Sugar Cane jeans were some of my first pairs of real Japanese denim, and during those earlier years I would collect and study their catalogue booklet every six months. Sugar Cane’s products had been some of the most innovative back in the early to mid-2000’s, as far as Japanese denim and work-wear are concerned, though things seem to have slowed in the past couple of years.
Part of the Sugar Cane line-up includes the Lone Wolf brand, under which Toyo’s footwear are sold. These Lone Wolf boots were some of the earliest Japanese work boots that were readily available to purchase from outside of Japan – I’d drool over these Lone Wolf boots in the catalogues, and yet uncertainty regarding sizing and the relatively high pricing kept me away, and it would be some years before I saw them in person in Japan.
More than a decade later, I’m sitting here reviewing my first pair of Lone Wolf boots, feeling like – in many ways – my clothing hobbies have come full circle. This review has been a long time coming, and perhaps a bit overdue…
Let’s take a look at these Lone Wolf ‘Sweeper‘ boots.
Ruf-Tuf Lone Wolf Boots is somewhat similar to the Fiction Romance line-up for Sugar Cane’s clothing – combining reproduction aesthetics and detailing to create pieces that could have been. Indeed, Lone Wolf’s line-up consist entirely of 1940’s to 50’s style American work boots, everything from Engineer boots to lace-to-toe Roofers.
A combination of mainly American materials and precise Japanese craftsmanship produce a certain distinct feel that is very different from modern American boots.
The Sweeper boots being review today are the seldom reproduced style of low work boots, similar to the Rolling Dub Trio ‘Coupen’ boots I reviewed many months ago. The boots are much closer to shoes in height, though the toe shape and build very much resemble a pair of work boots.
The Sweeper comes standard in four variants – this pair being the all black rough-out edition. Brown, tan and mixed leather options are available also.
Shape & Fit
Like previously mentioned, even though these Sweeper boots are not strict reproductions, the overall shape stays true to 40’s and 50’s work boots. That being said, the bulbous ‘work toe’ has been toned down somewhat, and the Sweeper is not as wide or as tall as other Japanese interpretations of Americana work boots.
The toe start at E width, and really doesn’t get wider than that as we move towards the mid-foot, where the width tightens up.
The toe box is actually relatively short for a Japanese reproduction work boot.
This being a 4″ tall low work boot, rather than a 3″ tall shoe, does mean that the climb in the vamp is more dramatic, and so the Sweeper fits on the foot more like a boot than a shoe.
You can see in the photo above that the opening of the boot is curved, which combines with a snug opening diameter and slanted counter to create a strong hold just above the ankle. The tight, curved opening did cause me some blistering during the first couple of wears, so some breaking-in is required.
The up-turn in the toe is also quite significant, and thus even with the unit sole, there remains a rocking sensation as I walk.
I am between a US 9 D to 9 E in terms of Brannock’s sizing, and the Sweeper at US 8.5 fits me well in terms of both length and overall width with medium thickness socks. If you exclusively wear thick work socks, going true-to-size might not be a bad idea, unless your feet are on the narrower side (< D). If your feet are wider than E width, you might struggle with tightness in the toe box somewhat.
Overall, these Sweeper boots are comparatively streamlined as far as reproduction style work boots go. Going TTS or sizing down by half may be the way to go.
Not much official information is available about the leather utilized on the Sweeper, but I’m fairly certain these are aniline latigo leather from Horween tannery.
The leather is used in the rough-out configuration, meaning that the grain side is facing inward and the flesh (corium) side is exposed. This is a more rugged way of using leather for footwear, and allows the wearer to additionally ‘dub’ the leather with waxes to protect against inclement or cold weather.
This latigo leather is fairly good quality, and the flesh side has a nice finish – more fibrous and furry than the average suede, the exposed leather fibres are much longer and unprocessed. Personally, I prefer this type of rough-out finish to finely processed suede – more durable, and actually easier to keep clean!
I have to say though, that the leather selection here was perhaps very exciting 10 years ago, but is now somewhat dated. Boots of this caliber should probably feature something a little bit more exciting than aniline latigo, even if reproduction aesthetics is key.
Lone Wolf’s boots are apparently entirely made in a small, family-run Japanese footwear workshop. Type writing aside, these are very nicely executed stitch-down boots.
