The best desert boots for men share origins with a long line of menswear staples swiped directly from the military. Those so-hot-right-now Giant-fit chinos from J.Crew? Thank the British Indian Army. That bomber jacket you’ve spotted everywhere? Salute to the Air Force. The desert boot, with its indestructible suede-and-crepe-sole combo, is just another fashionable byproduct of the military industrial complex—albeit one that looks incredible in pretty much every civilian context too. And the most beloved desert boot iteration is also the very first one, from British shoemaker Clarks. Born in 1950, and inspired by the shoes worn by British soldiers fighting in World War II, desert boots have remained a fixture in fashionable closets ever since. And for good reason: they straddle the line between formal and fight-ready. But if the historical pedigree isn’t enough to make you join the legions of desert boot-lovers around the world, here’s a handy list of other reasons you should seriously consider a pair:
- They’re just dressy enough: Khakis? Definitely. A suit? Why not? The desert boot has a rugged history, but many brands, Clarks included, harp on the more streamlined aspects of the silhouette. That clean shape, long toe, and abbreviated laces means they’re fair game to wear to the office. (Though they’ll gladly trek across Morocco, too.)
- They can take a beating: You know who wore the hell out of their shoes? British soldiers fighting in North Africa during World War II. They wore desert boots, and they vanquished fascism. You just need to make it to lunch.
- You can wear them right now…: Those brawny style staples (tweed suits, raw denim, shearling jackets) topping our fall shopping list require footwear that’s just as rugged. Desert boots can hang with a thick Harris Tweed suit at work or anchor deep-cuffed jeans on the weekend. And they’re so comfy, they’ll leave your feet singing the whole time.
- …And you can wear them six months from now: Ever try to wear Chelsea boots with shorts? We didn’t think so. (Please promise that you’ve never tried this.) Desert boots, on the other hand, were made for the heat: that lightweight suede and lack of anything resembling interior lining make them a perfect summer shoe. Wear them with shorts, wear them with linen drawstring pants, wear them to the beach and fill them with sand.
As much as we love the tried-and-true Clarks joints, variety is the spice of life—and thanks to Mr. Clark’s early efforts, there’s a bevy of top-notch options to choose from. So we sifted through them all to find the absolute best desert boots for men, from exquisite designer riffs to beefed-up, sneaker-esque hybrids. Once more unto the breach, dear friends. We promise we’ll make it worth your while.
The Best Desert Boot, Period
It doesn’t get any more classic than this. Clarks’ desert boot changed the game forever, cementing its legacy as an icon of the genre in the process. It’s a favorite of stylish fellas like Anthony Bourdain, Drake, and dancehall don Vybz Kartel—not to mention countless GIs and civilians through the decades. But the shoe’s impressive CV wouldn’t mean much if the quality wasn’t up to snuff. Which is why Clarks’ equips its hero product with crepe rubber soles and ultra-comfy suede uppers sourced from the famed C.F. Stead leather tannery. As far as ankle boots go, they’re about as comfortable as a pair of well-worn sneakers—and you definitely don’t have to enter a raffle to grab a pair.
The Desert Boot That’s Worth the Upgrade
OG Clarks a touch too dainty for your dogs? For a few extra Jacksons, upgrade to Astorflex’s made-in-Italy joints. What, exactly, do your hard-earned dollars get you? Leather-lined suede uppers and added backstay support, both of which translate to a reassuringly beefier silhouette and sturdier construction. Your money also goes towards more environmentally-friendly materials like vegetable-tanned leathers and natural rubber soles, which make for a cushy ride no matter how many miles you log.
The Best-for-Your-Buck Desert Boot
J.Crew’s MacAlister boot has been one of the brand’s quietest best-sellers for years. Supple suede, natural crepe rubber soles, and Italian craftsmanship—coupled with stitchdown construction—make it easy to see why. It’s a touch sleeker than other styles on this list, but that doesn’t compromise its versatility. It’s a quality buy at full price, but with the Crew’s frequent discount cadence, it’s an absolute no-brainer on sale.
The Well-Suited Desert Boot
The original desert boots earned their stripes serving the military, but these were destined for an even higher calling: as the shoe of choice for Daniel Craig’s James Bond. The suede is noticeably more luxurious, the construction is hefty enough to withstand a car explosion (and comfortable enough to help you outrun the bad guys on foot), and the moccasin-adjacent silhouette sure doesn’t hurt, either. Trust us: if they can handle the everyday rigors demanded of Her Majesty’s secret service, they can handle an unexpected sun shower on your way to work.