Red Wing Iron Ranger – Is It Really the Ultimate Boot?

Red Wing’s Iron Rangers have a reputation as the best first boot a man can buy — the ultimate entry-level boot for guys who want to level up from sneakers and cheap chukkas.

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 at a job site 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?

[See my comparison of Red Wing vs. Thursday boots!]

Red Wing Iron Ranger Overview

  • Voluminous cap toe
  • Nickel eyelets 
  • Goodyear welt
  • Thick, oil tanned leather

The word “classic” is overused when talking about men’s leather boots, but damn if that isn’t the first word that comes to mind when looking at a pair of smooth, understated, undeniably masculine boots like Iron Rangers. There’s just something about this boot. It’s beautiful but simple, tough but subtle.

The defining feature is the toecap, which is attached over the shoe’s body with a dual double stitch along the foot’s break. While it’s certainly slimmer than a Timberland or construction boot, you wouldn’t call the Iron Ranger sleek. The toe cap lends it a rounder, more bulbous toe than competing models like the Wolverine 1000 Mile. While it’s great with a button down or a t-shirt, I don’t think it dresses up very easily — they’d look ludicrous with a tie. With that said, I’d consider the boot to fit just fine with a well-put together smart casual outfit or with work jeans. That’s a tough design feat to pull off.

Outside of the toe cap, the rest of the boot is triple stitched with wax threads, and I found no loose threads. The first four pairs of eyelets are nickel and the top three are nickel speed hooks. (Some folks complain about the speed hooks dressing down the boot, but any cobbler can swap those out for a pittance.) The tongue of the boot, meanwhile, is attached to the inside of the leather upper, which could help to keep it from fraying over time.

The leather is full grain — more on that below — and thick, but there’s no inner lining like you’ll find in some of Red Wing’s more dedicated work boots. This makes for a more classic, understated look but it also means they’re not the warmest boots on the market.


What Is Red Wing Heritage?

Nowadays, the Iron Ranger is no longer worn in mines. The boot has left Red Wing’s line of work boots and is now only available in their more fashion-focused Heritage line. That means that while they’re not safety tested for factory work and they don’t have lining on the inside, they’re still made from the company’s beloved thick, full grain leather and have become a favorite of fashion conscious men across the globe.

Red Wing Iron Ranger step

Red Wing Iron Ranger Leather

  • Full Grain, oil-tanned leather
  • Very thick, full grain

One of the first things I noticed is how thick the leather is, certainly more than two millimeters. The Iron Ranger is made from full grain leather, a type that many consider the highest quality grade leather on the market. It comes from the top layer of the hide (the steer’s skin) and includes the skin’s natural grain.

Full grain leather is usually compared with top grain, which has the top surface sanded away. Broadly speaking — there are exceptions to this rule — this makes top grain more uniform in color than full grain, but also less durable. Top grain leather typically won’t attain the patina and unique character that a pair of full grain leather boots will over time.

So 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. (I’m being normative, here; there are some full grain leathers that are uniform in color and top grains that aren’t, but this is a good rule of thumb nonetheless.)

It’s worth pointing out that all of Red Wing Heritage’s leather, including the roughout used for Hawthorne muleskinner leather, comes from their owned and operated tannery called S.B. Foot Tanning Co

Red Wing Iron Ranger Leather Care

  • “Rough & Tough” leather 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 Red Wing says makes them resistant to water, stain, and perspiration. 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.

Conditioning the leather will turn it darker, which is something to keep in mind when selecting color. If you find yourself really attached to the boot’s color out of the box, you might consider using Red Wing’s leather cream, or Bickmore’s Bick 4, which are formulated to hydrate leather without changing the color. (The tradeoff being that they won’t waterproof the leather as much.) To maximize waterproofness you can grab some of Red Wing’s Naturseal.

Most Iron Rangers require a good conditioning a couple of times a year, depending on how often you wear them and what kind of a beating they take. Red Wing recommends their own boot oil, while I Obenauf’s on mine — that’s why they’re so much darker than new ones. 

It’s important to note that a couple of colors, (Charcoal and Copper) are made from what they call Rough & Tough leather, which is technically a kind of nubuck. Rough and Tough leathers are so full of oils that it needs less conditioning compared to standard Red Wing leathers, perhaps once a year.

Finally, one of the Iron Rangers comes in Hawthorne Muleskinner Leather. It’s made of roughout leather, which is a little fuzzier in texture because it uses the “flesh side” of the leather — it’s essentially inside out leather. Although it’s fuzzy, it’s different from suede, which is made by splitting the leather, but you can still use a rubber suede cleaner when it gets dirty. 

