What Is A Boot Last And How It Matters For Your Boots
Boot lasts, or rather a shoe last, is a mold that's used to shape a boot when it's being constructed. While this doesn't seem important, it's actually one of the most important aspects of footwear construction.
Believe it or not, this is actually a critical part of shoe design that few are aware of...but is vitally important.
Ever felt as if a pair of shoes or boots were too tight in the toes? Or across the ball of the foot? Or didn't give you enough support in the middle of the foot? In most cases, that's because you bought shoes that used the wrong last for your feet.
The last, you see, determines the fit of your work boots, fashion boots or shoes. That determines a lot of your experience breaking in, working in and otherwise wearing your boots.
This is why so many people that labor in some of the hardest and most dangerous jobs like logging, wildland firefighting and other seriously hard trades swear by custom leather boots. This is also why so many people have problems with store-bought footwear.
Why is it that so many shoe and bootmakers get it so wrong? Let's talk about that a bit.
What Is A Boot Last?
A last is a solid form that's shaped kind of like a foot. Boot makers and shoe makers use to construct a pair of boots or shoes around. When the manufacturer is putting the upper together, it's stitched together around the last to take the shape of it.
Then the upper is attached to the sole, however that happens and presto! You have a pair of athletic shoes, leather work boots...any type of footwear.
The word "last" comes from Ye Olde Englyshe, from the word "laest" which means "footprint."
Without delving too far into detail, lasts aren't an exact copy of a foot but rather are used to create a cavity inside the shoe or boot that a foot will fit in. We have a variety of fitment options available for custom boots, where we'll actually make a last of your foot.
Lasts are carved so that the shape of the last is in uniform proportion to the overall size of the foot. The exact proportions are determined by the maker of the last; some are made by a company specializing in lasts, and others are the in-house foot lasts of a shoe or boot maker.
Last shapes are also heavily influenced - in most cases! - by the type of footwear that will be made using them. For instance, the toe box may be narrow for the sharp toe of dress shoes, cowboy boots or ladies high heels, or may be wider for work boots or athletic shoes.
But what does this have to do with the fit of your leather boots?
The Shape Of The Boot Last Vs The Shape Of Your Feet
Where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, is in how closely the shape of the last used by the maker fits the shape of your feet.
You've probably had a pair or two of shoes or boots in your life that didn't fit quite right. There may be a brand of sneakers that you have to buy a size larger than normal of, for instance.
That's because the last for your size they used to make the shoe does not actually fit your feet.
You see, the way mass manufacturers of clothing and shoes and so on operate is by choosing a last that fit...sort of...the broadest number of people possible.
Think of it kind of like a bell curve; based on anatomical data, pieces of clothing or footwear can be designed to fit - let's say - 70 percent of the human population in every shoe size. The shoemaker goes ahead and makes them because 7/10 buyers will be fine and the rest can deal.
In theory, anyway.
As with anything else, things that supposedly fit everyone really fit no one, and that's what leads to problems. Insufficient arch support leads to sore feet, having to get a size up due to having feet wider than the last causes all sorts of problems and so on.
It was observed even by the early 20th century that a poor fit in footwear can even cause injury, which was discovered by Edward Munson, a Lt. Col. in the US Army and a medical doctor.
The foot last Munson designed - the Munson last, known for its moderate arch and wide toe box for easy movement - was used to design US Army footwear for decades, and was formerly the go-to boot last for work boots and outdoor boots until it fell out of fashion.
However, your mass-market boot or shoe maker can't afford to care too much. They're trying to move product. Now, if you're in that narrow band of the population who more or less are fit by their products...that's fine. Everyone else...is in a lurch when it comes to buying quality footwear.
Boot Lasts For Work Boots
If you're looking to purchase a pair of work boots, the boot lasts start to actually matter...a lot. A proper fit as well as proper support is even more critical when you're on your feet and doing hard labor all day.
Boot lasts used by serious boot makers tend to have a generous toe box and a high or at least higher-than-normal arch, to give the foot more support at the instep and allow the ball of the foot to flex.
However, even mass-market bootmakers often get this wrong or don't get it as right as they could, because they can't afford to spend the time in research and development. They have to get products out the door and onto shelves.
The Last Is Part Of What You're Buying When You Invest In Custom Work Boots
Believe it not, a large part of the investment when it comes to custom work boots is the last.
By getting custom-fit for your boots, you're paying for access to the vastly larger last library that a custom boot maker has in order to get a pair of leather boots made to fit your feet as precisely as they can.
The precise fit gives your feet the support where needed, to keep your feet from absorbing more shock than they should from movement. Your toes and the ball of your feet also get the room needed to flex and move as they should.
Not only does this greatly enhance the comfort of wearing your boots, having a proper fit also helps reduce the chance of injuries to the foot, ankle, lower leg, knees, hips and lower back.
So...why should you care about boot lasts? Because they're one of the differences between a great pair of boots and...well, everything else.