Workwear 101 - First Impressions - Red Wing Iron Ranger 8086 (Seconds from STP)

An In-Depth Look and Beckman Comparison


A little over a year ago we took a close look at the Made in USA Red Wing Beckman boots in black cherry featherstone, a seconds quality purchase from Sierra Trading Post  (the "seconds" designation refers to items sold with minor cosmetic imperfections at a major discount). This time around we'll be looking at the Beckman's rugged brother - the Iron Ranger.

We won't pretend there aren't plenty of Iron Ranger reviews out there, but few are sufficiently detailed enough, specific to seconds quality purchasing, and make direct comparisons to other boots in the range while pointing out some negatives to consider as well. We're going to do all of that that here. And we're going to continue using the royal "we" quite liberally.

Design, Materials, and Construction

Design and Beckman Comparison


The Beckman and the Iron Ranger share the same last (the 3D form a shoe is built around) but have quite a different visual feel due to a few key design elements. The Beckman, named after Red Wing's founder, was previously known as the "Gentleman Traveler," a name I think suited it well. It's decidedly chunky and stalwart - you can only get so dressy with a toebox ubiquitously described as "bulbous" - but the plain toe and smooth finish look right at home with a heavy tweed jacket or something else a little "countryside-dressed up." And while the Beckman flirts with as much formality as Red Wing can muster, the Iron Ranger, inspired by iron miners' boots from the 1920s, lies firmly at the extreme of the casual spectrum. I often see questions enquiring if Beckmans are okay to wear with a suit. The answer is no, but no one even bothers to ask the same question about Iron Rangers.




The IR's design features a downward-slanting 6 inch shaft, quad stitched double-layered structured cap toe, dark gunmetal eyelets and speed hooks, and triple stitching throughout. The speed hooks, I should mention, lace on and off 10x faster than it takes to put on Beckmans - one of the great annoyances of Beckman ownership. The top of the shaft is left raw vs. the thin (and kind of crappy feeling) leather piping found on the top of the Beckman's shaft, and the double-layered heel cup forms a distinctive arc that climbs almost gracefully up and back down the back of the boot. All put together, the design is visually arresting and deservedly iconic. We see a lot of casual boots out there these days that look fairly similar, but the Iron Ranger is immediately recognizable.


The interior of the boot is simple and mostly unlined, except at a few key places to add structural support, with a full leather insole and gusseted tongue to keep out snow and water. The contrasting natural-toned 270 degree goodyear welt construction is stitched to a key component that singlehandedly makes this version of the Iron Ranger much better than the original - a Vibram 430 Mini Lug sole.



The original Iron Ranger utilizes a nitrile sole which works just fine in dry weather but turns boots into cartoon banana peels when it's wet outside. This version with the rubber mini lug sole is superior to nitrile for grip in water, ice, and snow. Something to consider when you're buying a boot is whether or not it can be worn in all weather, and that simply requires a rubber sole. Nitrile kind of, leather never.

Leather


The Iron Ranger 8086 uses Red Wing's oil-tanned "Rough and Tough" leather, produced at the S.B. Foot Tanning Company right down the road in Red Wing, Minnesota. It's known for being durable, pliable, and especially weather and water resistant. In the hand it has a soft satiny finish and feels almost a little rubbery as you run your hand over it. Part of its allure is that it picks up marks and scuffs very easily, and comparing this to the Beckman's Featherstone leather is almost night and day. Featherstone is much stiffer initially and is a fully finished leather, meaning it has a protective top coat that shields it to a degree against scratches and marks. One is not inherently better than the other - it just depends on what you're looking for. A more similar comparison might be Horween's Chromexcel. Rough and Tough isn't as smooth as Chromexcel, but both exhibit a fair amount of pull up and the same penchant for welcoming battle scars.

Here's a picture of the charcoal Rough and Tough from the Red Wing Berlin blog in new condition and at 1 year to give you an idea of the evolution (dealer's left is the older boot).


Construction



Red Wing checks all the boxes at the ~$300 price point, which is to say that everything is solidly built, if not generally unremarkable. Stitching is better than my Wolverine 1000 Miles, though the line wanders a bit at times and one of the welt joints is a little sloppy - nothing major. There aren't any obvious quality control issues aside from a small area where the quarters meet the vamp on one side that got nipped a little during the clicking process, but it shouldn't cause any structural problems.


Though I'm nitpicking above a little, I should point out that overall the Iron Rangers feel positively armor-like. The components are all reinforced with redundant stitching and layers front and back and the speed hooks aren't thin and weak, which can be a problem in cheaper boots. I get the feeling I could drop a nuclear bomb on them and they would just shrug it off - hell, they'd probably look the better for it and come back for more. What else can you say that about?

Godzilla, maybe.


