This is it: the ultimate showdown between two flagship cap toe boots from two very different companies.
In one corner, we have Red Wing, founded in 1905 and arguably the most popular heritage boot company in the US, with the Iron Ranger.
The challenger is newcomer Thursday Boot Company, founded in 2014, and their critically acclaimed Captain boot.
I’ve worn the hell out of both of these boots. The Iron Rangers were the second pair of boots I ever bought, and I put the Captains through their paces last year when I wore them all over Colombia.
So who comes out on top: time-tested traditionalist or industry-disrupting new guy? Let’s take a look.
[Team Thursday? Shop the Captain Boot here.]
[Team Red Wing? Buy the Iron Ranger here.]
Red Wing Iron Ranger
- Thick, oil tanned leather
- Bulbous toe cap
- Very casual
- Vibram mini lug sole
The appeal of this boot really comes from its timelessness; as part of Red Wing’s Heritage line, very little has changed about the about the Iron Ranger in the last few decades. It’s firmly a casual boot, particularly with its shiny nickel eyelets part and signature round, bulbous toecap. (It’s a true toecap, by the way: made with two layers of leather.)
The boot is pretty ubiquitous, and this is often the first boot a guy spends money on, although you’ll find plenty of people who don’t like it because they think the toecap is too clownish.
The leather is thick and oil tanned, and the sole is a Vibram mini lug, attached to the upper with a 270-degree Goodyear welt.
Captain on the left, Iron Ranger on the right.
Thursday Boot Company
- Combination tanned leather
- Sleeker silhouette
- Hybrid dress boot/ work boot
- Studded rubber sole
The Captain is much lighter and sleeker than the Red Wings. It makes sense: the Captain, like many of Thursday’s boots, is intended to be a hybrid work/dress boot. I think it succeeds, and it makes for a boot that’s far more versatile than the beefy Iron Ranger.
These are fully leather lined boots, with handsome combination-tanned leather and a studded rubber outsole which looks very flat from the side while still having a good grip.
Overall, no one can argue with the fact that these are two completely different aesthetics: the Iron Ranger is a true, chunky workboot and the Captain is more a more versatile hybrid that’s easy to dress up and dress down, particularly given its dressier leather.
[Read my original Thursday Captain Boot review!]
- Full grain, oil tanned leather
- Thicker than the Captain
- Matte finish
- Hardy, outdoorsy
One of the coolest things about Red Wing is the fact that they tan their own leather at their tannery, SB Foot Tanning Co, which produces about 6 million linear feet of (mostly oil tanned) leather per year.
My boots are a lot darker than you might expect Amber Harness to look, and that’s because I made the mistake of conditioning them with Obenauf’s, which shifted the color dramatically. (If you want to avoid that mistake, use this neatsfoot oil instead.)
And, honestly, these boots don’t really need much conditioning. It’s a very hardy, full grain, oil tanned leather, and generally I think oil tanned leather is underrated. It’s hard to scratch or damage and it can go a long time without treatment. Here, it adds a lot to the boots’ rugged, outdoorsy feel, though a potential downside is that it’s quite matte and doesn’t shine easily — again, it’s hard to dress up an Iron Ranger.
[Learn how to avoid darkening your Iron Rangers (like I did) in this guide to Red Wing conditioning.]
Thursday Boot Company
- Combination tanned
- Shinier, dressier
- Easier to dress up
- Contours the foot better
The Captain is available in a variety of leathers, including a few from Horween Leather Company, but the flagship boot is made with the company’s own Thursday Chrome leather out of the LeFarc tannery. It comes from Tier 1 United States cattle and it’s very similar to Horween’s Chromexcel®, which is combination tanned with vegetable and chrome. (Learn more about the different ways of tanning boot leather here.)
Again, it’s considerably easier to dress up this vibrant, lustrous leather than the more matte Iron Rangers. I will note that the leather on the Thursday boot is slightly thinner than the Red Wing, but we’re talking about a difference of 0.2 millimeters here, which won’t really make a difference as far as durability is concerned. It does, though, make for a slightly sleeker silhouette, and it contours to the foot a little more easily.
- Rubber outsole, cork midsole, leather insole
- 270-degree Goodyear welt
- Bad shock absorption
Older models of the Iron Ranger have the infamously slippery nitrile cork sole but, if you bought yours anytime after summer 2018, you probably have the low-profile (but still grippy) Vibram mini lug seen above. No matter when you bought them, though, they’ll have a cork midsole, steel shank, and leather insole. Everything is stitched together is a 270-degree Goodyear welt, which makes it easy to resole but is a little less water resistant than a 360-degree Goodyear welt.
[Read my original Red Wing Iron Ranger review!]
