We Review the Best Work Boots for Men: Waterproof, Steel Toe, and More
A durable and comfortable pair of work books can be a Godsend. When you're comfortable working on your feet all day doesn't seem like such a chore. On the flip side, there's a special place in hell reserved for the days when you've worked in uncomfortable boots.
If your feet hurt, it's hard to focus on anything else.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
We're going to cover the most comfortable working boots out there. We'll touch on a wide variety including waterproof, steel toe, those designed for winter, and a few for summer. In the end you'll know exactly what type of boots you need.
Whether you need a comfortable pair of boots for a grueling job, or just a pair for mowing the lawn and working in the yard, we'll help you find the right fit.
Best Best Rated Men's Work Boot Brands of 2017
When it’s time for a new pair of good work boots there are literally dozens of choices out there. Each brand has multiple lines that are intended for different work environments or uses. If you've found a brand you like, this can make the search a bit easier.
But even if you've bought the same brand for 30 years it can be worth taking a look at what's currently on the market to see if you can do better. Products are constantly evolving to provide better protection, more comfort, support, flexibility, and durability.
If this is your first pair of serious work boots you're in for a treat. We're going to dig into all the details and features that go into a quality pair of boots. But don't stop here. Chances are some of your co-workers have some insight into which brands are the most comfortable and durable as well.
How Much Should You Spend?
One of the first questions that comes up when looking at quality footwear is 'how much should I expect to pay for a good pair of men’s work boots?"
With some of the top rated products tipping the scales at over $300, it's not an unreasonable question. Are the more expensive brands worth it?
The short answer. Yes.
When you're on the job (and on your feet) for 8, 10, 12 hours a day, it’s crucial to have footwear that you don’t have to think about the entire time. That's not to say you have to drop $300 to get quality, but you should be prepared to invest in your comfort.
Buying quality only hurts once, and any money you save buying cheap boots generally comes at the expense of comfort and support. You'll be kicking yourself at the end of your first shift when your feet ache and you've got shooting pain in your legs from lack of proper support.
It's for this reason that we'll go into the mundane details of what makes up a comfortable and supportive boot. You'll know exactly what you need and why they cost what they do.
Which Boots for Which Job?
There are lots of options out there when it comes to work boots. There are 6" and 8" tops, waterproof models, those designed to keep you warm in winter, and those to keep your feet cool in the summer. There are models with protective toes and those with steel toes.
It's important to understand what you need for your safety and comfort. In our review section below we're going to take a look at the following types:
- Safety Toe (Steel, composites)
- Boots for Summer
- Boots for Winter
- Specialty boots
Traditional Men's Work Boots
The most common type of work boot, these are designed to provide support, comfort, and offer some basic foot protection. Generally available in both a 6" and 8" upper. The most common material is leather. The leather is often treated to be weatherproof, waterproof, and fire/spark resistant. Some models also offer specific chemical resistance.
**If you work around hazardous chemicals your employer should notify you of any specific details regarding required foot protection.
Traditional boots are great for jobs that require lots of time on your feet on hard surfaces such as construction, warehouses, welding shops etc. Welders in particular will want to look for products that specify fire and spark resistance. Let's start with our top three models overall.
#1 Pick: Wolverine Raider 6” Work Boot
The best footwear is the kind that you’re hardly aware of as you go through the day, and this is what you get with Wolverine boots. They’re consistently comfortable and very durable.
If you work in construction, in a warehouse, for the street department in your community – on any job that means you’re on your feet the whole day, you know how important a tough, comfortable work boot can be. Especially if you’ve tried to do your job in a pair of boots that you’re aware of as much as you are your job.
The Wolverine 6“ Raider (also offered in 8“ height) has full-grain leather upper, rubber lug outsole and MultiShox® removable full-cushion foot bed. The Contour Welt construction gives great support all day. When you looking at Wolverine boots consider the removable, comfort-gel foot beds and the slip resistance of the rubber-lug soles.