[See what I thought of the Charcoal Rough & Tough leather in my review of Red Wing’s Moc Toe boots!]

Red Wing Iron Ranger sole

Red Wing Iron Ranger Sole

  • 7mm Vibram Mini Lug sole
  • Older models have nitrile cork sole
  • 270-degree Goodyear welt

There’s a lot of talk out there about the nitrile cork sole: if it slips easily, if it’s flexible, if it’s durable. (Yes to all three.)

The truth is that it doesn’t matter — as of summer 2018, the Iron Ranger no longer has a cork sole. It’s being completely phased out in favor of a Vibram mini lug sole. That’s a high performance, oil resistant, flexible, yet low profile rubber sole that’s 7 millimeters thick.

This means the Iron Rangers no longer make loud, authoritative footsteps nor are they precisely as “classic” looking as they once were, but the good news is that it also means they’re a little more comfortable, they absorb shock a little better, they’re more durable, and you’re less likely to careen into a gutter when strolling in icy conditions.

The rest of the sole remains the same: the Vibram is attached to a cork midsole layer which over time will mold to your foot to produce that worn-in “fits like a glove”-ness That cork is attached to a steel shank, which spans the arch and is intended to provide some arch support, and the leather insole, which is attached to the boot with a 270-degree Goodyear welt. The Goodyear welt makes it easier to resole and provides another layer of water resistance, though it also means the leather insole can’t be removed.

A 270-degree welt may be a tiny bit less water resistant and a tiny bit harder to resole, but probably not to any practical degree. It’s mostly an aesthetic difference and it can make for a slightly sleeker boot when compared to a 360-degree welt.

The sole is my least favorite part of the shoe. The leather insole doesn’t offer much arch support or heel cushioning and it’s not particularly soft or yielding. Plus, in my opinion the boot is simply too slim to comfortably fit an orthotic insole.

[Related: My list of The Best Boots]

Red Wing Iron Ranger fit

Red Wing Iron Ranger Fit and Sizing

  • Order half size smaller than sneaker size
  • Width available in D and EE

The rumors are true: order a half size smaller than you usually wear in sneakers. I’ve always found it baffling why shoe companies appear to purposely do this, as Red Wing themselves state on their site that their shoes are essentially sized too big, but there it is: half a size smaller, even when wearing the thick wool socks that you likely wear with your boots.

Particularly since a lot of guys don’t really know their precise shoe size, I’d recommend trying them on in-store if at all possible and if not, heading to a shoe store anyway to get your foot measured in a Brannock device. (Yep, that’s the shoe-sizing ruler-looking thing.)

The Iron Ranger is available in two different widths: D for medium width and EE for wider guys. That’s not a great selection, since there are six potential widths, but D and EE is still a decent selection.

 [Related: The Best Boots for Wide Feet]

Red Wing Iron Ranger Break In

There are conflicting reports as to just how quickly these boots break in or even if they need to be broken in and all, but 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.

Red Wing Iron Ranger Price

At the time of writing, a pair of Iron Rangers costs $349.99 on Amazon, Nordstrom, and Red Wing’s official site. 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 finish

Red Wing Iron Ranger: To Buy or Not to Buy?

I like this boot. It’s beautiful, versatile, durable, it has good grip — at least it will once all the soles are replaced with Vibram — 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. It’s also hard to find a boot with such thick leather that can be comfortably worn in the city.

It’s not a perfect boot. The insole isn’t particularly soft and they’re very hard to break in, but my biggest complaint is that they aren’t at home in formal situations. The bulbous toecap and nickel eyelets dresses the boot down, even when compared to competitors like Wolverine’s 1000 Mile.

But I’m excited about the future of Iron Rangers. With the new vibram soles, I think a lot of complaints about the hard heel and the iffy grip will be washed away and the boot will have new legions of fans.

This boot isn’t going anywhere.

[Love the look of this boot? Shop the Iron Ranger from Red Wing here.]

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Nick English

By day: Manhattan-based journalist with reporting experience on four continents, published in Vice, Men's Health, Popular Science, and a bunch of other places.By night: ravenous consumer of anything and everything related to high end men's boots.Stridewise is where I nurture a maniacal obsession with footwear and share my findings. Say hey: [email protected]

24 thoughts on “Red Wing Iron Ranger – Is It Really the Ultimate Boot?”

  1. Nick,

    I first found your YouTube videos, while I was looking at Thursday Boots. Those videos lead to my purchase of a pair of Captains. The same week that my Captains arrived in the mail, I stumbled onto my first pair of Red Wings at a Nordstrom Rack. That was in October of 2018.

    They were an older version of the Blacksmith (with the Cork sole), in what my daughter calls the “Kidney Bean” colorway. As I hit the internet to learn more about them, I learned they were a Japanese marketed boot. Additionally, I learned/was warned about the “Red Wing Addiction”.

