Red Wing Iron Ranger vs Wolverine 1000 Mile: Which is Better in 2020?

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William Barton Avatar by  William Barton | Last Updated:  Nov 16, 2020

The Minnesota Classic

Red Wing Iron Ranger

Pure Michigan Grit

Wolverine 1000 Mile

The Red Wing Iron Ranger is a fantastic boot. If you like the cap-toe look, you get the advantage of a better sole. Just be sure to use shoe trees because the vamp will sink and look more like clown shoes otherwise. Compared to the 1000 Mile, it’s less expensive and built with all the same durability. It really depends on if you can get down with the cap-toe.

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The Wolverine 1000 Mile boot is like an all-star team of the best American materials. Quality-wise, it’s on par with the Iron Ranger with triple-stitching and a Goodyear welt. It’s more expensive, and more versatile in the style department. The biggest difference is in the leather sole---it’s classic but slippery.

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Pros:

  • In-house oil-tanned full grain leather
  • Vibram mini-lug sole
  • Goodyear welted
  • Made with legendary Horween Chromexcel leather
  • Triple-stitched and Goodyear welted for excellent durability
  • Balanced look between sleek and rugged

Cons:

  • Vamp can sink unless you use shoe-trees
  • Tough break-in period
  • Leather sole is slippery in wet conditions

Ketchup vs mustard.

Batman vs Superman.

Red Wing Iron Ranger vs Wolverine 1000 Mile boots. 

Every red-blooded American is bound to come across these questions at some point in their lives (these are important for all my international brothers, too). 

The first two are easy: mustard and Batman, all day. 

But the last question. Now that’s a tough one. 

And I aim to answer it here once and for all. 

So which is the superior boot? Keep reading to find out.

Red Wing Iron Ranger vs Wolverine 1000 Mile: Overview

Red Wing Iron Ranger vs Wolverine 1000 Mile Two Boots Head to Head e1604696472668

These two boots are often pitted against each other because they’re both from American heritage brands and have a reputation for rugged durability. 

They’ve long been boots of choice for guys who put their boots through the wringer, but they’re also popular for more fashion-forward dudes. 

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Red Wing Iron Ranger Wolverine 1000 Mile
Upper SB Tanning Co full grain oil-tanned leather Horween Chromexcel full grain leather
Insole Leather Leather and cork
Outsole Vibram mini-lug Butyl-treated leather
Origin Minnesota Michigan

Red Wing Iron Ranger

closeup lacing red wing iron ranger

The Iron Ranger is arguably Red Wing’s most popular boot. Made with full grain oil tanned leather from Red Wing’s own SB Foot Tanning Co, it’s American-built footwear at its finest. 

Iron Rangers are built on the iconic Red Wing No. 8 last, which is recognizable for its bulbous toe. 

We’ve seen pairs of IR’s that look like clown shoes after just a single year, and we’ve seen them look nearly brand new after five years with no sinking in the vamp. 

The key to keeping these boots true to shape is adding a pair of cedar shoe trees. After you wear these puppies, give them a day of rest and leave the shoe trees in. That’ll help keep the shape for years to come.

What I Like

  • The 2mm thick full grain leather is as gorgeous as it’s durable.

  • The Vibram mini-lug sole is a big improvement over the old slippery cork-nitrile sole.

  • Goodyear welting means this boot can be easily resoled—it should last several decades with proper care.

  • The style is super rugged and it’s fairly water resistant.

What I Don’t Like

  • It’s a tough boot to break in. It can hurt for weeks.

  • The toe-cap is much sturdier than the vamp, so if you don’t regularly use shoe trees, the bulbous toe gets more and more pronounced.

Wolverine 1000 Mile

Wolverine 1000 Mile boot with water running over it

Wolverine is America’s other favorite heritage boot brand. And the 1000 Mile, introduced back in the 1910’s, is the brand’s most popular boot. 

We don’t know if this boot actually lasts 1000 miles, but the quality, construction, and materials suggest they can go for longer than that. 

Think of the Wolverine 1000 Mile as an all-star team: Horween Chromexcel leather upper and Vibram heel for extra grip. Don’t leave your boots on any fabric—the leather is so richly oiled, it’ll stain fabric if left there long enough. 

Like the Red Wing Iron Ranger, the Wolverine 1000 Mile has a Goodyear welt for easy resoling. Style-wise, the biggest difference between the two is that there’s no cap-toe on the 1000 Mile. This gives the boot a little more versatility in the fashion-world. But they’re at a disadvantage in the rain due to the leather sole.

