Do you ever get tired of taking good care of your boots?
Man, I was walking through the woods in my Iron Rangers the other day, and I was tippy-toeing through the mud when I thought, these are heavy-duty boots. Why am I so scared of getting them dirty?
That was it—I just charged through the mud, enjoying every second of it. My Iron Rangers are my beater-boot, but I still want a Red Wing that I can wear into town. So I picked up the Blacksmith.
And that begs the question:
In the Red Wing Blacksmith vs Iron Ranger debate, which is the better boot?
Well, in this article, I’m going to break each one down and lay them out side-by-side so you can make the right choice for yourself.
Let’s dive in.
Red Wing Blacksmith vs Iron Ranger: Overview
|Upper||Full grain oil tanned leather||Full grain oil tanned leather|
|Sole||Leather and cork||Leather and cork|
|Outsole||Vibram 430 mini lug||Vibram 430 mini lug|
|Check Best Price on Amazon||Check Best Price on Amazon|
Red Wing Blacksmith
The Red Wing Blacksmith picks up where the discontinued Beckman left off. It’s made on the same last as the Iron Ranger, so the style is nearly identical besides a few key differences.
For one, it doesn’t have a cap-toe, so it looks sleeker and has more room to wiggle your toes around. Also, the hardware is brass instead of nickel—that means it blends in better with whichever leather you choose.
The Blacksmiths are available in a few different leather-types. The most popular are the Briar Slick, Black Prairie, and Roughout.
I picked up the Black Prairie leather because it shows the natural tan leather color through the black paint as the boot ages and scuffs.
The Blacksmith seems to be Red Wing’s answer to the Wolverine 1000 Mile boot—it’s remarkably similar, but the Vibram mini lug sole (and the less-expensive price) makes the Blacksmith a clear winner. For more on this, check out this Boot Battle video from our YouTube channel below:
What I Like
I’m a big fan of the Black Prairie leather—it’s matte, smooth, and it’s going to look very distinctive as it ages.
The brass eyelets compliment the leather options well and don’t contrast as harshly as the nickel Iron Ranger hardware.
What I Don’t Like
Some of Red Wing’s most beloved leathers are missing from the Blacksmith model.
Red Wing Iron Ranger
The Red Wing Iron Ranger is an old classic. With its distinctive cap-toe and nickel plated eyelets, it’s easy to spot an Iron Ranger from a few dozen yards away.
It may be helpful to think of the Blacksmith as a riff on the Iron Ranger. They’re both built on the same No. 8 last, so they both have the same bulbous toe box. Some people love it, and it’s a little too “work-wear” for others.
In my opinion, the Iron Ranger hits the perfect balance of style and ruggedness. It’s a beefy boot, but the full grain leather upper and fairly slim sole keep it classic looking.
What I Like
The Amber Harness leather is tough to break-in but it patinas so beautifully and looks incredible after a few months.
The toe-cap and contrasting eyelets lend a lot of rugged style to this boot.
What I Don’t Like
The toe-cap keeps its shape much better than the vamp, so you’ll need shoe trees to help the vamp stay in shape over the years.
Leather Quality and Care
Up to this point, I’ve highlighted the differences between the Blacksmith and Iron Ranger, but these are remarkably similar boots.
Both are made with full grain oil tanned leather from the SB Foot Tanning Company in Red Wing, Minnesota (owned by Red Wing boots).
The leather on each unlined boot is 2mm thick, which is excellent for durability. The Black Prairie leather I have on the Blacksmith is a smooth-finished leather, which means it has very little shine to it. The Amber Harness Iron Rangers are quite matte, too, but not to the same degree as my Blacksmiths.
I’ve been treating my Iron Rangers with Venetian shoe cream, though Red Wing recommends boot oil or neatsfoot oil. I wouldn’t treat either of these with Red Wing boot oil as it darkens the leather significantly, though neatsfoot oil likely wouldn’t.
Still, I have some Venetian on hand and it does a fantastic job with my Wolverine’s, Thursday’s, and Iron Rangers.
I used Venetian on the Black Prairie leather and it added a little shine that dissipated in about two days.
The most important thing for both the Blacksmiths and Iron Rangers is to use cedar shoe trees. Any boot built on the Red Wing #8 last is prone to sinking in the vamp, so to help these boots keep their shape, shoe trees are a must.
