If you’re looking for the high quality work boots, you’re going to want to look at the top work boot brands. When looking for the best work boots, you often get what you pay for when it comes to quality. It’s no secret that the best brands cost the most money, and this is especially the case when it comes to work boots.
Ranking near the top are the usual suspects when it comes to footwear: Red Wing, American Heritage, Danner, Keen, Caterpillar, etc. This is no surprise as these companies have been making quality work boots for years, especially steel toe work boots.
In this article, we’ll discuss a short history of steel toe work boots, the most comfortable work boots, and all of the best work boots currently out on the market with pros and cons. We’ll also discuss safety toe vs. steel toe work boots, work boot care, work boot lacing, OSHA requirements, and ASTM safety ratings for work boots. We’ll also discuss general qualities that make up the best steel-toed work boots.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions, concerns, and comments about work boots. Also, if you have a favorite pair of work boots please leave it in the comments below.
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Table of Contents
- How to Find the Best Work Boot
- The Most Comfortable Work Boots
- Best Work Steel Toe Work Boots for Construction
- 1. Caterpillar – Cat Alaska 2.0 8″ Waterproof TX
- 2. Danner Bull Run Moc Toe Steel Toe
- 3. Danner Quarry USA Steel Toe
- 4. Wolverine 6″ Raider Steel Toe
- 5. Chippewa Arador Bay Apache Steel Toe Super Logger Boot
- 6. Irish Setter Farmington 6″ Steel Toe
- 7. Caterpillar Wheelbase Steel Toe Boot
- 8. ARIAT Men’s Groundbreaker Chelsea Waterproof Steel Toe Work Boot
- 9. KEEN Utility – Men’s Mt. Vernon 6″ Steel Toe Waterproof Work Boot
- Best Safety Toe Work Boots
- Choosing the Best Steel Toe Work Boot
- Steel Toe vs. Composite Toe vs. Aluminum Toe
- Steel Toe Work Boots: OSHA Requirements
- Work Boots: Getting the Right Size
- Proper Lacing of Work Boots
- Taking Care of Your Work Boots
- Breaking in Your Work Boots
- Work Boot ASTM Safety Ratings
- Best Work Boots: Conclusion
How to Find the Best Work Boot
Comfort is key when choosing the best work boot for the job site. If your work boot is not comfortable, or does not provide adequate cushioning and shock absorption, and you’re walking on hard ground all day, you’re likely to experience foot fatigue. Anti-fatigue technology and shock absorption built into the work boot can help with this. A comfortable steel toe boot with good cushioning technology will also jar your back less, and you will be less likely to suffer from back or neck injuries.
A steel toe work boot should also be safe and meet all the appropriate safety standards. Depending on where you work, qualities such as slip-resistance, heat-resistance, oil-resistance and abrasion-resistance will be more or less important.
The Most Comfortable Work Boots
Workboot comfort can depend on a lot of different factors including terrain, environment, whether you need extra safety in your work boot, and also whether or not you work mostly indoor or outdoor. Let’s explore what to look for when choosing the most comfortable work boot.
Generally speaking, tiny lug patterns are best for smooth surfaces and large toothlike lug patterns will help on more rugged terrain. Look for rubber and nitrile boot soles as these tend to perform best on all terrains. Also, consider the best work boot insoles on the market, as they can dramatically increase the comfort level of your work boot.
Other considerations include what weather conditions you will be working in. If you work in the rain or snow, make sure the boot is waterproof. If you work near the road, look for steel toe boots with high visibility or reflective strips on them.
If the environment where you work is hot, try to find steel toe boots with good breathability or moisture-wicking technology. Also, consider anti-odor technology. And, if you work in an environment where the risk of electrical fire or electric shock is high, find a boot with a good electrical hazard rating.
Let’s face it, the best work boot is also comfortable. But, above all, you need to keep yourself safe. Sometimes the tradeoff for safety vs. comfort is worth it, especially if your feet are at risk. In this “best-of” list, we tried to find the best work boots that offer both comfort and style.
In the first section, we’ll examine the best steel toe work boots. In the second section, we’ll examine the best safety toe work boots. If you’re looking for a steel toe work shoe, we wrote an article on that too. Now, let’s get to it!
Best Work Steel Toe Work Boots for Construction
Retail Price: $145.00
Material: Leather insulated with Thinsulate
Steel Toe Rating: ASTM F2413-11 I/75 C/75 Steel Toe
Feature: Dual Density EASE footbed with Thinsulate insulation, waterproof
Special Feature: ASTM F2413-05 1/75 EH Electrical Hazard Protection
The CAT Alaska 2.0 8″ steel toe work boots are the rugged gem you have been looking for. Built tough with genuine leather, these boots will last many years. You can wear these all day while staying warm, dry and pain-free. For the everyday working man, these boots offer everything you want and need.