With a mesh lining that improves breathability and a lightweight-but-durable midsole, this is a great boot for all-day wear. There is a steel-toe option as well as a darker brown choice.
The company offers this same construction but in Oxford shoe style and in the Wellington style. You get excellent protection in every work setting and great traction on moist or oily surfaces. You can get the Raider Extreme version for waterproof benefits.
You can also read our full Wolverine Raider review.
#2. Timberland PRO Men's Pitboss 6" Soft-Toe Work Boot Review
When you buy work boots, you’re looking for safe, tough and comfortable. With the Timberland PRO Pitboss, that’s what you get. This 6” soft-toe boot has a slightly roomier toe area, so you won’t have to worry about pinching and soreness.
The traction grip outer sole is great for wet or slippery surfaces, plus they are recognized for their electrical hazard protection. Removable insoles provide comfort and help eliminate blisters.
The Timberland PRO has a full-grain leather upper padded collar for extra comfort and speed-lacing hardware. There’s also a contoured sock-liner (removable) for comfort.
You’ll find the roomier toe box provides a lot more comfort than some boots. This boot looks great and feels great, in almost every situation you’ll get into.
A great value for the price, so you can consider them a solid investment. They’ll last a while, even in the toughest conditions. You won’t be worrying about your feet when you wear these all day, since they provide plenty of support, even for a 14-hour day on a cement floor. The Timberland PRO also delivers some anti-odor properties you’ll appreciate.
Timberland brings New England tradition to each of its products, because it’s present in every aspect of the business. They understand the unique culture of that region and make it part of each boot, and each store where you’ll find their footwear.
Because Timberland focuses on the outdoor lifestyle and on making boots that will stand up to your tests in the forest or on the concrete, you can depend on them to give back all day, with comfort and protection. For more information check out our full Pit Boss 6" review.
#3. Thorogood Men's American Heritage 6" Moc Toe Boot Reviewed
While you may not know this company name as readily as you do other work boots brands, you should know that these comfortable, durable boots have been manufactured by Weinbrenner Shoe Co. for more than a century (1892).
Thousands of people have selected Thorogood boots in the work style, as well as in the Wellington design and others.
They are made in Wisconsin, with the American Heritage Wedge Sole Collection being the most popular at this time. Quality is the name of the game for Thorogood.
This “made in USA” boot provides all of the benefits a working person is looking for in quality footwear, including the oil-tanned leather upper and high-quality stitching. Overall, the boot is soft but still durable, giving you the feel of stability you want. The fit is excellent, with little or no slipping.
The 6” Moc Toe has a cotton, removable lining to keep the inside moisture and odor free, plus you get the trademarked Dual Density Ultimate Shock Absorption insole.
These top rated boots provides comfort all day with a cushion-rubber midsole, slip-resistant and oil-resistant outsole and cushion-wedge sole.
They are constructed using a Goodyear Storm Welt, comfort-cushion foot bed, rubber midsole, and an engineered, composite shank for support and stability.
Best Steel Toe Work Boots
These boots are designed for work environments where foot protection is needed against heavy loads such as; sharp objects; tools or raw materials; falling or rolling objects like boxes, materials, carts and/or equipment.
Safety toe boots generally come in three varieties: steel, aluminum, and composites. Steel used to be the go-to for toe protection, but modern composite materials have a very important advantage.
During hot or cold weather, the steel (or aluminum) in the toe acts as a conductor. This transfers heat or cold from the outside directly to your feet. If you spend a great deal of time working in extreme temperatures you might consider a composite-toe boot. They also have the advantage of not setting of metal detectors.
However, if foot protection is more important in your line of work, both steel and aluminum can withstand higher crushing forces than composites.
Caterpillar Men's Second Shift Steel Toe Work Boot Review
With a name like Caterpillar attached to these work boots, you’d expect them to be durable and able to perform in a working environment.
