An icon in the world of boots, they are instantly recognizable and as American as Levi jeans and apple pie. But is the Red Wing Iron Ranger a true classic?
We take a look at this timeless boot, favorite of movie stars and celebrities.
Looking at what goes into making a classic boot we’ll determine if the Red Wing Iron Ranger warrants this title.
We’ll examine what you need to consider before buying a pair and look at some of the features that go into making these boots.
And we’ll of course look at what other reviewers think of Iron Rangers and what alternatives there are.
A quality pair of boots are an investment and not only of your hard earned money.
To choose the right pair, go through the breaking in period and maintain them so that they last all requires time and effort.
Let’s find out if Red Wing Iron Rangers are worth it.
Overview Of Red Wing Iron Ranger
The Iron Ranger is not just a randomly selected marketing name to portray toughness and masculinity, it has a history.
These boots were originally made for iron miners in Minnesota during the 1930s, a tough time for tough men.
Its distinctive bump toe is a feature that makes it stand out and highly recognizable. A no-nonsense boot that will take anything that is thrown at it.
Although there are many boots that try to imitate the styling of the Iron Ranger, very few can stand next to it and make the same claims of durability, longevity and sheer toughness.
A bulbous toe cap is one of Iron Ranger’s most prominent features, and it allows tons of room for toes.
Red Wing also uses bright nickel in the Iron Ranger’s eyelets and speed hooks, another feature that quickly identifies them as the real thing.
One of the most popular boots in Red Wing’s Heritage range, these boots are made from oiled, full grain leather.
Consider These Things Before Buying Red Wing Iron Ranger
One of the first things to think about when contemplating buying a pair of boots is how long they are going to last relative to the price.
Red Wing Iron Rangers retail for about $350, not a paltry sum, and you need to make sure that you consider that worthwhile.
There are less expensive boots out there but do they really compare?
Looking at it as an investment is sensible as the boots are built to last and thanks to the Goodyear welt they can be resoled multiple times.
Over time the boots will develop character and become increasingly personalized. They’ll end up feeling like old friends.
Another serious consideration is the breaking in of a pair of Iron Rangers, this is not a stroll in the park and requires true grit.
But the pay-off is worth it, and you will have a great pair of durable boots that will last for decades.
Review Of The Red Wing Iron Ranger
So let's get down to business and look at what the Red Wing Iron Ranger is all about.
So let's get down to business and look at what the Red Wing Iron Ranger is all about.
On first inspection these are a formidable pair of boots, good looking but simple and subtly tough.
The understated design will appeal to those who want a pair of boots that just get on with the job.
You only have to look at the toe cap to see that the Red Wing Iron Ranger means business.
The rounded, bulbous toe gives you tons of room internally and from the outside you know you are dealing with a serious contender. Dressy they are not!
While they are definitely not sleek the Iron Ranger is still slimmer than a Timberland or a construction boot.
The toe cap is secured with triple stitching of wax thread and the eyelets and speed hooks are shiny nickel.
Some people think the speed hooks detract from the look of the boots and make them more utilitarian than they are.
But these can be swapped out for eyelets by any cobbler for a few dollars.
The leather used in Iron Rangers is a full grain oiled leather.
Full grain means that this is the top layer of the steer’s hide and typically includes the natural grain of the skin. It is considered to be the best quality leather.
Iron Ranger’s leather is thick, at around 2 millimeters adding to the overall look of durability and toughness.
Full grain leather also has less tendency toward being uniform in color, so the boots will take on a unique character as they age and become more personalized.
The Heritage range which gives us the Iron Ranger uses leather that is made in Red Wing’s own tannery, S.B. Foot Tanning Company located in Red Wing, Minnesota.
The oil tanning of the leather makes the boots resistant to water and perspiration stains.
Iron Ranger boots are conditioned with Red Wing’s own boot conditioner before they leave the factory meaning you can wear them for a few seasons before you need to condition them yourself.
The outsole of the boot is made from Vibram rubber with mini lugs for grip in slippery conditions.
Prior to this the sole was made from nitrile cork but has been replaced with the rubber sole for greater durability and comfort.
The nitrile cork sole was used to provide a low profile but the Vibram 430 mini lug sole is only 7 mm thick and is still flexible.
The rubber sole has improved the comfort level as well as improving the boot's shock absorbency.
Cork still makes up a part of the midsole though and is paired with a steel shank for arch support.
Feet mold to the cork midsole over time giving a made-for-you feeling to the boots.