The Cat Alaska has the highest standard steel toe rating on the market right now. The steel toe will protect your toes from any type of impact or compression. Also, the steel toe does not have a negative effect on comfort as one reviewer stated:
“I do a lot of walking at work anywhere from 7-11 miles a day on concrete & railroad rocks & these are by far the most comfortable & best cat boot I ever bought & I’ve been buying cat boots for 15 years.”– CAT Alaska 2.0 Customer
These boots feature a slip-resistant design that helps with traction. Whether you are walking on icy surfaces or uneven terrain, the extra gripping on the bottom will ensure safe and easy travel. Additionally, the grip provides a shock absorbent feel that increases the comfort level.
This boot is also equipped with Dual Density EASE footbed shock absorption technology that ensures comfort all day long.
The special feature is electrical hazard protection that provides protection from an electrical hazard up to 600 volts in a dry settings.
These boots also contain a Thinsulate insulated lining which helps to keep you dry and warm, all the while maintaining excellent breathability.
The size of this steel toe work boot ranges from 7-14 with the option of a medium or wide width.
Retail Price: $190.00
Material: Brown leather
Steel Toe Rating: ASTM F2413-11 I/75 C/75 EH
Electric Rating: ASTM F2892-11 EH
Feature: Constructed out of high-grade material
Special Feature: Recraftable by Danner for extended life (see details)
When you think of the Danner Bull Run Moc Toe, think of the Model T on a new Axel with modern day shocks and brakes. This steel toe work boot has the classic look of a boot with all the modern comforts of the latest sneaker. What more could you ask for?
Danner is an American made brand that has been around since 1932. Though some materials on newer models come from overseas, they are still made and constructed in the United States.
These are all-leather and provide that nice secure fit you want, without taking away from comfort. Due to Danner’s stitch down construction, they are able to contour better to your foot. In fact, they almost hug your foot.
Danner is known for testing their materials. In fact, they conduct multiple tests to ensure durability and longevity. This ensures that Danner boots are able to withstand many different rigorous activities and worksites. Danners are made to last, period.
Danners are very well known in Military and Law Enforcement as they are the #1 boot for these fields. This is because Danders are made out of the highest quality and reinforced materials and provide exceptional comfort.
Even though these work boots are made to last, Danner offers the option of redrafting these boot. What that means is that you can send your worn out boots with worn soles for a complete “sole makeover.” They are also able to recraft other parts of your boots as well. However, you do have to spend some money upfront to have them rebuilt.
The Danner Moc Toe is also great for those with wide feet.
The size on this steel toe work boot ranges from 7-15 with medium to wide width.
Retail Price: $280.00
Steel Toe Rating: ASTM F2413-11M I/75 C/75 EH
Feature: Triple stitched
Special Feature: 12 Iron Vibram midsole
Made out of durable leather, the Danner Quarry USA Steel Toe is a waterproof steel toe work boot with that worn-in, comfort feel right out of the box. What’s great is you don’t have to go through the painful break-in period of most boots.
This specific design has been around for about 10 years. However, Danner recently partnered with Vibram for the midsoles as they were noticing they were not lasting as long, nor were they very comfortable. The midsoles now have a 12 Iron Vibram midsole which feels as comfortable as a tennis shoe but keeps the durability at a Military-grade level.
Another notable quality of these boots is triple stitching throughout the entire boot. The extra stitching allows for the seams to last longer without worrying if your boot is going to come apart at the seams.
Not only are the midsoles reconstructed, but the heels were revamped as well for added durability. The previous models were known to wear out quickly, so Danner added extra stitching which makes the heel extra durable.
These boots are also made of Gore-Tex and are 100% waterproof. However, they still provide sweat resistance. So if you are looking for a breathable work boot that will also keep you dry, look no further.
These boots are also designed to provide electrical hazard protection.
Like the Danners above, these boots can also be recrafted by the company.
The size on this steel toe work boot ranges from 7-15 with both regular and wide widths.
Retail Price: $140.00
Steel Toe Rating: ASTM F2413-18 M I/75 C/75 EH
Special Feature: Moisture-managing mesh lining
The Wolverine Raider 6″ Steel Toe will keep your feet dry with its specialized mesh lining while still keeping your comfort level high.
The moisture mesh lining is its most important feature. It is made to pull any moisture away from your foot and keep your feet dry. The nice thing about the mesh lining that while it wicks moisture, it is also very breathable. These aren’t 100% sweat proof but the mesh lining does help quite a bit, especially when compared to most other steel toe work boots.
Wolverine has an advanced comfort midsole along with their trademarked MultiShox removable insole for some added comfort. This insole manages to give you more comfort without losing you losing any stability in the boot. The outsole also has MultiShox rubber lug that helps with slip resistance, oil resistance and abrasion resistance.
Another notable feature is the The Raider’s ContourWelt technology. This technology helps the work boot to contour to your foot. This feature actually provides flexing which is somewhat similar to a tennis shoe.
