Red Wing Iron Ranger 8111 in Amber Harness (size 12D). USA. $300. Purchase.
I set out to find a handsome pair of brogue-less, cap toe boots that are made in the USA of veg-tanned leather and finished off with a commando sole. Such a boot is nearly impossible to find (if you’ve found it in a size 12/13 without a six month wait, speak up, unless they are Viberg’s $710 Service Boot, whose price I cannot justify). The Red Wing Iron Ranger was ultimately the closest I could find to my ideal, however it does have a few shortcomings.
UPDATE [9.24.14] J.Crew has created a Red Wing Iron Ranger x Beckman, basically the Iron Ranger with the Beckman sole. Not sure what Brick Settler leather looks like in person, but the design is right.
UPDATE [11.06.14] New before/after photos posted below from a maintenance session with Obenauf’s leather preservative. The original laces have also been replaced with a leather set.
UPDATE [9.7.15] A reader has informed me that Red Wing recently released a new model of the Iron Ranger in Oxblood Mesa with a mini lug Vibram outsole that they’ve numbered 8119. They’re $320 on Amazon and, until I get a pair and document, customer photos can be found on reddit.
Buy one size below your Brannock size and be aware that they run a bit narrow. Made in the USA.
The Amber Harness leather on these Iron Rangers is very nice. It’s not quite as soft and conditioned as the Horween leather used on other boots so it’ll need to be conditioned sooner, but it’s thick and strong and will last a very long time if properly cared for. Aesthetically, this boot is great, featuring a cleanly cut (brogueless) cap toe, triple stitching, a burnished top edge (similar to the 1000 mile) and a tongue made of supple leather in an appropriate thickness, gusseted for excellent weather and dust resistance. Surprisingly the vamp lining is fabric rather than leather in most boots in this price range, but thus far it’s held up OK. The hooked eyelets make for quick lacing, although the laces are too short and I would have preferred the eyelets in brass rather than chrome. I’ve since swapped out the laces for a longer rawhide pair.
The Iron Ranger’s biggest miss is the traditional, stiff, nitrile cork sole. It’d be great if Red Wing offered the Iron Ranger in the Beckman sole, which is likely far more useful for the majority of those buying this boot. (I’d be curious to know how many people buy this boot to wear in a machine shop, rather than as an everyday boot.) The nitrile cork outsole takes a long time to break in and the thin vegetable tanned leather insole does little to help cushion your foot. Even if the sole softens it’ll still be missing the tread I’m looking for to be able to wear this boot through a snowy winter. I should also mention that the insole in this pair of boots had a manufacturing defect that caused an uncomfortable bump along the bottom of my foot, so be sure to carefully inspect your boots before wearing them outside, or better yet, buy them in person.
The Iron Ranger is a great looking work boot that, depending on your profession, could even be office appropriate. They look great with denim and after I wear them for a couple seasons and the soles are in need of replacing I plan to swap out their nitrile cork soles for the Beckman’s commando sole and hopefully have the boot I’ve always wanted.