Barefoot Shoes

Soft Star Shoes Hawthorne Chukka Review


The Hawthorne from Soft Star Shoes is their latest flagship chukka for casual wear. It has beautiful leather throughout, excellent workmanship, and a durable, resolable Vibram Geo sole that is great for casual users.

What Soft Star…

The Hawthorne from Soft Star Shoes is their latest flagship chukka for casual wear. It was just released about a week ago and is now available on Soft Star’s site! The Hawthorne has beautiful leather throughout, excellent workmanship, and a durable Vibram Geo sole (that can be re-soled) that is great for casual minimalist shoe enthusiasts. Soft Star sent me a pair of the Hawthorne Chukkas to test and review, and now that I’ve put some miles in them, I’m ready to share what I think!

Overview of the Soft Star Shoes Hawthrone Chukka

Here’s what Soft Star Shoes’ elves have to say about the Hawthorne Chukka:
The Hawthorne is the latest addition to our casual line of barefoot-inspired adult footwear. This chukka-style shoe features tanned bullhide leather with a unique wax finish for a classic and comfortable design.
Weight — 8.18 oz (mens size 9) Total Stack Height — 12mm (8mm Geo sole with 4mm leather midsole.) Barefoot scale — Good for all wearers. Minimalists and mainstream users alike! Ideal Uses — Light trails, walking around town, Pros
  • Great Soft Star bullhide leather
  • Zero drop
  • Cool in summer, warm in fall
  • Wax finish gives some water-resistance
  • Can be easily resoled with its Vibram Geo sole
  • Quirky looks
  • Too thick
  • Leather midsole provides too much rigidity
  • Could have been sewn differently to provide even more toe space
  • Leather midsole is pretty stiff on bare feet
  • Quirky looks


Using the same sole platform as Soft Star’s Rogue and North Star, the Hawthorne features an 8mm Vibram Geo sole that is best suited for casual wear. Different from the two aforementioned shoes, the Hawthorne adds an additional 4mm layer of stiff, durable leather midsole for repairability and longevity. The sole itself is quite soft and is dotted with hexagons and circles for traction, but they are roughly fingernail deep, so they are not exactly the perfect thing for snowy winters or mud. Walking around town, some light trails, and office use would be the forte of this sole.
You can curve it, but you cannot ball it!
You can curve it, but you cannot ball it!
For comparison, it is—more or less—the same density as Vibram morflex, but with better traction bits; by contrast, morflex is essentially a smooth/bald sole that is a solid road sole. Between your foot and the geo sole a 4mm leather midsole, which adds durability, ease of repair, and some rigidity to the shoe.
Personally, I found the geo sole and leather midsole combo to be too thick for my tastes. I like my casual shoes with lots of flexibility and connectivity. In fact, one of my favorite casual shoes is the previously reviewed Soft Star RunAmoc Dash with the Bullhide leather sole. I found that shoe to be a minimalist’s dream with its incredible flexibility, ground feel, and looks. The Hawthorne is a much more substantial shoe than the Bullhide RunAmoc. I would classify it as a laced-up Rogue (previously reviewed on birthdayshoes though importantly the Rogue lacks the 4mm leather midsole). The combination of 8mm Vibram sole + 4mm leather midsole gives quite a bit of protection, stiffness, and diminishes the ground feel of the shoe when compared to other chukkas in the minimalist category. On the plus side, these are going to be warmer as late fall/winter sets in because the sole puts more distance between the wearer and the ground. The leather midsole and VIbram Geo sole are layered and you can see the leather layer from every angle; a very nice touch.
The layered sole of the Hawthorne features a leather midsole an replaceable Vibram Geo sole
The layered sole of the Hawthorne features a leather midsole an replaceable Vibram Geo sole
From a repair point of view, individuals that are more DIY or budget-minded will enjoy the fact that the shoe is easily resoleable by your local cobbler or by yourself. The leather midsole provides the main platform for the construction of the shoe, while the 8mm Vibram Geo sole can be removed and replaced as it wears. Since the geo sole is not exactly the densest sole in the vibram lineup, it will wear faster than, say, Vibram Cherry, Newflex, or Gumlite. Personally, the shoe would be much more minimalist-minded if it were constructed with a denser, thinner platform of Vibram Cherry or Newflex around 4-6mm, rather than the more substantial 8mm of Vibram Geo and I would ditch the leather midsole altogether. This is because the 4mm leather midsole is quite rigid, taking away flexibility from the already somewhat stiff 8mm geo sole. BUT, these are the tastes of a minimalist die hard who ran his first marathon (and will always run his marathons) in running sandals and has feet wide enough to land a small plane on. For non-monsters, this sole is great for everyday wear for everyday folks. The Hawthorne gives a relatively good amount of flexibility, but lots of protection and familiarity to a standard shoe. It’s definitely not a BOOT, but a stylish and somewhat lightweight chukka that you can enjoy for three seasons—four if you have good socks or blood circulation (or live in more temperate climes than the Northeast!). In walking around with the 12mm stack height, the ground beneath me was able to convey some information to my feet—small rocks on the sidewalk, the road dimples on a crosswalk, etc. , but I would not be able to feel more minute details, such as the texture of a back porch, office flooring or fallen leaves. I’m a proprioception junkie, after all.

