Boots Beyond the Red Wing Iron Ranger
Somehow, somewhere along the way, the Red Wing Iron Ranger became the de facto boot of the raw denim community. We did crown it the Best Entry Level Boot, after all. There’s plenty to love about this particular boot; a cap toe, speed hooks, and a variety of leathers, but its ubiquity may leave some (me) looking for other options. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve looked longingly at the Iron Ranger online, but ultimately stayed my hand for fear of being that guy.
There’s nothing at all wrong with the Iron Rangers, nor is there anything at all wrong with taking the road more traveled. But it could be useful to take a deep dive into the wild world of boots before you make a choice. As great as the Iron Ranger is, it’s not for everyone. So why not choose something that’ll age well and won’t accidentally match someone else on the bus.
The 6-Inch Boot
The six-inch lace-up boot is hard to beat. They go with just about anything and are the mainstay of any boot rotation. The six-inch boot is a workhorse and you’ll have to choose carefully based on your lifestyle and where you live.
Red Wing Beckman
Let’s say, for starters, that you had your heart set on a pair of Red Wings… well the Beckman would be a great place to start. Named after Charles Beckman, the founder of the famous boot brand, these have been in production in one form or another since Red Wing’s founding in 1905. Where the Iron Ranger screams in your face, “I’m a badass, manly workboot!” the Beckman keeps a similar masculine, bulky silhouette but with a more minimal design.
The whole purpose of the Beckman was to find something that could be dressed up if needed, but that could handle the day-to-day wear of a man on the move. The Beckman also comes with a lugged commando sole, which only some Iron Rangers do, giving them improved grip and functionality. The Beckman’s come in a variety of leathers and subtly different profiles. Though it’s been sold out, Standard & Strange’s exclusive Flat Toe Beckman is a great rendition, which looks like a Viberg service boot, but at a fraction of the price.
Available $350 from Red Wing Heritage.
Yuketen Eric Boot
Yuketen is a brand that is often left in the lurch. In an over-saturated market, sometimes folks neglect their beautiful bench made wares in favor of more recognizable names.
A beautiful and elegant interpretation of the six-inch boot, the Eric Boot is built on the last of a vintage 1950s shoes, combining comfort with design. Its vintage styling with its slightly raised heel, looks especially good with wider leg trousers and jeans.
Yuketen makes the Eric boot year after year, in a variety of colors and leathers, so there’s no shortage of options should you be hunting for a particular combination (or want to get more than one).
Available from $374 at Yuketen.
White’s Semi-Dress Boot
I recently had the pleasure of meeting with a member of the White’s Boots team, who got me up to speed with the brand. Like Yuketen, I feel White’s can sometimes be shortchanged for the flashier and better-advertised competition. But they’ve been making the above boot for nearly 150 years, so you know it’s good.
With its unabashedly chunky silhouette, this might be for the more rough-and-tumble motorcycle dudes among us, but even so, the boot’s tasteful Cuban heel gives the whole piece a little more refinement and its wearer an inch or two of extra height! The boot is available in seven colors and in all conceivable widths and sizes—if you’re willing put up with the wait. These boots are all made one-by-one. All made in the USA by experienced craftspeople, the semi-dress boot has all you could want from an old-school six-inch workboot and more.
Available from $530 at White’s.
Viberg Service Boot
Viberg’s service boot is perhaps the suavest and most modern of the boots so far shown. Its streamlined silhouette, unstructured toe, and low heel all give it a more subtle profile. Viberg, as a company, has all the know-how of the more reproduction-inclined brands already listed, but they seem to be more willing to experiment with more modern, streetwear-conscious workboots.
Their Service Boot is available in a great many leathers, which will affect the price and wear pattern of your new purchase.
Available from $670 at Viberg.
Slips and Zips
But hey, sometimes you want a boot that you can just slip or zip on. Like those who are more seasoned in life (aka, old) have come to realize, comfort and ease is truly a luxury. Why bother with cumbersome laces? So, we’ve got a couple laceless options for you to check out, too.
Red Wing Romeo
Maybe you still want to stick with Red Wing. But what’s a Romeo Boot, you ask? A romeo boot is a low-top slip-on elasticated boot, usually with a chunky profile, often seen with christy sole. They usually also have a pull tab for easy access. But why “Romeo?” Well, the answer, I believe is that when the Romeo boot was first introduced, most boots were tall lace-up affairs, which could be hard to take off in a hurry—ya know, if you and your partner were in the mood.
