Red Wing Iron Ranger

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.

Bottom Line
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.

Red Wing Iron Ranger by BlindBullyRed Wing Iron Ranger by BlindBully
Red Wing Iron Ranger by BlindBully 3Red Wing Iron Ranger by BlindBully 2
Red Wing Iron Ranger 8111 in Amber Harness by Blind Bully 6Red Wing Iron Ranger 8111 in Amber Harness by Blind Bully 9
Red Wing Iron Ranger 8111 in Amber Harness by Blind Bully 8Red Wing Iron Ranger 8111 in Amber Harness by Blind Bully 7


More Posts: Oak Street Trench, Boot Shoot, Chippewa Homestead

43 thoughts on “Red Wing Iron Ranger”

    1. Hi Dave,

      You’re right on both accounts, AE’s Promontory Point Boots is close to what I’m after, but the embossed pebble leather is a deal-breaker. Just not my aesthetic. I’m curious about the Dainite soles, they might fit my requirements if they work in snow, but I’m not sure they do. It’s also unclear how long their laces are, if a boot doesn’t have speed hooks then I prefer for it to have laces that don’t need to be rethreaded every time I put them on. Oakstreet Bootmakers does a good job with their long leather laces that makes their boots quick to tie and creates a nice style. You’ve already seen it, but for others reading you can see what I mean if you check out my boot comparison post above.

      1. AE are not very good quality shoes. Lower price point. You get what you pay for. AE are not in the same class as any of the boots reviewed here.

        1. I really can’t imagine what you mean. If there’s something style wise you don’t like about Allen Edmonds then fine but they are certainly well made boots, obviously in the same price point and far above the average Timberland for sure. They don’t really make boots for lumberjacks and steelworkers but that isn’t their goal, they are very good quality.

          1. I agree, I have no qualms with the quality of AE’s. I’ve had a pair of Strands that I wear periodically for fancy occasions and they’re excellent shoes; comfortable, well made, and stylish.

    1. Hi Donovan,

      Thanks for the comment. I was thinking I’d get to that tonight, but unfortunately I ended up in excel instead. I’ll look into it shortly and post an update when I do, but for now I’ve got nothing. Let me know if you find some good ones and I’ll check them out.

  1. Not sure how you like your osb trench boots, but you can customize them with extra charge which usually run about $450. So you could do a plain cap toe which like you i prefer over the brogue.

  2. Hey Jon, which do you prefer of the 1000 mile boots, the iron rangers and the Beckman for casual wear around the city? Also, are boots practical in the summer?

    1. Hi Alan,
      Thanks for your questions. Of the boots I bought I only kept the Iron Rangers so I know more about them than the rest, as I’ve had a chance to break them in. The soles were incredibly stiff when first worn, but were easy to flex within a couple weeks. They’re still quite hard though, with very little cushion for your foot. Given that I walk about 30 blocks home along the paved, blacktop paths through central park, a hard, rigid sole is not a great attribute. Along with this is the fact that there is manufacturing defect in the heel of my right boot (which I’m battling RW about, since it wasn’t obvious before I began wearing them out, and seemed like it would fade away during break in) and thus, I’m inclined to recommend the 1000 mile. I mostly kept the Iron Ranger due to aesthetic reasons (toe cap), but found the 1000 mile’s to be very comfortable when I had them during the BB Boot Shoot, and have a friend who’s very pleased with their comfort.
      When I wear boots in the summer it’s usually in the evening with a pair of jeans. During the midday heat you’ll probably want something that breaths a bit easier. Check back or follow me on twitter for updates to this post.

      1. Hey Jon,

        Thanks for the reply. What are your thoughts on the 1000 mile Montgomery boots? Those are the only 1000 mile boots I can pick up locally. The others I would have to buy online and pay a massive premium for shipping to Australia.

        1. Hi Alan,
          I’m happy to help. As for the 1000 Mile Montgomery’s, I’m lukewarm. I don’t like that the tag is built into the cuff–it feels unrefined, but since you’ll be wearing pants (as opposed to shorts) with the boots, it’s unlikely the tag will be visible. Besides that, I think the boots play the refined/rugged line pretty well, but that depends on where you’ll be wearing them, office vs casual. If they had the original 1000 Mile cuff, I’d be on board.

