has sanded or buffed out any sort of blemishes or general imperfections of the cowhide.
Top-grain leather is considered to be a really strong material and can withstand years of abuse, just like full-grain leather can.
Lastly, full-grain leather – and what the Muller Teaks have been crafted from above.
This consists of the entire grain leather and is the thickest of all leather varieties. While it may take a bit of work to break this leather in, once fully formed to your foot, it will be like a second skin.
While subject to surface imperfections due to the condition of the cowhide, quality tanneries such as Horween (mentioned above) do a tremendous job at treating the leather without losing many of the terrific qualities that full-grain leather has to offer.
The most noteworthy feature of this leather compared to all others on our list is the patina that it develops.
As this shoe gets worn heavily, it will simply look and feel better with age due to the unique patina (exterior shell) that full-grain leather goods develop (source).
Where does this leave you in reviewing HELM boots?
While the price is quite expensive for these boots (more on this in a minute), you can rest assured that these boots won’t breakdown after a single season. Instead, you can expect them to last you several years, or perhaps a decade, with regular use and care (also more on this in a minute).
Can you get your HELM boots resoled?
Any quality shoe that you buy, especially one crafted from leather, should either have one of the following stitches on the soles:
While there is a valid argument to make around the quality delivered in the Goodyear welt that men’s fashion expert Tanner Guzy shared here, we think that any shoe that offers either a Goodyear welt or Blake stitch is a great addition.
Given that full-grain leather boots can last you for years, the last thing you would want is to throw them away due to a crummy sole.
The stitching on many of the HELM boots we looked at offered a Blake stitch.
Here’s where things get a bit unique, to say the least.
When resoling HELM boots, you can either send them directly to HELM to have them re-soled – which will likely always produce generally better results as they are, of course, familiar with the construction of the shoe itself – OR – you can bring them to your local cobbler to have them resoled, ultimately giving you flexibility.
Now, should you go the route of having HELM boots take care of the soles, you can pick from one of their seven different soles to put onto your boots:
This is great…
If you work in an area that either sees slippery conditions regularly, yet still want to wear your boots, then you can simply select the Black Vibram’s as they will give you terrific grip (source).
How to maintain your HELM boots
Now, one of the biggest problems that men have when it comes to owning a pair of full-grain leather shoes or boots is not taking care of them properly.
Unlike your standard tennis sneaker that requires very little maintenance, leather boots do require basic care.
Most notably, you will want to do the following:
- Use a shoe tree
- Clean them regularly
- Condition properly
Here, we wanted to just expand on this briefly just to cover some of the essentials as we don’t want to go beyond the scope of this article.
Use a shoe tree
Typically made from cedar, shoe trees not only maintain the shape of the leather boot when not in use (particularly important should you only wear them during the winter months), but it also plays a key role in preventing the boot rotting from the inside out.
Able to draw away any moisture that your toes may have left behind by sweating, a boot tree will also keep the inside of the boot dry (and preventing odor buildup). It’s a small (sub $50) purchase you should make, especially if you want your $400 leather boots to last a few years.
It’s worth noting that HELM does sell their own shoe tree.
Clean them regularly
Some guys go nuts with this…
If you are wearing your boots in the wintertime, then salt will be your worst enemy as it will eat away at the patina of the leather along with drying out the natural oils.
Therefore, about once a week, take out the laces and wipe down the boot with a warm damp-hand towel paired with saddle soap.
This should remove most of the stuff that causes the leather to deteriorate.
Once the boot has been cleaned off, we (and HELM boots) strongly recommends that you use a leather conditioner on your boot.
This will help to retain the natural oils within the leather and bring a nice moderate and natural-looking shine to the surface.
Furthermore, conditioning your leather boots regularly will ensure that they last a whole lot longer.
We generally recommend that you simply just consider buying this HELM boot care kit during checkout.
Furthermore, HELM has put together a complete guide on caring for their boots here.
HELM Boots Return Policy
As is often the case when it comes to footwear, the return and exchange policy is always a bit tough.
This is also the case with HELM boots.
As evident on their return policy page:
You have 30 days from the purchase date to make a return or exchange.
The boots, of course, must be unworn as well.
One nice part of the return policy is that shipping is covered going back to HELM.
Now if you live outside the U.S., you will need to cover this expense yourself – making trying on a pair of HELM boots a bit more of a financial investment.
HELM Boot Sizes
As is the case with most formal shoes, HELM boots follow the Brannock system of foot measurements (this is the same metal scale found in shoe stores).
