First Impressions - Red Wing Beckman 9011 (Seconds from STP)

An In-Depth Look and Wolverine 1000 Mile Comparison  


Like the end of every Hallmark movie my wife makes me suffer through, after too long a period of will-he-won't-he flirting I've finally said yes to a pair of Red Wing Beckman boots. Truth be told, I was caught in a bit of a love triangle between the Beckman and its sister, the Iron Ranger, but I finally committed during a recent Sierra Trading Post clearance sale that made the Beckmans too attractive to not pick up. And who's to say I can't eventually get the Iron Rangers and have the ideal threesome? My wife actually, and this analogy has gotten weird.

Red Wing Heritage comprises one half of the holy duo of workwear booting alongside the 1000 Mile series from Wolverine (yes, of course there are a lot more but I would say these are at the forefront of popularity). If you appreciate the workwear aesthetic, it's almost inevitable you end up either seriously thinking about or buying a pair of Red Wings. Call it fate. Maybe even...destiny?

The iconic Red Wing scene from Star Wars - Episode V

It's a not so well-guarded secret that Sierra Trading Post has traditionally been an outlet for Red Wing to seasonally unload its seconds quality products - shoes and boots that did not make the cut for general sale due to minor cosmetic defects like scuffs or scratches, though worse have been reported. I've had pretty good luck with seconds with some other companies, so when the price dropped to a closeout $140 shipped for some black cherry Beckmans, who was I to say no?


Materials, Design, and Construction


Let's start with the heart of the boot - the leather. Red Wing uses hides tanned at S.B. Foot Tanning Company, its own tannery founded independently in 1872 in Featherstone Township, MN right down the road from the original Red Wing "Plant 1," acquired by Red Wing in 1987 as its exclusive source for leather.


Previously named the "Gentleman Traveler," the Beckman model switched from Horween's Chromexcel leather to S.B.'s proprietary "Featherstone" smooth-finished leather. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of information out there regarding Featherstone's tanning process aside from S.B. using their top quality hides to produce it.


What I can say from handling it is that Featherstone is a huge departure from Chromexcel - very different but not necessarily worse, depending on what you're looking for. Chromexcel is a pretty forgiving and pliable leather to wear and exhibits a characteristic pull-up effect from the instilled oils when bent and flexed. It's known for embracing age with open arms and readily developing a beautiful patina. Featherstone feels markedly stiffer new and is more scratch-resistant than CXL due to being a fully finished leather/having a protective top coat. That isn't to say it won't patina - I've seen some beautiful pictures of older Beckmans here and there that look gorgeous. But those looking for something closer to Chromexcel may want to take a closer look at the oil-tanned leather Heritage models.

The black cherry color is a rich shade of waxy purple burgundy more eager to show off its color than something like Horween #8. Cigar Featherstone has its own allure to it, but black cherry really plays with light on another level in my opinion. In darker light it appears more purple, whereas in direct sunlight its cherry tones really come out.


Now is that a chubby toe box, or is my boot just happy to see me? The last (the 3D form a shoe is built on) for the Beckman is probably its most divisive topic, with both the Beckman and Iron Ranger lines being famous/infamous for their ample front ends. It is remarkably more bulbous than those of its main competitors, as you'll see below. In profile it's not that noticeable, but swivel your frame of view a few degrees and the toe silhouette starts to swell, giving the whole boot a more rounded, possibly even stubby form. If I had to choose my biggest reservation with the Beckman, it would be this, especially on smaller feet like mine where the shape of the toe has a proportionally higher visual impact.


The boot is built with a fully gusseted tongue, double and triple alternating tonal/contrast stitching, and black rolled leather piping at the tip of the shaft (yes, I know I just said "tip of the shaft"). I'm not crazy about the piping, honestly, which I think is better served plainly finished at the top.


The boots are laced with flat waxed 48" cotton laces that match their aesthetic nicely, but are too short to lace through the top eyelets without leaving little awkward baby lace nubs on top. Compounded by the fact that the boots have no top speed hooks for rapid lacing, it basically requires you to unlace the top three holes to put on and take off the boots every single time - a process that is much harder and longer than any boots I own thanks also to the stiffness of the leather and the tongue design. Given that this is an issue I've seen echoed in numerous complaints online, I'm not sure why this is still a problem as longer included laces would easily fix the issue entirely. Either that, or include speed hooks like the Blacksmith model.