The Romeo boot, therefore, is the boot of the impatient lover. Perfect for the person who already has everything – and lots of it. This particular model came in an unusual Navy Roughout and was exclusive to the Japanese markets, except for one or two small American retailers. This is a great option if you want something with the body and strength of a boot, but an atypical profile.
Available on sale at Nordstrom Rack.
Lucchese is considered to be the best cowboy boot manufacturer in the world, but many of their more garish models don’t go over so well in modern, urban environments. Not so with their Jonah Boot, the zip up Western-inspired boots, which have blown up recently. These seven-inch boots suggest a classic cowboy boot, but fit well under slim-tapered jeans and have a generally more modern and understated profile. These tough little boots are handmade in Texas, but the only caveat here is that they have a leather outsole and suede upper, making them ineligible for wear in harsher, wetter climes.
Available for $795 from Snake Oil Provisions.
Australian Bush Boot — Blundstone or RM Williams
In our recent history of the Chelsea Boot we briefly focused on the Australian Bush boot; basically a hardier and more durable Chelsea boot. Usually designed with a bulkier profile, the bush boots are often very weather resistant and easy to wear. Some wear them with the signature pull tabs protruding from their pant leg and other opt to conceal them, but these elasticated beauties are supremely easy to wear and also evoke a sort of cowboy boot look, without committing to a full Western look.
Both Blundstone and R.M. Williams are Australian brands, but they do very different interpretations of the same style. Blundstone, which now manufactures in various Asian locations, are available at a lower price point and are made of lower-grade materials. Blundstones are not Goodyear welted or recraftable, but their weatherized rainboot-esque construction makes them exceptionally waterproof. You can buy Blundstones here for $180.
R.M. Williams, on the other hand, still manufactures out of Australia and retails at a higher price point. These boots are made by hand from higher-grade leathers and more closely resemble the classic Chelsea Boots, with a narrower and more refined profile. Though don’t be fooled by their dressy exterior, these boots are made to handle hard work and they go marvelously with any raw denim you might already have in the rotation. The classic model, the Comfort RM is available for between $383 and $545 and can be had from the R.M. Williams website.
The most intimidating genre of boots by far are the tall ones. We fear these boots because they show a greater degree of intentionality. It’s way easier for your friends to tease you for wearing a cowboy boot than for wearing a small six-inch boot that just blends in with the rest. But that doesn’t make it wrong! When it comes to the tall boot, it’s all about commitment… and a tasteful heel.
Red Wing Pecos
There is no better introductory cowboy boot than the Pecos. Introduced in the 1930s by Red Wing, they were meant to be a more minimalist interpretation of the garish and decorative cowboy boots that had become the norm in the American Southwest. So, by design, these boots are meant to fly under the radar.
Red Wing has two styles of Pecos available. The first is a 9-inch style that lacks most of the details that make the boot so appealing. These have a lower heel and a far wider shaft. This lower heel gives them a less elegant look and the altered shaft makes it hard to get them under most jeans. When it comes to Pecos, you have to commit. The slightly taller models, which are for the most part, exclusive to the European and Japanese markets, are that much better. The higher heel gives them more arch support, panache, and makes you walk and feel like a genuine cowboy.
Available for $239.95 at Stag.
Wesco Boss Engineer
While you can pull off a Pecos without owning a horse, it’s a little harder to work an Engineer boot if you don’t ride a motorcycle, but, hey, who are we to judge! There are many many brands out there making some form of this famous style, but as far as I can tell, one of the all-time best comes from Wesco Boots. Their legendary boss boot is 10 inches tall and features a triple-stitched upper, structured toe, and a vintage style higher heel. Its higher shaft and not-too bulky toe make this workwear/americana classic just a touch more svelte.
The boot is made in the U.S. and packed with details: steel shanks, lined vamps, and a leather midsole and heel counter. These Wescos are typically MTO, so it’s rare that there are just a couple in-store and ready to go. Luckily, there are a select few retailers who stock this classic Wild One boot.
Available for $609 from Standard & Strange.
Circling Back to the Iron Ranger
By no means is this list exhaustive. But if you’re looking to get your feet into a pair of non-Iron Rangers, maybe one of these options has sparked an interest for you. And if not, and you feel like there’s nothing better for you than the tried-and-true, Best Entry Level Boot that is the Red Wing Iron Ranger, then go for it. You can still buy that.
Available for $320 at Stag.