    I laughed off the addiction warning… then proceeded to buy a pair (of either Blacksmith, Beckman, or Iron Rangers) per week. I’ve since narrowed my focus to boots that are not available in the US, or are out of production…basically buying when I run across something I didn’t know existed.

    Not that there isn’t a certain amount of fun to this process, but when my wife asks me, “How many pairs of boots do you ‘need’?”, I don’t have an answer. So, I asked Red Wing if they have a listing of all their series numbers of boots they have produced (to let me know how many more I ‘need’), but they said they have no such records. Ugh!

    Do you happen to know if someone has compiled this list?

    • Hey Skidder! Thanks for reaching out my man. You know Red Wing is discontinuing the Beckman? I wanted to review them but it doesn’t seem like there’s a point now, which is a shame. I’ve got some brand new Blacksmith boots that I’m going to review though.

      I love hearing about your creeping boot addiction! It’s so interesting and it sounds like we’re kindred souls. A list of all Red Wing boots in existence? Now that I don’t know, I’d have reached out to them personally but since you did that and had no answers… check out the Red Wing GM in this interview I did he seemed pretty responsive on Linkedin and might have that info? Long shot though.

  2. Yeah, the fourth pair on the way. Like tattoos…once you get one you gotta get more. Thank dog I never got started on tattoos.

    And wife actually said that yesterday when I told her another pair are on their way…”How many pairs of those boots do you need?” I just roll my eyes.

    I started with the ‘cheap’ 595’s. Oh man, they have to be the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. EVER. Next a pair of Iron Rangers – Oxblood. They are so damn cool. A pair of work chukkas in briar oil, now my favorite go-to. And the fourth one a moc-toe in briar oil again. Just love the way they look all oiled up, and are self-repairing, they always look good.

    Oxyclean for the white soles – they stay looking new. My IR’s get a very thin insole of leather and cush, not much more will fit in there.

    And yes, they’re all a half-size smaller than everything else and very comfortable. The blood-red ones are on as we speak. 😉

    The 595’s are about due for a re-sole. The factory can install the original style sole.

    Did you see the guy that put christy soles on his IR’s? They look pretty darn nice.

    • Hey Chris thanks for your comment man. Yes, the boot bug definitely bit me hard as well! Red Wings were my first proper boots, I’ve got the Blacksmiths in Briar Oil Slick right now but haven’t seen an oxblood IR in the wild! Show me the christy soles?

  3. Full grain means the entire skin. Split leather is just that; a skin that is sliced into a thin top grain and a thin suede. That way you get twice the use out of one skin. Most bootmakers refer to full grain leather that is reversed so the fleshy side is on the outside of the shoe as “roughout”. High quality boots and jackets are always made with the full thickness of the skin being used.

  4. Hey man, LOVE your videos– best boot reviews/ videos online period.

    I would really really love you to review the Corcoran WWII jump boot though (the brown one especially but would love a comparison of the 3 varieties they have- two in black and one brown)

    Im very interested in your insight on the leather and overall quality.

  5. Great website, thank you for such great content. I pulled the trigger on a pair of Iron Rangers in black a week or so ago and am having some serious ‘buyers remorse’. I’d urge anyone thinking of buying a pair to think carefully.

    I usually take a UK12/US13 in Nike, Converse sneakers etc, and a UK11/US12 in English brogues and other dress shoes. My right foot is 30.5cm and my left 29.5. I was urged by the salesman at Red Wing to buy a UK10.5/US11.5. They are plenty long enough but the width is a real problem. These are a narrow boot, be warned! The fit is very idiosyncratic. Although there is heaps of length, you can feel the seams at the side and the rivets in the top of the boot, when you inevitably have to ‘size down’. The laces also don’t loop the top pair of hooks. This produces a very weird ‘stepping out of the boot feel’ when you walk in them.

    I did take them back and tried the EE width which was sloppy sideways, and the US12 which was clownishly long with lots of heel lift. The salesman laughed when I suggested exchanging them for the wider pair saying ‘you definitely don’t have wide feet’. My initial feeling was that I should have exchanged them for the moc toe, which are more forgiving width-wise, from what I understand. I’m really beginning to wish I’d done that, however, I really needed a semi-formal pair of boots.

    After 4 full days of wear I’m really beginning to dislike them. Both my little toes are totalled from a blister on top that has rubbed the skin off. I also have discomfit in my calves, thighs and butt. I have a history of back pain which I’m thankfully over now, but today I thought I could feel it firing up again after another day in the Rangers- which are very flat and hard soled.