The inside of the Beckamn is lined at the toe with some thick, durable leather, but otherwise the surface of the interior is left largely raw and spartan. The insole is a similarly stiff piece of vegetable tanned leather, with a slim heel pad offering some comfort for the footbed.


The goodyear welt runs 270 degrees around the boot, with solid stitching throughout. The contrasting natural midsole, which imparts a more casual feel to the boots, is attached to a durable modified Vibram Roccia rubber outsole. This sole is one of the biggest differences between the Beckman and its sister the Iron Ranger, which uses a nitrile cork sole. Comparably both are resilient, though the nitrile soles are known for turning many an otherwise manly man into an amateur figure skater during bad weather.



The Seconds Lottery

So what makes these boots seconds quality? If you've been looking closely you may have already picked up on the flaw. On the left boot toe box there's a small superficial ~ 0.5 cm nick in the finish that exposes the lighter color underneath it. I used a little Meltonian shoe cream on the spot and in two minutes of work the spot is now largely unnoticeable unless you're inspecting them up close. For workwear-style boots especially, this kind of mark is so minor and easy to fix I would say it's entirely inconsequential and definitely worth the ~$200 discount.

The scratch on arrival

After a quick touch up and two second polish

That's it, fortunately, aside from a little vein running on the inner aspect on one side. As I've noted above, however, there's no way to guarantee what you'll get. Note also that Red Wing marks their seconds shoes with a small hole punched into the corner of the tongue where it's not visible.

A little bit of minor veininess


Comparison to Wolverine 1000 Mile


If you're considering Red Wing Heritage that means you've likely also considered the 1000 Mile boots from Wolverine (and if you haven't, you should). This is one of the most common questions as to how these two compare. I own the special edition 1000 Mile Centennial version made up in American bison leather (vs. the Chromexcel on the original), though I've handled the classic version enough to comfortably comment on both as a general group, unless otherwise stated (keep in mind my 1000 Miles are also a year old with wear to match).

Boots lined up horizontally for comparison

Last Comparison - The boots pictured are both US 7.5D, with the heels lined up on the same horizontal point on the floor (though it may look like the 1K are positioned slightly backwards due to the positioning of the shaft as it travels up). The most noticeable difference is that Beckman is longer size-for-size, which you'll see echoed below in the sizing.


The Beckmans also have a more rounded and broad toe viewed from above and from the side. At an angle as well, the 1000 Mile cuts a leaner silhouette.


Construction/Design Comparison - Both plain-toed boots share very similar construction and design notes. Both have double/triple stitching at various points with similar stitch placement and density, a 270 degree welt, and the same overall aesthetic. Though the Centennial 1000 Mile has a fantastic soft lambskin lining, the classic model is left largely raw-surfaced on the interior like the Beckmans with a similar heel pad and leather insole. The 1000 Mile also finish with speed hooks for the top three eyelets for quick lacing - much quicker compared to the Beckmans, though speed hooks can shred through laces and catch cuffs occasionally (this is not something I have had problems with personally). Stitching is slightly cleaner on the Red Wings, but this is a small sample size, so I would be loathe to draw any conclusions in that regard.


The 1000 Miles sit on a leather outsole, of which I would prefer either a mini lugsole like the Beckmans or a rubber dainite if you wanted to keep the profile low - the simple reason being that you don't have to worry about the soles getting wet. In a workwear boot especially, it drives me a little nuts that if there's water on the ground I have to leave them at home. The problem can be easily fixed by attaching thin rubber soles to the leather, but it's an extra step that carries extra hassle.



Both Chromexcel and the Horween bison leather on the Centennial model are more supple than Featherstone, with the bison being the softest of the three by far. That's not a knock on Red Wing's leather, but it does have some repercussions with the break in (as mentioned below). I've seen more than one complaint, however, regarding the long-term durability and quality control of Wolverine's 1000 Miles. Some of that has to do with loose grain problems, and others with the soles detaching. I haven't experienced either of those with my pair, but it is worth noting that the trend may be real.