Fit and Materials

The lovely bullhide leather
The lovely bullhide leather
Overall, the shoe is beautiful, the materials are great, but be careful if you have especially wide feet. The sizing is true to size and there shouldn’t be a need to size up or down. Soft Star provides a very accurate sizing tool on their website. For comparison, I brought out the Vivobarefoot Gobi in purple suede for comparison photos. Take a look: Both shoes are stylish chukkas for everyday wear and the Gobi is perhaps the most comparable to the Hawthorne. Both shoes are comfortable and good-looking,. The Hawthorne is thicker and likely to be more durable but the Gobi has a wider toebox overall and is the more comfortable of the two shoes, at least for my feet. The seams around the perimeter of the Hawthorne are sewn “fanned-out”, rather than “curved in”, like the Gobi. While this may be a stylistic choice, it does limit the amount of interior volume that the shoe can provide. Had the outside of the shoe been sewn in an overlap-fashion, there would be an extra—critical—millimeter or two for your toes.
The "sinched-in" or "fanned-out" stitching may limit your shoe volume
The “sinched-in” or “fanned-out” stitching may limit your shoe volume
Overall, the toebox is adequate. It’s just wide enough for my feet and the leather stretch a bit vertically over time. However, the vertical height is overall a bit cramped for me. In contrast, the Bullhide sole of the RunAmoc Dash is able to stretch a bit more and give even more splaying room because its sole is far more flexible than the Hawthorne.
Excellent stitch quality
Excellent stitch quality
I love Soft Star’s leather. It is soft, supple, has a great grain/texture, and has proven to be pretty durable for everyday use. I wouldn’t recommend rock climbing with this leather (though I have with the RunAmocs!).
Rock climbing with leather shoes in Colorado
Rock climbing with leather shoes in Colorado
The leather molds itself to your unique foot shape in very little time. Much like with the Bullhide RunAmoc Dash, I initially felt that the shoes might have been a little too narrow for my feet, but in less than a day, they have stretched a bit and molded pretty well to my feet. However, because the platform is a bit stiff, they will never mold to my feet like the RunAmoc’s have—those are truly are in a class of their own.
Like all of Soft Star’s work, the stitching and craftsmanship is downright beautiful. You can tell that a lot of care and time went into making each of their shoes and the Hawthorne continues this trend of excellence. Every stich is fold is expertly done, there are zero poor seams, and that should speak to the durability of their shoes for future wear. My old Bullhide RunAmoc Dash are over a year old and the leather sole began to separate only in the last couple of weeks after being worn ALL THE TIME. A little bit of shoe goo is all I need to make it good as new again. I expect the Hawthorne to hold up even better thanks to its more durable—yet thick—sole and it is easier to repair than almost any shoe I have because of the readily available vibram sole (any cobbler should have it) and the leather midsole as a tough platform.
Speaking of the midsole, it’s stiff both in terms of sole flexibility and the footbed. While you can wear the shoe sockless, your feet will be meeting something tough with every step. I have tough feet and a soft walk, so it’s not an issue for me, but if you are a heavy stepper or someone that is not used to minimalist wear, you may find your landings a bit jarring on the foot, while the sole is soft. The laces are of a high quality fabric and while I wish they were a bit thicker, these should be pretty durable for the long haul. Compared to the Vivobarefoot Gobi, which has more fragile laces, these should last much longer.