What does this mean for you?
Unlike your standard pair of tennis or athletic shoes that usually run a bit bigger, when ordering a pair of HELM boots, you are going to want to go down a half-size.
If you are unsure of your exact size shoe, we recommend printing out this handy PDF from Dr. Scholl’s to help you out.
HELM Boots Promo Codes
When it comes to ordering a pair of $400 boots, you naturally are going to seek out a few promo codes or deals to try and lower that price.
Based on our research, here is what we found for HELM boots deals:
Always Free Shipping
Advertised heavily across their site, HELM boots promote free shipping.
In the age of one or two-day shipping from online mass retailers, it’s great to see that smaller shops such as HELM compete on this service.
Furthermore, for U.S. domestic orders, they are shipped via Priority Mail ensuring that you get your stuff within a week or so.
$50 Credit on Your First Order
At the time that this article was published, HELM boots offered a $50 credit for new customers:
We think that this “chop off” the top of the price is a great incentive to get new customers on-board. So be sure if you visit the website, check either the top banner or bottom footer:
Sales on Great Styles
Like any fashion retailer, end-of-season sales are available at HELM.
But here’s where we think things differ significantly with HELM versus virtually any other online fashion outlet.
Given that the style of shoes that HELM makes, they are timeless and can work with a multitude of outfits.
When looking at their sale page currently, we see boots such as the Pablo Chocolate (pictured below) that isn’t trendy and should look great long after you buy them.
Overall, we think that HELM offers some tremendous value in its sales page, especially given the quality of the craftsmanship offered up in the shoes listed there.
Where Are HELM Boots Made?
We couldn’t find a definite answer here.
While they are based out of Austin, Texas, HELM appears to make their boots in a variety of locations which include the following:
- Istanbul (Turkey)
- Maine (U.S.)
- Arkansas (U.S.)
While men may want to buy boots only made in the USA, at least know that some of the materials used in the construction of the boot were likely sourced from USA suppliers (ex: Horween Leather).
Other Gear HELM Sells
While known for their amazing shoes, HELM does sell a variety of leather goods and accessories as well.
Most notable is their belts:
Like their boots, the belts are sourced from quality full-grain leather that will last a lifetime.
Available in several sizes which include the following:
You should have no problem finding the right sized belt to fit your waist. Just remember that when buying a belt, you typically want to go up a size as the measurement for belts is based on your natural waist rather than your hips where the belt is to be worn.
In short, don’t buy a belt identical to your jean size – it will be a hair too long.
Aside from belts, HELM also sells the following:
- Leather care supplies (as we covered its importance earlier)
- Socks & Laces
- Hats & T-Shirts
- Accessories (shoe tree)
Are HELM Boots Worth the Price?
Sure, paying $400 is a tough price to pay when it comes to a pair of boots.
But here’s the deal:
These aren’t any pair of boots that will quickly fall apart after a single season.
Based on all that we unearthed in this review of HELM, we think that they rank right up there with other quality footwear companies such as Red Wing, Rancourt (which coincidentally enough made boots for HELM), Thursday Boot Company, etc. given the quality of the craftsmanship and materials sourced in design and construction of these boots.
One thing that we really enjoyed finding out about is that the founder is still involved in the day-to-day operations of the company.
This leads to a better product being delivered as they can (and will) make subtle tweaks to their product lineup in order to better serve the customer.
What Do Others Think of HELM?
One of the beauties of the internet is that you can quickly get your pulse on the company with just a few searches.
To offer a sanity check for us to make sure we weren’t drinking the company Kool-Aid, we saw some of the following quotes and reviews from other men that were equally in love with this company – Review 1, Review 2.
Final Thoughts On HELM
If you are looking for a quality boot that will age nicely and last for years (assuming you care for them properly), then I think they offer a compelling lineup.
The quality of the leather is time-tested and has been trusted by men for generations.
Sure, there are other companies worth considering as we mentioned earlier; however, given that the founder is still involved in the company shouldn’t be understated.
These boots are an investment and should be treated as such.
So, if you are ready to take the dive and see what a good pair of leather boots are like, take a visit over to the HELM website – we think you will love what they have to offer.
Shawn Burns is the founder and senior editor of Tools of Men. He started this site with the goal of teaching men proper grooming habits and sensible style. Shawn’s expertise includes in-depth product reviews and how-to articles. Shawn was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal for his expertise.