If the Red Wing Iron Ranger boots have captivated your attention, you’re not alone. They’re a hot topic in any online boot forum, and for good reason. The Iron Ranger is just about the most iconic American boot of all time.
If you want to learn more about these boots before buying them yourself, you’re probably hoping our Red Wing Iron Ranger review will help sway you — and trust us, it will.
Beloved by Reddit and a favorite of celebrities like Bradley Cooper and Dave Franco, the Iron Ranger is a tough, resoleable boot that works just as well for light work as it does under a pair of jeans in Manhattan. Deeply tied to the history of Minnesota’s iron mines, Red Wing designed footwear for workers toiling deep inside the state’s Mesabi Iron Range in the 1920s, and from there, the Iron Ranger was born.
But is it really worth the price for your needs? In our Red Wing Iron Ranger review, you’ll find out. Keep reading…
[See my comparison of Red Wing vs. Thursday boots!]
Red Wing Iron Ranger Pros and Cons
Got somewhere to be? Here’s the long and short of our Red Wing Iron Ranger review.
- Classic look will never go out of style
- Can be resoled
- American made
- More flexible than many welted boots because there’s no midsole
- Durable leather will age wonderfully
- Comfortable for spending all day on your feet
- Well priced, given the above
- Quality ain’t cheap; $350 is your price point.
- Can’t be dressed up; these are firmly casual
- Very tough break-in
- Not great shock absorption; these are made the old fashioned way
- Not ideal for job sites with OSHA standards to meet
Red Wing Iron Ranger Overview
- Bulky cap toe
- Shiny nickel eyelets
- Thick, oil-tanned leather
- Resoleable and water resistant Goodyear welt construction
You wouldn’t call the Iron Ranger sleek. The defining feature is the toecap, which is attached over the shoe’s body with a dual double stitch along the foot’s break. The eyelets are a shiny nickel on this model with three sets of convenient speed hooks at the top. The tongue of the boot is gusseted, which helps with water resistance.
The toe cap and voluminous, democratic fit lend it a rounder, more bulbous look than competing models like the Wolverine 1000 Mile. While it’s great with a flannel or a t-shirt, it doesn’t dress up very easily — the chunky toe and shiny eyelets would look out of place with a tie or even slacks.
It’s a classic, traditional work boot silhouette. It’s not the kind of boot you’d wear for anything requiring electric shock resistance or waterproofness today. Rather, it has the look of your Grandpa’s work boot: it’s not advanced or high tech, it’s just made the old fashioned way when we needed boots that would last as long as possible.
And that’s the long and short of it: the Iron Ranger isn’t high tech, but it’s made with time honored construction and materials that mean your boots will last for years, perhaps even decades with regular resoles.
Explaining the Red Wing Heritage Iron Ranger
You’ll notice these are under the Heritage section on the online Red Wing store. You may even find that some people refer to these as the Red Wing Heritage Iron Ranger boots. What does this mean?
Nowadays, the Iron Ranger is no longer worn in mines. Red Wing has split into two brands: Red Wing, which makes modern work boots that meet OSHA standards (and are largely made overseas) and Red Wing Heritage, which is the more fashion-focused line that has preserved the old-fashioned way of making boots.
That means that while they’re not safety tested for factory work and don’t have shock-absorbing insoles or electrical shock-resistant outsoles, they’re great for guys who want stable, supportive footwear they can wear all day on their feet. They’re still made from the company’s beloved thick, full-grain leather and are made in the USA. They’re still extremely durable — heritage or not!
For the sake of this Red Wing Iron Ranger review and being concise, this is the last time you’ll hear us reference the Heritage as part of the boot’s name!
Red Wing Iron Ranger Boots Leather
- Full-grain, chrome tanned leather
- Made with US hides
- Infused with oils for extra weather resistance
- 2 to 2.2mm thick
- Made at Red Wing’s own tannery, SB Foot
One of the first things I noticed is how thick the leather is. The Iron Ranger is made from full-grain leather, which many consider the highest quality grade leather on the market. It comes from the top layer of the hide (the cow’s skin) and includes the skin’s natural grain.
Full-grain leather is usually compared with corrected leather, which has the top surface sanded away. Broadly speaking (and there are exceptions to this rule) this makes corrected leather more uniform in color and smoothness, but it has a bit less character and is a hair less durable.
While full-grain leather won’t always be completely perfect and uniform in color, it makes for boots that look better, more distinct, and more you as they age.