Side Note: The Raider ST is Wolverine’s signature boot. Also, if you order this work boot on Amazon you have the option to “try before you buy.”
Retail Price: $299.99
Material: Dark Brown Leather
Steel Toe Rating: Exceeds ASTM F2413-11
Feature: Vibram® rubber outsole
Special Feature: Chip-A-Tex® waterproof membrane system with Texon® 460 waterproof insoles
Have you been looking for a steel toe logger boot for the job site? The Chippewa Arador Bay Apache is the grandaddy of steel toe logger boots.
This steel toe boot is 9 inches tall and is built of rugged brown genuine leather with Goodyear Storm Welt construction. The shank is made of triple ribbed steel. The outside is made of Vibram rubber. Although they are manufactured in the USA they are built using parts that come from outside the country.
The best feature of this steel toe work boot is that it is made to stay dry. With its Chip-A-Tex® waterproof membrane system water is shielded from penetrating the foot but air is still allowed to pass outside, this ensures that you have maximize breathability. The Texon® 460 waterproof insoles further help to keep your feet dry with their moisture resistance.
Although this boot is a bit on the expensive side (probably due to all the different brands that provide materials for this boot), you get what you pay for due to the high quality of the materials.
The sizes of this steel toe work boot range from 6-14 (E to EEE).
Retail Price: $154.99
Steel Toe Rating: ASTM F2413-11, M/I/75/C/75, EH
Feature: King Toe
Special Feature: ENDURANCE crosswire outsole
Irish Setter’s Steel Toe 6-Inch Boot is initially striking because of its vintage quality. The color is described as “Antique Brass,” which gives it that worn-in look that also does not show dirt easily. If you prefer a taller boot, you can find these in an 8-inch length as well. Most people rate these boots highly for their superior comfort.
The Farmington gives nice stability with extreme comfort in the calf area, without feeling restrictive. There is also ample room in the toe with the Irish Setter’s King Toe which provides 40% more toe room compared to the average steel toe work boot.
Irish Setter also has a technology called ENDURANCE crosswire for the outsole. This is their version of “extra stitching” for added durability. The crosswire helps stop the seams from tearing so easily. This is a great feature for those who do a lot of bending or side-to-side motions, and should keep the boot from falling apart from the wear and tear caused by these movements.
The footbed has a polyurethane bed to help with comfort. However, since these are removable, you can switch out insoles for a different style if you prefer.
The Farmington steel toe comes with heat resistance (good), slip resistance (good), oil resistance (best), gas resistance (best), chemical resistance (better) and abrasion resistance (best).
These boots might not be at the top of the pack but for the price range they hold their own.
The sizes range from 7-15 (wide to double wide) but not all sizes are available in wide width.
Retail Price: $105.00
Material: Nubuck leather
Steel Toe Rating: ASTM F2413-11 I/75 C/75
Feature: Midsole cushion technology
Special Feature: Slip-on work boot with mesh lining
A nice slip-on leather boot, the Caterpillar Wheelbase Steel Toe Work Boot offers a good fit without you having to worry about it falling off your foot as you work. These offer a secure, yet comfortable fit.
Caterpillar offers electrical hazard protection along with slip protection and oil/stain resistance. The Wheelbase offers very good abrasion resistance to keep your boot looking new.
Caterpillar made these lightweight while keeping the durability level high. They hold up very well for the price point. In fact, they’re are the most cost-effective steel toe work boot on the list.
The outsoles give you a flexible feel without losing any stability. They have an EVA midsole cushion technology for comfort and again, durability. The footbed has shock absorbency which gives some comfort to your foot. The inside has nylon mesh lining which gives your foot breathability and helps keep you dry.
The size of this steel toe work boot ranges from 7-14 in regular and wide widths.
Retail Price: $149.95
Material: Full-grain leather
Steel Toe Rating: ASTM F2413-11 M I/75 C/75 EH
Features: Extra comfort insole and cushioning footbed
Special Feature: Waterproof construction with waterproof leather
The ARIAT Groundbreaker is an exceptional steel toe work boot at an affordable price. Not only is it made of full-grain leather and completely waterproof, it’s also comfortable to wear. Its also nice to have as a cheap extra pair to keep as something to wear on those wet and muddy days that you can easily put on in a pinch due to its slip-on design.
The highlight on this work boot is the 4LR (Four Layer Rebound) by Ariat. The four layer bed not only cushions your foot but it also provides stabilization, to lower the risk of twisting your ankle. Combined with the extra comfort insole, you can really tell the difference at the end of the workday, as your feet are much less likely to be sore.
The mesh lining also helps to reduce foot sweat and adds to the overall comfort level of these work boots. However, these boots will take a few weeks to break in, so just be patient with them.
