After we sifted through dozens of manufacturers, even more models, and did extensive testing on four models, the best beginner boot we saw was the Red Wing Iron Ranger. Yes, it was the most expensive model we tested, but it was constructed the best out of the highest quality materials, had a tolerable break in period, fit well, and aged better. Read on for how we arrived at our conclusion or you can pick them up below.
When you reach the upper echelons of any market, the differences between each offering become markedly more subjective. What makes a pair of Samurai Jeans better or worse than a pair of Onis is almost all up to personal preference. At the lower tiers, however, manufacturers are much more likely to cut corners and deliver an objectively inferior product to their competitors.
Such is the case with Goodyear Welted boots. A Goodyear Welt is a method of attaching the upper of a shoe to the sole. It’s an old-world, labor intensive process, but ultimately makes for a more durable and waterproof piece of footwear that can be resoled several times and drastically extend the life of a shoe.
So, how did we narrow the field? First off, we only considered boots with a Goodyear Welt for this test, as they are easy to recraft, more weather-resistent, and there’s a good variety of workboots out there for purchase. Second, we also wanted something that was relatively affordable (sub $350). Welted boots are expensive, but their longevity often allays at least some of the cost. Third, we wanted something was was relatively accessible–available year-round, pretty much always in stock, and available to try on and return if not in person but easily through the mail.
We tested these boots on their fit, construction, materials, and aesthetics. Aesthetics is the design and overall look of the boot. And let’s be honest that these are boots you’re buying for appearances–if you wanted a boot for real work, you’d get something ugly with a safety toe. Fit entails how comfortable and supportive the boot is to wear and how intensive the break in period was (I wore each pair for a week straight). Construction encompasses not only the techniques used to put the boot together but also the quality control behind them. And finally, Materials covers the quality of the leather, sole, welt, thread, shank, and lining of the boot.
We’ve seen all our boots now, and we’ve finally arrived at what we believe is the best option:
1. Red Wing Iron Ranger
At more than double the cost of the Thorogood, the Red Wing Iron Ranger is the priciest boot on our list but it’s also the best. With no compromises on materials, construction, fit, or aesthetics, the Iron Ranger is our recommendation for the best entry level Goodyear Welted boot.
- Name: Red Wing Iron Ranger
- Materials: Pull up leather, cork/nitrile sole
- Welt: 270 degree Goodyear
- Made in: USA
- Unique Features:
- Cap toe
- Tonal and contrast stitching
- Available for $320 at Nordstroms
The Iron Ranger is said to be based off of the boots of mid-century iron miners in the Midwest. I think they made a few design tweaks, but the boot itself is gorgeous. It has the essence of an understated brown workboot, but still has enough identity baked into the design that it would never be mistaken for anything else.
The quad-stitched cap-toe with its slightly bulbous tip, the external heel stay, and the eyelet placing are all balanced and instantly recognizable.
This is a purdy boot.
Red Wings take a while to break in. Not as long as the L.L.Bean, but it’s going to be a few days before going down a flight of stairs feels natural. That’s not a bad thing, as they’re designed to break in with a full leather footbed and cork filler.
Once you’re over the hump of the break in period, probably 25-30 hours of wear, they feel really good. Not good in the sense of cushy, but solid; like your feet are firmly gripped in place and the boots are a natural extension of you. Fit is large though, order at least a half size down.
The Iron Ranger is put together with triple stitched waxed threads. There were no quality control errors to be seen, the stitching was all regular and even–even on the midsole.
Everything looks and feels great, no complaints.
The interior of the boot might look a little plain compared to the others. It’s just a leather insole, cork and a shank on the inside, and then the outsole. That’s how it’s supposed to look! Those materials are more expensive and make for a more expensive boot, but it’s how you have a shoe that breaks in and stays broken in for years and years.
But the flipside of all the organic internals is they’re more likely to rot out from moisture, so you’ll need to give them time to rest between wears.
The main complaint lobbied agains the Iron Ranger is that the sole has poor traction on ice and snow. It’s a fair point as the treadless cork nitrile exterior slips all over the place in the winter, but also something Red Wing is planning to address with an upcoming mini-lug option.
It was the best boot we saw, and thus earns our stamp of approval. Get yourself a pair for $320 at Nordstroms.