          1. Thanks Jon,

            Sucks to live in Australia. Very much interested in the original 1000 mile boot cause it does look more refined than the Montgomery. Know anywhere that sells them for less than 300 and ships internationally?

            BTW, I’ll be wearing them casually with denim. Can’t wear brown boots with hospital clinic uniforms haha.

    1. Hi Alan,
      They’ve broken in quite a bit, but they are still rather uncomfortable if worn for a long period of time due to their lack of proper insoles. I never get foot fatigue, unless I’m wearing these boots, since there is no substantial cushion of any kind under your foot. My Allen Edmonds Strand dress shoes are far more comfortable than these boots, with my foot closer to the ground than the RWIR. When wearing the Iron Rangers, the only thing between your foot and the ground is a thin piece of leather and then a thick piece of very stiff Nitrile cork. Also, their quality control is weak and customer service lackluster, which, for $300, is unexcusable. So no, I don’t recommend these.

  3. Hi Jon,

    I ended up returning my 1000 mile boots for the Iron Rangers. I don’t like the outsole much but the salesperson at the local Red Wing store said they could replace the sole with the Beckman sole when I’m ready. Also, as a person who’s spent 38 years in hockey boots I find that they are extremely comfortable on my feet. I think the fit is almost identical to my skate boot. I think the combination of the the 8111 with a beckman sole will be ideal. Now I just have to wear these every day until the sole is finished.

  4. Hi Jon,

    Great piece, just what I was looking for. Particularly curious regarding the effect of the Obenaufs on the iron rangers:

    For reference, what was the original color of the boots? From the pictures it looks to be Amber Harness, but you don’t mention specifically.

    Reason I ask is that You mentioned the Obenaufs before and after pics. I’m assuming that they’re the 4 bottom pictures together in the final set of four? In those pictures they look quite light, and even after the Obenaufs do not seem that dark. Basically, I’d like to get the Amber harness, but worrying about how dark they’ll get. So any explanation of the color related specifics would be great. Thanks,!

    1. Hi Josh,

      Thanks for your comment. You’re correct on both accounts, these are Amber Harness boots, and the before/after Obenauf shots are the last four photos. I write the color in the line below the top photo, where I try to include all the specifics: Model name, model number, color, size & width, manufacturing country, and price. Perhaps I should include that line again at the end of the review.

      As for the color of the boots when brand new, I’d say they’re similar to a Grade A Dark Amber Maple Syrup spread 5mm deep across a white china plate or, because that is of no help, basically a medium dark color. Of course it all depends what you’re comparing them to, so if you’re wearing denim or khaki, they’ll either look light or dark. In the first photo of the Obenauf set you can see the boots compared to the color of the somewhat faded Bonobos Hickory Slicks pants I’m wearing. Although the pants look lighter in that photo than in reality because they’re in direct sunlight (as are the boots). Mostly, Amber Harness is just a good color for boots, it’s darker than I was looking for, but it wears and conditions very well. Color is tricky to convey over the internet, but hopefully that’s somewhat helpful. Good luck with your purchase!

  5. I have a relatively new pair of 8111s that look similar in color to the original pictures. I really love the color of the boots when treated with LP, as they look more red than the original color. Is that red coloring distinct or a lighting effect? How did you apply the LP? Did you wash the leather with a cleaner or saddle soap prior?

    1. Hi Jon,

      Thanks for your comment. I cleaned them in the same way I describe in my Clarks Desert Boot – How To Clean Post: with a damp cloth to remove surface dirt, light scrubbing with saddle soap for any remaining dirt, and then Obenauf’s LP. It darkens them a little, and the Amber does have a slight red to it, but not much, so it’s probably just an effect of the lighting in the shot. I used a grey card (as shown in this specific shot in the about section), but the floor has a bit of red in it, so the reflection might have bumped it up a touch. Don’t expect Obenaufs to turn your boots red.