As for the exterior of the boot, the outsole contains a reflective strip to add a little extra safety when using these boots in low light levels. The bottom is oil-resistant and slip-resistant. It features a Duratread outsole which will increase the overall durability of the outsole and reduce wear. There’s also a 90-degree heel on these, which is great if you find yourself doing a lot of climbing (you’ll usually see this feature in logging boots).
Overall, one of the best steel toe work boots in the “low price” category. However, it is imported which is what keeps the price so low. That said, nothing quite beats a nice slip-on boot for the jobsite. Easy to put on in the morning and easy to take off at the end of the day. Comfortable and protective too. Not much more you could ask for.
Retail Price: $200.00
Material: Nubuck leather
Steel Toe Rating: ASTM F2412-11 and F2413-11 M I/75 C/75 EH
Features: Natural odor control and shock absorbing midsole
Special Feature: Proprietary breathable, waterproof exterior
The Mt. Vernon work boot is proudly built in the USA by Keen. This boot is a medium to heavy-duty that’s great for most job sites and excellent for residual construction sites. It’s also a great boot if you’re in an area that gets a lot of rain.
The highlight of this boot is the Keen.Dry system. Designed to be waterproof, it keeps your feet super dry. However, the main advantage of this system is that it allows your foot to breathe at the same time. Whereas most waterproof boots tend to lack proper ventilation (and then your feet sweat), these are extremely breathable.
Another highlight on this work boot is the comfort level. Keen has always excelled in making comfortable work shoes and work boots, and this boot is no exception. In fact, there’s an anatomically correct steel toe built for each foot. This allows for a lot more or a “roomy” feel in the toe, without feeling unsupported.
The “metatomical” dual-density footbed design by Keen also adds to the comfort. This design is engineered specifically to allow the footbed to cradle your foot. This results in not only more comfort but excellent arch support as well. There is also added odor control technology, which cuts down on not only the smell but also the bacteria level of the boot as well (it does this by using pro-biotic bacteria on the surface of the fabric-it’s really cool technology).
The Mt. Vernons also have a slip-resistant and oil-resistant outsole. This outsoles helps to maintain a good amount of friction even in very slick environments. The soles also meet ASTM and MARK II standards for this purpose. They’re also non-marking, so they’re good to wear on any surface.
Overall, a super high comfort level and a lot of features in this work boot. The only downside is they won’t last you as long as a pair of Red Wings or some Danners. That said, you’ll be paying a lot less so you could buy two Mt. Vernons instead of one pair of Red Wings for the same price.
Best Safety Toe Work Boots
If you’re not required to wear a steel toe boot for your specific job, a safety toe boot can provide a lot of protection at a much lower cost. Here are some of the best safety toe boots on the market.
Retail Price: $215
Material: Full-grain leather
Steel Toe Rating: ANSI/ASTM I75 & C75 Approved
Feature: Removable Poron® comfort cushion insole with shock absorption
Special Features: MAXWear Wedge slip-resistant outsole
If the Thorogood MAXWear Wedge boots could be summed up in one phrase it would be, “Built to last.” These are quality Made in the USA boots that really withstand the rigors of the job site, due in part to the Goodyear welt construction. Whether you are working residential or commercial construction, these bad boys will literally last you for years.
These boots will take you about a week or so to break them in, but after you do you will be amazed by how comfortable they are. With the Poron footbed you will feel like you are wearing your most comfortable pair of slippers. The shanks also help with arch support. For those long days of standing on the concrete or asphalt, say goodbye to sore feet.
The MAXWear Wedge outsole is one of the highlights on these work boots. First, it helps your boots grip the ground like a champ. Second, it helps with the overall comfort-level of these boots as well as your weight distribution. Not only will you be able to handle any terrain but you’ll be able to feel comfortable at the same time.
Some additional features:
- Electrical hazard protection
- Oil, slip and abrasion resistant
- Removable footbed
- Rubber soles
- Brass hooks and eyelets
One of the downsides to these boots is that they are not waterproof. They also tend to run a bit wide on some people. However, length is true to fit so no issues there. They’re also technically a safety toe and not a steel toe.
Sizes for this work boot range from 7 – 14 and they come in regular, wide, and extra wide.
A great-looking work boot and offers a lot for a low prices.
Retail Price: $265.00
Steel Toe Rating: N/A – Safety toe only
Features: 90-degree outsole protection / many sizes available
Special Feature: Removable Ultimate Shock Absorption Footbed on a Poron comfort cushion insole
Thorogood is a well-known boot brand and for good reason. The company focuses on craftsmanship, innovation and comfort, which ultimately shows up in the company’s well-crafted steel toe work boots. The Thorogood American Heritage is no exception.
Due to its dual density 90-degree outsole, this safety toe work boot has superior durability and protection. On the job site this feature comes in handy as you never know where an object may be coming from. It is also good for those workers who tend to be a bit accident prone. These boots should withstand a variety of conditions.