    Moral of the story- these are a tricky boot with a few foibles in the fit. Definitely don’t be worried about walking out of the shop if you don’t get a great feeling from them straight away.

    • Hey so glad you like the site, Chris! Iron Rangers are a solid boot. Sorry to hear the fit isn’t working out, sometimes the last just isn’t for you. I know this is counterintuitive but since you’re wearing them anyway, maybe you’re just wearing them in? Keep at it for a week or so before deciding? If still bad you can always sell them on eBay for a couple hundred bucks. Not an ideal turnout though, sorry man.

  6. I have three pairs of rangers 1st pair is 12 years old and been resolved 4 times the second pair is 4 years old and going in to be resolved for the first time the third pair is new with the vibram sole and I don’t like them. I was just wondering if you can get them resolved with cork

    • Hey Scott. Yes, whatever kind of outsole you want you should be able to get them resoled. Just call ahead to the cobbler first and make sure he has the sole you want, or you might need to order it. Good luck!

  7. Hi, Nick.

    First, great site. I love your reviews, and I feel a little less psychotic knowing I’m not alone in my boot obsession.

    I have the Iron Rangers with the cork soles and love them. They continue to get more comfortable with wear and, in my opinion, look like a proper boot should. My issue/question — I’ll be spending ten days in Stockholm and Amsterdam in December and would love to bring my IRs, but am concerned about snow/ice. I could buy another pair of boots (still considering that), but I’m wondering if you know of or would recommend micro spikes or something to slip onto the soles if it’s slippery out. I know it’s not the most elegant solution, but I live in LA now and don’t really need a pair of winter boots. Any suggestions?



  8. Nick, thanks for the great article and the videos! You wrote that the Iron Rangers were a great first timer boot – what would you recommend as a next step boot?

    • Thursdays, they have a different silhouette, they’re leather lined, they’re cheaper, they have a different footbed, it’s a very different experience and adds good diversity. Parkhurst is a similar brand that’s a bit pricier but a bit more solid, I’d recommend them too.

  9. Thanks to your informative review of the Thursday Captain’s Boot, I purchased the brown boot. It is my first leather boot in 45 years since a Vasgue Hiking Boot I bought as an 18 year old. I am delighted with it. It is size 11 regular and fits like a glove. After reading many reviews, and valuing your insight, what size would you recommend for a Red Wing Iron Ranger?
    Your reviews are informative as well as entertaining and I appreciate that.
    On another note, I will be in Tokyo late spring and will shop for Japanese denim. I am pleased you also have some Japanese denim denim reviews as well.
    My son also appreciates your reviews and made his decision on his first boots on your recommendation.
    Keep up the good work!

    • That’s terrific, Michael! All of this is the best news I’ve heard today. So glad the site has been useful to you. Hope you enjoy the Japanese denim! It’s a whole new world.

  10. I wanted to thank you for introducing me to Red Wing Boots and good quality boots in general.
    I bought my first Red wings (2nds) Beckman 9022 Brick Layer Featherstone leather about a month ago. I love them! the quality is so much more then the throw away boots I have been using.
    I went Yesterday to the Red Wing store and bought a pair of Iron Rangers 8084 ( Black Harness Leather). I can see that the break in will be a little rough but the quality is so much better. With GY welts I know they will last me a long time. I am hooked (Haha) wait until the wife finds out… She is good with it because I am so hard on shoes in general. Keep up the great content! I just saw your latest video about the Hamilton watch ( It has been on my list for a while). Thanks again

    • Thanks Bill Murray! So glad to have been helpful on your journey, and congrats on finding some Beckmans — those are hard to come by! Will never understand why Red Wing discontinued them. Iron Ranger break in is NOT FUN but worth it! Really appreciate your kind words, my friend. Hope you stick around!

  11. Hi there- I just bought my first pair of Iron Rangers in Amber Harness. Based on this article and one of your other articles / video with Rose Anvil on chromexcel, my plan is to not apply anything to them for the first few years, but then start to brush them and condition them with Bick 4 in two years or so and that’s it. It’s important to me that they have their original color, though I am concerned they might get damaged if I wear them in NYC where I live, which as you know is often rainy or the ground is wet, and only apply Bick 4. Do you think the Red Wing Naturseal will darken the leather? Any additional recommendations for products / care routines that would balance the trade-off between preserving the color while still making sure they are protected?

    • Hey Jane, glad this article was helpful! Naturseal will darken the leather, I know it’s really annoying. I wouldn’t worry about water damaging the leather or anything though, using Bick 4 will be fine for the leather’s longevity. Just wipe them down if they get salty andddd, tbh I’d use Bick 4 every year at least, don’t wait two years if you’re giving them New York wear!


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