Are They Worth It? (Hands-On Review + Photos)

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If you’ve ever been on a deep-dive looking for the best pair of boots, there’s a good chance you came across HELM Boots with their signature white-striped outsole. If you’re curious what the real deal is about this unique footwear brand, you’re in the right place—and HELM is pretty unique.

I’ve been wearing two of their models, the Wilson loafer and the Evans derby, for a few weeks now. I can give you some insight into just how they fared, from both a style and functionality perspective. We’re talking about initial break-in to all-day wear, work days to weekend excursions.

In this in-depth, hands on HELM Boots review, we’ll break everything down, from construction to materials to comfort, to see what makes HELM stand out.

The HELM Evans derby in brown

THE BOTTOM LINE

As a brand, HELM Boots stay true to their Austin roots. They infuse a bit of rustic ruggedness to their footwear. Yes, even with the two pairs I tried (a loafer and a Derby) which are typically on the smart casual / professional end of the style spectrum.

This makes a lot of their shoes super versatile, functionally and stylistically. Guys who are mainly into workwear, for example, can feel comfortable in their dressier models.

The part that makes HELM a compelling value proposition is that they use premium materials, including durable yet lithe full-grain leather. They even developed a special layered outsole that combines the benefits of a rubber sole and a leather sole.

Read on to see how they manage to do this, and to get my hands-on insight!

 

About HELM Boots: Distinct Craftsmanship and Lifestyle

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Joshua Bingaman, who founded HELM Boots in Austin in 2009, was already a bit of a staple in the community. When he was in his early 20s, Bingaman founded Progress Coffee on the city’s east side.

This initial venture may have had nothing to do with the footwear biz, but this ATX-specific, lifestyle-focused vibe would make its way into HELM’s brand.

HELM brought to market a slightly dressier work boot, Americana meets European.

The brand’s signature is the three-layer sole. Its white rubber midsole, sandwiched between two layers of leather, is a HELM-specific visual cue, which also brings a sneaker-like experience to their Blake-stitched shoes.

profile of HELM boots evans derbies in brown, and interior of shoe

Today, their sturdily-built shoes feature a range of styles, and focus on Texas hides for their full-grain leathers. According to their website, the shoes go through about 153 steps, passing through the hands of 14 cobblers. They’re still designed in Austin, but are made in Maine, Arkansas, and a family-owned manufacturer in Brazil.

Another specific lifestyle quality about their shoes? Each piece is marked with a style, season, and year, adding a collectibility element, and each is engraved with a literary quote on the heel cup (Bingaman studied poetry in school).

Alright, let’s get to the shoes!

EG’s Review Of The Wilson Loafers From HELM

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The Wilsons are a novel “casualized” loafer, which I’ll get into more detail about below. I received a size 7.5, half a size smaller than my usual 8s, and opted for the suede tan variation.

Quick note! At the time of this writing, HELM mentioned to us that inventory for the Wilsons is currently low, but they’ll be fully stocked as soon as the end of July or early August 2023.

HELM Boots Wilson loafer in a light tan suede


HELM Wilson Loafers

“Reimagining the classic loafer, the Wilson is a modern and stylish slip-on with both comfort and personality. Featuring a unique and thoughtful design and made in Rusan suede, the Wilson is Blake Rapid Stitched and is constructed on our new Denver sole for comfort and traction.” –HELM Boots


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First Impressions

The Wilsons were packed in a standard and solid, fully branded cardboard box. It was a pretty straight-forward unboxing process, and all of the prerequisites for secure packing were checked.

Each shoe was protected with paper and plastic, and stuffed with tissue to maintain its shape during the shipping journey. There was also a dust bag neatly folded inside.

HELM Boots box closed and open, top down

The moment I took the shoes out of the box, the white midsole popped out at me. It’s definitely distinct but not weird. It’s less subtle than the gold stamp on a pair of Common Projects Achilles, maybe more akin to the red bottoms of ladies Louboutin shoes. All that to say, I can see why their special outsoles are a brand signature.