As for comfort level, the Poron cushion gives great shock absorption and this is perhaps the boot’s best feature. A lifetime Redwinger even wrote, “My feet feel so much better and all the ankle pain is gone! These are the most comfortable boots I’ve ever owned.” If that’s not a testament to the comfort of these boots I do not know what is!
The American Heritage is built with a Fiberglass shank and Goodyear Storm Welt construction to make the boot long-lasting. Thorogood also placed dual-density polyurethane throughout the boot which is something we have not seen in other steel toe work boots. This should also provide some added durability.
The slip resistance is good to average but the other features of this boot really make that a minor issue. Overall they are a solid boot with a great design and you truly get what you pay for.
The size on this safety toe boot ranges from 7-18 with a variety of widths including B, D, 2E and 3E, another notable feature of these boots.
Choosing the Best Steel Toe Work Boot
The most important thing to keep in mind when looking for a work boot is your work environment. The best work boot will be one that fits the terrain of the work environment as well as the job you perform. If you’re working residential construction, for instance, you’re going to want a different boot type than if you’re working the in a quarry.
Residential work sites abound in hazards: puncture hazards, like nails, screws, glass shards, discarded utility blades, spikes, etc.; slip hazards, like water, mud, makeshift ramps, sawdust, unnamed sludgy stuff, etc.; electric shock hazards and chemical burn hazards.
Industrial work sites have those hazards and more, like crush hazards from heavy equipment, burn hazards from heat processes, scalding hazards from spills of boiling water or steam and overuse hazards from standing in the same place doing the same thing all shift long.
Ultimately, if your work boot fits your environment you’re going to be more comfortable on your feet all day and most importantly, you’re going to keep your feet safe. Fatigue is a significant threat to safety. The more tired you are, the more likely you are to slip, stub your toe, twist an ankle or to be tempted to “cheat” on safety techniques. So don’t overlook comfort when selecting a shoe.
Work Boots: Toe Types
There are two main toe types when it comes to work boot. Primarily we focused on steel toe but there were also some boots which featured a composite toe (generally seen as “safety toe” though all protective toe types qualify as safety toes). There are plusses and minuses to each and unfortunately, most times a steel toe is required so you don’t have much of a choice. Let’s explore both of these toe types.
Steel Toe Rating
If you work in an area where there is a danger of falling or rolling objects, then a steel toe work boot is required. So, if you work in areas where there are cinder blocks, fork lifts, concrete bags, etc. this means you would need to wear a steel toe boot.
A steel toe rating of ASTM F-2413 is the gold standard. This means that it has passed the Class 75 rating for both impact and compression.
The steel toe work boot is impact rated by taking 50 pounds and dropping it from a height of 18 inches. This equates to a force of 75 ft-lbs. This is where the number I/75 comes from. A boot with the I/75 rating means that it passed this test.
A steel toe work boot is compression rated by subjecting it to a load of 2,500 pounds. If it withstands the load of 2,500 pounds you’ll see C/75 which means it passed this test.
Likewise, for both of these tests you’ll see the numbers 30, 50 or 75. 75 is the highest and will be the safest. Make sure you know the requirements on the site you work at before you buy your boots. If you want to be on the safe side opt for ASTM F-2413 which is the highest in all testing categories.
Steel Toe Facts/Myths
Steel toe caps do not protect all of your toes. This is normal, actually. In fact, most foot injuries involve the first and second toe. These toes are protected by the steel toe. So, if you are wearing good steel toe work boots, the most likely area to be injured will be protected.
Many people falsely think that the steel toe in the shoes make the shoe heavier. This is wrong. The steel toe plate, on average, weights about 42.5 grams. To put this in perspective, a paperclip weighs about one gram. What this mean is that a steel toe cap will only weigh about 42.5 paperclips which is not very much weight. So, the bulk of the weight comes from factors other than the steel toe cap.
Steel toe shoes, in general, tend to be less flexible and slightly more uncomfortable than regular street shoes. However, this discomfort can be combated in two ways. For one, make sure you get the proper fit. Don’t compromise when it comes to the fit. If the boot doesn’t fit perfectly, order another size. Second, a larger width, in general, is going to be more comfortable for most steel toe boot wearers. If you have the option to get a larger width, give it a shot and this may solve your discomfort issues.
Composite toes are non-metallic and non-magnetic safety toes. These toes are often made out of materials such as fiberglass, carbon fiber and even Kevlar. Some may even be made out of rubber or plastic. The important thing to note here is that as long as the work boot’s toe rating meets or exceeds the required ANSI standards (referred to above), a composite toe work boot is fine for the job.
Many times composite toes can actually outcompete the standards required by ANSI. Some composite toes have even exceeded the highest ANSI standard by 25% plus. In general though, many composite toe work boots will have a combination of steel and composite throughout the boot. You may see a composite toe and then a steel shank, for instance.