Performance and Summary

For everyday, casual wear, the Hawthorne does its job well. It’s comfortable and easy to wear with a rustic, yet quirky look. My issues were, as stated above, that I wish the sole was thinner, but this is a more general-purpose chukka for a wider audience. With that in mind, there is a lot to like with the Hawthorne. It may not be the minimalist leather chukka, but it does a lot of things right for its intended purpose and audience. Thanks to its thicker sole, you can take on slightly deeper puddles than your typical barefoot boot (though wet stuff may eventually soak through the bottom). While I do wish that the sole was thinner and the footbed was thinner, it’s an excellent choice for minimalist-interested individuals looking for something that has eccentric looks and a zero drop sole. Bottom line: if the Hawthorne sounds like the minimalist shoe you’re after, it retails for $190 and you can find it over at Soft Star here! For the best that Soft Star has to offer, definitely check out the amazing Bullhide RunAmoc Dash (here is a side-by-side comparison photo) reviewed here. For a thinner-soled chukka, go for Soft Star’s own Roo and Rogue, which use the same Geo sole, but lack the stiffer leather midsole. Also, consider the Vivobarefoot Gobi. Note: the Gobi 2 is the currently available Gobi model — reviewed here. For an excellent waterproof barefoot boot, try the Feelmax Kuuva 3 (reviewed here). UPDATE: Finally, if you’re wondering about how the Hawthorne compares to the Vivo Barefoot Porto, wonder no further! Full comparison can be found here.

By Jarvis

Minimalist ultra-marathon runner with flat dinosaur feet.

50K Ultra-Marathon Runner

I hold a PhD in Political Science.
You can follow my photography adventures at and Instagram at

22 replies on “Soft Star Shoes Hawthorne Chukka Review”

Nice review. There’s one other point that struck me when trying on the Hawthorne Chukka at the SoftStar showroom in Oregon a few weeks ago – the stiffness of the leather upper around the ankle. Normally I wear the Dash, which doesn’t cover the ankle bone. The Chukka rises above the ankle bone with a monolithic leather wrap that trends to tip and chafe when you flex your ankle/foot. Perhaps this is unavoidable with the high-rise leather design? When I shortened up my gait it became less noticeable.

As a die-hard Bullhide RunAmoc Dash fan, I agree with this review. Good work. I think you should list price in the “Cons”, though. $190 is outrageous an everyday shoe. But the dealbreaker for me is the thick sole.

Now I know how the original Runamoc fans must’ve felt when the Dash came out.


I would agree and say that, for me, the thick sole is not my cup of tea. However, it would definitely be perfect for a wide range of people.

Because prices fluctuate, I tend to leave the prices out of my reviews, but I’ll consider putting them in for future reviews.

My Hawthornes arrived yesterday. I have to agree; the toebox is quite narrow in comparison to previous models. The leather is stiffer, but I think this makes for a good form of the shoe. I wore it all day today and stood for a two hour presentation with no socks – absolute comfort. It may be due to my narrow size 7 lady foot…but I’d be inclined to purchase another pair, even at $190 a pop. 0_o

These shoes are extremely well built and every detail was considered. I mostly like the option to have the shoe resoled. Gotta love Soft Star for always getting me to buy a pair of shoes that stands a significant amount of wear and tear.

You went into a little comparison with the Gobi, but which would you prefer outright? I love my Soft Stars and had been looking at Gobis when I got an email about the Hawthorne, so now I’m torn. I feel like Soft Star is probably much higher quality.


Glad you like them!
I’ve always been a fan of Soft Star Shoes!

I’m looking to picking up a pair of Vivobarefoot Porto to do a more in depth comparison, which will include the cheaper Gobi shoe as well.

Soft Star is probably the pinnacle of shoe craftsmanship in my opinion, but I cannot confirm that until I get the Porto. Stay tuned!

Isn’t there a good chance the leather mid-sole will break in and soften up after a few months of use?

I’m holding off any judgement or purchase until I’ve seen a long term review.

Also found the fit disappointingly tight in toebox width and height. Finding a “dress shoe” has been quite the challenge. I am wondering what alternatives you consider that meet the following criteria:

_wide/high toebox
_water repellent enough to be worn in Portland, OR rainy weather
_classy enough to pass as business casual
_as minimalist as possible


I can confirm that the leather midsole does soften up over time. I have also called Soft Star to confirm this!


I found that the toebox is a bit snug for my wide feet, but the leather does stretch over time. I would suggest walking around with them indoors for a while and see if the fit improves for you. If not, it’s an easy return!

I would highly suggest Vivobarefoot Dharma, Jay, Mata, Ra, or Gobi. They are my favorite minimalist dress shoes. I am also a huge fan of the options from Tune Footwear.

Those are all highly attractive, minimalist, and flexible. We have reviews of these on birthdayshoes, but feel free to ask me any other questions!

Also check out the Soft Star Runamoc (especially the one with the Bullhide sole!) But they cannot handle wet weather.



OK, that’s nice to know. I hope you will make an updated section in the review in a few months time.
If these shoes are meant to be resoled and last for years, a long term review is essential.

Great review!

Any review out there on the kuuva3 you mentioned? Looking for a wide toe box zero drop hiking boot, waterproof a plus. Any suggestions?


Thanks Jarvis!

