Red Wing Blacksmith Review: How Does it Stack Up?

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William Barton Avatar by  William Barton | Last Updated:  Dec 09, 2020
Red Wing Blacksmith Review  Product Shot on Plain Background

Thinking about a new pair of Red Wing boots, but you’re not sure which to get? Well, it’s true that you can’t really go wrong, but it’s important to gather up all the information you can so you get the right pair of boots for you.

That’s why we’ve put together this in-depth Red Wing Blacksmith review so you can get a closer look before you buy.

The cap-toe hater's dream

The Red Wing Blacksmith

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Bottom line: The Red Wing Blacksmith is very similar to the brand’s super-popular Iron Ranger boot, but it doesn’t have a cap-toe. The Black Prairie leather is gorgeous, and the Vibram sole and Goodyear welt means this boot will last for years and years.

Ratings:

At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Design At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon
At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Quality of Materials At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon
At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Craftsmanship At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon
At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Fit & Sizing At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon
At a Glance Feature Image/Icon  Value for Money At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon At a Glance Feature Image/Icon

Pros:

  • In-house oil tanned leather is durable and low maintenance
  • The Vibram sole should go three to five years before needing a replacement
  • Black Prairie leather scuffs to reveal a warm, brown core---super unique looking
  • Goodyear welt means lots of weather resistance and easy to resole

Cons:

  • There’s hardly any shock absorption from the leather midsole
  • The bulbous toe look isn’t for everyone

There’s something special about opening up a new box of fresh boots. 

It’s like a package of possibilities. 

That’s how I felt after opening up my latest pick up: the Red Wing Blacksmith

Of course, not all possibilities are positive. 

So which is it for the Blacksmith? I’ve been wearing these boots for a few weeks now and my verdict is in. Keep reading to get the scoop. 

Red Wing Blacksmith Overview

Red Wing Blacksmith 4

The Blacksmith is Red Wing’s succession to their popular, but discontinued Beckman. It’s essentially a non-cap-toe Iron Ranger and a direct competitor to the Wolverine 1000 Mile

Built on the same No. 8 last as the Iron Ranger, the Blacksmith features a “bump-toe,” sleek lines through the vamp, all in a variety of matte oil tanned or rough-out leathers. 

Red Wing Blacksmith 6

It’s a 6-inch ankle boot, decked out with a Goodyear welted Vibram 430 mini-lug sole. It’s made right at home in the USA with leather from Red Wing’s very own SB Foot Tanning Co in Minnesota. 

I picked my Blacksmith’s up in Red Wing’s Black Prairie leather, which I’ll discuss in more depth later. But I love the contrast between the black paint and the rawhide where the leather’s been cut. This look is perfect for fall and winter, and looks great with a pair of raw denim jeans. 

Red Wing Blacksmith
$280.00 - $320.00

The Red Wing Blacksmith is very similar to the brand’s super-popular Iron Ranger boot, but it doesn’t have a cap-toe. The Black Prairie leather is gorgeous, and the Vibram sole and Goodyear welt means this boot will last for years and years.

Check Best Price on Amazon Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
01/15/2021 03:41 pm GMT

Things to Consider Before Buying The Red Wing Blacksmith

Red Wing Blacksmith 15

You’re in your research phase, so there’s no doubt you’re aware of the competition. Down below, I’ve listed three of the best alternatives to the Blacksmith, each with their own unique pros and cons.

The most important thing to consider when looking at the Blacksmith is whether you like the plain-toe look, and whether you’re willing to invest money up front for a long-lasting boot. 

Because the Blacksmith is a Goodyear welted boot with a Vibram sole, the top-notch construction and high quality materials cost more. But you’ll get a boot that’s first-rate down to the details. And that attention to detail creates a pair of boots that can easily go strong for a decade or more with the proper care.  