  6. Great review! It’s good to read a boot review that doesn’t end with the initial “wow” of unwrapping for the first time. I’m part of the group of peple that are torn between the iron ranger and the 1000 mile series, so I will ask this: I am a machinist, and my goal is to wear these for work. But my work is not clean. I work in a shop that also does injection molding, and as such, I have to work on those machines sometimes as well. Will either of these boots hold up to this kind of work? If i do purchase the Iron Rangers, as others say, I will likely go for a Beckman sole soon. I’d also point out, that I currently wear the Dr marten’s “For Life” 1460’s, and am very disappointed in how they have performed over the last 4 months of use. Not even a shadow of the Dr Marten’s I wore in the 90’s. So I will be in the market for a good American made boot very soon.

    Thanks again for the great review of these boots.

    1. Hi Ethan,

      I’m not sure exactly what your work entails, but I would say the Red Wing Iron Rangers are very durable, probably more so than the 1000 Mile, although I didn’t keep the 1000 Mile, so it’s really just that I find the Iron Rangers to be very durable. If you get them please let me know if they hold up!

  7. Thanks for the great review. Have they become any more comfortable as they wear in?

    Can you please say what kind of laces you have on them in the last few pictures?


    1. Hi Brian,
      Thanks for the comment. These boots might just not be for me. I’ve worn them a bit and I love the look, but the soles are still very hard. I’ve spoken to other people on the street who love these boots and find the soles to be stiff at first, but more pliable after a while–which is true, they do become easier to flex, but for me they remain hard underfoot.
      The replacement laces are just generic; I got them from a cobbler who had them hanging on a nail on the wall. I expect most shoe repair shops would have some as well, but you could call ahead and ask for “undyed leather rawhide laces” and they should know what you’re talking about. Technically they’re cut from a piece of leather that was dyed, but sometimes the laces are cut and then dyed again so they’re the same color all around, which I don’t like as much as these two tones.
      Hope that helps, Jon

  8. Breaking Iron Ranger News:

    I emailed Red Wing Corporate two weeks asking if they could add the 430 Vibram outsole found on the 8119 to a pair of 8111’s. This was their response:

    “Launching in November 2015, all Iron Rangers will incorporate the same vibram sole that is on the 8119. Our production team is currently ramping up purchase orders to create inventory for the new styles. Check back with us in November and this style will be available with this new sole.”

    Of course, it took them 16 days to respond to my initial email and during that time I have already purchased and begun wearing my new cork sole 8111’s. Just my luck…

    Jon, thanks for the reviews.

  9. I wear these just about every day. I have a separate pair of steel toe logger boots (Carolina brand) for yard work, since I consider these a bit more dress-casual boots. I recently got them re-soled with Vibram 430 mini-lug soles. SO MUCH BETTER. It did take me four years to wear through the stiff cork original soles, but these give a much better grip on all surfaces. Since they’re non-slip, they’re great indoors, too. Better for snow and ice, though we haven’t had much any in southern New England this year.

    If someone were to buy a pair of Iron Rangers, I definitely recommend re-soling with the Vibram mini-lug. They don’t look out of place on the boot, either.

  10. Just received a pair of RWIR 8119s in oxblood for Christmas from my wife. Love the look, and the concept of the Vibram mini-lug sole, but have heard that it is stiffer than the nitrile/cork sole. Thoughts?

    1. It’s rather silly to have mini-lugs in my opinion (regarding the 8119s) when they could so easily put on a decent set of lugged vibrams, no to do this compromise. The only thing holding Iron Rangers back are their outsoles.

      1. Hi Bret,
        Thanks for the comment. I agree, it’s surprising to me, and maybe a sign of the age of the company, that they haven’t rapidly expanded the iron ranger and Beckman lines to offer four sole types: original cork, leather, mini lug, full lug. On the plus side, their slow movement is providing space for new brands to fill. I’ve seen their full lug in NYC before, but I found it too extreme for the city–although big lugs are now a bit of a thing in NYC in the winter, even if it’s only a dusting of snow. For days with real weather, they’re definitely worthwhile, just annoying to clomp around in on pavement.

  11. Did you find the original laces too short?
    Following your advice of buying one or half size smaller, I found my foot wrapped at the arches and the laces is short that can only tie a small tie.

