I love getting new boots and hiking shoes as much as the next gear-obsessed backpacker, but I also hate, hate, hate, when my old pairs give up the ghost. Which is where Vibram’s Sole Factor comes in. Send in any pair of shoes you want and they’ll cut off the old old outsoles and replace them with your choice of a huge selection of some of Vibram’s best. I feel wasteful getting new boots when the old ones still have life, and I’ve built up a whole list of cherished memories with boots that I’ve had for years. They’re as comfortable as, well, an old shoe. Typically, unless something catastrophic happens to the uppers, which only happens when I do something stupid, I end up replacing boots when the tread wears down to the point of being unsafe on steep trails. This program solves that problem nicely.
Vibram contracts out with two different companies to slap on the new soles: NuSole, in California, will run you $75 to revamp your treads. Cobbler Concierge, in New York, costs $125, but you get your shoes back faster (so they say) in fancy dust covers, with shoe cleaning products included and everything.
I went with the more expensive Cobbler Concierge and sent in two pairs of hiking boots to test out the service. A pair of cherished Asolo FSN GTX boots that I’ve owned for over 12 years. The uppers are still going strong, but the tread had been worn to next-to-nothing by years of tromping around Sierra granite. I also sent in a one-year-old pair of lightweight Merrell Verterra Mids, a discontinued boot that is supremely comfortable, but which had a terrible outsole that slipped on hard rock. I know I’ll never find a pair of these again, and though the tread was awful from the start, the boots were too comfortable to give up.
Here are the soles before I sent them in:
I received a text shortly after I’d mailed in my boots confirming they’d received them. Four weeks later, they shipped them back. This is much longer than the 7-10 days quoted on the Sole Factor website, but not so long that it was annoying. After all, I wasn’t wearing the boots anymore anyway.
When the boots arrived, they looked like they’d had an awesome time at the shoe spa. They were wrapped in gorgeous black cloth dustcovers, and were scrubbed up and clean. The new soles were attached beautifully. Vibram even tossed in a set of insoles for each that seem to be of excellent quality, though they have an arch baked in that my flat feet want nothing to do with.
Here are the brand new soles:
I have no doubt that the Asolos are ready for another decade and the Merrells got a much-needed upgrade for a subpar outsole/tread pattern. The only gripe I have with the repaired shoes is that the new soles are HEAVY. I didn’t really consider weight of the new sole construction, or the weight of the particular sole I chose, so that could be on me. Both my shoes got the same new tread pattern so I don’t have anything to compare them with. The added weight doesn’t matter for the Asolos which were already heavy anyway, but I’d be curious what would happen if you re-soled a pair of super lightweight hikers.
Why not just buy new shoes for that price? It’s a good question. And, to be honest, I’m not sure the Cobbler Concierge version is worth $125 just to resole a pair of lightweight hiking shoes that will break down in other areas anyway, and which aren’t usually manufactured with the long haul in mind.
But for composite boots that you really love that can’t be resoled through more traditional shoe repair shops, Sole Factor is a great service. Or, if like my Merrells, you’ve found a unique pair of shoes that are perfect except for the outsoles, it could certainly be worth it to have them upgraded rather than purchase a whole new pair of shoes. The less expensive NuSole option is probably the best option for most people, too. If you’re mailing in your boots to be repaired, you probably don’t need them anytime soon anyway, so expedited service isn’t super useful.
Plus, you can resole pretty much anything. If you’ve got a pair of high heels or maybe wingtip loafers that you’ve always wanted to rock in the backcountry, why not throw some Vibram lugs on ’em and give it a shot?