What I Like

  • Horween Chromexcel leather is legendary, and for good reason. On this boot, it’s oily, rich, and super rugged.

  • The 1000 Mile is a classic boot all the way through with its design nearly the same since 1910.

  • Goodyear welting and sturdy construction means this boot should last several decades with proper care. 

  • The style is an excellent blend of rugged and sleek.

What I Don’t Like

  • The leather sole can be very slippery in wet conditions.

  • Wolverine claims there’s no shank in this boot.

Wolverine 1000 Mile

The Wolverine 1000 Mile Boot is like an all-star team of America’s best boot-making materials. The Horween Chromexcel leather and Vibram heel cap offer rugged durability that can easily go for 1000 miles---or a decade, whichever comes first. The leather sole is a bit too slippery for wet conditions, but otherwise, this is an excellent everyday boot.

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Leather Quality and Care

Red Wing Iron Ranger shot 2 4

Both the Red Wing Iron Ranger and the Wolverine 1000 Mile are made with exquisite leather.

Red Wing relies on their own in-house leather from SB Foot Tanning in Red Wing, Minnesota, while Wolverine uses Chicago’s own Horween Chromexcel leather. 

Wolverine 1000 Mile walking through autumn leaves and grass

Both uppers are 2mm thick full-grain, with a mix of vegetable and chrome-tanning methods. Each are packed with oils and waxes despite being made through different processes.

The Wolverine 1000 Mile has a little more shine to it and feels a touch oilier, and the Iron Ranger is more matte.

For each, you’re getting a super durable boot that can take a beating (if that’s how you want to treat them). 

red wing iron ranger boots on gravel next to river

The Winner: Between the two, I have a slight preference for Red Wing’s leather. There is no quality-gap, but I prefer the rugged matte finish on the Iron Ranger a bit more. 

Caring for these boots is simple. Avoid anything too oily so you don’t darken the leather. I use Venetian leather balm once every 15 wears. This preserves the rich texture without darkening the leather permanently.

Sole

While the leathers are somewhat similar, the sole is completely different on each of these boots. 

Wolverine has kept their 1000 Mile Boot design remarkably similar to what it was back in the 1910s. Rubber lug soles weren’t around then, so the 1000 Mile has a butyl-treated leather sole. 

closeup on Wolverine 1000 Mile boot leather sole

The heel is capped with a Vibram sole, which helps with grip, but the sole is otherwise pretty slippery in wet conditions. 

Grip gets better as the sole scuffs up more, but like any leather sole shoe, it’s a bit dicey for the first few weeks. 

The Iron Ranger has a Vibram mini-lug sole, which replaced their old cork-nitrile sole, and it’s a huge improvement in my opinion. 

Red Wing Iron Ranger 7

For one, the new mini-lug sole matches the rugged aesthetic of the boot. But it also makes it much more functional. I don’t have to worry about slipping as the oil-resistant Vibram rubber has plenty of grip, even in wet conditions. 

Beyond that, the Vibram rubber throughout the entire outsole should give the Iron Ranger an edge for durability. 

Both boots have leather insoles with a cork midsole. This might be uncomfortable at first, but once you’ve broken your boots in, you’ll have footwear that feels custom-made.

The Winner: Red Wing Iron Ranger. The mini-lug Vibram outsole objectively has more grip than the 1000 Mile leather sole. That said, the 1000 Mile sole is excellent, so it’s not a deal-breaker if you like the look of the 1000 Mile better. 

Fit & Sizing

walking down train tracks in red wing iron ranger boots

I had my Iron Rangers fitted in a Red Wing store (they measure your foot with a futuristic device—it’s pretty fun). The sales guy told me that most folks have to size down at least a half-size, and a full size in some cases. 

I picked up a half-size lower and the fit is excellent. 

As for the Wolverine 1000 Mile, I did my shopping online. After parsing through reviews, I decided to try a half-size smaller than my true size, which is a good move. 

closeup wolverine 1000 mile boots walking

There are wide versions available for both of these boots, though I’ve only tried the standard D-width. 

Both fit well at a half-size smaller than my true size, so that’s what I recommend if you’re shopping online.

Thursday and Red Wing 12

Just be sure to try your boots on inside the house before taking them out on a long walk. Red Wing and Wolverine both have generous return policies (even easier if you shop through Amazon), so you shouldn’t have any problems choosing a different size if the half-size smaller is still too big. 

The Winner: it’s a tie. Both boots fit well, though I had to order a half-size down from my “true size” to get the right fit. 

