If you conducted a widespread poll to determine the top five most iconic boots in all of bootdom, it’s very probable that Red Wing would lock down two spots—one for their toe-capped beauty of a beast known as the Iron Ranger, and another for their Classic Moc Toe. They might even come in at 1 and 2.
Red Wing’s Moc Toes are absolutely everywhere, and worn by absolutely everybody—and rightfully so. It’s no easy trick to transform a boot with true work heritage into something that’s considered to be not only acceptable from a fashion or “lifestyle” standpoint, but also legitimately desired and lauded. Red Wing Moc Toes pull that off as well as any boots have. The look is timeless, the quality doubtless, the aging absolutely beautiful.
I almost pulled the trigger on a pair about six or seven years ago while in search of my first high-quality moc-toe boots, but ended up going with Thorogood’s similar Moc Toe model instead. I’m extremely happy with those, but there’s something about a boot collection without a Red Wing Moc Toe that feels a little…hollow. So I added the 8138 Moc Toes in Briar Oil Slick leather to the gang about five months ago.
Here’s what I’ve found over that time.
- Alden Indy 403C Review: A Three-Year Look at a Near-Perfect Boot
- Thorogood Moc-Toe Boot In Tobacco Leather: Five-Year Review
- Tricker’s x Division Road Bourton: Five Months Deep Into Some Wonderful Kudu
- Red Wing Iron Ranger: A Four-Year Review of a Timeless Boot
- Tricker’s Stow: A Two-Year Review of a Very Excellent Country Boot
The Brass Tacks
Shoemaker: Red Wing Heritage
Price: $279 (full disclosure: this pair was sent to me by Red Wing specifically for this review, with the knowledge that it would be a fully honest and editorial evaluation of the boots)
Months Worn: Five
Worn How Often?: On average, once a week for those five months
How I Cared for Them: Cedar shoe trees occasionally inserted when not being worn; wiped clean whenever dirty; brushed periodically; one treatment of Armstrong’s All Natural leather conditioner around 4 months
A Bit of History on Red Wing Moc Toe Boots
The “Moc,” perhaps obviously and perhaps not, comes from “moccasin.” The original Red Wing Moc Toes, which were introduced in the 50’s, were inspired by Native American footwear, specifically in their now-iconic toe design (even though the way the footwear are built is very different—see this interview with Quoddy’s CEO to learn a lot more about true moccasin construction).
Initially adopted by farmers who found the wedge outsoles provided traction in the fields without picking up too much dirt and gunk throughout the day, and the Goodyear welt construction to be appropriately waterproof, Red Wing Moc Toes eventually became must-wear boots for factory workers, contractors, sportsmen (Red Wing’s Irish Setter line especially focused on them), and eventually…everybody. While things started with Red Wing’s taller, 8-inch 877 model, the introduction of the 6-inch 875 Moc Toe boot also presaged Red Wing’s eventual launch of a specific Heritage line, and the company’s focus on creating more lifestyle-ready footwear, in addition to their well-loved true work boots.
I’m going to come right out and say it: I’m two minds about these boots in terms of how they look. One mind says: they look amazing sitting on my shoe rack, they look amazing in photos, they look amazing on other people I see wearing them on the streets. They’re an icon for a reason and display a clean, in some ways perfect design. The other mind says: now that I’m wearing these boots and looking down at them, they look…different than I expected.
Now this could be for plenty of reasons. The boots, despite working the streets for five months, aren’t necessarily worn in yet in a true sense; Red Wing magic takes some marination. That famous toe is part of what irks me at times—it’s VERY structured, and I wish it would just give up a bit of its pride and sag and drape and just be less rigid about the way it’s living its life. Also (and we’ll get into this in the next section), I think these fit me about a half to maybe even a full size big compared to my two cherished pairs of Iron Rangers. That makes the boot extend out proportionally more than I’m used to, and coupled with that defiantly reinforced toe, I just can’t quite fall totally in love.
While what your shoes look like overhead is without question extremely important, it’s not everything; you’re the only one who sees them from that angle (yes you’re the most important, don’t worry). But also, they’re not always on. And if you don’t spend considerable time each week just gazing at your tranquil unworn shoes to admire their beauty, as I tend to, then I’m honestly not sure if this is the right shoe-addict site for you. From that angle, they deliver everything I thought they would. And with time, I imagine the Ben’s-eye-view will improve too.
Did I mention I love the taslan laces? Because I love the taslan laces.