Red Wing Blacksmith Review

First Impression

red wing blacksmith

I picked up the Red Wing Blacksmith in the brand’s own Black Prairie leather (a.k.a Red Wing 3345). The contrasting natural leather color along the midsole and where the leather is cut is what drew me to this option.

I’ll talk more about the leather soon, but Black Prairie is almost completely matte, so while I have a few moderately glossy and shiny black boots, I don’t have anything with this understated style. 

Red Wing Blacksmith 7

When I first opened my box, I was shocked at how similar these are to the Wolverine 1000 Mile boot. Of course, there are some major differences between the two boots, but it would be tough to tell the two apart with just a quick glance. 

There are also a ton of similarities with Red Wing’s Iron Ranger. For one, they’re built on the same No. 8 last, which means they both have the classic “bump toe.” This leaves more room to wiggle your toes around and gives the Blacksmith a more rugged edge. 

The hardware is all solid brass, which looks rich right out of the box, but will develop a patina of its own. 

Red Wing Blacksmith 20

The Red Wing Blacksmith features a 270-degree Goodyear welt so you can easily get it resoled in three to five years when the sole wears out. I prefer the 270-degree welt over a 360-degree Goodyear welt as it reduces the amount of bulk at the heel and makes this boot more streamlined overall. 

Leather Quality and Care

Red Wing Blacksmith 9

The Blacksmith comes in several leathers, the most popular being the Red Wing Briar Slick leather. 

While I liked the reddish hues in the Briar Slick, I couldn’t justify adding it to my wardrobe as I already have an Amber Harness Iron Ranger and a Cordovan No. 8 Wolverine 1000 Mile. 

So I got the Black Prairie, which I’m excited to wear-in. The Black Prairie leather is painted rather than dyed, so as I scuff these boots up over the coming year or two, the natural tan leather color will show through the matte black finish. 

In a few years, I’ll have a pair of boots that have broken in like well-loved raw denim. It’s a really cool looking effect and something I haven’t seen in many other boots. 

As with the rest of Red Wing’s Heritage collection, the Blacksmith is made with leather tanned at SB Foot Tanning Company, which is owned and operated by Red Wing.

Red Wing Blacksmith 2

The Briar Slick and Black Prairie colors are both oil combination tanned. It gains durability from the vegetable tanning process, plus has some softness and a little luster from the chrome tanning process. It’s then treated with white mineral oil so the finished boot really doesn’t need much care or attention to keep from drying out. 

I’ll likely treat mine with neatsfoot oil when the time comes to preserve the color and keep it fairly matte.

Venetian shoe cream is another good option, but I’ve found that it adds more shine than I’d like on these boots, even though the shine only lasts for about two weeks. 

Bickmore 100% Pure Neatsfoot Oil 8 oz - Leather Conditioner
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Sole

Red Wing Blacksmith 13

The Blacksmith is outfitted with a Vibram 430 mini lug sole. This is a big upgrade over their pre-2018 nitrile cork outsole, which had slipping issues. 

Because the sole is hardened rubber, it does much better with wet and oily surfaces. It’s not the grippiest sole I’ve tried, but it’s plenty enough to get me through most days here in North Carolina. 

The sole doesn’t offer much in the way of shock absorption, which is my one complaint with the Blacksmith (and the Iron Rangers, for that matter). 

If you stand on your feet for long periods of time, the balls of your feet will feel it. 

The insole is leather with a cork midsole. Generally, this isn’t too comfortable right away, but as you wear it more and more, it forms to your foot and fits better than any other type of boot insole. I haven’t quite reached that stage on my Blacksmiths, but I’m there on my Iron Rangers (same insole and midsole construction) and they feel great. 

Fit and Sizing

Red Wing Blacksmith 8

I picked my Blacksmiths up a half-size smaller than my true size. After talking with several people who’ve tried a variety of Red Wings, this is the general consensus. 

If you have narrow feet, go a full size lower. But I’d say that 95% will find their best fit a half-size smaller. 

