From Troll Feet to Elfen Dancer!
Before I review Kevin’s master shoemaking I must tell a story about a boy…and his feet…
Astronaut, explorer, scientist, pioneer, doctor, cowboy, priest, fire fighter, forest ranger – the hat depended on the day and the circumstances. Dangling from a high tree branch on a clear fall day with the canopy rattling in the breeze and the forest floor awash with gold and crimson it was a forest ranger. Feeling somewhat holy singing from the choir balcony in the cavernous church it was a priest. Riveted to the family’s first black & white 12 inch grainy screen television as Mercury 7 blasted off – it was definitely an astronaut.
What would get him wherever he wanted to go he had no idea, but he was certain shoes were important and necessary for the journey. PF Flyers sounded magical so he tried them, Keds too, Converse, Hush Puppies, Clark’s and many more brands graced his feet. He dared not mention “Hush Puppies” on his feet for the certain ridicule that would rain down upon him from the other boys. Clark’s proved to be a character builder as his ego had to overcome the constant chiding about the “elf boots”. Color, shape, brand, shoestrings, or not – no shoe characteristic mattered – except one. That boy would wear high heeled pumps if his feet would fit in them!
Each foot settled down into the cool slippery stainless steel slot, the flip switched, the machine hummed, the sides and ends closed in, and magically like the reels of a one armed bandit the length and width for the foot would lock in on the backlit determiner. One year 5 x E, The next 6 x EE – for the left foot, the tragically extra wide right foot always added an extra E. Eventually the right foot would settle at 8.5 x 5E! A troll ancestor became a suspicion in the boy’s mind as a reason for his utterly impossible feet. Mad under that bridge, biting its toe nails, occasionally coming up to eat a sojourner, then one day falling in love! The entire prospect disgusted the boy, and it was that stupid nasty troll’s fault he was stuck with those feet!
“Well you do have wide feet.” The shoe salesman solemnly said.
“Let me check in the back and see what we have that might fit.”
The boy knew what was coming – a D width shoe 1 or 1.5 lengths too long. It would be another year of shoes with curled up toes… with a forceful shove of the heal sliding down the shoe horn they were on. The boy would meekly whimper…
“They’re a little tight.”
“Those are the widest shoes we have.”
His feet would be bound like a child Geisha’s for yet another year.
“Don’t worry they will stretch out.”
The boy wanted to say “Yeah sure – when the seams bust out.”, which they always did.
The boy grew up, became an equine veterinarian (horse doc), was constantly on his feet, loved hiking and camping, and had many a relationship with shoes and boots – most of them jaded.
Then a couple years ago after a brutally painful blistering hike at Glacier National Park I thought to check into custom hiking boots. I am not sure why I never thought to look – I had owned a number of pairs of custom riding boots and they were comfortable – at least for riding horses – but they weren’t exactly “boots – that – were made for walking”. I surfed the net and sure enough there were a few plus one or two custom hiking boot makers. Custom hiking boots were expensive! Kevin of course was one of the boot makers but his prices seemed downright affordable compared to a couple others – I was concerned. At this point in my life, with my feet, I wasn’t concerned about spending a little more I just wanted to get some quality comfortable boots. Wasn’t it likely the best shot was the most expensive boot? I pondered that question. I looked at reviews. I called and talked to some of the makers. I studied the pictures. I chewed my cud. I kept coming back to Kevin’s story and the intense effort he seemed to want to put into the measurement of my feet – the kit, the directions, the many measurements, the imprints, the foam mold, the request for photos (of my troll feet) – photos from both sides, front, back and the top! Kevin’s story, his training and his clear devotion to collecting the detail that would get it right for my feet carried the day. Kevin Leahy became the boot maker to the King – me.