Each shoe felt super sturdy in my hand. In fact, the outsole was so thick and strong, I assumed there would be a pretty substantial and unpleasant break-in period.

The suede felt great and had that authentic earthy yet sweet aroma. I can run my finger one way across the surface to watch it get subtly darker, then back the other way to make it subtly lighter, giving that subtly variegated surface you want from good suede.

HELM Boots Wilson loafers side profile on a white stone surface
Side profile of the HELM Wilson loafer

Finally, the entire build was substantial and fortified, with a light, almost flimsy-looking (but not flimsily-built) lip for a more casual aesthetic.

I did think it looked dissonant at first, like having a structured, formal, tightly-woven button-up shirt, and giving it the collar of a soft, summery linen shirt.

Construction

Overall, my first impressions on the construction were pretty on point. The Wilson is a sturdy and exceptionally-built shoe.

I already mentioned that the suede looked and felt pretty premium. It continued to stay that way over the weeks I was wearing the Wilsons. The nice leather smell stayed intact, and it even survived me running from the back of my Uber to my front door during a pretty intense downpour.

Upon further research, I found out that HELM employed Rusan suede, which is a bovine suede producer that’s gold-rated by the Leather Working Group. The LWG gives tanneries points for practices like using significantly less water in their production, efficient waste management, and avoiding toxic chemicals.

The outsole is Blake-stitched to the upper, which I like for these shoes. They’re technically still resoleable, but they don’t add to the initial stiffness of the outsoles the way Goodyear-welted construction would.

HELM boots Wilson loafer sole

And of course, that special HELM outsole, with its leather-rubber combination, is as strong and as sturdy as advertised. The rubber portion is poured in place, which is the exact same technique used for rubber surfacing on children’ playgrounds. You’re looking at safety-level shock absorption.

Real Life Test

I 100% don’t recommend this, but, as a test, I ran up and down my block just once in these shoes on concrete and grass. They aren’t sneakers by any means, but I was surprised at the lithe sturdiness, considering how thick the outsoles are.

Plus, the rubber-edged heel and the stacked rubber insert provided great traction on the grass. Not that you’ll ever use these shoes to run laps, but it was a good sign regarding how comfortable they’d be for simple, everyday wear.

It also gets extra points for its hand-sewn details and the butt seam construction, which basically just means the pieces of the upper are joined together in a single seam making the connection extra strong.

Comfort and Fit

As previously stated, I received a size 7.5 after mentioning to the brand that I wear a size 8. This is because the shoe runs large.

Suffice to say, they were right to send me that 7.5 because it fits perfectly.

The Wilsons provided a very peculiar break-in experience. The outsoles were quite stiff, which no surprise there since they’re well-built shoes that use super strong materials. I knew I’d need to wear those in.

Still, the insole was so soft and comfortable, with padding that I could only describe as cloud-like. Your feet land exceedingly softly onto these interior cushions.

man wearing the HELM boots wilson loafer close-up walking up stairs

This completely balanced out the thick outsoles, to the point that I was able to break them in by wearing them as indoor shoes for about three days. The first hour of the first day, my feet did feel a bit tingly when I took the shoes off, but this lasted about five minutes.

On day two, the ball of my right foot became a hotspot, but it wasn’t distractingly tender. There was also some rubbing on my back ankle since the soles were so stiff at first. They weren’t bending with my arches, so that back ankle was experiencing an up-and-down friction with the back collar.

After a week of break-in exercises, I was able to wear them for full work days, though my feet were still tired at the end of each day. I’d still say that at this point, they’re acceptably wearable, and I imagine they’ll get more comfortable the more I wear them.

Style

HELM really delivers on their brand focus here. I’ve seen sneakers and dress boots get the workwear treatment. But, I couldn’t even imagine what the result of infusing a smart casual loafer with these qualities would look like, much less if it would be successful.