It’s worth pointing out that all of Red Wing Heritage’s leather, including the roughout used for their Hawthorne muleskinner leather, comes from their owned and operated tannery called S.B. Foot Tanning Co.
Red Wing Iron Ranger Leather Care
- “Rough & Tough” leathers may need conditioning less often
- Red Wing recommends mink oil and pine pitch for conditioning
- Neatsfoot-based Leather Cream may help retain color
The Iron Rangers are oil-tanned, which means it’s chrome tanned with a bunch of extra oil to enhance weather resistance.
Before they leave the factory, they’re conditioned with their own boot oil that’s made from a combination of pine pitch and mink oil. That means you don’t need to condition them yourself until you’ve been wearing them for a season or two.
There are three angles you can take for caring for your Red Wings.
Conditioning and Waterproofing Your Red Wings
For casual wear, you don’t need to apply a bunch of waterproofing agents to your boots. But if you’re wearing them in a very wet environment or they’re seeing a lot of mud and muck, you can enhance the waterproofness of the leather with Red Wing’s Boot Oil.
Made with a combination of mink oil and pine pitch, this will add a barrier of oil to the leather that will keep water from entering. It’s a largely “natural” way of waterproofing a boot, just note that it will darken the leather.
If you need the most serious waterproofing possible, Red Wing also sells Naturseal paste.
Conditioning and Preserving the Color of Your Red Wings
If you want your boots to look as good as they can and you’re not spending much time ankle deep in swamps, you should opt for the company’s Leather Cream instead of the Boot Oil.
Made from neatsfoot oil, rendered from the shin and feet bones of cattle, this will help to preserve and deepen your boots’ color while keeping it moist and durable. Think of it like moisturizer you use on your skin: it prevents cracks and keeps it supple and longlasting. A cheaper alternative is Bickmore’s Bick 4.
Conditioning, Waterproofing, and Preserving the Color
In our experience, the best leather conditioner that has a great balance of boosting water resistance without darkening too much is Cobbler’s Choice.
Made with all natural ingredients like triple filtered beeswax, seed oils, and natural lipids, the beeswax helps to form a waterproof barrier but it won’t darken the boots to very high degree.
Finally, one of the Iron Rangers comes in Hawthorne Muleskinner Leather. It’s made of waxed roughout, which is a little fuzzier in texture because it uses the “flesh side” of the hide (it’s essentially inside-out leather). You can just use a rubber suede cleaner when it gets dirty, there’s no real need to condition that one.
[A more in-depth guide: How to Care for Every Red Wing Leather]
Red Wing Iron Ranger Boots Sole
- 7mm Vibram Mini Lug sole
- Older models have nitrile cork sole
- 270-degree Goodyear welt
Older Iron Rangers are made with a nitrile cork sole but in 2018, all Iron Rangers changed to the Vibram mini lug sole you see above. That’s a high-performance, oil-resistant, flexible, yet low-profile rubber sole that’s 7 millimeters thick.
The rest of the construction is as classic as boots get: a leather insole over cork filling, both of which will mold to your foot over time to produce that worn-in “fits like a glove” feeling. There’s also a steel shank in the cork, which provides stability (thereby helping reduce foot pain) and helps the boot retain its shape over time — a must for any boot with a heel.
Then there’s the all-important Goodyear welt. This is a big reason why boots are more expensive than sneakers: this is a complex construction method whereby instead of the upper being stitched to the sole, they’re stitched to a leather welt in between them. This makes the boot very water resistant and it means you can resole them when the time comes.
Red Wing Iron Ranger Boots Sizing and Fit
- Order half size smaller than your sneaker size
- Width available in D and EE
Many prospective buyers are skeptical because they’ve heard that Iron Ranger sizing can be tricky to nail down. And the rumors are true: order a half size smaller than your true size. And note there’s a decent chance your sneakers are a half size bigger than your true size. I’m a 12 in sneakers, 11.5 is my “true size,” and I’m 11 in Red Wings.
I’m a 12 in sneakers, 11.5 is my “true size,” and I’m 11 in Red Wings.
Particularly since a lot of guys don’t really know their precise shoe size, I’d recommend heading to a shoe store anyway to get your foot measured in a Brannock device. That’ll give you your true size (or “Brannock size’). Subtract half a size from that, and you’ve got your Red Wing size.
The Iron Ranger is available in two different widths: D for medium width and EE for wider guys.