Serena, my dear spouse, made great fun out of assisting me through all the varied directions, photos, impressions and so on. My much anticipated hiking boots arrived. They were beautiful – I know good leather – I spent many years in some quite exquisite saddles. I quickly had them on for a hike and felt I was walking on clouds. My arches seemed to ache though. I soldiered on, wearing the boots daily to break them in, and over the course of a couple weeks the aching subsided. My feet were being born again – as the ache subsided every bone and muscle in my feet started feeling better – and my feet started feeling stronger. I started to be able to curl my toes with gusto – it seems they had been squished into submission by decades of binding. I felt I could swing from the trees with my feet. I could walk for hours and stand all day with feet in utter bliss. I started thinking how nice it would be to always walk on clouds. I called Kevin.
“Could you make a pair of trails running shoes for me?”
“Sure Tom, tell me what you are looking for, and by the way I am coming to Ohio in a month, perhaps we could meet for a custom measurement.”
I was giddy at the thought of a custom measurement. Anyone who has the opportunity to be custom measured by Kevin should surely take advantage of it. He is an old hand and a skilled hand. Most of us have experienced the hands of a highly experienced and skilled physician – those are Kevin’s hands. Kevin arrived with a pair of “glass slippers” – a clear tape mold of my lasts he had built for the original pair. Into the slippers I went and he quickly marked and made minor adjustments. I described the shoe I wanted. Let me digress…
My mother grew up poor in Appalachia on a subsistence farm. There is a picture of her at about the age of 8 with her 2 younger brothers. They are clearly happy. They are covered with dirt – they often worked in the tobacco fields along side their elders. All 3 were bare footed. Their feet look grubby and happy. Throughout my childhood I remember my mother kicking off her shoes whenever she could, wherever she could. She encouraged us to do the same. She encouraged us to touch the earth with our feet, to feel the grass tickle our toes. Even the occasional honeybee sting was an experience our feet should have – according to mom.
What I wanted in those trail running shoes was the energy of the earth to course through to my feet. I wanted to feel the tickle between my toes. I wanted magic moccasins! I got them. Kevin even added magic stripes. He traveled to the Napa Valley to buy the best of the best leather – magic leather no less – luscious, soft and supple. Those magic moccasins pictured here are rarely off my feet. They have been resoled once (by Kevin for an absurdly reasonable fee). They have no less than 4000 hours on my feet, and have at least another 4000 hours to go. They are amazing.
We ordered 3 other pairs of shoes that day along with the magic moccasins – one more for me and 2 for Serena. My hikers and trails runners have outdoor soles – Vibram soles which I love for the stability, grip, and durability. My next pair needed to have “floor soles” so I ordered the plain Jane walker. They may look plain but they have much of the same magic as the magic moccasins – not quite all of it but they are just great, and they don’t pick up the horse manure in the tread!
I promised I would write a review for Kevin well over a year and a half ago. I won’t deny I am a procrastinator. When I needed my magic moccasins resoled I checked in at Kevin’s website to get the phone number, with some certain guilt peaked at the reviews, and there saw a review on a pair of his chukkas. I said to myself “I must have a pair”. I now do. The chukkas Kevin sent are stunning. They are an opus work by Kevin. They dazzled yesterday when I opened the box. They slipped on like gloves. The leather is exquisite, the color is special, “and – they have – miles to go before I sleep”.
I have finally written my review. I believe in these shoes and Kevin. Kevin’s shoes made me healthier – they changed my life. Troll feet or normal feet, Kevin’s shoes can make you fly. Maybe you think I just have a shoe fetish? Maybe you think no person would write such a nutty review unless they were paid for it. Please don’t over-interpret things – although I give I am a little crazy when it comes to my feet. I am a boy and his feet. The simple truth is – we just like magic things and walking in the clouds with our 8 friends…
Update: New pair 9/10/19 “Magnificent. Photos attached. Incredible fit and comfort out of the box. The soles you chose are perfect – very safe.”
Thanks again for the boots!
Best Boots Ever!