The leather insole is attached to the boot with a 270 degree Goodyear welt.
Resoling is possible with this welt although perhaps not as easily as with a 360 degree welt, and it still gives an added amount of water resistance.
However it does mean that you cannot remove the leather insole.
Sizing & Fit
The best way to make sure that you have the right size and the best fit is to go to an official Red Wing store and have a professional fitting.
Your feet will be measured with a Brannock device or with a digital fitting machine for more accurate measurements.
Red Wing advises that the correct size for a pair of Iron Rangers is to drop half a size from your normal sneaker size.
You may ask why don’t they just make them half a size bigger, but the answer is in the material.
Leather stretches over time and with wear so if you were to buy your actual size in a pair of Iron Rangers you would eventually be wearing boots that were too big for you.
This would lead to rubbing, blisters and a very uncomfortable boot.
The Iron Ranger is available in just two widths D, which is a regular width and EE for wider feet.
This is the painful part, literally. There is no easy way to break in a pair of Red Wing Iron Ranger boots.
You will just have to bite the bullet and deal with it. But it doesn’t have to be too painful if you tackle it properly.
The best way to break in leather boots is to wear them for a few hours every other day. This gives both your feet and the leather a rest.
However Iron Rangers do not make it easy for you. The inside is unlined, the heel is stiff and the rear of the eyelets are unlined.
Around thirty hours in you should start to feel the boots yield to your feet and from that point they will become more comfortable with every wear.
The leather will soften up and start to give a bit more.
While it may sound daunting the breaking-in period can vary from one type of Iron Ranger to another and from one person to another.
As long as you are prepared for some soreness initially you won’t be too surprised, and you just know it’s going to be worth it in the end.
The color options for Red Wing Iron Rangers are amber, charcoal, copper, hawthorne and black in the various types of leather which Red Wing produce.
Not all colors may be available in all of the different leathers.
Black and amber are available in the harness leather, hawthorne is available in muleskinner leather and copper and charcoal are available in the Rough and Tough leather.
Harness leather is one of the toughest leathers available. Apart from boots it is also used in weightlifters belts.
It doesn’t get much tougher than that! But then again there is the Rough and Tough leather which is, ironically, a softer and more supple leather.
Muleskinner leather is a rough out leather which is made at S.B. Foot Tanning Company through a reverse suede technique which highlights the inside of a full grain leather.
This leather is just as tough as the other Red Wing leathers.
What Do Others Say About The Iron Ranger?
The fan club of the Iron Ranger is spread far and wide and is incredibly diverse.
Movie stars to construction workers, loggers to hipsters there doesn’t seem to be a demographic that these boots haven’t infiltrated.
Many thousands of reviews have been written about these boots and the vast majority of them have been overwhelmingly positive.
They average a 4.7 out of five overall in Google reviews.
Most wearers love the tough look and ultimate durability of Iron Rangers.
The ability to resole these boots is a big plus and the quality of the leather uppers mean that they will last for decades with the occasional resole.
The negative comments were spread across issues with finding the right size and fit as well as problems with comfort during the breaking in period.
Both of which are not particularly a fault with the shoes themselves but more with managing expectations.
Those in the know understand that having a pair of handmade, quality leather boots takes a bit of time to break in to a comfortable level.
Alternatives To The Red Wing Iron Ranger
If you are in the market for a pair of tough, durable boots then the Red Wing Iron Ranger is not the only contender, it has plenty of competition.
So if you are looking for an alternative there are a few to choose from.
Thursday Boots Captains are a very smart looking pair of boots.
Their minimalist design shows off the excellent quality of the leather and the intricacy of the stitching.
They are fitted with a toe cap that is not just decoration but an additional piece of leather on the toe.
These boots are definitely more dressy than the Iron Ranger and can move seamlessly from work to socializing.
Captains are made with leather from the Horween Leather Company, one of the oldest in the country.
Impact foam and cork in the midsole make them more comfortable than the leather lined Iron Rangers and the sole is attached to the upper with a full 360 degree Goodyear welt as opposed to the 270 degree on the Iron Ranger.
Thursday Boots Captain are also much less expensive than Red Wing Iron Rangers with a price difference of around $150.
The Wolverine 1000-Mile boot is another all American service style boot with a tough reputation.
The premium and rough out leathers used in these boots come from the Horween Leather Company based in Chicago.
Wolverine’s tap soles are constructed from leather with heel and foreparts fitted with Vibram rubber making them an excellent choice for tough terrain.