Both boots are outfitted with a Vibram 430 mini-lug sole. I’ve had my Iron Rangers for about four months, and even with consistent wear, the heel looks nearly new. Now, I usually don’t destroy boots within four months, but I’m still quite impressed with the durability of the sole to date.
I’ve had plenty of grip through rainy and muddy situations, and I think this sole is leaps and bounds better than some close competitors.
The leather insole is the same for both boots as well. Neither has a lot of shock absorption, so take note if you stand in one place for most of your day. They’re not the most comfortable for long periods of standing, but they do become increasingly comfortable over time.
Fit and Sizing
I had my Iron Rangers sized in-person. Red Wing uses a fancy machine to digitally measure your foot—I was recommended a half-size lower. And if a computer says it, it’s hard to deny.
There’s a tiny fraction more room in the toe of the Blacksmith than there is in the Iron Ranger. It doesn’t make a difference in the fit and feel for me, but I’ve heard it can be a game-changer for narrow footed folks.
If you have narrow feet, Red Wing recommends going a full size smaller—with the Iron Rangers, your toe might start to feel cramped. But the extra quarter-inch in the Blacksmith is really nice if that’s your situation.
Break in Period
I had a rough go with the Iron Rangers for the first two weeks. I was sweating through my thick wool socks at the height of summer in the name of looking cool. Don’t get me wrong: it was totally worth it.
You’ll have no trouble finding other folks online complaining about their Amber Harness Iron Ranger experiences.
But the Black Prairie leather was a breeze. The worst the break-in got for my Blacksmiths was a tender (but not blistered) heel. After a night’s sleep, it was good as new. The next time I wore my Blacksmiths, I didn’t have any trouble whatsoever.
The Red Wing Iron Ranger has a quadruple stitched cap-toe. For most purposes, this is only important for style, though there is more abrasion resistance with the extra leather.
If you have a small foot, you may want to avoid the cap-toe as it can visually shorten the length of your foot. That said, neither the Iron Ranger or Blacksmith are particularly flattering if you have shorter feet because it’s a stocky, bulbous boot.
The Iron Ranger has nickel-plated eyelets and speed hooks, while the Blacksmith uses brass.
The difference is subtle, but it may be a deciding factor for you. Look at both sets below. Which do you prefer?
The Blacksmith’s hardware compliments the leather, and the Iron Ranger’s hardware contrasts.
Again, there’s no inherent benefit to either—it’s simply a matter of taste.
Which Boot Should You Get?
If you’re indecisive, I have bad news for you: both boots are equal in all things. It’s up to your personal preference.
My preference is for the Iron Ranger.
If you survive the break-in period, the Iron Ranger will reward you with a rugged, manly boot that can last for decades with minimal care.
I think the cap-toe and contrasting hardware is more tough and rugged looking, which is exactly what I’m looking for in this boot (since I wear them mainly for style).
It’s important to note that the Blacksmith is usually about $30 less expensive, though I doubt that makes much of a difference if you’re shopping for a $300 boot.
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.
If you really can’t decide which of these two boots you like better, choose the Iron Ranger. It’s the icon.
But if you prefer the plain-toe look of the Blacksmith, you’re still getting an excellent value boot—the quality is the same as the Iron Ranger.
Either way, you can’t go wrong. Unless you skip both of these boots. That would be a mistake.
If you want to watch a video comparison of the Blacksmith and Iron Ranger, check out my video below:
What’s the difference between the Beckman, Blacksmith, and Iron Ranger?
The Red Wing Beckman had a slimmer toe than the Blacksmith and Iron Ranger. Red Wing discontinued the Beckman in favor of the Blacksmith, which is essentially a plain-toe version of the Iron Ranger.
Can you wear Red Wings in the rain?
Yes, you can wear Red Wings in the rain. Most Red Wing boots are Goodyear welted, so they have a significant degree of water resistance. They’re not waterproof, so try not to soak them through, but a few trips into the rain won’t damage them.
How do you break in Red Wing boots fast?
Wear thick wool socks and put as many miles of walking as you can with your Red Wings. With boots this nice, don’t try any zany methods of wetting them down or spraying alcohol on them. Just a few good old fashion marches will do the trick.