Welcome to the ugg boot faceoff! Want to know the difference between the $200 uggs and the $50 ones? Are there any differences between the two most popular brands? Not sure if you should believe the hype or just looking for a great ugg boot? You’ve come to the right place. With so many companies now making ugg boots at so many different price points (and with conflicting information online and lots of bias testimonials from brand loyalists), I decided it was time to create a complete review.
Intro – Although there is still some argument, I believe the term “ugg boot” describes a particular style of boot (almost everyone would draw an identical picture when you mention it) not a specific brand. So for the purposes of this review, that particular brand that started the mainstream ugg boot craze a few years ago will be referred to as UGG Australia, their actual brand name, and any item referred to as an ugg, will mean the common style of the boot.
I discovered in my research that while most of these boot brands use Australian sheepskin, every brand I reviewed makes their shoes in China. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, just don’t be surprised when you look on the boot tag. Also, most of the brands will warn you about dye transfer. You might not think much of this (what does it matter if the inside of your pant leg changes color, right?) until you realize they’re talking about your toes turning colors, since you’re wearing these babies sans socks. If you really can’t stand the idea of purple-ish black toes lurking inside your boots, don’t get uggs with black shearling interiors. And although sheepskin is water resistant, it is NOT waterproof and you should use weatherproofing spray on your uggs whether you plan on going out in the rain or not – trust me, if my husband had sprayed his sheepskin slippers right away, they would probably not have terrible coffee and baby drool stains on them right now. ;)
Last, I’d like to mention that I was given some of these boots by the manufacturers for the purpose of reviewing them and others I purchased myself. I always strive to write fair and accurate reviews with pros and cons for each item, and I only accept shoes from companies that accept this policy, so you can be sure you’re getting my honest opinions. Now, on with the show!
UGG Australia – One of the first and most popular names in ugg boots, UGG Australia was named Footwear News’ “Brand of the Year” in 2003. The brand has now ventured into many non-ugg styles but still keeps their signature ugg alive with things like this season’s collaboration with Jimmy Choo.
The Review – Super soft, obviously, and these were also the lightest weight boot of all those reviewed. But the shaft of these boots tends to be a bit wide which allowed little wisps of cold to get to my legs. This led to me wearing them with socks, clearly an ugg no-no, but it was January. I don’t know if the socks killed the shearling, especially on the inside of the heels, or if it would have compacted the same way after a few months of wear, but I pretty much had to continue wearing them with socks after that, so be warned. Unfortunately, the super flexible outsoles did start thinning noticeably from wear within less than a year, so, although the boots continued to be comfortable til the end, they had a pretty short life. However, I never had a problem with a seam coming undone or any other kind of manufacturing defect; the issues I mentioned were due to normal use, so these boots are clearly well-made. And I should mention that the sheepskin exterior of the UGG boot (the part not touching any part of your foot) was the softest out of all boots reviewed, very buttery. UGG Australia boots have a blown rubber sole like Whooga brand boots, but the pattern they’ve grooved in gives the UGG soles slightly more traction. Although these are on the high end price wise, you’ll feel you’re paying for higher grade materials and not just a hyped-up brand name.
Random – Starting with the Fall 2010 season, UGG Australia will start adding reflective security stickers and labels on their shoes and shoe boxes to help fight counterfeit replication. And I have to give them points for their biodegradable (polythylene) shoe bags.
Price: $180 Fit: runs large – whole sizes order down one size/ half sizes, order down a half size
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Whooga - This is a relatively new brand that specializes in ugg boots. Whooga uses only Australian sheepskin with merino wool and their boots are sewn by hand using Australian manufacturing techniques. They offer 9 color options including 2 cool metallic versions.
The Review – The Whooga boots actually had the thickest shearling out of all the boots I reviewed; it filled the spaces between my toes from the top as well as from the bottom. With other ugg boots I obviously felt the fleece around my entire foot, but after a bit of wear the shearling molded into a little hollow foot igloo. The Whooga boots, with their twin faced fleece, are enveloping, like being swallowed in soft warmth that somehow stays in place. And the shaft of the boot kept the fleece touching my entire leg without being restrictive, which was one problem I had with the UGG Australia brand, as above. These boots keep you super warm without being overly warm – it’s really a try it to believe it kind of thing. You definitely don’t want to ruin the experience by wearing socks or tucking in your pants – so for the winter, give up your skinny jeans for a while and wear something you can pull over the outside of the boots or scrunch at the top.
