Here at Ape, we believe the chukka boot is the most versatile footwear style you can own. Made with the needs of modern man in mind, they’re comfortable, durable and inhabit the sweet spot between smart and casual, offering unlimited styling options and ultimate bang for your buck.
Sold? Read on to find out exactly what makes a boot a “chukka” (or “desert”), our favourite versions on the market today, plus some foolproof ways to wear them.
What Is A Chukka Boot?
The chukka is a mid-top silhouette, which means the top of the boot sits on the ankle as opposed to above or below it. This makes it perfect for pairing with anything from standard-length trousers to cropped versions.
Most chukka boots also feature only a small number of eyelets for the laces to pass through. On a worker or hiking boot you might find anywhere up to 20, whereas on a chukka you’re more likely to find four or maybe six.
Its uppers are typically made from suede or leather, and are set atop rubber or leather soles. The toe box is rounder and in most cases the inside comes unlined.
Are Desert Boots The Same Thing?
In short: all desert boots are chukkas, but not all chukkas are desert boots. The terms are often used interchangeably within modern menswear, which is where the confusion lies. As previously determined, a chukka is essentially any mid-top/ankle boot with a low number of eyelets. The desert boot fits into this category, but should traditionally feature a crepe rubber sole.
The Best Brands For Chukka Boots
For those with even a passing interest in British shoemaking, Grenson needs no introduction. The Northamptonshire label has been lovingly crafting handmade shoes and boots for well over a century and the chukka is one of its staple silhouettes. Expect premium materials and all the hallmarks of bootmaking quality, such as Goodyear-welted construction and leather soles.
Another heritage shoemaker, Clarks is one of those rare brands that caters to every generation, taking you in style from pre-school to retirement home. The label’s most iconic design is the desert boot: a simple, crepe-soled chukka inspired by the design used by British soldiers in World War II.
Today the style is still as relevant as ever and hailed by many as the king of casual footwear. However, if you’re looking for something a little different (or you already own a pair), try the British brand’s Desert Trek or Wallabee models.
Clarks’ desert boot is the original and widely regarded the best. While it’s difficult to improve upon perfection, Astorflex gives it an admirable shot. The Italian label produces luxurious chukkas (among other styles), carefully crafted from the finest local materials. In business since the 1800s, Astorflex is now making the move towards becoming 100% ecological, meaning you can wear great shoes with a clear conscience.
Padmore & Barnes
Owned for a time by Clarks (notice a theme here?), Irish shoemaker Padmore & Barnes actually manufactured the brand’s popular Wallabee model at its own factory between 1964 and 1987. P&B is known for their laid-back, lifestyle footwear, of which chukka boots play a huge part. The Willow is a classic desert boot with a moccasin toe and stitching detail throughout for added interest and texture. The brand’s Original boot is another a solid option, featuring a similar shape to Clarks’ Wallabee, handmade in Ireland.
Granted, chukka boots aren’t exactly Vans’ bread and butter, but if you’re looking for something even more casual than the other options listed here, you should give the Cali sneaker brand a go. The label’s chukka mid shoe fuses a chukka boot’s heart with a trainer’s DNA – the resulting design makes for a perfect weekend option. They look great teamed with cuffed selvedge denim or a pair of twill worker pants.
Red Wing might be known for their tougher-than-nails Moc Toe designs, but there isn’t any style of boot the American brand can’t turn its hand to – and chukkas are no exception. If you’re looking for durable, well-built footwear that is able to stand up to the rigours of daily use year round, your search is over.
Distressed and creased materials give Marsell’s luxury boots a distinctive, lived-in look, making each and every pair utterly unique. Handcrafted from soft Italian leather, these premium chukka boots aren’t the cheapest on the list, but it’s hard to deny they’re some of the best looking. The perfect option if you’re looking to buy into the style but want something a bit out of the ordinary.
Every single pair of John Lobb shoes goes through a process of 190 steps to create something akin to a work of art. This is shoemaking at its finest. In addition to traditional formal Derbies and Oxfords, the brand’s chukka boots are some of the best you will come across. For uncompromising quality, timeless style and a healthy dose of British character, you need look no further.
How To Style Chukka Boots
As luck would have it, chukka boots are some of the easiest footwear to style. Their stripped-back design and soft features enable them to be paired with anything from tailoring to jeans and a tee.
The key thing to remember is to make sure the fit of your legwear is in keeping. The chukka is a low-profile silhouette, as far as boots go, so ensure your trousers are cut slim to complement them. A cuffed or cropped leg is a nice way to show off your boots too.
When wearing with tailoring it’s best to keep things laid back. Chukka boots are fine for smart-casual events but nothing more formal. Stick to the usual rules of matching shoe colours with trousers and you can’t go too far wrong. Ditch the tie too and perhaps swap the shirt for some knitwear or even a tee.