The D-Width is the only option, and while I think folks with an E-width foot could still get away with the Blacksmith, EE and wider will want to look elsewhere (I’d recommend Wolverine here—they have a great selection of widths on their 1000 Mile). 

At a half-size lower, this boot fits really well. It’s a big snug in the sides at first, but the leather has been loosening up every wear. Even with the smaller sizing, I’m still left with about 3/4” of room at my toe—likely because of the bump-toe last. 

Break-in Period

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I expected the break-in period to be rough on the Blacksmith, as my Iron Rangers gave me hell and the Black Prairie leather is stiffer out of the box than Amber Harness. 

But, it wasn’t that bad. 

Maybe my feet have become more powerful. Or maybe the leather is just easier to work. 

In any case, I did get a blister on my heel during my traditional three-mile walk to the local brewery (I paired them with a hazy IPA if you want to know). But after giving the boots a day of rest (and my heel), I didn’t have the issue again. 

I’ll say that these took five miles of wear to work through the initial break in. I still haven’t worked them until they’re molded to my feet, which is something that happens closer to the 6-month mark, but they’re past the painful first phase. 

The Blacksmith 3340 vs 3345

Red Wing Blacksmith
$280.00 - $320.00

The Red Wing Blacksmith is very similar to the brand’s super-popular Iron Ranger boot, but it doesn’t have a cap-toe. The Black Prairie leather is gorgeous, and the Vibram sole and Goodyear welt means this boot will last for years and years.

Check Best Price on Amazon Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
01/15/2021 03:41 pm GMT

The Red Wing Blacksmith 3340 is the most popular version of the boot, which is the Briar Slick. As I mentioned, I picked up the 3345, or the Black Prairie leather. 

I looked through many reviews of the 3340 online and as far as I could tell, there aren’t any major differences in the way the leather breaks in, creases, or moulds to your foot. 

In short, Red Wing does a superb job ensuring each color option for the Blacksmith has equal durability and comfort, so when you’re buying your boots, focus on picking the color option that works best for your style and wardrobe. 

What do Other Reviewers Say?

On Amazon, the Red Wing Blacksmiths have a 4.5-star average rating with over 250 reviews. Red Wing has a long history of delivering high-quality products, so there’s no shortage of raving about these boots. It was interesting to read how many people went a full size smaller than their usual size. 

Still, I recommend going only a half-size smaller and wearing them around the house so you can return your boots if they don’t fit. 

Red Wing Blacksmith Alternatives

Wolverine 1000 Mile Boot

closeup wolverine 1000 mile boots walking

The Blacksmith is a direct competitor to the Wolverine 1000 Mile. Just take a look at these two boots side by side:

Red Wing Blacksmith vs Wolverine 1000 Mile boot 1

Beyond their looks, there are actually a few key differences. The Wolverine 1000 Mile has a leather sole, though the heel cap is also Vibram rubber. This results in a less grippy surface, and the Blacksmith is the superior boot in my opinion for that reason. 

Still, the Wolverine 1000 Mile is worth looking into because of its legendary Horween Chromexcel leather. Some folks swear by the leather (it really is fantastic), and there are some color options like the Cordovan No. 8 that you can only find with Wolverine. 

The toe box on the Wolverine doesn’t have the same bump, so if you wish the Blacksmith didn’t have that slightly bulbous toe, the Wolverine 1000 Mile is your boot. 

Wolverine 1000 Mile
$195.00 - $599.54

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.

Check Best Price on Amazon Read Our Review
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01/15/2021 02:41 pm GMT

Thursday Boots Company President

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The Thursday President is much slimmer and sleeker than the other options here. It’s still a Goodyear welted boot, but instead of the heritage USA build, Thursday Boot Co makes their footwear in Mexico. 

Because of that, their standard range of boots cost right around the $200 range—a good 30% cheaper than Red Wing. What are the big sacrifices?