Break in Period

Wolverine 1000 Mile crossing river from back angle

I was surprised to find that the Wolverine 1000 Mile was gentle on the break in. I had a rough time with the Red Wing Iron Ranger and mentally prepped myself for the worst. 

But really, the 1000 Mile is a breeze—for me, anyway. 

The Iron Ranger is a different story. I mentioned the rough break in period on the BootSpy YouTube channel, and I was inundated with streams of sympathetic comments. A few guys said they didn’t have trouble with the Mule Skinner leather, but the general feeling is that Iron Rangers take a few weeks of thick wool socks and progressive breaking in. 

The Winner: Wolverine 1000 Mile, no contest. I had no blisters and hardly any soreness wearing them for the first time. I can’t say the same for the Iron Rangers. 

Smoother Break In
Wolverine 1000 Mile

The Wolverine 1000 Mile Boot is like an all-star team of America’s best boot-making materials. The Horween Chromexcel leather and Vibram heel cap offer rugged durability that can easily go for 1000 miles---or a decade, whichever comes first. The leather sole is a bit too slippery for wet conditions, but otherwise, this is an excellent everyday boot.

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Stand out features

While these boots are similar in many ways, these are the two biggest differences that might make a difference when you’re looking to buy one over the other. 

Cap-Toe

lacing up red wing iron ranger against rusty tire

The classic Iron Ranger has a cap-toe, and the 1000 Mile doesn’t.

You can find versions of the 1000 Mile with a cap-toe, and the Red Wing Blacksmith is an excellent non-capped version of the Iron Ranger (not the same, but close enough). 

Red Wing Heritage Blacksmith
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Still, it’s an important distinction if you’re thinking about buying the classic versions of either of these boots. 

The cap-toe doesn’t offer any specific advantages. It’s a matter of taste. The more sleek look of the 1000 Mile has a bit more versatility, but it’s still a rugged boot at its core and not a great fit for dressy occasions. 

Vibram Mini-lug Sole

Red Wing Iron Ranger 2

Depending on what the weather is like where you live, the Iron Ranger’s Vibram mini-lug sole could be the determining factor. 

The sole of the Iron Ranger has much more grip than the 1000 Mile. And based on my knowledge of Vibram rubber vs leather soles, it should also last longer, too. 

Wolverine 1000 Mile leather sole detail on rocks

The Wolverine 1000 Mile has a butyl treated leather sole, which is excellent quality for a leather sole. But leather soles are much more slippery in wet conditions. The 1000 Mile does gain more traction over a few week as the leather scuffs up, so it’s not like you’ll be sliding all over the place. 

If you really prefer the style of the Wolverine 1000 Mile, I don’t think the leather sole is a deal-breaker. You’ll have plenty of grip after a few weeks of wearing, though it might be a no-go for rainy days.

Which Boot Should You Get?

If you’re truly torn between these two boots, I recommend the Red Wing Iron Ranger. I think the full Vibram mini-lug sole gives the Iron Ranger a slight edge over the Wolverine 1000 Mile

Still, if you prefer how the 1000 Mile looks, you won’t be disappointed. The quality is tremendous and the leather sole just takes a few weeks to break-in and gain decent traction. 

Wolverine 1000 Mile

The Wolverine 1000 Mile Boot is like an all-star team of America’s best boot-making materials. The Horween Chromexcel leather and Vibram heel cap offer rugged durability that can easily go for 1000 miles---or a decade, whichever comes first. The leather sole is a bit too slippery for wet conditions, but otherwise, this is an excellent everyday boot.

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If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

If you can get both, do it. The construction and material quality is very similar for each of these boots.

So the question is: do you like the cap-toe, or don’t you? 

If you like the cap-toe style, the Red Wing Iron Ranger should be your pick.

But if the cap-toe isn’t for you, the Wolverine 1000 Mile is a stellar choice. 

For more boot comparisons, reviews, and style guides, head over to the BootSpy YouTube channel. To give you a taste, here’s our video comparing these very two boots:

FAQs

Which is better: Red Wing or Wolverine?

After comparing these boots side by side, we give the slight edge to the Red Wing Iron Ranger because of the full Vibram mini-lug sole. The leather sole of the Wolverine is more classic, but we prefer the extra grip of rubber lugs.

Are Wolverine 1000 Mile boots worth it?

Wolverine 1000 Mile boots are worth every penny. They’re an excellent balance of sturdy, rugged, stylish, and classic.

Are Wolverine boots true to size?

We recommend sizing down a half-size when buying Wolverine boots.

Are Red Wing boots true to size?

We recommend sizing down a half-size when buying Red Wing boots.

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