Thursday Boot Company
- Rubber outsole, cork midsole, leather insole
- 360-degree Goodyear welt
- More water resistant
- EVA comfort strip
The rubber outsole on the Captain has recessed lugs and offers similar flexibility and grip to the Vibram mini-lugs on the Iron Rangers. The stitching along the welt is a lot subtler on this boot (again, helping the versatility), plus it has a full 360-degree Goodyear welt, which means it’s more water resistant. The Captain also has a cork midsole and steel shank, and then something different: a Dura EVA comfort strip. It’s a material often used in athletic sneakers, and it makes for a boot that feels softer and bouncier than your regular heritage workboot.
The feeling of these soles is one of the biggest differences between these two boots. Even though they both have the cork midsole that molds to the shape of your foot over time and the steel shank for arch support, the Iron Ranger has crummy shock absorption — it feels like you’re walking around on hardwood. A lot of people like the old fashioned workboot feel of the Iron Ranger (it does feel like a boot made a hundred years ago, which is a draw for some folks), but I definitely prefer the shock absorption of the Captain.
Between that and the full 360-degree welt, I’d give the sole of the Captain the edge here.
[Learn more: The 6 Kinds of Boot Soles You Should Know About.]
Fit & Sizing
- Order down a half size
- Thursday offers more sizes
- Red Wing‘s fit is more voluminous
- Thursday contours the foot more closely; better shock absorption
Sizing was simple for both boots: they both run half a size large. I’m an 11.5 and I ordered an 11 in both, which fit great. Thursday’s come in a slightly larger range of sizes (6 to 15) than Red Wing (7 to 14).
Comfort-wise, as I mentioned, I prefer the shock absorption on the Captains to the Iron Rangers, and I feel Thursday has better arch support as well. The Captains are also sleeker, so they cradle the foot a bit better, while the Iron Ranger is more roomy (they use a more voluminous last), so it depends on what you like.
- $300 – $320
These will typically run you $300-$320 on Amazon, Nordstrom, or Red Wing’s own site, though the price can fluctuate a bit and you can periodically find them on sale for under $300.
[Shop the Red Wing Iron Ranger here.]
Thursday Boot Company
These boots are only $199 from Thursday’s own site and on Amazon. (Or you can pick ’em up from one of their stores if you visit New York City.) They say they keep their prices low by selling direct-to-consumer and having a low mark up.
[Shop the Thursday Captain Boot here.]
Red Wing Vs Thursday: Pros & Cons
Red Wing Iron Ranger
- More outdoorsy leather
- Beefier, more casual
- Wider toebox
- Lower heel
- Worse shock absorption/arch support
- More expensive
Thursday Captain Boot
- Dressier leather
- More versatile
- More comfortable; fully lined
- Better arch support
- Better break in
- Less expensive
I like Iron Rangers as much as the next guy. If you want a heavy, chunky, outdoorsy, old world workboot, Red Wing is for you. A lot of guys like boots because they want to wear the kind of clothes their grandpa wore, and Red Wing is unabashedly old fashioned.
Undeniably, the shock absorption is bad, and you can’t wear these with slacks or even most business casual outfits. It’s not fancy or modern or dressy. But it is absolutely tough as nails, and it’s a classic.
Besides saving you a hundred dollars, the Captain boot is most notable in my mind for its versatility. You don’t have to hate Iron Rangers to acknowledge that Thursday has succeeded in creating a combination dress boot/workboot that can be worn with just about anything. It’s lighter, it’s better value, it’s more comfortable, and it’s even more water resistant.
I do love the Iron Ranger, and I get why it’s such a popular boot: the timeless appeal of a true workboot is real. If that’s what you’re looking for, by all means, get yourself a pair.
But if you have a few hundred bucks, you’re looking to buy a pair of boots and you want to get the most possible wear out of them, I think you can’t beat the Captain boot for price and versatility. I simply find myself reaching for my Captains more often.
[Related: My list of The Best Boots]
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25 thoughts on “Red Wing Vs Thursday – Who Makes the Best Boot?”
Owning both boots I have to agree with in pretty much every aspect of your review. My only add is that my Captains in black look and feel a bit formal in jeans in my opinion. Love them for work which is business casual. But I feel like I’m wearing dress shoes with jeans. They are new, maybe when beat up a bit they will make me more comfortable in jeans. Also, mine had a harsh chemical smell. Hasn’t entirely gone away after two months but has greatly lessened. It was very noticeable and a whole room was filled with the smell. Are you aware of this? Not sure if it was just my pair or all of the black Thursday’s. Anyway, love the site keep up the great work.
Yes, that’s a great point about the black boots. Very different experience and level of dressiness. Didn’t have the smell issue with my Thursdays, then again there’s probably a different way of processing them!
Would you recommend wearing insoles with either boot?
