For a while now I’ve been wanting to get a pair of Red Wing boots. Did I need a pair? Not for any practical purpose. I already had a couple of pairs of usable winter boots, and for me winter boots tend last a long time. Plenty of snow and ice means there is little wear on the soles, and not wearing them all day means the insides don’t wear that fast either.
So why the urge for a pair of Red Wings? Men need boots, proper boots, and when it comes to proper boots, there are a few brands that are talked about. And Red Wing is probably the largest, most available and has the largest range to chose between. In fact, the range is so bewildering, with staple designs, new designs and remade heritage designs, that it is actually difficult to make a choice between their offerings.
Judging by what gets posted on Instagram with #redwing tags, Beckmans and Iron Rangers are the current crowd favourites. And of course, Scratch does love his Supersoles. So, after much soul-searching, boot-feeling and consideration, what did I chose? I went with a pair of heritage-line Ice Cutters.
These are a new introduction, named after the guys that needed sturdy, warm boots while cutting blocks of ice on the lakes to use as an early form of natural refrigeration. Standing around on a frozen lake means plenty of ice and cold water, so boots need to be warm, waterproof and have a sole that won’t slip. And that gives you the basic design parameters for the Red Wing Ice Cutters.
The Ice Cutters are available in 2 colours, black and red maple. For me there was no question about the colour to go for, it had to be the red maple. Black is such a boring colour, whereas brown allows for more shades. Oddly, the leather on these boots isn’t that attractive when viewed in the shop. The colour described as red maple is more a dull brown, and the lustre is seriously lacking. My decision was almost swayed at this point towards a pair of the black cherry Beckmans, as they look fantastic right out of the box.
Regarding the Beckmas, the black cherry leather looks terrific, shiny and with a fine, deep colour, a little purple in hue. But, I’m sceptical to the part leather sole for the sort of use I see during winter. Not so much the cold and snow, but the wet snow, the puddles and general air of dampness. Weather where you’re considering wearing wellies instead of your decent footwear. I like to use my stuff, and it has to be able to be used, without giving me a feeling of destroying it.
So, the Ice Cutters, with a full length welted black Vibram commando-style sole. A sole that looks like it will be an absolute beast to walk on, but is actually so soft and comfy that it’s pure joy. And silent. Wearing these at work proved to be the most silent way of sneaking round the hallways, like a silent menswear ninja, in a pair of big leather boots. Sounds good, right? The coarse pattern gives excellent grip on hard snow, while the soft rubber is good on ice. It’s as if someone was actually paying attention when they made these! Plus, the welted construction, whereby the sole is sewn to the boot, means when the sole is worn out, you can have it replaced.
Back to the leather for a moment, this is described by Red Wing as Otter Tail leather. Now, naturally I have no illusions about this being actual leather from the tail of an otter. An otter has a long, slim tail, like many dogs. You’d need a large number of otters to donate their tails to make a pair of boots. Beaver tails might work better, but it’s hardly likely to happen. No, as far as I can tell, “Otter Tail” is purely a description Red Wing use to describe a certain grade of leather they use. And, while I abhor marketing trickery like this, I have to admit, the leather is superb for the use. Soft and supple.
One of the differences between the Ice Cutters and other boots in the range is the wool insulation. Not a very thick layer of wool, but it actually works pretty well. I wear middle-weight socks in these, somewhat thicker than the usual summer-grade cotton, but nowhere near the thick wool winter-grade. And my feet are very happy. I hadn’t expected the wool to make a difference, but it does.
The lace design is also good. The 4 eyelets and 3 hooks mean the boots are easy to get on and off, and quick to tighten up. There could have been some gain in going for 3 eyelets and 4 hooks, but it’s no big deal and I find the boots are easy to get on and off. The laces that come with the boots are a nice match for the leather and appear sturdy and good, but it wouldn’t hurt to make them a couple of inches longer.
I was a bit concerned about how it would be to break in these boots. With previous experience of Doc Martens that really demanded commitment, and Scratch’s experience of breaking in Red Wing Supersoles, I was prepared for this to be a painful time. And yes, it was. My ankles were really sore. For three days, and that was it. The leather is really soft and pleasant, and after the initial hurt, all was golden.
Whilst in Berlin at Xmas, I wore the Ice Cutters for 3 straight days of walking around. And when WellDressedGirlfriend and I go walkabout in a new city, we walk a lot. Mile upon mile. And the boots performed admirably.
Before using them the first time, I did liberally apply the Red Wing boot oil, and the leather absorbed it with gusto. Since then I have added more Bear Creme (a Norwegian heritage brand of shoe creme, review to come) and just used them. The photos included in this post were taken after cycling to work today, around 3 months of almost daily use, no touch-ups, no wipe-downs, just an honest look at what they actually look like right now.
Now, a lot of superlatives and praise going on here, and while I’m on a positive roll, you may be thinking, is there a downside to this? Well, there is one argument against buying a pair of boots like this and it is: Cost. Yes, they are fairly pricey. About 2-3 times what you’d reckon to pay for a pair of “regular” boots. Yet, if you look longer than a single season of use, the more expensive boots may be the better buy in the long run. They’re stronger, better materials, and you can resole them. This is not something that applies to your typical pair of low cost boots. This does mean taking care of your boots though.
Am I happy with them? Yes.