    Also the question is, how should i decide if it’s the right size for me?
    The fact that red wing boots leathers are so stiff makes it hard for me to judge the comfort. I already own two pairs (Moc and Beckman) and still can’t decide the size to go to for iron ranger.

    1. Yes, the original laces were short. It was possible to tie them, but only in a little bow.

      As for sizing, they’ll pack out a bit, but I’d just match your Beckmans if you’ve worn those a bit and find them comfortable.

  12. Have you considered the Thorogood 1892 Dodgeville line at all? They seem to suit your ideal boot description listed at the top also.

    1. Hi Glendon,

      Thanks for the heads up, I don’t believe I’ve seen that boot before. I’m about to get going on another boot comparison, so I’ll look into it and perhaps include it in the next Boot Shoot.


  13. Hello.

    I would like to ask a question as the left boot I see in the pictures has a different crease than the other. The crease it had is EXACTLY the same like mine , that makes the leather pinch on my big toe . I noticed that this happens on the boot I have that the CAP toe is longer slightly … . Do you have the same issue ?

    Many thanks

  14. Very nice read (though I’m a bit late to the party!).
    It’s really funny, almost all the reviews/articles I’ve read on the Iron Rangers mention the sole as a drawback, and countless people wish the boots came with the Beckman “Roccia” sole (or compare the Iron Rangers with the Wolverine 1000 mile boots and cite the latter’s leather sole as a step-up from the nitrile cork ones). I couldn’t disagree more.
    For one, the Beckman sole, as well as the 1000 mile boots’, are mainly leather (with a rubber pad added to the Beckmans). Every single shoe I’ve owned that came with a leather-constructed outsole has ended up squeaking terrible, with nothing to be done about it. No exception. I’ll take rubber over it every time, especially on boots.
    Similarly, leather stacked heels are no good for me: because of the way I walk (with a strong emphasis on heels) they always start “fraying” just above the rubber part.
    And then there’s the issue of traction. Most people seem to have experienced slipping with the nitrile cork sole. Admittedly the smooth surface is an issue in mud and snow. But most soles would be useless in those conditions as well, short of actual commando or logger soles. More surprisingly I’ve heard people say the Iron rangres were slippery in the rain, which is a mystery to me. Quite the opposite: I find that they are absolutely great on most surfaces, whether it be pavement, stone, bricks and even metal. I’ve actually gone hiking in Ireland with Iron Rangers (wouldn’t have been my first choice, but I could only fly with one pair of shoes and it had to be versatile), and apart from one or two muddy spots, they did wonders on the rocky paths and trails. The same can’t be said of my Beckmans, the rubber material of which turns to banana peel when the streets get wet and I have to walk on smooth pavement.
    In the end my favorite boot soles turn out to be the Vibrams on my Chippewa service boots, which offer a tiny bit of traction that I find more than enough and keep a low profile. But the nitrile cork soles rate almost as high.
    Sorry about the rant… I only mean to share my experience, and certainly not to undermine that of others! And thanks again for the article.

    1. Hi Chee,

      Thanks for you comments, it’s good to know that some people prefer the nitrile cork sole. Since writing the above post I’ve also had the opportunity to use the dainite sole in all weather conditions. I discovered I quite dislike dainite due to slipperiness in the wet. It seems simple, but what I’d prefer is a low profile commando sole made of a durable, non-slip compound. I thought given the popularity dainite would be close with a different lug style, but it’s super slippery on metal in the rain. It’s not rocket surgery, the compounds exist, companies just don’t seem to care. Also, I should mention that a big part of my gripe with the Iron Rangers sole is the harshness on the feet. I find my Allen Edmonds to be far more comfortable on equal length walks in the city. I assume it’s due to a superior sole construction with thicker cork fill and layers of leather. Regards, Jon

      1. Thanks for your reply!
        I appreciate the information about Dainite soles, which I’ve never tried.
        You’re right about the harshness of the Iron Rangers, they can feel hard indeed. All Red Wing insoles are hard, come to think of it, regardless of the outsole. I’ve found that additional insoles help with that (as well as with durability, which is why I use them in most shoes), but it can mess up with your sizing.
        Best regards.

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