The Seconds Lottery

The flaw is visible on the outer right boot (stitching falls off diagonally at the end of the quarters vs. straight)

Seconds quality boots are denoted by a tiny hole punched in the tongue you can't normally see. I'm not positive, but maybe the small flaw at the quarters I mentioned above is what garnered the seconds quality designation. It's either that or a few tiny scuffs that would show up in the first few days of wear, which I'd consider a win in the seconds lottery. I've had good luck now a few times with seconds purchases, but be warned that I have seen worse out there - mismatched leather panels/bad clicking, deeper gouges, etc. There's always a chance you could end up with an unacceptable item, but the savings on the first success you have should more than cover any losses in return shipping on a lemon. And you know what they say: when life gives you lemons, make a return and purchase a different set of lemons. Such an old saying, yet it still rings true today.

Sizing, Fit, and Styling


Popular consensus says to size down 1/2 to 1 size from your Brannock/true size (what you probably wear in dress shoes), and I've found going down 1/2 size works best for me, which gives me enough room to wear medium weight socks. I wear an 8D in most common Allen Edmonds lasts, and bought a 7.5 in the Iron Ranger. The IR last is notoriously long and narrow and choosing the correct size can be different for different people depending on your actual three dimensional foot shape vs. a 2D measurement, so if you can try them on in person I'd recommend it. That or purchase somewhere with a good return policy.



For styling, Iron Rangers have become somewhat a symbol of the now-flagging heritage trend - you could call it Heritage Workwear 101. Raw denim, a tee or flannel and a leather jacket perhaps. It's a look that's become core to the workwear complement, but part of the reason it became so popular is because it's so easy to wear with a pair of jeans.

Impressions and Recommendations


In the shoe world, $150 for a Made in USA welted boot with the pedigree and classic aesthetic of the Red Wing Iron Ranger is bananas. Even for guys who would never think about spending $500 or $1000 on a pair of shoes, this lies within the realm of what is attainable and conscionable for most. And if you've been thinking about trying a pair out for yourself, you can't do much better for the price. Even at the legendary Red Wing tent sale held in Minnesota every year, Iron Ranger seconds lately have been priced at $129.99 - and that happens very rarely and in a location not many have access to.

Speaking of value, we recently looked at an emerging region in the entry level boot market coming out of Indonesia. I've yet to get a pair on hand here to examine and there seems to be a fair amount of variation between makers, but from what we've seen, Indonesian craftsmanship and design has come leaps and bounds in just a few short years on the western market. The best of them seem to match or even surpass the standard MiUSA construction in the same price bracket and with made-to-order customization, and if I was going to spend $350 I'd be hard pressed to put my money on Wolverine or Red Wing at their list prices. MiUSA is a concept that holds its own value for a few reasons, but one of them is the notion that American-made products are just made better, which is no longer a universal truth by any means (if it ever was). As I said though, the value of MiUSA isn't just about the craftsmanship to many people, so if that matters to you, Red Wing sets the bar among its USA peers. It's also a generally agreed upon point that one of the advantages of overseas products are that they're cheaper, but when you take into account the discounts on Sierra Trading Post, the MiUSA product becomes the cheaper of the two by far - a rare thing indeed. The base models on most Indonesian boots are also made from locally tanned leather with very mixed reviews out there, so if you want Horween hides or another reputable tannery then we're talking about closer to the mid $200-300s range, which could be double what you're paying for Iron Rangers. How often can we say that about a well-made American product?



If you've decided to get a pair of Red Wings, whether or not the Beckman or Iron Ranger (or something else entirely in the lineup) suits you best is a question that can only be answered by what style compliments your manner of dress (or the way you'd like to dress). But at $150, you could own both for less than the cost of what a single pair at MSRP. In terms of where to buy, the most dependable and lowest priced vendor is consistently Sierra Trading Post, which stocks Red Wing Heritage models once every season or two. You'll see in the link below that the Iron Ranger and Beckman boots are priced at $199, which comes down with a 25% off discount code for old email subscribers to $150 shipped. If you need a code, I still get them every few days in my mailbox and would be happy to share one with you if you just shoot me an e-mail.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments - I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Pros

Classic, iconic design
Solidly built in USA
Beautiful oil-tanned leather
Superior Vibram Mini Lug sole (vs. Nitrile)
Laces up much quicker than the Beckman
Pairs easily with almost everything in the heritage workwear playbook
Extremely good value at seconds pricing

Cons

Seemingly out-punched at MSRP by more competitively priced startups
Not versatile for non workwear/heritage attire
Large toe box size and shape is certainly not for everyone
Craftsmanship is solid, though not particularly notable

Where to Buy

Link to Sierra Trading - Post Red Wing Heritage




Comments

  1. If we were to choose, we will choose the black one! Red Wing really has a good attention to details. Not to mention the high quality materials used. Red Wing Distributor Philippines

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