On the other hand, the exterior sheepskin (the part not touching you) feels starchy to the touch and the outsoles are a little more stiff than other brands; but those details are hardly worth the extra $60 that separates these from UGGS and EMUs. The blown rubber sole was a little slippery right out of the box on smooth linoleum surfaces, but they seemed to have a more normal grip after about an hour of wear. Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, I didn’t notice the Whooga boots on my feet after I wore them over a long 10 hour day. All of the sudden I was like, wait a second, I’m supposed to be thinking about these boots for a review! Now that’s the sign of a good shoe: when you’ve got such happy feet, you totally forget you even have them on.
Random – I LOVE Whooga’s packaging. The shoe box has a ribbon and bow attached to it so that every time you take your shoes out, it’s like opening a present. Great idea!
Price: $122 Fit: slightly big/half sizes visit the website for a fit guide
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EMU -Founded in 1994, EMU Australia uses a Border Lester/Merino cross sheepskin from the Western District of Victoria, Australia. They actually have two versions of their classic ugg boot, the Stinger and the lower priced Bronte. But there’s no mixing up the two options, they even have different shoebox designs.
The Stinger Review – The EMU Stinger style has two great features the other brands lack: a removable insole and arch support. Those features are pretty cool, but for those who have been unable to wear the ugg style due to flat feet, injury, or the need for orthotics, I’m sure it seals the deal. Also these boots did have the most grippy, traction-y rubber outsoles. Even the slipper style, which I would assume most people would keep for indoor use, has a great sole. However, the fleece in these EMU boots, while warm, was not as soft or thick as it’s similarly priced competitors and the outer sheepskin was also a little less soft. Unlike Whooga and UGG Australia which have interior shearling that appears to be brushed, the EMU shearling is a little nubby and rough.
The Bronte Review – The less expensive EMU Bronte style shares few of its big sister’s perks. It does not have the removable insole, no arch support, and only the boot exterior is sheepskin; the interior is lined with EMU’s micron 20 100% merino wool which they say has the same insulation properties as sheepskin. It feels like the stuffing fiber used for toys and pillows: a little scratchy but it is still warm. The wool also appears to be thicker than the Stingers lining initially, but it’s very airy (think cotton candy) and smooshes down flat pretty fast. You can tell these are a better quality than the Payless Airwalk boots, but I would rate them lower than BEARPAW – the BEARPAW boots are less expensive and much nicer; you’re just paying for the EMU name here. One big plus though is that the EMU Bronte has what appears to be same great outsole as the Stingers, except that its labeled as being made of TPR (Thermo Plastic Rubber) instead of just plain rubber.
The Stinger style features a contrasting leather EMU logo sewn onto the outside of the heel of the boots. The Bronte has a tonal logo that peeks out from a hole in the heel. Other online reviews say these boots do stretch with wear but my toe was uncomfortably right up against the front of the shoe when I sized down (I am usually a half size) so I recommend ordering true to size and half sizes, order up. But if you’re willing to be a little uncomfortable for a week or two while the boots stretch, it might be worth sizing down instead if you’re between sizes.
Random – The slight curve at the heel of the soles of these shoes identifies this brand from farther away than you could read the heel tag.
Stinger Price: $179 Fit: true/half size, order up (see review for more details)
Bronte Price: $99 Fit: true/half size, order up
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BEARPAW – BEARPAW, founded in 2001, makes their boots with sueded cow leather exteriors, but they are lined with the same Australian sheepskin wool as their competitors. BEARPAW claims that the leather helps their boots last longer and are a little more water resistant than their full sheepskin counterparts (you should still treat with waterproofing spray though).
The Review – I really wanted to try BEARPAW boots as a mid-price ugg option. When I first picked them up, the shearling felt nice, comparable to the EMU Stingers actually. But when I slid my bare foot inside, I was completely surprised – I think they saved the nicest shearling for the footbed! It definitely seemed extra soft and cushy there. I was also surprised that the (comparably) slightly thinner shearling around the boot leg didn’t lessen the warmth of the boot, maybe because of that extra layer created by attaching the sheep wool interior to the cow leather exterior; if anything these boots are extra warm. BEARPAW boots have a stiffer heel cup than other brands initially, but after wearing them for a few hours, it softened right up. These boots also seem to have a slightly wider calf than EMUs and Whoogas, but that does make it a little easier to tuck your pant legs into them.
