I’m the guy who buys expensive running shoes when I decided on a whim that I’m now a world-class athlete. Sometimes it’s more about acquiring the accouterments for a new hobby than the hobby itself— a religious practice that often gets me in trouble. The flood of endorphins from something shiny & new is an effective motivator for that thing you’ve been putting off. Oh, you’re a writer now? Better buy a new, thinner laptop even though your current one still works fine. On the rare occasions where my impulsivity is motivating, it makes the purchase worthwhile because I stick with it. This is true for hiking, which is slowly becoming a significant part of my life, and that makes me happy. I have a small but growing collection of hiking shoes I acquired in my quest to find the best, and the Sawmill boot is a favorite for its comfort, quality, and retro silhouette.
Sawmill 2927 by Red Wing
The Sawmill is a six-inch moc-toe boot by Red Wing — a Made-in-USA, Minnesota-based leather shoe company with a cult following. They offer well-made shoes, use quality materials, and have no regard for the sanctity of our wallets.
Part of the Heritage Collection, The Sawmill should be a coffeeshop boot, ideally suited for looking dapper while sipping cold brew. My first venture into the Heritage Collection was the iconic Iron Rangers. It’s an excellent pair of boots, but I don’t do much physical activity in them due to the slick soles. I found that the Sawmills, with their rugged sole, were perfect for the five to ten-mile hikes I took up the cold, damp trails of Glacier National Park.
Features and Highlights
- All-weather leather boot built for the cold and rain
- Color 2927: Briar Oil Slick
- Cambrelle lining with moist-wicking
- 6-inch silhouette
- Two speed-hooks for quick lacing
- D-ring eyelets for quick untying
- Vibram TC-4 Plus outsole
- Triple stitch construction
- Goodyear welted with a storm welt
- Deerskin collar
From their website:
The Sawmill is a boot built to excel in cold conditions. Born from unforgiving Minnesota winters, the Sawmill steps up with water resistance, warmth, and steadfast traction. Fear no forecast and explore more.
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The Red Wing website recommends sizing down by a half to full-size. I agree unless you have a wide foot as I do. I’m usually between a size 9.5 and 10. A size 9.5 would’ve likely been fine for my foot, but I opted for a size ten plus an upgraded footbed with more padding. Actually, I think the Red Wing store only had a ten, and I made it work. Either way, I’m happy with the fit. Better slightly big than small for wide feet. There’s plenty of room inside the toe vamp without the boot feeling lose. I ditched the stock laces for a pair of 80-inch leather laces that I could tie around the heel tab. It helps my ankles feel more secure, but mostly I just think it looks cool.
Red Wing recommends mink oil to help soften the leather and their foam leather cleaner for continued care. I’d also consider shoe trees which will help remove moisture and maintain the boot’s shape.
Note: mink oil will darken the leather, which may not be ideal for lighter-colored boots.
Breaking in a new pair of Red Wings is a right of passage, if not a masochistic badge of honor. These boots will destroy your feet for at least a week. Push through it. Once the leather breaks in and molds to your foot, the Sawmills provide exceptional comfort and protection with a beautiful patina. The trick is to start small. Limit your first five wears to short strolls around the block and use mink oil to soften the leather.
Lion Mountain Trail
My first attempt at an actual hike was Lion Mountain Trail, a 2.6-mile loop in Whitefish, Montana. I immediately noticed how heavy the Sawmills felt. But after a mile or so in, I got used to the weight. In the end, my feet were sore, but I left without any blisters. I finished the trail and, in doing so, was able to log a lot of steps toward breaking in the boot’s thick leather uppers and dense Vibram soles.
If you’re in Whitefish, I recommend the Lion Mountain Trail for its beautiful overlook and relatively light elevation gain of 350 feet. Wave hello to the people below.
Danny on Trail
My second hike, The Danny On Trail, was a bit more strenuous at seven miles with an elevation gain of over 2,000 feet. I was not okay at the end. I’m a day hiker, at best. I can clear 12 miles in a day if the elevation is near flat, but seven miles straight up was a lot for me, physically and emotionally. But, I was able to break in these boots once and for all. My feet did hurt, and I could tell that the shoes were doing me no favors since they were only about 70% broken in at the start but, again, not so bad. I ate a PB&J, drank a Powerade, then took a ski lift back down. I felt fine. Everything is fine.
The Danny On Trail is a beautiful hike if you can handle the elevation. I was lucky enough to enjoy Huckleberry season while I was there. I got to pluck the sweet berries right from the bush as I gasped for air.
Wildhorse Island & Hidden Lake
The Sawmills shined after my hike up Danny on Trail. It couldn’t have come at a better time. The following two days, I racked up 10 miles to search for the promised wildlife around Wildhorse Island and Hidden Lake. Both did not disappoint. I got to see it all, and each day when I was done, my feet were in great shape. I particularly appreciated the upgraded footbeds I bought with the boots. The rocky earth felt plush, and my feet felt protected.
My day trip to Wildhorse was one of the first times I can remember feeling genuinely amazed; like damn, I’m here in the Wild West looking at fucking goats. Getting to Wildhorse Island will take a bit of planning but don’t worry. I have a write-up that will show you how to get there and everywhere else listed in this story:
I spent the next two months hiking around Glacier, Teton, and Yellow Stone National Parks. I suspect the mission to break in my new boots helped motivate me to walk more. Maybe not. But I somehow need to justify spending $300, so I’ll cut myself some slack on the logic. Either way, The Sawmills are a worthy hiking companion, and I’m happy to recommend them to anyone looking for a pair of hiking boots that will look and feel great after heavy use.
- Unmatched quality and craftsmanship
- Retro design
- Rugged soles great for steep hikes
- Gets better with age
- Protects against adverse weather
- Surprisingly comfortable in moderately warm weather for a winter boot
- I look super cool in them
- Heavy for a hiking boot
- Better options for hiking in extreme heat
- It’s possible I look too sexy in them, thus becoming unapproachable
My next impulsive purchase turned out to be a wild ride ending UTZ offering to send me a year’s worth of snacks delivered on a pallet. Please remind me to tell you about the cheese ball story.