The Wilsons are incredibly versatile. The brawnier features match a jeans or work pants situation, while the smooth silhouette and refined suede construction make them perfect with a suit.

There’s a lot of overhang from the outsoles when you look at it from a bird’s eye view. This gives it a more athletic look, similar to a boot. The only other dress shoes that I’ve seen with this quality are old-fashioned, often clunky, brogues.

man wearing HELM boots loafers standing on a black grate


HELM Wilson Loafers

“Reimagining the classic loafer, the Wilson is a modern and stylish slip-on with both comfort and personality. Featuring a unique and thoughtful design and made in Rusan suede, the Wilson is Blake Rapid Stitched and is constructed on our new Denver sole for comfort and traction.” –HELM Boots


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These guys aren’t clunky though. The upper has a sophisticated and minimal silhouette. The lack of a saddle means that the front, vamp, and loose lip are all one piece. There are, however, straps on the sides that make it look like there was once a saddle where there no longer is.

It’s a super unique visual that seems to combine elements from slippers, boat shoes, and traditional loafers, with the latter being the most prominent part of the template.

The hue of the tan colorway is cool and almost slate-like. It’s not the warm desert boot kind of tan that’s often associated with crepe-soled chukkas. It can still pair well with military-inspired casual wear though, it’s just a touch dressier.

Relatedly, they look great with or without socks.

EG’s Review of The Evans Derbies from HELM

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The Evans are a classic Derby shoe, that is the eyelets are placed on top of the vamp for a more topographical design than its smooth-surfaced Oxford cousins.

I ordered a size 8 in the brown colorway.

HELM boots Evans derbies side profile


HELM Evans Derby

“The Evans is a modern version of the classic Derby shoe. Made of super soft Neymar leather, the sleek design is perfect to be dressed up or down. Constructed on the HELM designed rubber sole and stacked leather heel, the Evans is as comfortable as it is versatile.” –HELM Boots


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First Impressions

A lot of the same first impressions I had with the Wilsons apply here too. They were well-packed, came with a nice dust bag, and also had the HELM white stripe on the soles.

Additionally, the Evans came with extra laces.

Off the bat, the leather is clearly high-quality full-grain. The uppers were so supple and well-oiled, my fingers slid effortlessly across the surface of them, but in a smooth, silky, and non-greasy way.

HELM boots Evans derbies heel back side in brown

Between this and the suede on the Wilson, it’s clear HELM uses high-end materials.

The Evans are also a touch weightier than the Wilsons, which I think had to do with the fact there’s a lot more heavy rubber on the outsole.

I also liked how the eyelets are unfinished. The thick soles and open lacing already add to the shoe’s multi-layered surface. I think finished or metal eyelets would lean too much into the work shoe side of things.

Construction

Again, HELM Boots pretty much nails it when it comes to good construction and materials.

HELM boots Evans derbies on a dark blue shoe box sitting on a light wood floor

The entire shoe is handcrafted in Brazil from full-grain leather. The Evans are also Blake-stitched, which along with their flexible outsoles, make them immediately comfortable—even more so than the Wilsons.

I will say that since the Evans have a much nimbler sole than the Wilsons, they may have benefited from Goodyear-welting (like the Wilsons, the Evans are Blake-stitched). Moreover, one reason to go for a Blake-stitched construction over a Goodyear-welted one is so that the outsole can easily be cut really close to the upper. Yet, HELM’s outsoles muscularly stick out from their uppers.

closeup of heel and toe of brown HELM boots Evans derbies

That’s all splitting hairs though. Blake stitching may not be as water resistant or as long lasting as a Goodyear welt, but they’re still resoleable at the end of the day.

Further cinching HELM’s focus on function, the Evans also give topnotch traction and shock absorbance, especially for a Derby. They’re almost like hybrids, but with a more inconspicuously athletic outsole.