Also pictured: Left to Right - Wolverine 1000 Mile Centennial Edition, RW Beckman, Allen Edmonds Dalton

Sizing, Fit, and Styling

Also pictured: Jeans - Naked & Famous

General consensus says to size down 1/2 to 1 size from your Brannock or normal dress shoe size. Red Wings are noted for being long and narrow, and I agree.  I wear an 8D in most common Allen Edmonds lasts, and I took a 7.5 in the Beckmans, which fit well in light to medium weight socks with a little more heel slip on my smaller left foot.



I've heard Red Wings are hard to break in, but I kind of disregarded that as I've never been one to have difficult break in periods with other boots. So I was surprised to see that even after a couple weeks into wearing these they still feel as unforgiving as the day I bought them. I don't have any blisters or painful spots, but I've been limiting wear time to a couple hours just to avoid that. I expect them to yield at some point, but thus far these wild horses haven't been broken - stay tuned for an update in the coming months/years.


Also pictured: Chinos - J. Crew

The Beckman boots sit at the top end of formality for Red Wing - which is to say they aren't formal at all, but the others are even less so. Despite the smooth finished leather lending a bit of elegance, the lug sole, natural welt, toe shape, and styling details all place this firmly in casual territory. I've seen questions asked about this boot being okay to wear with a suit, and the answer is no - not even close. It would be horribly out of place and terrible to behold.


For casual wear, though, the Beckmans excel when paired with some raw denim or casual chinos. This is the true forte of these boots - a look that has been around for ages without any major changes to its design in large part because of its classic look. Because of the shape of the last, though, if the break of your pants is too long (or even normal) it can accentuate the toe box and come off a little Super Mario-esque. This goes double for smaller footed guys like myself. For that reason, I usually cuff or break above the ankle to accentuate the line of the boot.


Impressions and Recommendations

Also pictured: Jacket - Rag & Bone, Sunglasses - Persol, Wallet - Chester Mox, Watch - Seagull 1963

Despite some minor reservations I have with the design, I still really enjoy these boots. Tried and true aesthetics, MiUSA quality and construction, and no doubt durability that hearkens back to its workwear roots, these are boots that should last years of hard wear and look good doing it. With the Red Wing Heritage Beckman, I expected quality and classic looks and I got them. Furthermore, I can't wait to see what the cherry Featherstone looks like a few years from now.

Also pictured: Sweater - J. Crew Wallace and Barnes, Jeans - Naked & Famous, Shirt - Gitman Vintage
Comparing the Beckmans against the 1000 Miles offers the most apples-to-apples comparison out there, though that description might be less helpful than you would think. They're both apples, but different apples. Is one objectively "better" than the other? Is a Granny Smith worse than a Gala? There's really no wrong answer - unless you say Red Delicious, which just means you don't like apples.

So what I will say is that I prefer the Wolverine's apple, albeit by a small margin. The toe box is sleeker, I absolutely love Horween Chromexcel leather, and they're much easier to lace and easy to wear straight out. But you could by all accounts like Red Wing's take on those aspects more, and I could easily see myself changing sides as time and wear go on.

*Update 4/2/17* - Yep. I did change my mind. I wear my Beckmans all the time now, which have gotten a lot more comfortable, yet still feel like tanks compared to the Wolverines (though that doesn't mean the 1K are wimpy) - especially when the weather is a little wet. Build quality just seems to be a level tougher and I've now warmed up to the last shape.

Combined with the sort of discounts you can find occasionally on seconds quality sales and you put the Beckmans in a pricing arena competing with things like Cole Haan, of which the Beckmans come out lightyears ahead in build quality. I would also give both Wolverine and Red Wing the edge over Chippewa, who are mentioned often in the same conversation at a lower price point. At MSRP, however, there are some other names I would rather spend my money on than either Wolverine or Red Wing. Around the $200 mark, I would say they are a solid buy. Under $150 (or the $99 I've heard legends of them going for in the past) who are you to say no?