You won’t be disappointed with the Second Shift, steel toe choice protection and rugged construction. It can stand up to the daily pounding you’ll give them during your work day.
One of the key benefits you’ll get from this boot is the Climasphere sock liner that does a great job of wicking away the moisture that develops as you work.
The boot also has a nylon-mesh lining for comfort and a slip-resistant/oil-resistant rubber sole. The lace-up boots are 6” in height and provide plenty of support.
The design is in the classic work-boot style, with meticulous attention to detail that will let you take care of a lot of different tasks, on and off the job.
They’re available with Caterpillar’s Nubuck leather or pull-up leather, Goodyear welt construction and electrical-hazard protection. This boot meets the ASTM F2413-11 I/75 C/75 EH standards, protecting you against open circuits up to 600 volts in dry conditions.
Special attention has been given to the outer soles, which are designed to provide maximum traction on moist or oily surfaces. The steel toe is made to the highest standards set for the industry, for impact and compression.
KEEN Utility Men's Pittsburgh Steel Toe Work Boot Reviewed
Keen work boots give you a slightly different look, with their design taking you away from the traditional leather upper and boot design.
You’ll find this brand will give you the comfort and support you need on the job. Great for exterior work and break in to your personal fit quickly. You’ll also get great action from the flexible upper, which is perfect for the worker who must bend and climb on a regular basis.
They provide great comfort for those who walk quite a bit during the day, which makes them a good choice for utility workers, meter reading and warehouse work. They’ll also be a good choice for rough walking, such as on the railroad yard, since the sole traction is excellent. These boots breathe well and are good at keeping your feet warm in the winter.
The goal of the company that originated in Portland, Oregon, was to design for the lifestyle that the customer actually lives. This included establishing a modern U.S factory to help bring footwear manufacturing back to the United States. Materials are gathered from around the world, so that the most critical assembly steps are completed in Portland.
Keen uses a dual-compound rubber outer sole that’s oil-resistant and slip-resistant, waterproof Nubuck leather and mesh upper for breathability. The company also employs its “Million Step Comfort” midsole and the KEEN.Dry waterproof membrane.
This boot meets the ANSI X41 PT99 electric-hazard standard and has a rugged steel toe. They’re available in three colors and weigh just under 4 pounds per pair.
Timberland Pro Men’s Pitboss 6” Steel Toe Work Boot Reviewed
If you’re familiar with Timberland's standard 6” work boot, you’ll know what the lace up steel-toe model delivers in addition to the added toe protection. In basic terms, these are what steel-toe boots should be: just as tough and comfortable as the soft-toe design.
Timberland uses the Nubuck leather upper for comfort and long-lasting wear, along with Goodyear welt construction for added support and durability.
The top collar is padded for comfort, while the midsole uses polyurethane for comfort and wear. The special fabric linings have anti-microbial treatment to control odor, plus you get nylon plates for shock-diffusion and rigidity. The foot beds are open-cell polyurethane and are also treated for odor control. The outsoles are Timberland PRO® rubber for resisting abrasion, oil and moisture. The boots weigh about 1.6 pounds per boot.
As with the soft-toe version, these can be considered a solid investment and a good value for the price. You’ll find they hold up well even in tough conditions and the steel toe meets all ANSI safety standards.
Because Timberland focuses on the outdoor lifestyle and on making boots that will stand up to your tests in the forest or on the concrete, you can depend on them to give back all day, with comfort and protection.
Timberland brings New England tradition to each of its products, because it’s present in every aspect of the business. They understand the unique culture of that region and make it part of each boot, and each store where you’ll find their footwear.
The bottom line: Comfortable boots for work that will last, so they’re a good investment. The flexibility of the sole and upper make them a good, all-day boot, for construction, warehouse work, utility technicians, electricians and many other men and women who spend the day on their feet.
