Forget the cheesy, poorly-made pieces of junk sold at your average roadside trading post, which are lamentably what most people think of if they hear the word “moccasin” these days. No, these are the moccasins I’ve been trying to find for a long time:
Clean and simple. Handmade with highly durable American bison leather. A comfy, padded insole and an extra layer of cowhide leather underneath. All they need to be and nothing more, and comfortable as heck.
I have hard time believing that there would be anyone out there who hasn’t heard of Red Wing boots. But in case you haven’t here’s a little history:
Around the turn of the 19th century a Red Wing, MN shoe merchant named Charles Beckman saw a local necessity for shoes specifically designed for the demanding work of industries such as mining, logging and farming. The rigors of these jobs required footwear which was tough enough to outlast harsh working conditions, but Beckman envisioned a shoe that was also comfortable enough for the hardworking people who wore them. Beckman set out to develop work boots to fill this need and in 1905 he and fourteen investors opened a company that would change the market. Beckman named his company Red Wing Shoes, and thus a new standard for excellence was born.
The Red Wing Company has acquired several other brands over the years, including Irish Setter and Vasque. In the process these affiliates have focused on particular niches that compliment each other – Red Wing sticking primarily to work shoes, Irish Setter focusing largely on hunting styles, and Vasque producing a variety of general outdoor/hiking/backpacking footwear.
More recently, Red Wing also introduced their “Heritage” line, focused on reproducing many of their most popular historical styles, to a very high production standard. This includes details such a striple waxed-thread stitching, Goodyear welts, and high-grade leathers, handmade in the USA. I own the Heritage Style #8146 pictured below (as well as a pair of #8196):
A boot built to these standards, by real craftsmen in the USA, is not an inexpensive boot. But as with so many other items listed on this site, there is a direct correlation between what you pay and what you get. I can say with no exaggeration that putting a pair of these on your feet is experiencing how a real, quality boot was made 80 years ago, before outsourcing and cutting corners lamentably became the norm. The quality has to be experienced to be believed. The #8146 also comes with a re-soleable, Vibram lug sole. For all of the aforementioned reasons, I have supreme confidence that I will own these boots for a long, long time.
And while we’re at it, check out this very cool video profiling the stitching machines that Red Wing has been using for the past 80 years:
My favorite quote:
“We keep using what works. You don’t throw it away, you keep using it and improve it. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed a whole lot – the history is passed on.”
For more information on the history and details of craftsmanship of Red Wing Heritage boots, go here.
Close your eyes and picture the quintessential, traditional hunting boot. Chances are you picture the Irish Setter boot shown below, whether you know it or not. This was the hunting boot that first put Irish Setter on the map, and has been often imitated (though in my mind, no one has improved on it).
The Wingshooter model pictured above with the white “Prarie Outsole” is one of several different available variations. It is available in a 6″ model (the #838) and a 9″ (the #894).
In my experience, the Prarie sole provides great traction and doesn’t get clogged with mud the way a lot of heavier, lug-sole type boots will. I’ve tried a number of similar upland boots from other, well-known and highly-regarded manufacturers over the years, and none have surpassed this boot for immediate comfort right out of the box, combined with excellent waterproofness and durability over the long haul. A good cleaning and a treatment with Montana Pitch a few times a year is all they need to keep going.