If you’ve served in the US military or have spent significant time hiking trails across North America, I’d bet dollars to doughnuts you have at least a passing familiarity with Danner footwear. While in 2nd Ranger Battalion out of Ft. Lewis, I was issued a set of Danners (the Acadia I believe) as my cold weather boot. They were such an improvement over the jungle boot, I kept wearing them long past winter, trekking all over Afghanistan and Iraq in them even in the dead of summer. They held up through 5 deployments and countless miles, missions and mountains. Now that I’m living just a short drive from the factory, I had to arrange a time to stop by.
Charles Danner started the company in 1932. Originally in Wisconsin, Danner moved to Oregon when Charles saw the future of the company’s sales in logging boots. Having eventually moved into hiking, military, duty and lifestyle markets, the company’s pedigree and reputation for toughness remains.
I met up with Pamela Lo at the Danner booth during SHOT show while I was drooling over their new Tachyon; she arranged for Erin Braun to give me a tour of the factory near Portland International Airport. I went into the tour knowing that Danner made some kick-ass boots, but came out having a great deal more respect for the craftsmanship and hard work put into every pair of boots and shoes that rolls off the factory floor.
It all starts with the slabs of leather shown above. They are tested a few different ways while they’re still almost a full cow-length. Any that don’t meet the stringent requirements for pliability are immediately sent back.
A giant “cookie cutter” form is placed on the leather sheet and hydraulically stamped down. Each piece is cut from the piece of leather that corresponds to the appropriate measure of thickness and flexibility.
Some of the sewing (triple-stitch) is still done on a machine far older than anyone reading this article. The stamp on this machine reads 1893 from Puritan MFG out of Boston and yet it is still in service nearly every day.
Machines and craftsmen work hand-in-hand every step of the way. I didn’t see a single automated process the entire day. From stitching, punching in eyelets or affixing the midsole to the Gore-tex booties, very little of the process has changed over the years: nearly everything is measured out by hand and fit to exacting specifications.
Above is the work of that antique triple stitch sewing machine.
An employee runs each boot through the sewing machine by hand in just a handful of seconds.
A finished boot, shaken not stirred. This is one of Danner’s “famous boots”, the Mountain Light II worn by James Bond in Spectre. This is a company that embraces every aspect of their history. Ancient logging equipment, antique tools and the flags of every branch of the US military adorn the factory. From hunting footwear, to size 150 boots for an injured elephant, these dirt slappers have been around the world.
Although Danner has a long and storied history to lean on, this isn’t a company content to rest on accolades from years past. I’ve seen what they’ve been working on at the factory and I’ll be testing out their newest boot, the Reckoning, as well as the one that caught me eye at SHOT show, the Tachyon.
(all images in this article were taken by the author with the exception of the featured image, courtesy of Danner.com)