Best Waterproof Work Boots
It's never a bad idea to get waterproof boots. Just about anywhere in the U.S. there is the possibility of working in wet conditions. Having a barrier between the water and your feet is important for more reasons than comfort.
Bacteria thrives on moisture. If you're on your feet all day working in damp or wet boots there is the potential to develop a bacterial infection. Water and friction break down the skin possibly leading to ringworm or fungus. Besides being nasty, it's downright bad for you.
If there's a potential for working in wet conditions, consider a pair of boots that will offer protection against the elements.
Wolverine Men's Gold 6" Insulated Waterproof Work Boot
The key element that makes these work boots a great investment is the waterproof pigskin upper. This lace up boot also offers 3M's Thinsulate thermal foam insulation for added warmth. But this waterproof work boot also delivers the same comfort and support of all Wolverine boots, including the removable, full-cushion footbed and the light-but-durable polyurethane midsole.
The company uses a permanent, direct-attached molding to seal out water, which makes this an outstanding choice for outdoor work, construction sites and for industrial activity that sometimes can be hard on a traditional leather work boot. If you’re on concrete all day, or do a lot of walking in rough conditions, you’ll also appreciate the lightweight nylon shank for battling against foot fatigue.
This boot also delivers outstanding traction for all conditions with its quality rubber outer sole, because your footwear should work as well as you do. You can put these on to start your day and depend on them being reliable and very supportive. The sole is built to stand up to extreme conditions so you can lace this work boot on and do your job.
Consistently durable and always comfortable, the Wolverine WP is the best kind of footwear – the kind you can go through the day without worrying about. For street-department and utility workers, construction on outdoor projects, and for people who must keep their feet warm and dry in winter, this will be a good choice.
Timberland PRO Men's Titan 6" Waterproof Safety Toe Boot Review
Timberland continues to produce quality work boots for every setting and for all conditions, including this design with both safety toe and waterproof leather upper.
Billed as the lightest work boot in the PowerFit™ comfort line, the PRO 26078 has a sturdy, supportive polyurethane midsole and high-rebound heel insert for outstanding cushioning and energy-return.
You also benefit from the torsion rigidity of the nylon, diffusion shank, as well as the anti-microbial, open-cell footbed. This interior design gives you great cushioning and durability, as well as temperature regulation, while the heel cup is molded for added comfort. In addition to its waterproofing qualities, this lace up work boot has the TiTAN® alloy toe cap for maxiumum protection with light weight.
The dual-density, rubber outsole is light in weight but delivers excellent traction on oily surfaces, moist surfaces and abrasive conditions. You get open-circuit protection from the superior outer sole that meets all ANSI and ASTM standards for electrical-hazard protection. You’ll be able to work all day with these durable, reliable boots that weigh in at about 1 lb. 7 oz. per boot.
Timberland produces a wide range of work boots and other footwear, always with a focus on the outdoor, rugged lifestyle of their New England roots. This shows in the durability and comfort of hard-working boots. If you’re thinking about saving a bit of money when you buy boots for work, you may want to think again. People who have invested in a top-quality product from Timberland find they get long-term use from boots they can really work in.
Carhartt Men's Rugged Flex Six Inch Waterproof Work Boot
Carhartt has a long, well-deserved reputation for producing quality products for the outdoorsman and the working person. Many people will immediately think of the rugged pants and jackets produced by this company, but others have found their waterproof work footwear is rather good as well. The company uses Rugged Flex® technology for comfort and ease of movement, and combines this with a composite toe for extra protection.
The patented rubber outsole is ideal for tough conditions, such as cement work, construction projects etc. Yet you won‘t feel like the boots are cumbersome, thanks to the Ortholite™ insoles that provide great comfort, cushioning and odor-fighting properties. Even if you work in a setting that puts you in contact with wet ground or with water used in the work process, the Carhartt CMF6380 will get you through the day and keep your feet dry.