Stitch-down boots are, of course, the specialty of Pacific North-Western boot makers such as White’s, Wesco, etc. Lone Wolf’s construct here is better than what I’ve seen the Americans churn out in recent years.
5 panels make up the body of the Sweeper. A combination of single and triple stitching is used to piece together these panels. The stitching is tonal black, very dense and superbly neat.
The counter is one piece, extending above the opening to form a small pull tab; the curves here really make these boots more interesting to look at compared with most other low work boots.
The double row stitch-down extends from the tip of the toe to the mid-foot, and is precisely sewn with rather thick thread.
The edges of the turn-out/mid-sole are further beveled and polished. The execution here is much nicer than my American work boots – compare this with the awful edge work on my Nick’s Manito shoes, for example.
The top edge of the quarters are neatly rolled, adding some elegance to this rough-out work boot.
The stitch-work is very impressive, on pair with more expensive Japanese boots. Everything is just so precise – it’s almost jarring to have this kind of neatness on a work boot.
The Sweeper features bellows tongue, with the grain side out. This configuration means that the tongue will not be displaced during rigorous activity. The stitch-work to secure the tongue is, again, remarkably neat.
Overall, the Sweeper is one of the most well made ready-to-wear work boots I’ve come across, comparable in construct to other Japanese brands which may cost a little more.
Sole Unit & Misc.
The Sweeper boots aren’t completely blacked-out. The 5 eyelets on each side are brass coloured, and very sturdy.
Lone Wolf manufactures its own laces. These black rough-out Sweepers come with unwaxed, flat-braided black laces. The laces are more black than the rough-out leather, and strangely provides a bit of contrast…
Vintage style woven labels are attached to the inside of the tongues. A very nice touch.
The insole is somewhat utilitarian, but importantly it’s all leather!
The inside of these boots are fully lined. Nothing too fancy, but the finishing is neat and the materials used internally are top quality too.
Vibram’s #4041 Cristy waffle sole is used for the outsole, attached to a leather mid-sole.
Not the prettiest, and to be honest aesthetically does not match with the overall mid-century vibes, but these waffle soles do make walking very comfortable and keep these Sweeper boots relatively light.
Overall, top quality components and materials all round.
I must say that these Lone Wolf ‘Sweeper’ boots are a joy to wear and quite flavorful as far as work-wear aesthetics are concerned, despite being a black-out boot.
The design, shape and construct are all top class. I believe that, in the realm of work-boots, we’re not going to get anything better made short of going full custom with a niche Japanese maker.
I can see that the Sweeper has been subtly updated over the years, comparing this pair to Lone Wolf’s older low work boots from the last decade.
The toe box is certainly vintage style, but the height and width are not, by modern standards, exaggerated. The panels are all nicely curved, resulting in the Sweeper having a bit more elegance and flair than a straightforward work boot.
At 49, 800 yen + tax (2017 pricing), there’s not too much to complain about. This is certainly entry level pricing for a Japanese work boot, but the workmanship, materials and design all punch above this price tier.
The construct is impeccable, really. A much better stitch-down boot than what is available from the USA nowadays, at least in terms of neatness of make and overall finishing.
These Sweeper boots may lack some of the finer details of my RDT Coupen boots, but there’s not a big difference in quality. Keep in mind the Coupens are about 30% more expensive.
Where these Sweeper boots do lag behind somewhat – relative to other high-end work boots – is that the Horween latigo leather being used, IMO, is somewhat dated for 2017. Other Japanese and American work boot brands are nowadays using leathers that are much more interesting. Don’t get me wrong, the leather is good quality, it’s just a little, well, boring for what is a relatively expensive boot.
I’m not too enamored with the Vibram waffle sole (purely an aesthetics issue), so I’ll be looking to convert the outsole units to something a little more ‘mid-century’ when the time comes to replace these soles.
Overall, I’ve been pretty impressed by my first pair of Lone Wolf boots. The Sweeper boot is very well made, hard-working and even a little bit handsome.
At the ~50, 000 yen price tier, there are a few more Japanese boot brands I’d like to try, but I’ll definitely purchase another pair of Lone Wolf boots some day. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending these Sweeper boots to work-wear fans – certainly do take a look at them at your local Sugar Cane retailer.