Johnston & Murphy Karnes Cap Toe Boot Review
Photo: Johnston & Murphy, via Instagram

There’s something undeniably masculine about pulling on a good, sturdy pair of kick-ass boots.

They can instantly make you feel stronger, sturdier and ready to traverse whatever terrain lies before you, both literally and figuratively.

But if you don’t invest your boot-spending money wisely, they can also fall the f@¢k apart pretty quickly.

In this post, I’ll outline what you should look for in a well-made (and good-looking) pair of boots, and explain why Johnston & Murphy’s Karnes Cap Toe offers the best boot for your buck.

And I’ll try not to make too many more puns along the way – boot no promises. (Sorry. Trust me, if I could help it, I would.)

What to Look for in a Good Boot

Sturdy Soles

Johnston & Murphy Karnes Cap Toe Boot ReviewOne of the main reasons to opt for boots rather than shoes is the sole.

Because boots are bigger and usually heavier than shoes, they can get away with having a larger, more protective sole without looking clunky or imbalanced.

The exact type of sole you’ll want depends on what you intend to use the boots for. If you want to wear them with a suit or a more dressed up outfit, stick to sleeker, leather soles. (The Johnston & Murphy Fulton has a lot of the same style advantages as the Karnes, but with a lighter sole.)

But if you’re looking for something that can get you through winter without slipping on your ass or soaking your socks, go for a heftier rubber sole.

Tread

Not all rubber soles are created equal.

If you plan to wear your boots while navigating tricky terrain (whether a forested area or just a snowy/icy city street), look for one with a lot of tread.

In shoe parlance, tread is the varied pattern on the bottom of the sole (pictured above) designed to help grip the ground beneath you and keep you on your feet.

Construction

Johnston & Murphy Karnes Cap Toe Boot Review
Giving a whole new meaning to “Kicking it Old School”

One of the biggest factors in determining the quality (and often, the price) of a shoe or boot is how well the thing is made.

There are three basic methods for constructing a shoe. In order of fastest/cheapest to longest/most labor intensive, they’re: cementing, blake welting and goodyear welting.

Each has its pros and cons, and you can find an awesome primer on shoe construction over at (the oh-so aptly named) Primer Magazine.

Generally speaking, any boot that’s welted should last you a good long time, but if the sole somehow does start to separate from the boot, you can probably have it repaired.

Cementing is trickier because a sole that’s cemented to the boot can’t be repaired if it starts to separate.

This could obviously present a problem, but cementing tends to work pretty well for rubber-soled shoes and boots. (The Karnes has rubber soles and is cemented – more on its construction below.)

Cushioned Insoles

Johnston & Murphy Karnes Cap Toe Boot ReviewThis one’s easy to forget about because you can’t visibly see it from the outside – but it might well be the single biggest thing you notice about your boots on a day-to-day basis.

If you’re ordering boots online that you’ve never tried on in-person, make sure to read enough reviews to know whether you can reasonably expect the boots to be comfortable.

The good news is that if all the other factors are in place – good style, good soles, good construction, etc. – but the insoles are less than ideal, there’s an easy solution.

You can buy comfortable insoles online or at most pharmacies, and either replace the ones that come with your boots or layer the new one on top of them.

If you suspect you’ll need extra insoles but aren’t sure if the ones in your new boots will be removable, consider sizing up by half a size to make sure you’ll have room to squeeze it in.

Reviewing Johnston & Murphy’s Karnes Cap Toe Boot

(They May be Cemented, But They’re Still Stand-Outs)

Johnston & Murphy Karnes Cap Toe Boot ReviewPerfect Toe Shape

One of the most striking things about this boot is how sharp it looks, and a lot of that owes to the toe shape.

Unlike other boots in this category, which are rugged but round, the Karnes features a triangular toe that looks more like a stylish pair of dress shoes than a rugged pair of hiking boots.

That combination of sleek and sturdy means you don’t have to choose between looking stylish or staying on your feet when the weather goes to shit – it’s actually possible to have both.

Broguing Details

Johnston & Murphy Karnes Cap Toe Boot ReviewWhile not full brogues, the Karnes boot integrates some light broguing around the cap toe and the ankles, which help the boot stand out.