Honestly Francis that’s more of a question for your podiatrist, like if you have foot pain or fallen arches or something like that. I don’t, so I don’t wear insoles.
i would appreciate your advice re sizing please. i have read the sizing guide and even went to the website of Thursday Boots to check. i wear the 9EE of the Iron Rangers and Thursday Boots recommend a 9.5 (i was looking at one of the Captains that does not have the wide sizes – the new Saddle). i’m here in Oz and hard to do a return if i get the wrong size. i tend to be on the wider size shoe fit but just a bit concerned in case the 9.5 proves to be longer. i understand it’s difficult but would you agree with Thursday’s recommendation, coming from someone who also owns an Iron Ranger?
Thank you and warm greetings from the homeland.
Oh that’s tough, Robert. Honestly, if wide isn’t available in the color you want I don’t think you should get them, seems too big a risk.
If I measure 12 on a brannock device. I wear 11 in 1k and also 11 in Iron Rangers. Would 11 be good in the captain or would 11.5 be better? Thursday recommends 11 but I have read on some forums that they are run tighter than IR. Some say to size down half others size down full and other say true to size. But the 1K in 11 fit me perfectly.
I think 11 will be fine in Thursdays, I wear 11 in all of those. Thursday is a bit sleeker around the toes than the other models, yeah, but I feel like 11 will be fine for you unless you have a wide foot which I don’t think you do.
Thanks Nick for the advice
After wearing Thursday Captains for a year I have to say they’re not worth the money. The outside construction is solid but the interior stitching around the sole came undone after about 150 miles, making the boots painful to walk in.
Sorry to hear it, Daniel! Might be worth contacting Thursday, they’re usually pretty good about repairing or replacing.
Quick question you might be able to help me with.
I currently own the loake 1880 burford, which are a bit tight on the pinky-toe but otherwise fit well.
Would you recomend keeping the size, and but going for a wide-last for the captains? Or are they wider then other more traditional boots like the Burford?
Hey Glenn, I haven’t tried Loake before so I can’t compare. Captains fit D and E widths in the “normal” width so I think you’ll be fine with them!
You said you’ve “worn the hell” out of each, but I’m interested in what Thursday has to offer in terms of lifetime, and I wonder if they meet the same standards of quality that Red Wing is known for.
The leather on Red Wing is tougher, sure, but I find myself wearing the Thursdays more often for the comfort and style. The sad thing about owning so many boots is that I can’t do “1 year later” type posts on them because I’m always wearing in a new pair!
I’ve had my Thursday Captains for five years now wearing on average three days a week. I’ve run them through wet puddles, gravel, and open trails, as well as a 10 mile walk in the city. The boots are certainly more scuffed than when I started, but with a polishing every other month or so they have aged remarkably well. They fit even better than when I first bought them the only real signs of aging on the heel where I tend to knock stuff around and the sole. As far as the sole goes I’m looking into getting it replaced soon not for any holes or the like more so to keep traction on the slicker days.
Troy thanks so much for your comment! I don’t wear mine as hard as that so this is really valuable input. Five years before a resole is pretty impressive for anyone! Which leather did you get?
I have two pairs of Redwing and just ordered Thursday Captain. I’m looking forward to the Thursday boots to compare them, and hopefully enjoy both. Great review, Nick. Thanks.
Glad you liked it Dennis! Both different shoes but both have their place in every guy’s wardrobe.
I saw your review and I completely disagree with your picking Thursday boot over the Red Wing. The Red wing is far superior in materials as well as construction and will last at least twice as long as the Thursday boot. The Red wing looks like a quality boot and the Thursday boot looks cheap in comparison. The Red wing boots makes you look like you are ready for anything and the Thursday boot looks like your ready to go skipping for the afternoon.
Hey, skipping is hard work! Nah Nels I respect your take, which is best really depends on your style and what you’ll use the boots for. I find Thursdays more comfy, versatile, and cost effective, but I love Red Wings as much as the next guy. There’s room for both!
Do you find you wear the same size in both the Redwing and Thusdays?
I can only find Redwings to try on locally here in Perth with Thursdays boots only online. Im tempted to buy both Thurdays for my smarter dressier pair and redwings for travel hiking everday kick abouts. also how do sizings compare to what you would normally wear in sneakers?
Appriciate your thoughts.
I actually don’t! I’m 11.5 in Thursday and 11 in Red Wing. Sneakers I’m usually a 12.
I am considering buying a pair of Captains, which is a little more expensive where I live once international shipping and taxes are included. I wanted to ask how your Captains are holding up after a few years of wear? Are they still comfortable?
And do you know whether there is any difference in comfort between the Thursday Chrome Captains and the Rugged and Resilient line?
Rugged and Resilient has a tougher break in, it’s less comfy from the get go — but it gets there! I wear the boots a ton and they hold up great, if you don’t have other GYW boot brands near you these are worth getting