  • Thursday Chrome leather isn’t quite as nice as SB Foot Tanning Co. But it’s still fantastic considering the price. 
  • The sole wears out quicker than the Blacksmith’s Vibram sole.
  • The Thursday President’s silhouette isn’t as beefy as the Blacksmith. It works better as a dress boot, but not as well as a work boot. 

If you want to save $100, or you want a much slimmer silhouette (read: you always wear slim-fit tapered jeans), the Thursday President is a great pickup. 

Thursday President
$199.00
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01/15/2021 02:41 pm GMT

Red Wing Iron Ranger

Red Wing Iron Ranger 5

The Red Wing Iron Ranger is the old guard. It’s nearly identical in built quality and materials as the Blacksmith, but it has the quadruple stitched toe cap. 

If you’re debating between the two, it really comes down to style. Do you like the cap-toe? Or do you prefer the cleaner lines of the Blacksmith?

Red Wing Blacksmith vs Iron Ranger Boots Side by Side Compared

Otherwise, you’re getting the same 270-degree Goodyear welt and Vibram mini-lug outsole. 

My Thoughts Overall On the Red Wing Blacksmith

What I Like

  • The in-house oil tanned leather is durable and low maintenance.

  • The Vibram mini-lug sole offers a lot of grip and should last many years before you’ll need to replace it. 

  • My Black Prairie leather (3345) will scuff to reveal the brown underneath it, creating a beautiful varied patina. 

  • It’s Goodyear welted, which means lots of weather resistance and easy resoling. 

What I Don’t Like

  • The leather insole offers very little shock absorption.

  • If you don’t like the bulkier toe box, you may want a different boot. 

Who is the Blacksmith for?

The Blacksmith is perfect for the guy who wants a sturdy-looking boot that blends in better with the casual crowd. With clean lines and brass hardware, this isn’t over the top rugged. But it still has the quality and durability you’d expect from an American Heritage boot.

The Verdict

If you’re looking for a plain toe, American Heritage Goodyear welted boot, the Red Wing Blacksmith is my pick. 

There aren’t any brands offering the same quality materials at the price. And Red Wing’s last a long time if you treat them moderately well. 

Still, you don’t have to focus too much on pampering these boots, because the oil-tanned leather hardly needs attention at all. Just a little conditioning and some shoe-trees and you’re set. 

Competitors like the Wolverine 1000 Mile are excellent, but the Vibram mini-lug sole has a clean, compact look with more grip and durability. 

Of course, you should expect a bulkier look with the Blacksmith. It’s still a work-wear inspired boot. If you want something to match better with your tapered slim fit jeans, the Thursday President is a quality substitute (but don’t expect it to last as long as a Red Wing). 

The Blacksmith is one of my favorite offerings from Red Wing, and Red Wing is one of my favorite boot brands. It may seem like a stretch for the wallet, but the quality backs up the price.

Red Wing Blacksmith
$280.00 - $320.00

The Red Wing Blacksmith is very similar to the brand’s super-popular Iron Ranger boot, but it doesn’t have a cap-toe. The Black Prairie leather is gorgeous, and the Vibram sole and Goodyear welt means this boot will last for years and years.

Check Best Price on Amazon Read Our Review
If you click this link and make a purchase, we earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
01/15/2021 03:41 pm GMT

FAQs

Are Red Wing Heritage boots comfortable?

At first, Red Wing Heritage boots take a while to break in. But after some initial discomfort, you can expect your Heritage boots to fit like a glove. They get very comfortable after about 3 months of wearing.

How do you take care of the Red Wing Blacksmith?

To care for your Red Wing Blacksmiths, always use shoe trees after every wear. This will keep the vamp from sinking and will help your boots stay in shape. Otherwise, treat them every three months with neatsfoot oil to keep the color and moisturize the leather.

Are Red Wing boots worth it?

Red Wing boots are worth every penny. If you treat them moderately well, they’ll easily last a decade with one of two resoles.

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