Red Wing is one of the most popular and well-respected shoe manufacturers in the industry today, and for good reason. The company has been selling boots and shoes of the highest quality for almost a century, so there is no question that it continues to evolve to meet the needs of each generation.
With over 150 styles from which to choose, you may be hard-pressed to make a decision. But if you are looking for a 6 inch boot, the Blacksmith and Iron Ranger models are probably the most versatile. They are very similar, though. So we compare the two in great detail, in order for you to determine which is best for you.
Basically, though, it comes down to two simple factors.
While they are both great boots, there are only two circumstances we would use to make a hard and fast recommendation.
The Blacksmith is just a little sleeker, looks just a bit dressier. So if you would like to be able to wear your Red Wing boots for nicer occasions on a regular basis, while still having a great casual boot for everyday wear, the Blacksmith would probably be the best option.
If you want your boot in a suede like material – and Red Wing has some of the best, then you need a Hawthorne Muleskinner option, and the Blacksmith doesn’t offer it. In that case, you’d have to go with the Iron Ranger.
Except for the primary considerations, the main differences between the Blacksmith and Iron Ranger are mainly matters of style. Otherwise, both models share the exact same advantages and drawbacks.
- Quality – These are extremely well-constructed boots. The leather is excellent and so is the stitching, there should be no loose threads on your Red Wing Boots.
- Welting – Both models feature the superb quality of a Goodyear Welt. This strip that runs along the exterior of a shoe’s sole contributes not only to its style, but also to comfort, support and durability.
- Longevity – Although the soles of Red Wing boots are expected to last for years, due to the Goodyear Welt, these boots can be re-soled if they wear out.
- Comfort – Again, due to the Goodyear Welt, both the Blacksmith and the Iron Ranger are supremely comfortable. The welting process results in a cavity mid-sole that is filled with cork, which also provides some support.
- Relatively Waterproof – A final result of the Goodyear Welt’s snugly layered construction is that there is minimal penetration of water into the insole. So your feet remain fairly dry even while walking through snow or puddles.
- Steel shank – Red Wing boots are strong. There is very little chance you will break this boot.
There aren’t many drawbacks to such high-quality boots, but there are a few things worth noting.
- Price – Quality doesn’t come cheap. These are actually not expensive compared to other high end boots, many of which are over $350. But there are far less costly models if quality is not a concern.
- Unlined – If you will be tramping through snow for any length of time, your feet will get very cold.
- Heavy – These boots are noticeably heavier than hiking boots. While they are comfortable to wear, often and for long periods of time, they are not really recommended for serious hiking.
- Slow to Break In – Allow about two weeks for the boots to become comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time.
- No Steel Toe – These are not meant to be true work boots, if you really need steel toes.
Now let’s take a closer look at exactly how the Red Wing Blacksmith and Iron Ranger are different from each other.
Red Wing Iron Ranger
The Iron Ranger is a gorgeous boot. The design is so eye-catching that buyers seem to commonly get asked about the boots when wearing them. One of the main features of the Iron Ranger is the toe cap that is detailed with four rows of stitching, another is the external heel stay. Together with the contrasting thread following the lines of the shoe, the result is endlessly pleasing aesthetics.
Still, a little function is always welcome, even in the most appealing design, and the Iron Ranger doesn’t disappoint. Above the eyelets on the boot’s upper are convenient speedhooks. These allow you to completely unlace the boots around your ankle, without having to worry about re-lacing the eyelets when it’s time to them on again.
The Vibram sole is a welcome addition to the latest models of Iron Rangers. One of the highest quality soles available, the 430 Mini-lug outsole provides traction and stability, to keep you from slipping and sliding around on slick, damp surfaces.
The Red Wing Iron Ranger is offered in a variety of colors and materials. The Charcoal Rough and Tough and the Copper Rough and Tough are made from beautifully smooth fine leather. The Hawthorne Muleskinner, however, is made from a suede like material that Red Wing calls Roughout Leather.
Roughout Leather is simply the other side of the leather hide used in other boots. Red Wing says it’s stronger than most suedes, because there is none of the splitting or thinning that tanneries use to create suede material from leather hides. So it makes for a strong, beautiful boot.
Old Iron Ranger Models are Cheaper
Some combinations of sizes and colors in the older Iron Ranger models are less expensive than the newer versions, primarily because they do not feature the Vibram soles. There may be those who actually prefer a smooth sole to the more casual looking textured one. However, it is worth noting that these are notoriously slippery on wet surfaces.
If you prefer a smooth sole, and live in a dry climate, it may be worth comparing the pricing of these. Not only may you get a bargain, but there are actually even more color options available in this model. In addition to Hawthorne Muleskinner plus Rough and Tough in Copper and Charcoal, there is also:
- Amber Harness
- Oxblood Mesa
- Black Harness
Some of these, however, do have the Vibram sole. So they are priced similarly to the newer models. Regardless of which sole you choose, the Red Wing Iron Ranger is one of the most impressive looking models of 6 inch boots on the market today. However, if you will frequently want to wear your boots for occasions other than casual day wear, you may want to consider the Blacksmith.
Red Wing Blacksmith
The Blacksmith is a very sleek, classy looking boot. Like the Iron Ranger, it also features an external heel stay, but that is slimmer and more elegant looking on the Blacksmith. More noticeable, though, is the absence of a toe cap.
The front of the Blacksmith’s upper is one smooth unbroken line of leather. While the back of the boot has much the same curved designs as the Iron Ranger, there is not as much contrasting stitching. It is this combination that creates the impression of a slightly more formal version for a boot.
The current version of the Blacksmith also features a Vibram sole, and it is available in the following color options:
- Black Spitfire
- Briar Oil Slick
- Charcoal Rough and Tough Leather
- Copper Rough and Tough Leather
There is no suede, or roughout leather, option available in the Blacksmith.
Cheaper Red Wing Alternatives
The Red Wing Heritage 6″ Rover comes in at a few dollars cheaper than the Blacksmith and the Iron Ranger. The Rover sprts many of the same features that the other two come with and it does so with an even more distinctive style. If you’re really looking to be fancy with your boot choice, then the Rover should suit you nicely.
The Rover comes with the same speedhooks for easier lacing/unlacing but lacks that signature vibram sole. The Rover does require a very long break-in time due to its leather footbed. This means it won’t be overly comfortable until you break it in, and you won’t be breaking it in quickly.
The Iron Ranger’s toe cap is a striking feature, which raises the style level of the boot highest, in our opinion. However, it does hit a rather more casual note, so the Blacksmith is probably more appropriate for buyers who want more versatility for slightly dressier occasions. For that matter, it will also be more suitable for those who simply prefer a sleeker looking boot.
If you want suede, then your choices are limited to the older and newer versions of the Iron Ranger, as there is no option for it at all in a Blacksmith model.
The Vibram sole is worth paying at least a little bit extra for if you spend any time at all walking on damp sidewalks or other damp surfaces. It’s simply safer. Whatever the cost, it will likely be less than a hospital visit or broken bone would cost. On the other hand, if you live in a dry climate and are choosing the Blacksmith for its sleeker line, then the smooth sole would work.
No matter which you choose, you will be getting a truly fabulous, high-quality boot.