Odds are, as material science keeps progressive, composite toes will become more and more indestructible. Eventually, you may even see a shift away from steel toe all the way into composite toe for the vast majority of work boot. There may still be a few die-hard hold-outs though.
Aluminum toe boots aren’t as popular as composite or steel toe boots but you’ll still see them out there on the market. You’ll often see these shoes as an aluminum alloy and not usually just pure aluminum. The main advantage to aluminum toe work boots is the light weight and a bit more sleek.
In general, these toes are about 35% lighter than steel toes, but since steel only weighs approx. 43 grams it doesn’t make that huge of a difference and a lot of it is just marketing.
From reputable companies and the top brands, you’ll see aluminum toe work boots with aluminum toes that meet or exceed even the high ASTM F-2413 standards.
Steel Toe vs. Composite Toe vs. Aluminum Toe
With all the different types of toes available on the market, at this point you might be wondering which toe type is the best. In general, a steel toe is still preferred even with all the other options available. This is especially the case for construction workers. Any time there is a risk of sharp or heavy objects posing injuring the foot, construction workers feel most comfortable with a steel plate between the heavy object and their foot. So, steel is clearly the big winner, but let’s look at the pros and cons of each.
Pros/Cons of Steel Toe
- Highest level of impact protection
- Good for construction work and food processing
- Best puncture protection of all materials
- Not as bulky as a composite toe
- Costs less to manufacture
- Safer overall for most work environments
- Steel is often heavier than other materials
- Hotter in hot weather, colder in cold weather
- Can set off metal detectors
- Steel is a good conductor and can pose an electrical hazard risk, which may not be safe around some machinery
Pros/Cons of Composite Toe
- Does not fluctuate in temperature in hot/cold environments
- Often made of lightweight materials
- Does not conduct electricity
- Costs more to manufacture
- More bulky looking as it requires more material to meet protection standards
- Material may be compromised after an impact (and no way of telling if it is)
Pros/Cons of Aluminum Toe
- More room in the toe
- Offers protection similar to steel
- Lighter weight than steel (often 30-50%)
- Offers less compression resistance than steel
- Can set off metal detectors
- Fluctuates in temperature based on hot/cold work environment
Steel Toe Work Boots: OSHA Requirements
Steel toe work boots are usually required when working on almost any job site. In fact, protective steel toe (composite toe) footwear is required wherever there is potential danger of a foot injury from a falling object, rolling object, or any object capable of piercing the toe of your boot.
Consideration must also be given to hazards that crush. Construction sites are overrun with rolling, scooting, tumbling and rocking pieces of equipment that can injure the foot just as surely as items that drop onto the foot.
Often, a worker is preoccupied with a task and doesn’t employ the same amount of caution that he would if crossing a busy street. He puts himself at risk of being struck – or having a foot run over – by a construction vehicle. And some of them can be quite heavy.
Steel toed work boots can make the difference in whether a construction worker ever walks again if the unthinkable happens.
Safety work boots are also required in any situation where you are being put at risk for electric shock. Current as slight as 0.4 milliamps at 60 HZ AC can cause a tingling sensation in the extremities. Current becomes painful at 1.1 milliamps and excruciating pain kicks in at 9.0 milliamps. It becomes life-threatening at 23 milliamps and heart fibrillation occurs at 500 milliamps.
Safety boots help ground electric circuits because they are made with non-conductive materials, like leather, rubber and plastic. Be sure to select footwear that has an “EH” rating. Many may be surprised to know that a steel-toed boot does not increase risk of electrocution. The steel will not conduct electricity if it is surrounded by non-conductive material.
Protecting workers from electrical shock is as important as protection against other types of foot injuries. The consequences are serious.
If you are in violation of this requirement, your company, or the company you work for, can be fined by OSHA up to $70,000. That’s no small potatoes, so wear your steel toe work boots.
OSHA’s guidelines for steel toe boots on the job site include events where:
- Corrosive/poisonous materials are present
- Electrical shock is a risk
- An explosion could be caused by static electricity
- A heavy object might roll onto the foot and smash it
- The foot could be punctured by an object
- Molten metal could burn the foot
- Slippery or hot surfaces are present
In general, protective footwear that is rated to dissipate static electricity may also protect against static shock. This is not just applicable to the construction industry, but may be applicable to chemical processing, semiconductor manufacturing, and any other industry which requires footwear for protection against electrical hazards.
Don’t trivialize static electricity as if it were merely an annoying spark when touching a doorknob after walking across a shag carpet. Static electricity poses considerable risk in the workplace.
Static electricity can cause gases like oxygen to explode. If a piece of work equipment has a significant electric charge on it, a spark between you and the piece of equipment could expose you to enough current to stop your heart!
Corrosive materials pose an additional threat to construction and heavy industry workers. While good safety practices regarding the handling of hazardous materials is always the best first line of defense, accidents do happen. Corrosives can attack and chemically destroy body tissue, and they can even damage metal, so if your only protection against chemicals is a steel piece in the toe of your boot, you are at risk.