Yeah I am looking into the Kuuva 3 and VivoB “off the road” . Really need a nice waterproof booth for longer hikes and it needs to have lots of room in the toe box. In your review you make it sound like its plenty wide but I wonder how it compares to the Off the road as far as width.

What color are the Hawthornes in your pictures? They appear dark brown, but I don’t see that color on the Soft Star site.


The Hawthorne is not quite as wide as the Kuuva 3, but is more than adequate for most feet. My feet push a bit to the sides, but the leather will stretch over time.

A tad less wide than the Vivo toebox, but still pretty wide overall.

Brandon, the color is black for mine.


Do you wear a wide or regular in this shoe and is it the same size as your dashes? I’ve been considering ordering this shoe, but was concerned with the fit. I have a pair of dash runamocs in 7U narrow and they are perfect with thin socks. Then I ordered the Metro MJ in the same size with bullhide sole (and wanted to wear it without socks) and it was too loose in the heel and midfoot (but fit with iniji toe merino socks, which are quite thick). So I sent that back and tried the ballerines in the same size but medium width and they were too short and tight in the toe box and smashed my toes and made my feet cramp, but was loose in the heel. The sole is much shorter than my dash sole. So….here I am with a third try and would love these in the red, but don’t want to send shoes back a third time. I would try 7U narrow but worry that the toe box will be too tapered or too low in depth. I plan to wear these with socks and would be great if the toe socks fit in them. Also, a sheep fur would be nice too. The dashes were tight on the tops of my big toes at first, but I stretched them. I really don’t like my toes to be constricted, but want it narrow in the mid-foot and heel as otherwise it flops around too much. But the leather in these looks like it is much thicker than the dashes. My dashes are with the trail sole.

I know I should just ask the elves at Soft Star about the sizing, but just wondered how you would compare the sizing/fit to the dashes (although maybe the bullhide sole changes the fit a bit)?


I’m a standard 9U on in Soft Star’s sizing (which is odd, since my feet are very wide)

Naturally, shoes will differ a bit in terms of size and volume, depending on their design. I actually found the Bullhide RunAmocs to be more accommodating than the stiffer Hawthornes.

The bullhide sole DOES stretch over time and is one of my favorite shoes because of how it has molded to my feet. The dressier Hawthorne is a bit more cramped in the pinky toe, but that could also be due to the fact that the RunAmoc’s have stretched, and can stretch, more.

I would say that the shape and sizing of the Hawthorne and the Dash are pretty close.

I called them and they suggested to order an 8U narrow instead. That way my toes will be given more room and the 8U will be a bit wider than the 7U, but the narrow width will take into account the narrowness of my foot. Since you wear a regular width in SS, it made me realize that I should really order the narrow as you stated you have really wide feet and I have the opposite problem of long and narrow feet, but the shoes are unisex, so men and women with the same length feet would wear the same shoe. The elf I spoke to said she worried if I got the regular width that I would pull the laces all the way to the tightest and it might not be tight enough (and probably that area will stretch too).

I would love to try the dash with a bullhide sole, but I have already spent too much money on shoes recently (basically re-buying all the footwear I need), so I will wait (and they would only work in summer for a short time as I live in the rainy PNW). I do have some SS roos with a leather sole as house shoes though.

I noticed no one seems to talk about custom shoes on this site. I also am getting custom moccasin boots made for myself. When I went to the studio to have my foot cast, I saw other boots made for other customers and I noticed that all the toe boxes were different AND they were all foot-shaped – NOT like any of the shoes you see in stores these days. People do NOT have pointy feet!

General update: After a year of casual wear, the Hawthorne has held up quite well. The leather used in the Hawthorne is very similar to the full grain leather used in the RunAmoc Bullhide, but because the sole is standard rubber instead of leather, there is less splitting and cracking.

My bullhide runamocs are going to need replacing, while the Hawthorne is still perhaps about 6 months from needing to visit a cobbler–resolability was one of the Hawthorne’s selling points. I will probably go for a Vibram Newflex sole, when the time comes.

Just a quick comment – I have owned my Hawthorne Chukkas in the red leather for about a year now and love them! While I do wear them with socks, I am not necessarily looking for a true barefoot feel; however, they provide a nice minimalist shoe with no heel rise, toe spring, or arch support – and by having the laces, they feel attached to my feet. And the leather very quickly softened to be truly comfortable and soft! I have not worn them in deep snow, but they have held up well with any rainy weather we have had, and made my trip to Europe very enjoyable. I am starting to show a wear pattern on the soles now, but still am a way from needing to resole them.
Overall, I absolutely love these shoes!

Hi Jarvis, I want to resole my Hawthornes with a Newflex soling sheet.

Do you have any advice on where I can learn how to do this?

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