The sole and upper are joined by a 360 degree Goodyear welt giving them better water resistance and the option of being resoled.
Unlike the Iron Ranger the Wolverine doesn’t have a toe cap.
Despite some small differences these two boots are overall very similar in looks and the Wolverine has been a long time rival of the Iron Ranger.
For durability and toughness there is little to separate them, and it usually comes down to personal preference.
Overall Thoughts On Red Wing Iron Ranger
We have covered most of what goes into the Red Wing Iron Ranger and looked at what the alternatives are, so it may be time for you to make up your mind, to buy or not to buy.
Let's take a few of the highlights of these boots, what we like about them and what we don’t to help you make that all important final decision.
What We Like
There is a lot to like about the Red Wing Iron Ranger, but we’ll just take a few of the standout features to recap.
The quality of the leather used to make these boots is excellent.
It is a full grain oiled leather from their own tanning company, S.B. Foot Tanning Company.
Iron Ranger outsoles are made from Vibram rubber with mini lugs for extra traction, the midsoles are cork with a steel shank for arch support and the boot is lined with a leather insole.
These boots just look tough and uncompromising, the kind of boot that fills you with confidence and motivation. They have a distinctive style with the bump toe that gives your toes loads of room.
Sizing and fit is good as long as it is done properly and with your eyes wide open. Leather boot sizes are always going to be tricky so just listen to the advice and follow it.
Fit will be snug to begin with but over time the leather will soften and stretch.
What We Don't Like
Unfortunately there are a couple of things that may make you think again about buying a pair of Iron Rangers.
Breaking in a pair of Iron Rangers is not always easy.
Having said that, some people swear that the softer leather is much easier to break in than the harness leather.
So maybe it will depend on which boot you choose. Typically thirty hours will see the leather start to be more forgiving.
Iron rangers are not at all dressy. These are definitely not the boots to wear with a tie. They look better with raw denim and a casual shirt.
Who Is The Red Wing Iron Ranger For?
The Iron Ranger is for anyone who wants a very durable and classic looking boot.
It will suit those who demand a lot from their footwear on a daily basis but also expect them to last for many years.
You need to be committed though as these are not a cheap pair of boots, they are a hefty investment, and you will want to get your money’s worth through wearability.
They are probably not for anyone who wants to be able to transition straight from a work situation to a social gathering without changing their footwear. These are not a dressy boot.
Verdict: Is The Red Wing Iron Ranger A True Classic?
We have to say that the Red Wing Iron Ranger is without a doubt a true classic in the world of boots.
From its origins in the iron mines of Minnesota in the 1930s to the modern popular boot it has become we say without reservation that the Iron Ranger thoroughly deserves this title.
They are a truly unique and instantly recognizable boot and what more do you need to describe a real classic.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Iron Rangers Comfortable?
Once the initial breaking in phase is over the Iron Rangers will start to conform to your feet and become more comfortable.
The leather will display some give and the cork sole will mold to your feet. In short, yes they are comfortable but be patient.
Do Iron Rangers Run Big?
It is recommended by Red Wing that you buy half a size smaller than your usual sneaker size to allow the leather in the boots to stretch and so you don’t ultimately end up in boots that are too large for you.
How Long Does It Take To Break In Iron Rangers?
The breaking in period may depend on whether your Iron Rangers are made from harness leather, Rough and Tough leather or Muleskinner leather.
Harness leather is typically the toughest and will potentially take longer to soften and stretch.
Most people say a couple of weeks in and the boots are starting to feel better while others give them up to a month.
It will depend also on how often and for how long you are wearing them.
Do Iron Rangers Last A Long Time?
With proper care a pair of Iron Rangers can last decades, one reviewer spoke of someone bringing a pair that he bought in 1972 to a cobbler to be resoled for the seventh time.
That’s an average of just over seven years per sole. And of course the rest of the boot was in good condition too.
So if you take care of them they could last not years but decades!
Iron Rangers have been around a long time, and they are still going strong.
They are a very popular boot and have a lot of strong attributes that keep them at the top of the field in their class. We don’t see them going anywhere anytime soon.
So if you are in the market for a pair of durable, versatile and good looking boots that will serve you well you won’t go far wrong with these.
Although they may seem a little pricey and the breaking in period can be a bit daunting they are so worth the money and effort.
These boots will pay you back in spades by lasting for many, many years.
Who knows in fifty years you will be taking them to be resoled. And they may still be a true American classic.