It’s a minor details, but one that helps elevate the look of the boot and separate it its more basic competition.

Waterproof

I’ve had my pair of Karnes for years now and I’ve warn them through three Toronto winters.

If you’ve never been to Canada in the winter, rest assured: the struggle is real. When it’s not snowing it’s raining, and in those precious few interludes in which there’s not precipitation falling from the sky, last week’s is piling up in puddles and slush all over the ground.

But in all the time I’ve spent sloshing around this city in my Karnes, not once have I felt my socks get soggy – even when I’ve been caught in a downpour.

Now, after a lifetime spent in this kind of weather, I should confess that I’ve become a pretty expert puddle hopper; water may be everywhere, but I’ve gotten pretty good at avoiding it.

For those less seasoned in puddle-avoidance, I don’t think this boot is going to keep you dry if you step directly into ankle-depth water.

But for just about anything short of that, these things have held up beautifully.

Quality Leather

Johnston & Murphy Karnes Cap Toe Boot ReviewPart of the reason why my Karnes have lasted this long and continue to look so good is the quality of the leather used by Johnston & Murphy.

There are few if any signs of stiffening and cracking, which happens with a lot of leather boots after exposure to the elements.

Even after they get fully soaked, the leather dries well and, with minimum maintenance on my part, continues to look healthy and soft.

The Soles

Karnes are cemented, but you’d hardly know it. After years of wear and tear, mine show no signs of separating – if they did, there’s no way they’d keep my feet this dry.

Plus, the classic tread pattern on the bottom has proven more resistant to slippage than any other pair of boots I’ve owned.

In a city prone to ice storms and slick streets, the Karnes have helped keep me off my ass for three years running (knock on wood!), a feat which, I can assure you, owes little to my balance and much to my boots.

Comfy as Hell*

*And by Hell I mean a marshmallow perfectly shaped to my foot.

And last but not least, these things just feel good.

I’ve walked countless miles in my Karnes and felt no ill effects. They’re soft, supportive and easy to wear all day – even a day spent walking around the city.

Make no mistake, they’re heavier than even the sturdiest of shoes. But the cushioned insoles have shaped nicely to my feet, making these not just my most comfortable pair of boots, but one of my most comfortable pair of shoes, period.

Where to Buy Them

The Obvious Choice:

Johnston & MurphyJohnston & Murphy Karnes Cap Toe Boot Review

Pick them up online and keep your eye out for sales – in my experience, they tend to go on sale after Christmas and stay on until the end of what the fashion world considers “winter,” which apparently occurs some time in February.

That still leaves you a few months to get a lot of use out of them before you pack them away for next fall, when you can wear them everyday (at least, I do).

The Sleeker Alternative:

The Fulton Cap Toe on AmazonJohnston & Murphy Karnes Cap Toe Boot Review

I didn’t find any Karnes on Amazon, but as mentioned, the Fulton is available there. It has a lot of the same style elements as the Karnes – the perfect toe, the broguing – but a smaller sole.

I haven’t warn it myself, but it could be great for guys in warmer climates who don’t need to worry about trudging through snow.

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  • Clifford

    have you tried any other johnston and murphy models? I read that there quality has dipped in recent years.

    • Dave Bowden

      Hi Clifford,

      Thanks for the comment. I’ve read the same thing about J&M but for my money, they’re great.

      I have to admit that I’m not much of a snob when it comes to the finer points of shoe construction, which I believe is where the crux of the argument against J&M comes from. Fair enough, and for those who want something expertly made, you may have to look elsewhere.

      But I own three pairs of J&M shoes: in addition to the Karnes, I own a stylish pair of penny loafers and a pair of dock shoes. In all three cases I’ve found their shoes to be stylish, comfortable and durable, which are the three main things I look for in a shoe.

  • Kalvin

    I like Johnston & Murphy but Banana Republic’s shoes have always fit me well and they run so sales a lot more often so they tend to be my go to. Limited selection tho.

    • Dave Bowden

      I actually haven’t tried BR’s shoes because I was foiled by their limited selection! I tried repeatedly to find a penny loafer from them last year (I forget what the model name was), but it was sold out online and I couldn’t find it in any stores nearby. Eventually bought a similar model from J&M, but missed out on the sale price of the BR pair.