What really impressed me about the BEARPAWs though, is that they’re soft on the outside but they held their shape way better than the other full sheepskin brands which tend to get toe creases and look slouchy in the leg after a few days wear. So the cow leather actually makes these boots appear newer longer and look more expensive than they cost (plus that leather smell, yum!). All in all, BEARPAW certainly exceeded my expectations!
Random – Interestingly, when pulling the boots on and off I noticed that the sheepskin was separated a little at the seams on the interior matching where the boots were stitched on the outside. This did not effect comfort at all but, curious, I went back to check this on the other brands and I could feel the same seams and separation in the interior fleece on of them, it just wasn’t as noticeable to the eye).
Price: $72 Fit: true/half size, order down.
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Airwalk – Airwalk was founded in 1986 and continues to operate as an independent brand deep in the alternative sport and music scene, however, through a take-over in 2007, a line of Airwalk shoes are also sold in sister store, Payless Shoe Source.
The Review – Surprisingly, these were the heaviest boots I reviewed in terms of weight, so I would recommend the lower ankle/mid-calf version just for that reason (ever cross your legs for a long period of time with really heavy boots on?). But maybe the super thick soles will last longer; that full inch of height will certainly help keep you out of puddles. The shoes are made of all synthetic materials and the faux shearling lining is really on the skimpy side, but they are still pretty warm considering. I would definitely wear these with boots with socks though – only real fleece will give you the air circulation that regulates your body temperature and keeps your feet from sweating. Overall they’re a pretty great option under $50!
Random – These Airwalk boots come in half sizes (all the other brands I reviewed only offer whole sizes) so you can be more certain of a perfect fit when ordering online.
Price: $39.99 Fit: true/half sizes available
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Koolaburra – This brand does make the same flat uggs that I have been reviewing so far, but Koolaburra pressed me to try one of their slightly different styles as those are really what separates them from the other ugg brands. Koolaburra’s twists on the basic ugg include some awesome accessories attached to their boots like studded belts draped around the shaft, leather rosettes pinned down the sides, wisps of feathers & beads, and varieties of fringe. They also have some interesting new soles: a sporty sneaker bottom (on the Modern Classic collection) and wedges!! I think they said it best themselves: “Koolaburra is perfect mix, juxtaposing the ethos of rocker chic daring with boho sensibility.”
The Review -I have to say that I was more than a little excited to try one of Koolaburra’s ugg wedges. I choose the Lexie style, which has about a 2.25 inch wedge heel and a working lace up shaft (also a key trend in boots this season). UGG Australia has been doing a wedge boot for a while, but their version looks like a normal boot, they just lined it with their sheep shearling. Koolaburra is the first brand I’ve seen to keep the traditional ugg style, swapping only the flat sole with a wedge. If you’re addicted to your uggs, these wedges are a great way to keep the comfort but make your style a little sharper. The leather laces up the front of the Lexie allow you to adjust the fit of the boot AND makes tucking in your jeans or leggings beyond easy if you want to show off these babies. Or, if you just love the sheepskin peeking out but don’t really need the boot to open on occasion, you can knot the laces in the perfect place and put them on like normal uggs.
I was completely amazed that these boots, even with the mid heel height, were equally as comfortable throughout the day as any of the flat ugg versions I tried (and I did a lot of walking in these). I bounced through the door after a long day at work and didn’t pull these off til I crawled into bed. These boots have a natural crepe rubber outsole with an EVA wedge midsole, and they have replaceable sheepskin lined insoles like EMU does. These Koolaburra boots are very warm and have very soft, brushed sheep shearling- I wasn’t able to tell the difference between Koolaburra and UGG Australia when I did my own blind touch test of the inside of each boot. Koolaburra is a high-end boot brand, but I say well worth the price, especially when you consider that you’re getting a new style the rest of the world doesn’t already own.
Random – This Lexie style has a 7.5 inch mid-calf shaft height but Koolaburra also made an identical knee-high version called Shasta and lots of other wedge styles which I highly recommend you check out!
Price: $285 Fit: True to Size, half sizes order up.
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*****I’m hoping to still add reviews on uggs from SHOO Republic, Australia Luxe Collective and Mou to really turn this into the most comprehensive ugg review on the planet, so stay tuned for more. And if you come across another brand you want to see added to the running, definitely let me know! You can comment here or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.