Kevin Leahy makes outstanding boots and shoes. He made me a pair of boots about 8 weeks ago and I have used them extensively hiking. I am so impressed with the quality and fit and also the wonderful orthotic that really solves the arch and ankle problem in my weak left foot. I have had custom boots made by several makers and all fall very short of the quality and fit of Kevin Leahy’s boots. He is meticulous in the fit of the boot and his method of measurement of my feet is very accurate. I have never had support in my weak left arch and ankle as I have from his boots. All the custom boots I have by Peter Limmer Co., Van Gorkom and Crary are good but still did not solve my weak left arch and ankle problem. Crary came the closest but Kevin Leahy’s boots are a masterpiece of craftsmanship and care. The skill and knowledge that goes into his boots from years of training and experience working as a young man under Austrian and German master bootmakers is outstanding. All the knowledge of building boots for over 38 years shows up in the quality of his boots. Also, his orthopedic training from UCLA undoubtedly enabled him to build the boots to support my left arch and ankle.
I just had Kevin build me a pair of chukka boots and I love them. I look forward to wearing my boots professionally as I lead my next wildlife photo safari in Africa.
Update Hi Kevin,
Still leading a safari in Kenya and finished the Tanzania safari.
Wanted to let you know that the boots are performing brilliantly.
I have never had such support. Before your boots I was never able to wear boots or shoes all day in the field. Doug
Unlined Boots Update:
Thank you, Kevin
Boots are superb looking and fit great! Hiked a mile yesterday, 4 miles today (I’ll try to control myself). The toe boxes offer wonderful room and are so comfy on the down hill hike, the arch support is right on with no aches or discomfort. The Vibram sole is the right one, I love the no-heel design, comfort and stability is primo. The heel fit is the kicker (so to speak) perfect, such a pleasure wearing the boots. I see no serious nor minor problems evolving presently, nor do I expect to. I would also like to order a pair of your shoes using the same last. Thank you so much for this great boot and your professional gift!
2 photos after 80 trail miles. Comfy and soft and flexible…good ride…great boots Kevin!!!….thanks…
I was just looking at your shoes again on your website. I have decided to go ahead and purchase them. I need another hiker for separate uses. My boots are feeling really good. The leather is quite soft and sturdy…never have felt boots like this..they are breaking in very nicely….have never had such good arch support….few more weeks we will send photos of beautiful broken-in boots…again, the leather is fantastic. Thanks again.
With years of experience as a backcountry guide, boot comfort is something I do not take lightly. After hearing a friend rave about Kevin’s custom hiking boots, I decided to try a pair of his boots for myself. Still new after only three trial runs, the boots are already proving to be a wise investment.
For comparison sake, I intentionally wore one boot of my store-rack pair (Vasque brand boots with a similar design), and one boot made by Kevin for a jaunt last evening. Aside from the fact that the boot from Kevin is simply a more attractive design, the level of comfort and functionality surpassed my Vasque boot.
The first thing I noticed was the difference in roominess for my toes. My fairly wide feet have generally fit snugly in my Vasque boots, but well enough for me to not even think about it. The boot from Kevin, the exact width match for my foot, opened my eyes to new levels of boot comfort! Interestingly, I found that the extra spread for my wide feet better engaged my feet and provided better traction.
The arch support, also customized to my feet, played a part in this new level of traction as well. There is simply no comparison here between the two boots. Having an arch support that directly aligns each foot individually provides outstanding comfort – a direct engagement between foot, boot and earth – that cannot be matched with a generic fit.
Custom arches translate into enhanced gait mechanics as well. When extending my foot forward in normal gait, heel on the ground, my generic boot slightly forces my toes higher, out of normal alignment. The boot from Kevin allows my foot to extend normally in that process, closer to barefoot walking, and provides a more efficient step. This difference certainly surprised me as I’d never really thought to notice before!
Finally, when I returned home and took the boots off, and looked at them side by side, the difference in material mass caught my eye. Kevin’s construction of the boot slims down the use of materials, therefore inherently adding efficiency with less weight. My Vasques not only use more padding to compensate for a generic fit, but also more sole where I don’t need it.
All in all, I am convinced that the boots Kevin made for me are exactly what I bargained for – an experience of superb comfort and function well worth the expense. With their uncommon balance of design, true comfort and fit enhancing functional qualities, I expect to be wearing them for years to come.