Most corrosives are either acid or base. Common acids that you might find in the workplace include sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, nitric acid, chromic acid and hydrofluoric acid. Common bases include ammonium nitrate – found in abundance in agricultural operations – potassium hydroxide (caustic potash) and sodium hydroxide (caustic soda).
The dangers of chemical exposure come from above the foot and below the foot. The best safety boots for chemical exposure feature an impermeable midsole – typically made of polyurethane – and chemically-resistant uppers – often made from nitrile.
Safety boots protect the user from chemical splashes and small puddles of corrosive material on the floor. Protection against significant exposure to chemicals would require a haz-mat suit.
A total of 17,680 workers report a puncture wounds each year, or 1.6 out of 10,000 full-time workers. This results in an average of three lost work days per incident, but that’s just an average. Some injuries require much longer recovery times.
This figure is overall, and not foot-specific, but you can assess from that a good percentage of those injuries are suffered by the feet. From the classic nail in the board to broken glass, jagged sheet metal, rebar and construction site trash pose great risk to the foot.
A challenge to safety footwear producers is to create a sole that is flexible, yet able to withstand impact from sharp objects. A good rule of thumb when looking for steel toe work boots for the construction site is to look for the green triangle on the boot. This will let you know that the toe cap and the sole are both grade 1. This means that the sole provides puncture protection and the toe provides protection against heavy objects. If you look at the #1 choice, the Redwing, you’ll see the green triangle on the tongue of the boot.
Work Boots: Getting the Right Size
Just because you’ve worn size 10 since high school doesn’t necessarily mean you wear a size 10 now. If you’re going to invest in work safety boots, you’re investing in your future, and you should leave assumptions about shoe size at the door when shopping for new safety boots.
Most shoe sizes are based on two dimensions – width and length. But your feet have three dimensions – width, length and height. When you go to the shoe store, the clunky metal thing you put your sock feet in only measures width and length. That’s a good starting point, but that’s not all there is to determining the correct shoe size.
Everyone’s foot is different, even if the flat dimensions match. Factoring in the height gives you your true size. However, there are no sizing charts that include height. So what do you do?
The best thing to do is pay attention to the fit – all the way around. Assuming your toes and heels fit without getting pressed, notice how the shoe fits on the uppers. Do your toe knuckles bump on the upper leather? Is there room for your instep? Your shoes should feel right, brand new. “Well, they’ll feel better when they’re broken in” is a lame excuse to purchase ill-fitting shoes.
Some brands “run large” or “run small.” If you like that brand and have good experience with it, by all means stay with it, but make the necessary adjustments to account for differences in size. If you’re in-between sizes, go one size larger. Or if you’re at or near the top of the range for a particular size and the brand you like tends to run small, get the next largest size.
If it seems your shoes get tighter as the day goes on, it’s not the shoes – it’s your feet. Our feet swell as we work and walk around. It generally peaks out early afternoon and then slowly declines as the day finishes. People with circulation issues, diabetes, COPD and atrial fibrillation know all too well the issues with swollen feet.
Therefore the best time to measure your foot for shoe size is early afternoon.
How to measure your foot for work boots:
- Place a piece of paper on the floor.
- In your sock feet, wearing socks similar to what you’d wear on the job, stand on the piece of paper.
- Mark each end of your foot, from the tip of your great toe* to the heel. *Some people’s second toe is the longest. If this is the case, use that as a reference.
- Cross-reference your measurements to a sizing chart.
Proper Lacing of Work Boots
Proper lacing of work shoes and boots is essential to allow them to do what they were designed to do – protect your feet. Far too many workers take shortcuts when they lace up their boots, and they end up compromising their own safety.
In general, the larger the shoe – as in boot versus shoe – the more important proper lacing becomes. Badly laced boots cause problems with fit and function.
Here’s how to lace up your boots the traditional way:
- Thread the laces through the lowest set of eyelets from underneath, and pull the laces to even them up.
- Cross the laces over and repeat the process, always threading from underneath, until you reach the top pair of eyelets, taking care to keep the laces even throughout the process.
- Tie in a normal shoe-tying knot. Double knots are fine, and may be preferred, depending on the conditions the boots will be used in.
Here is a variation called the “Heel Lock.” This is for workers who do a lot of climbing, or work on uneven surfaces. It keeps the boot from swiveling at the heel.
- Begin with the traditional lace pattern, but on the top two eyelets, don’t cross the laces over. Pull the laces even.
- Cross over at the very top and pull the laces underneath the lace on the opposite side.
- Tie with a double knot.
The following pattern is called the Army lace, used to force very rigid boot material into flexing at key points. Obviously, it comes from the military.
- As with traditional lacing, thread the bottom-most eyelets from underneath. Pull the ends even.