Pros

Classic, versatile styling
Tank-like construction and resolable goodyear welt
Practical Vibram Roccia rubber outsole
Beautiful cherry Featherstone leather
Made in USA

Cons

Stiff, stiff uppers with a notably hard break in
Comparably bulbous front end
Laces inexplicably too short
Considerable amount of effort and time to take them on and off

Where to Buy

Intermittently stocked at Sierra Trading Post - Wait for closeout or extra percentage off coupon

Comments

  1. Please tell me the size of your foot. To determine the size. Thank you.

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    1. Hi Vyacheslav / Здравствуйте!

      My bigger foot (right foot) is about 25.5 cm length x 10 cm wide after standing on a tape measure this morning. I wear an 8D in US shoes usually on the Brannock scale, so 8D (medium width) in shoes like Allen Edmonds on most lasts. That's comparable to approximately a 7 in UK sizing.

      For the Red Wing Beckman and Iron Rangers I wear a 7.5, which is 1/2 size down from my normal. I can wear light to medium weight socks with it.

      Hope this helps.

      Dan

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  2. I've tried pretty much every heritage boot under the sun. Then it was a toss up between the Beckman's and 1000 Mile. First I like the commando sole on the Beckman's. Second and it's a matter of preference I prefer the 'timeless' work boot style of the Beckman's. in other words I like the more rugged look of the Beckman's and the bulbous toe box is one of the reasons.

    As for size I'm almost and 8.5 and I first got an 8 at the Redwing Store. After a while I realized that the ball of my foot wasn't lining up with the widest part and flex point of the boot which is the most crucial measurement. It was short but not by much. I called the store and they didn't stock 7.5 and had to order them. When they came in I tried them on and made sure my ball lined up when I flexed and the 7.5 was perfect. They exchanged the 8 for me.

    As far as fit they are suppose to fit tight, tight enough where they are uncomfortably snug. After some discomfort they broke in like a dream. I literally can play basketball in these and run in them. They are SO comfortable. Like wearing a slipper.

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    1. Hi Mark, thanks for the thoughts and experience. As time goes on I've come to slightly prefer my Beckmans now that they're broken in, though I also agree about the rubber sole being a huge plus. I'd give the Beckmans a slight edge to construction as well over the 1K. Around the net, one of the most common complaints I've seen is poor clicking of the CXL they use for 1K, which is something to definitely bear in mind as you have said.

      I hereby challenge you to a game of Beckman basketball.

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    2. I've heard that with Alden you don't have issues with CXL because the 'clickers' are more quality control. In my heritage boot quest I tried on 3 Allen Edmonds Higgins Mill same size in CXL and all 3 had CXL issues.

      Let's play some Beckman basketball!

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    3. Also another reason besides CXL issues with have 1000 mile why I didn't choose them is because the Beckman's are way more tough. Feels like I can kick the crap out of a dumpster. The 1000 Miles feel more like a dress casual compared to the Beckman's which I consider a casual without the 'dress' feel. If that makes sense?

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    4. Definitely true. The toe profile of the RW places them well outside the realm of dressier outfits for me as well.

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    5. I wear my Beckman's with selvedge jeans cuffed and khakis.

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  3. I've heard you can get speed hooks installed at a Redwing Store.

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  4. Nice review on these! I've been actually playing with this leather recently (SB Foot's in-house name for it is "Premium", it does have some veiny-ness but the color and finish are great.

    I'm surprised you didn't link back to your "Genuine Leather" post, Beckmans are my #1 go-to example of a high-quality product made from great leather stamped "Genuine"...

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    1. That's totally true, great point. I didn't know that you can purchase Featherstone outside of Red Wing's use (I'm assuming you're a leatherworker of some sort). Really interesting. I'd imagine it'd make a decent structured bag.

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    2. Sorry it had me as unknown... we've talked before. Mike here at North Star Leather. I've actually got 5 or 6 hides of both black and black cherry sitting on my shelf right now. And maybe 2500 feet of Copper Rough and Tough. Every month or so I get a list of lots SB Foot Leathers up for sale, it's the tannery I probably the most from.

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