Even if you don’t have the foggiest idea about boots, you probably have heard about these two brands: Doc Martens, the exemplary punk boot of choice for young folks, and Red Wing, source of the pricier, American-style boots that are often worn by celebs like Ryan Gosling, Drake, and Bradley Cooper.
Doc Martens have long been a distinct name in footwear (being the most popular boots for under $200), but with contemporary outsourcing, some say that they just don’t make them like they used to. Red Wing is yet another iconic brand (being among the most popular boots for over $200), but do they really stand up to the Docs?
This article describes the potential advantages of both brands and how these models compare in terms of construction quality, durability, and of course, overall comfort. So let’s see who comes out as a victor.
Red Wing Vs. Doc Martens: First Glance Comparison
The two main models we’re comparing here are the most popular bots from both companies: The Doc Martens 1460 and the Red Wing Iron Ranger.
One of the most noticeable differences is the leather. Doc Marten boots’ leather is generally thinner and glossier in comparison to the Red Wings. The Iron Ranger comes with shiny nickel eyelets while the Docs are duller. Red Wings are usually triple-stitched while Docs are mostly single stitched- though there is a line of triple stitching along the side of the Docs.
Red Wing boots are designed with shiner nickel eyelets, mostly double/triple stitched, and are considered more “foot-shaped. Made in Minnesota, the Iron Ranger is the most popular boot in their line-up. The main difference between the Iron Ranger and traditional Red Wings is that it has a toecap. Other features, the leather, the fit, and construction goes for all Red Wings boots.
Docs feature bright yellow stitching on the welt compared to the white stitches on the Red Wings. More importantly, Docs have a softer, spongier, and grippier rubber outsole. The Red Wings soles are flat viewed from the side, but they have recessed lugs that offer decent grip.
Coming down to shape, the Red Wing boots are designed for a more anatomically correct fit. It bulges at the toe, a bit narrow at the midfoot, and secures the heel more effectively. It just adapts to the shape of the foot better.
The Doc Martens, on the other hand, are slightly shapeless and blobby. Still, some find them more comfortable, but the heel tends to slip more in the Doc Martens because it falls short securing the foot.
Red Wing Vs. Doc Martens: Construction
Both brands employ chrome-tanned leather, which is now nearly 90% of all leather in the world is made.
Red Wing’s leather is full-grain. That means it’s derived from the outer of the animal skin. The Dr. Martens leather is corrected grain, meaning it has been smoothed down to achieve the super-soft, glossy finish. For those who prefer shiner leather, Doc Marten boots do serve different aesthetics. Red Wings appear to be more rustic, whereas Docs are more urban- though that depends on your style.
One mentionable thing is that Docs leather is somewhat lower quality, super thin, and plasticky like very cheap leather. We actually reached out to Doc Martens to find out where the leather is from, and one insider stated that it comes from Asia or South America. While both continents encompass most of humanity, one can even say the leather comes from planet earth.
Speaking of Red Wing, the leather comes from SB Foot Tanning Company based in Minnesota. It’s thick, high quality. Besides, the facility belongs to Red Wing. Having their tannery allows them to exercise effective quality control over the final products.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Red Wing leather is oil-tanned, meaning after it’s chrome-tanned, a bunch of oils, such as white mineral oil, are added to the leather, meaning the boots are moist, weather-resistant, and long-lasting.
Perhaps the main aspect where Doc Martens surpass Red Wing is the variety of colors you can get. There are white Docs, Pink, turquoise, yellow and more. With Red Wing boots, all you can get are shades of black and brown. There’s nothing as shiny and modern as Doc Martens. So if that’s what you like, Red Wing leather might be too bland for a glossier look.
Red Wing vs. Doc Martens: Outsole
To start with Docs, it’s good to state that these shoes were initially designed for age-related foot problems. During the first decade of production, 80% of them were old to housewives over forty. So depending on what you want from a sole, Doc Martens are terrifically bouncy and offer superior traction and shock absorbency, relatively comparable to Red Wings.
Red Wings, on the other hand, are great as they are. They are purposely made the old fashion way. The rubber is pretty hard and firm, featuring cork and leather midsoles. That means the shock absorbency on Red Wings just isn’t the best.
It feels like walking on the hardwood. On the bright side, the cork and the leather are carefully designed so that gradually your feet sink into it for a kore accommodative fit. Thus as the days go by, they basically feel like custom boots, cradling the foot nicely. This aspect alone gives Red Wings an edge over most guys, even though Docs are softer.
One more thing to mention about soles is that Red Wings boots are resoleable, whereas Doc Martens are not. Well, the company’s website (Doc Martens) states that the shoes are built with a Goodyear welt, but it’s a strange kind of Goodyear welt that’s attached with flame, which is very hard to resole.
Nonetheless, some cobblers specialize in resoling Docs if you send them to them. It’s hard to find someone who can resole Dr. Martens, whereas any cobbler anywhere can resole Red Wings. Perhaps this is the primary reason why Red Wings last longer.
Red Wing vs. Doc Martens Fit and Sizing
For some strange reasons, despite being among the most popular boot manufacturers in the world, Dr. Martens don’t have half sizes. You might want to size down or up a whole size with Docs, which is not the case with Red Wings.
Comfort-wise, Red Wings are associated with less heel slippage, and they mold your feet over time. Docs, meanwhile, have better traction and shock absorbency. It all depends on your individual needs, but long term, we think Red Wings are more rewarding.
As for the price, Red Wing Iron Ranger comes in at $330, while Dr. Martens 1460 cost about $150. Clearly, Docs win as far as price is concerned.
The Bottom Line
You might want to choose Docs if you’re low on cash if you love shiner leather and a sole that feels more like a sneaker than a boot. On the other hand, Red Wings are twice the price, but the leather is much thicker, tougher, and of better quality. They are hardier and can withstand more damage. Besides, they are made in American, if you care about that.