Sizing, Fit, and Comfort
Red Wing Moc Toe boots are built on Red Wing’s No. 23 last. Before receiving these boots, I didn’t realize just how much that last differed from the No. 8 last that Iron Rangers are built on. It’s roomier, especially in the toe box, and possibly in terms of overall length. So that being said, I’m honestly not sure if these are my correct size. If I wear thick socks (which I am in no way opposed to, even in the summer), they fit more snugly all around, and honestly pretty well—although there remains a bunch of room up front. Not so much that I’m swimming in them, or I’m inadvertently catching my toe every time I step up onto a sidewalk. But some room.
Red Wings are not built for plush comfort, and honestly they shouldn’t be. They are boot’s boots. They’re born of hard work and toil, and built to never, ever betray that promise unless you do truly horrible things to them. I love that. But it also means, for me, they’re never going to score a 10/10 on a comfort scale, especially only 20-25 or so wears into their life. They’re not lined on the interior—a big driver of plush comfort on many shoes—and the Red Wing footbed is very firm, especially before it starts to mold to your foot. I’m quite happy with where these are now; I imagine, much like all other Red Wings I’ve owned, they will, without warning, burst through comfort threshold after comfort threshold as they age.
If I went back and did it again, a half-size down would likely solve the roominess issues in a snap, so no points deducted there; that one’s my own fault. This one’s an 8.5 out of 10 just because Red Wings are likely never going to be a true 10/10 in overall comfort, as that’s simply not what they are. And again, I don’t want them to be.
The short version: really not bad at all! The slightly longer version: They’re still Red Wings, and for me at least, Red Wings have always required work. However, that work is rewarding! It gives you confidence that these boots aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. And toil can create connection—you ever see LOST?? Those people, they went through a whole lot! And it brought them very close together! And also I just realized I probably need to go back and watch it again to see what kind of boots they’re wearing. I’ll probably stop after season three though…
To get more specific, on day one, they were not even approaching painful, but also not quite comfortable-comfortable. That Briar Oil Slick leather is good and meaty, and requires some action to get loosened up and conform. The Red Wing footbed isn’t built for short-term cushiness, and I wouldn’t want it to be. But by wear four or five, it was clear they were starting to get somewhere. At wear 10, I wouldn’t say they were a pillowtop mattress for my feet, but I was excited to put them on nonetheless. Every wear, something else clicks into place. It’s all happening as it should.
The amazing thing about these boots, and Red Wings in general, is that you get to climb that ladder of comfort and personalization and the rewards they bring for such a long time—and I kind of love it. Come on this journey with me, the boots say; I promise you’ll like where we end up.
(If you want to see the full potential of a tricky Red Wing break-in, check out my Iron Ranger 8111 review. That amber harness leather is a real fickle beast; my 8083 Iron Rangers in Hawthorne Muleskinner were an absolute breeze to break in. I will also say, as I always do, that the 8111s are some of the more rewarding boots I’ve ever owned, and I would do that break-in again and again. Although I’m not necessarily mad that I don’t need to…).
Leather and Care
I’ve got a lot of love in my leathery heart for Red Wing’s Briar Oil Slick leather. I had it on my pair of Red Wing Classic Chukkas, which I unfortunately could never get to fit me quite right (although looking back, a tongue pad to keep my foot shoved back, and my toes away from the tapered toe box, may have solved my problems). My brother in law is now the proud owner of those boots, and his happiness is more important to me than anything! Or…something like that.
When I was considering which Red Wing Moc Toes to go with, I obviously had to put significant thought into the 875s in Red Wing’s iconic Oro Legacy leather. The Rough & Toughs (Concrete, Charcoal, Copper) also held a ton of appeal. But I wanted to get back what I had to give up with the chukkas, and I couldn’t be happier.
The Briar Oil Slick is still in the early stages of what it can become—I worked those chukkas HARD before finally admitting they just didn’t fit how I needed them to—and I’m already very happy with it. It’s got a great hand feel, and just gets richer and richer in terms of appearance the more you wear them. The large visible grain, especially on the boots’ quarter, is pretty transfixing, and sets it apart from other Red Wing leathers. While it’s certainly not an ignored leather, and the Oro Legacy from the 875s has earned its top spot, I do feel like it’s undervalued, and one of the better overall Red Wing leathers. And like many Red Wing leathers, it seems near impossible to push this one beyond any tangible point where it starts to look WORSE because of the wear; it just keeps marinating, and getting more and more delicious.
