My first pair of Ariat Cascade ropers took me through two years of college, three motorcycles, a handful of relationships, my first job, and a wildfire. That's why I bought them, that wildfire. Working as a photographer for a little newspaper was enough to secure a proper press credential, allowing me to shoot on the frontlines during one of California's more epic fire seasons. In those days, you just needed that press credential, a quick safety class, and a pair of leather boots with an eight-inch leather upper. The forest service would dredge up a Nomex suit and a fire shelter and hope your good sense would carry you through.

Enter the Ariat Cascade, which survived that fire season unscathed, and was redeployed as a casual motorcycle boot, yard work boot, horse-riding boot, wrenching-on-things boot, and occasional dress shoe. These Ariats aren't the type to offer ankle protection—like a proper off-road boot—but that never stopped me from puttering down a trail in them with friends. They don't offer the impact protection of a roadracing boot either. They don't do anything special at all besides be a boot, a sturdy and workman-like home for your foot. But they were a very, very good one.

ariat cascade 8-inch boot
Handsome, utilitarian and formerly tough. For more than a decade, Ariat Cascades were my go-to boot off the bike.Chris Cantle

I lived in my Ariat ropers. Swore by them, and recommended them widely to anyone who would listen. They were jeans for my feet—handily one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. I only wish I could say the same for the pair that replaced them.

After 10 years of hard use, the leather uppers of my old ropers finally wore through. I couldn’t bear to throw them away, so I tossed them deep in a closet and bought another pair. How things have changed. The new pair was in action for just a month before starting to shed a few stitches in the heel. Using my toe as a lever to move an old race car forward a little made a little dimple in the roof of the toe box. Cracking around the sole followed, and the footbed began to take frequent vacations toward the toe. Like a loyal chump, I got them repaired, only to have a new set of troubles crop up.

Something changed in these boots. The customer comments on Ariat’s website seem to echo my dismay. Some little tweak in manufacturing, maybe. Some change of supplier. It’s not that manufacturing was shipped overseas. Both pairs, new and old, were made in China. A different factory, maybe? Just indifference? Something. It’s a shame. I want my old boots back badly.

This latest failure is likely to be fatal. The soles of these Cascades managed to delaminate, something the former pair never accomplished in a decade of trudging. It’s something a little glue could address, maybe, but the odds of finding that sticky exercise worthwhile seem thin compared to the effort of finding a new favorite pair of boots.

Verdict: Ariat Cascade Boot

Grade: C
Summary: Once-great boots go soft.
Sizes: 7–11.5, 12, 13, 14, widths D and EE
Color: Aged Bark
Price: $140