Note that as a classically made boot, the shock absorption isn’t great. The leather insole doesn’t offer much arch support or heel cushioning and it’s not particularly soft or yielding. If you’re looking for something with more modern, shock-absorbing foam, try Thursday Boot Company.
[Related: How to Size Red Wing Boots]
Red Wing Iron Ranger Boots Break-In Period
Yes, the breaking in the Redwing Iron Ranger boots is rough. I needed about four wears over ten days to feel comfortable in these, about 30 hours.
I always advise spending a day in the boots and then giving the shoes and your feet a day or two to recover before leaping back into the fray — my feet were indeed sore both during and shortly after the first few wears. Bring a spare pair of sneakers with you on your first few outings in case they get too uncomfortable.
Don’t worry: the pain is the feeling of the leather molding to your foot, and soon they’ll be your most comfortable shoes.
Red Wing Iron Ranger Boots Price
At the time of writing, a pair of Iron Rangers costs $349.99. For an American-made, Goodyear welted boot with this kind of construction, that’s a pretty fair price. If you know the landscape of boots as well as I do, you’d agree that it’s not cheap and it’s not expensive.
Red Wing Iron Ranger Boots: To Buy or Not to Buy?
I like this boot. It’s beautiful, versatile, and durable. It has good grip, and it’s instantly recognizable. They’re a unique force in footwear: competitors are either less popular or have less cache, but Red Wing is right in the sweet spot of expensive enough to be admired, but not so expensive that you’ll seldom meet another guy with a pair.
The company is large enough that the price is about as good as you can hope for if you’re after an American made, Goodyear welted boot. Your only alternative that’s cheaper and fits those requirements is Thursday’s Vanguard, which is sleeker and has a different look.
It’s not a perfect boot. The shock absorption isn’t great and they’re very hard to break in, but the biggest sticking point is they’re not that versatile: you can’t really wear them in formal or even business casual situations. The bulbous toecap and nickel eyelets dress the boot way down, even when compared to competitors like Wolverine’s 1000 Mile.
But Red Wing Iron Ranger Boots aren’t meant to be dressy. They’re hard-wearing, knock around, take anything kind of boots and when a man’s wearing a pair of these, it elevates his entire look.
And frankly, you don’t need to care about “fashion” to want a pair: they mold to your foot and become supremely comfortable, they’re a much more economical purchase when compared to sneakers that fall apart after a season, and they just look better with age.
Wrapping Up This Red Wing Iron Ranger Review
That just about does it for this Red Wing Iron Ranger review. As you can see, the Redwing Iron Ranger boots are an excellent choice for those who are seeking their first pair of high-quality Red Wing Boots — or frankly, any boots for that matter!
Red Wings in general age wonderfully, but the classic look of this particular model will never go out of style. With that said, these boots can be a bit expensive from some shoppers’ viewpoints — but you get what you pay for. As long as you can make it through the break-in period you’ll find that these quickly become your go-to boot!
Want to check out our boot reviews before pulling the trigger? Check out our Thursday Boots President Tobacco Review for a more affordable option.
You’ll have your pair for years and years to come, and you’ll be excited to bring them back out of the closet every time the weather cools. To put the finishing touches on our Red Wing Iron Ranger review and help you make a decision, we’ve answered a few of the most important questions to ask when evaluating any boot:
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Red Wing Iron Rangers worth it?
Yes. At $350 they may seem overpriced, but because they can be resoled and because the leather is thick, they'll last at least ten times longer than sneakers. On a per-wear basis, they're a more economical choice, plus they look better with each passing day as the leather ages.
How long does it take to break in Iron Rangers?
Expect at least five days of wear before your Iron Rangers get comfortable. It's best to bring a spare pair of shoes with you on your first few outings in case you need to swap out of them. The good news is that after that first week, the Redwing Iron Ranger boots will get more comfortable every day — for years.
How long will Iron Rangers last?
If you care for them, the Redwing Iron Ranger boots can last decades. This is because the boot can be resoled when it wears through and because the leather is thick and tough. What's important is that you use cedar shoe trees between wears and that you clean and condition the leather with quality leather cream a couple of times a year.
Are Red Wing Iron Ranger Boots comfortable?
Not at first, but in time they'll become your most comfortable boots. The first week is tough and blistery, but then the leather upper and insole start to mold to your foot's shape. You'll stop getting blisters after a week of wear and after a few months, they'll feel like they were custom-made to your foot. Just note that they don't absorb shock the way that sneakers or foamy rubber do.