On that, care has been fairly minimal to date—it just hasn’t been required. Of course when they get muddy or dusty I’ll wipe them down with a damp paper towel. But so far I’ve only employed one fairly ungenerous treatment of Armstrong’s All Natural Leather conditioner around four months, which helped to soften them up a bit and restore some workmanlike sheen. It also darkened them juuuust a touch, but in a way that I find preferable. If I was wearing them 3-4 times a week, I imagine I’d end up giving them an Armstrong’s spa day every three months or so. With my current rotation, every six months seems like it’ll do the trick.
There’s not much to be said about Red Wing’s white Traction Tred wedge sole that hasn’t been run down extensively already, but I’m a professional boot reviewer so here we go: it’s an icon, it’s lightweight, it does pretty much everything you need it to, and it’s perfect for this boot. I’ve seen some resoles of Red Wing Moc Toes that throw on a stacked heel:
or a different color, or sometimes chunkier wedge:
or even a Vibram Mini-Ripple or Gloxi-Cut:
Do I think any of those shoes is the wrong thing to do? No. Shoes are personal! Do with them whatever makes you happy. But in my mind, the white wedge sole is the one this boot is meant to have, always and forever. It just works.
Let’s talk capabilities for a second. Is it the first boot I’m choosing for snow and ice? No. Is it the overall best outsole for a legitimately challenging hike? Definitely not. But I don’t expect it to ace those tasks, as it wasn’t designed for them—it’s originally a work sole designed to be lightweight for people on their feet all day, and not attract debris, and keep them from slipping on rogue oil spills and whatnot on the job site. But it can tackle most situations with aplomb, and the look is perfect. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Construction and Durability
While I’m certainly capable of being critical, I am not a quibbling nitpicker, especially when it comes to boots—especially-especially when it comes to work-borne heritage boots. That said, even if I was, I think I’d have a very tough time finding any flaws with these particular Red Wings. Every stitch is in place. The welt joins are barely noticeable. The leather quality is very consistent throughout. The top of the ankle collar seems like it’s going to stay there forever (one slight issue I’ve had with my Thorogoods).
And they are SOLID. And from what I can tell—especially drawing from my history with other Red Wing boots that I’ve put through the ringer, and then 18 other ringers—they are going to be no less solid in five or maybe even 10 years than they are today. That’s one of the biggest things you buy when you buy Red Wings: the knowledge that these boots are built like hell and are here to stay. These too, shall last.
I’m a firm believer that Red Wing Heritage boots have been and continue to be one of the best overall values in quality footwear, period. Their build quality and longevity, classic looks, and eventual long-term comfort for a price in the $300-ish range is very, very difficult to beat. At $279, the Moc Toe is one of the more affordable boots in the Heritage line, making it an even better value.
The only reason I’m not going 10/10 here is because I think there are similar-ish boots on the market that offer a better price—if not everything that the Red Wing Moc Toe does. The most relevant example, to me personally, is those Thorogood Moc Toe boots I’ve mentioned, another American-made pair which I own and love deeply. That said, while the Thorogoods are almost $100 cheaper, and there are very obvious similarities to the Red Wings in terms of looks, they’re also more of a true work boot, and look that way especially once they’re worn in good.
I used to wear my Thorogoods more casually, and even in fashion-forward situations here and there; now they’ve morphed into something I use for actual work (and walking Frank the dog). The Red Wing Moc Toes, while surely also usable for work-work, have a far more significant lifestyle application, in my mind at least. But it’s very worth knowing that the Thorogoods are also out there.
The Stitchdown Final Take
The Red Wing Moc Toe is an essential boot. It’s incredibly versatile in pretty much every casual situation—and hell, it’s not hard to Google Image people getting married in them.
And while I haven’t owned 875s in Red Wing’s Oro Legacy leather, my feeling after wearing these for five months (and owning the chukkas in the same leather for over a year) is that the 8138 Briar Oil Slick leather boot deserves to be placed on a similar pedestal. Obviously it’s a darker leather and those looking for a lighter color are pretty out of luck here. But it’s distinctly beautiful, and promises to keep doubling down on that as time passes.
Red Wings are distinctive boots with the history to match their looks. The Moc Toe may be their most recognizable icon. Are they the perfect boot looks-wise, for me? Not quite. Does this put me at odds with seemingly 97% of the boot-loving population? It sometimes feels like it! But boots are personal, so we all have to decide that for ourselves. Regardless, I think with more time they have a real shot at becoming exactly what they should be: an old, worn, beautiful pair of boots that fit like slippers and make my heart feel like it’s got, well…wings.
Overall Rating: 8.9/10