Comfort and Fit

Though the website states that the Evans run slightly large, it must be ever so slight. Unlike the Wilsons, which HELM sized down half for me, I received my regular 8s for these Derby shoes.

While the Wilsons were marginally tighter at size 7.5 and the Evans somewhat looser at 8, it worked out perfectly since the Wilsons are slip-ons and the Evans are lace-ups.

The Evans are also equipped with the same resiliently comfortable insoles that the Wilsons are. Their outsoles, however, are a little different.

black HELM boots derby sole

Instead of having rubber caps, the entire bottom of the outsole is a full layer of rubber. This means it technically has one less layer, and I definitely felt that immediately. The Evans were much more immediately flexible.

I was actually able to wear them right out of the box, all day at work, though I probably shouldn’t have. My feet were fully sore by 6pm, but I didn’t notice any pressure throughout the day.

Two weeks in, I think they’re pretty much broken in.

Style

Here are two qualities about the Evans that make them more rugged than the average Derby dress shoe.

closeup of man wearing brown shoes sitting on a fence

First, both the left and right eyelet stays are part of the same piece of leather that goes all the way around to the back. They sit on top of the shoe like a scarf, resulting in more stitching and overall topography.

Second, the toe is fully rounded, with just a slight taper on the body of the foot.

Basically, the Evans are definitely still dressy enough to be worn professionally, but they’re almost like what a cowboy might wear if he had to put on a suit for a semi-formal wedding.

Their moderately workwear vibe (and previously described comfort factor) makes them good options for someone who works in operations and wears a hardhat, or is on his feet, almost as much as he’s in a tie at a desk.

closeup of man walking up stairs in brown derby shoes

Ultimately, the Evans achieve exactly what the Wilsons do, and that’s injecting some utilitarian qualities into a slightly more formal footwear template, making them adaptable and giving them that Austin, Texas energy.

Pros and Cons of HELM Boots

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Pros

  • HELM Boots uses premium materials, including supple full-grain leather, as well as buttery and environmentally-minded suede.
  • Their shoes are handcrafted, solid, and well-stitched, employing rapid Blake-stitched constructions giving flex and the potential to resole.
  • The insoles are so soft and supportive, they provide a high level of comfort even right out of the box.
  • HELM’s unique multi-layered insole combines the resilience of leather with the agility of rubber, while also flaunting a signature visual cue in the form of the white stripe on the soles.
  • By cleverly combining work boot qualities with athletic shoe elements, even in these smart casual and professionally-appropriate models, HELM Boots provides a brand-specific look that’s adaptable both style-wise and functionally.
closeup of men's brown derbies
Closeup of the HELM Evans derby shoes

Cons

  • Both shoes run large to varying degrees. This isn’t a problem if you know to look out for it, but it can be confusing.
  • This is subjective, but the generally refined but relaxed aesthetic might not work for someone who prefers sharper and more formal styles.
  • The multi-layered outsoles of the Wilsons were incredibly stiff at first.


HELM Boots

We want our footwear to be as long-lasting as the culture that inspired it, and we combine timeless construction methods with premium leather and materials to create footwear built with a purpose, and shoes made to endure the years, for people who take care of them. HELM footwear is meant to be worn for life.


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Is HELM Boots The Brand for You?

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At the end of the day, the price of admission is worth it when it comes to HELM shoes based on the materials and the construction. They use good leather, good suede, and they make it a point to create handcrafted footwear.

If you love a more robust style, and have had trouble finding loafers and dress shoes because they’re often either too dressy for your tastes or too inappropriately hybrid-looking, HELM is also a good option.

Finally, they have a fun Austin-like quality, seen in their style infusions and the quotes engraved inside the shoes. This isn’t that important to everyone, but if all of the other good qualities check your boxes, it’s certainly a delightful brand characteristic.

If you have any questions or comments, DM me on Instagram! You can also find us on Effortless Gent’s Facebook page.



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