It’s not just the toecap. While they’re made on the same last so they fit the same way, there are more differences than you might think between Red Wing’s flagship boots, the Iron Ranger and the Blacksmith.
Red Wing is everyone’s first Goodyear welted boot. My own was their moc toe, and I swiftly followed up with Iron Rangers as my second “grown up” boot purchase to help me navigate New York winters. Note that I conditioned those Iron Rangers with some too-thick conditioner a few years ago, so they’ve darkened considerably, but these are the classic 8111 Amber Harness Iron Rangers I’m wearing in these photos, contrasted with the 3340 Blacksmith boots in the famously reddish Briar Oil Slick leather.
[SHOP THE IRON RANGER]
[SHOP THE BLACKSMITH]
Iron Ranger and Blacksmith Similarities
What are the similarities between these iconic boots?
- The grippy Vibram mini lug outsole
- The leather insole, steel shank, and cork filling
- The last — the shoes contour and fit the foot in the exact same way
- The leather comes from the same tannery, although not all the same leathers are available for both boots.
The differences are something a lot of people wonder about, so let’s start with the obvious one.
1. The Toecap
The Iron Ranger has a toecap, the Blacksmith doesn’t.
Pretty simple stuff, though it’s worth emphasizing the Iron Ranger’s toecap is real: it’s an actual extra layer of leather over the toe of the boot, secured with four stitches. So while it’s not a steel toe boot, the toecap does offer a modicum of extra protection relative to the Blacksmith, which is probably why there’s a difference in…
2. The Price
Iron rangers are $30 dollars more expensive.
[Related: The Best Boots for Under $200]
3. The Laces
Iron Rangers come with these round, parachute cord, nylon laces, the Blacksmiths are flat waxed cotton.
The waxed cotton laces are stickier and a little more annoying to work with, but less likely to come undone, plus they’re just a little bit dressier.
That’s the main bullet point when comparing these boots: while they’re both very casual, the Blacksmith dresses up ever so slightly better.
Another reason why is…
4. The Eyelets
They’re shiny nickel on the Iron Ranger and dull gilt on the Blacksmiths.
Unlike Red Wing’s moc toes, both of these boots have three pairs of speed hooks, which makes them easier to get on and off.
5. The Collar
The collar — that’s the opening at the top of the boot where you slide your foot in — has a few differences, but I wanted this to be a list of ten and not eleven differences, so I’m lumping them all into this entry! They are:
- The collar is flat on the Blacksmith but it curves downward on the Iron Ranger
- There are two rows of visible stitching on the Iron Ranger but one on the Blacksmith, and
- The edges are raw on the Iron Ranger and they’re rolled on the Blacksmith.
“Rolled” means there’s another piece of leather rolled over the top of the edges on the top of the shaft. That takes a bit more labor to do, but over time the edge is less likely to get frayed if it’s rolled.
While we’re talking about the shaft…
6. The Height
The iron ranger is about a half inch taller before it starts to swoop downward. I measured the Iron Ranger at ~6.25 inches high at its highest and the Blacksmith at ~5.75 inches.
7. The Backstay
That’s the name for the strip of leather running up the back of the heel.
- On the Iron Ranger, the counter (heel) and backstay are all one, kind of upside-down-T-shaped piece of leather.
- The Blacksmith’s backstay just stays on the back of the ankle.
So the backstay is broader on the Iron Ranger and offers a bit more protection to the heels, since it results in two pieces of leather covering them.
[Related: 5 Things You Don’t Know About Red Wing]
8. The Triple Stitching
- The counter/backstay on the Iron Ranger is secured with Red Wing’s famous triple stitch, while
- The Blacksmith (both on the heel and running up the backstay) is double stitched, once more making it a hair less casual.
One could argue the extra stitch makes the Iron Ranger more heavy duty, but it’s very unlikely that there’s any practical advantage as far as durability goes, at least with regard to the stitching. (The argument is stronger if you believe the Iron Ranger offers more protection because it has more leather covering the heel and the toe.)
9. The Fits
The fit is exactly the same between both boots, as they’re both made on Red Wing’s No. 8 last with a nice roomy toe.
But only the Iron Ranger is available in wider widths.
This No. 8 last is fairly roomy in the toes, and many find they fit D (normal) and wide (E) feet, but if you’re any wider, only Iron Rangers come with the option for EE.
As a side note: you should size down half a size from your true size and a whole size from your sneaker size when ordering Red Wings.
[Related: The Ultimate Guide to How Boots Should Fit]
10. The Leathers
While all of Red Wing’s leather uppers come from their own tannery, SB Foot Tanning Company, you don’t get the same options for both shoes.
- So right now in the Iron Ranger, you can get Amber Harness (your standard brown), Black Harness, a slightly more red Oxblood Mesa, Charcoal, Copper, and a roughout called Hawthorne Muleskinner.
- The Blacksmith comes in the same Copper and Charcoal leathers as the Iron Ranger, but none of the other leathers are the same. There are two other options: the ruddy Briar Oil Slick seen in the pictures, and Black Prairie.
Black Prairie actually isn’t the same as the Black Harness Iron Ranger: Black Harness leather is black all the way through, whereas Black Prairie is a black overcoat over brown. So when the Iron Ranger scuffs it’s still black, but when the Black Prairie scuffs you’ll see brown come through.
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