- Unlike the traditional lacing pattern, do not cross the laces, but thread them through the next eyelet on the same side (“straight up lacing”). You will only do this once.
- Cross the ends of the lace on the inside and with the next set of eyelets, do the crossover pattern like the traditional method.
- Alternate between crossover and “straight up” lacing until you reach the top, and then tie in a normal knot.
Taking Care of Your Work Boots
Your work boots take care of your feet. You should take care of your work boots. Keeping boots, clean, lubricated (where needed) and aerated extends their life and enhances their ability to do their job.
New work boots should be broken in before enduring their first eight-hour (or longer) work shift. Wear them around the house for several days, but don’t let them get wet, and don’t – at this point, anyway – try to waterproof them (more about that later). Some people use conditioner to accelerate the break-in process, and this is fine, but the best thing you can do is just wear them and walk a lot in them.
Once the boots are properly broken in, you should waterproof them before working in them, even if your job doesn’t routinely involve wet conditions.
The first step is to make sure the boots are perfectly clean. Any dirty place or smudge on the shoe when the waterproofing agent is applied will be preserved forever! So clean your boots with a water-based cleaner and a nylon – not steel or anything overtly abrasive – brush.
It may seem like a contradiction, but use a water-based waterproofing agent. Water-based products do not affect the aeration of the boots because they do not clog the pores within the leather. Water-based products do not contain petroleum, which can warp and stretch leather. Heat is not required when applying a water-based waterproofing agent, which spares the boots from potential damage and excess drying-out.
Here’s another seeming contradiction: For best results, apply the water-based waterproofing agent to boots that are already wet. The water will be expelled to the exterior surface of the leather, where it can evaporate readily.
After two or three weeks, repeat the process.
For boots that will be used in extremely wet conditions, use a heavy duty waterproofing wax, and apply up to four coats, a couple of weeks apart.
At some point, your boots will acquire a life of their own, in terms of fit, flexibility and performance. But this doesn’t mean you can slough off on upkeep. Clean your boots regularly and condition them after cleaning – at least half the time.
The best conditioner is mink oil. Beginning at the seams, apply the conditioner evenly across the surface with a soft cloth. After the boots have dried, there will undoubtedly be some excess oil in places. Daub up the excess oil with the cloth, trying not to smear it across the surface. You can then buff the surface to a shine.
Reapply a waterproofing agent as needed, especially in the final stages of the boots’ useful life. The beauty of water-based waterproofing agents is that you can’t over-apply them.
And by all means, don’t forget to clean the insides of your boots. Your body generates a lot of sweat that is released through the feet, so guess where that sweat goes. We all know that sweat generally contains odor, but it also contains salt – a corrosive. Shoes and boots whose owners neglected them often wear out on the inside first.
To clean the inside of your boots, use a weak mixture of warm water and shampoo – ideally baby shampoo. Wipe with a rag and then rinse until no suds remain. Dry with a second rag and leave them in a room where there is good airflow for a few hours.
Breaking in Your Work Boots
Work Boot ASTM Safety Ratings
ASTM F2413 lays out various safety standards for safety toe footwear, including safety toe work boots. It is important to understand that these safety ratings are the “minimum standard” for a work boot to meet the standard ASTM sets. However, if you buy a work boot from a quality company, you can be sure that the work boot will most likely go above and beyond that standards.
If, however, you buy a low quality work boot from an unknown company, the rating might just be met at the minimum standard. This is something that should be kept in mind when you are looking for the best work boots. The price might not always be easy to swallow, but you cannot put a price on the safety of your feet. Your feet are you livelihood and you should protect them at all costs.
Here are some of the symbols you should look for when looking at ASTM safety ratings for boots:
- I for Impact
- C for Compression
- Mt for Metatarsal
- Cd for Conductive
- EH for Electrical Hazard
- SD for Static Dissipating
- PR for Puncture Resistant
Best Work Boots: Conclusion
Steel toe work boots are required on a job site for a reason, they keep you safe from injury. Before making any purchase, be sure you have examined all the characteristics of a good steel toe work boot for the job you perform. The best steel toe work boot is the best steel toe work boot for you and the job your perform. It should be safe, durable and comfortable for your specific work area.
It does not pay to try to buy a cheap steel toe boots to try to save a few bucks, your body is too important to take chances with. When you are working hard in heavy steel toe boots, it’s equivalent to doing 3000-5000 ankle lifts a day. Imagine the toll that takes on your body. You need to find a work boot that takes the pressure off your body the most. You’re not going to find that with the cheapest steel toe work boots. Think of your work boot as an investment in yourself and your health.
Whether you work around heavy equipment, nails, cinder blocks, large tools, or anything that can permanently damage your foot, make sure you are wearing the best work boots you can find. You will thank yourself later, and your feet will thank you too.
Looking for steel toe work shoes? Check out our post on the Best Steel Toe Work Shoes for construction workers.