For individuals who are in the construction industry this can also be a great choice, especially if that work takes you to chemical plants or up on scaffolding in various weather conditions. They’ll keep your feet warm and dry for a long-time, making them a good investment for work footwear. You may even consider putting a new sole on them, since the uppers are that comfortable.
This respected manufacturer likes to tell its customers that Carhartt is in charge, instead of the weatherman. They’ve been supplying rugged products of all types since 1889, becoming an icon in the work-wear industry.
Best Summer Work Boots
KEEN Utility Men's Flint Low Steel Toe Shoe
Don’t be fooled by the shoe-like appearance of the Keen Flint Low, Steel-Toe. This is a durable, protective footwear product that is also very comfortable and gives great on-site performance. It’s quite popular with carpenters, contractors who must travel to various job sites, as well as with the man or women who often works on their own property.
If you want a shoe that holds up to tough conditions, you may want to consider investing in the Keen product that not only provides long-term comfort but also comes with a steel toe for maximum protection. They’ll break in to your personal fit quickly (usually in one day) so you can start wearing them with confidence right away.
Because of their low-cut style, these are the ideal work footwear for summer use and in situations that call for something other than the 6” or 8” reach of the traditional work boot. Their sturdy enough and reliable enough to get you through a 12-hour work day, even on a concrete floor. The deliver electrical-hazard protection that meets ASTM standards and have quality, oil-resistant soles.
The leather upper looks good, wears well, and is water resistant even in tougher settings, in a shoe that weighs about 22 oz. They feature a compression-molded EVA midsole, contoured heel for comfort, slip-resistant, non-marking outer sole and a sturdy shank for stability and support.
The Portland, Oregon-based company has always focused on designing and manufacturing footwear for the way a customer works and lives. The finest materials are gathered from around the planet and the critical assembly steps are completed in the Portland facility.
Caterpillar Men’s Convex Mid Steel Toe Work Boot
As you probably know, this world-class corporation is known for the rugged dependability of its construction and industrial equipment. It seems they’ve been able to transfer this to their line of work boots and other footwear, with a focus on the belief that endurance matters.
The Convex Mid Steel Toe boot brings a unique combination of rugged leather, rubber and mesh to the working world, so that you always have a comfortable pair of shoes but also get electrical hazard protection. The slip-resistant sole technology makes these work shoes outstanding for almost every setting or surface, while the EASE midsole and custom-engineered foam make your day comfortable, in a lightweight product that stands up to work conditions.
The steel toe meets ASTM electrical-hazard standards. You also benefit from the pull-on loop and will enjoy the signature yellow color of the Caterpillar® taping.
You’ll discover right away that this shoe design delivers unmatched comfort while giving you all the protection you need in a work environment. Caterpillar has put its name on a large number of quality products over the years. It’s obvious some important planning went into the choice of materials for these work shoes.
As with other quality shoe-style footwear, these will be ideal for people who must have comfort and support while they work, but don’t want to wear a higher-cut boot. The combination of materials and the steel toe make this a great selection for someone who travels from work site to work site, or must attend meetings and be on the factory floor on the same day.
Best Insulated Winter Work Boots
Winter weather brings it's own set of problems when it comes to footwear. Snowy and icy conditions require solid traction as well as moisture resistance. In these sorts of conditions you're better off avoiding steel toe or aluminum toe safety boots as the metal will conduct the cold to the interior of the boot. Composite safety boots offer much better comfort.
Thick insulation provides an additional layer of warmth for your feet when you spend extended periods of time in cold conditions, allowing you to focus on the task at hand instead of how cold your feet are.
A good pair of winter work boots should be warm, but should also offer excellent breathability. Even in cold conditions it's no good to have moisture buildup in your boots.
#1. Carhartt CMC 1259 Men's 10 PAC Work Boot
Buying a pair of good quality work boots is always a great idea. In fact, it’s important to invest a bit of extra money when you make this purchase, because your feet will thank you later. There are, of course, certain boot designs that work for specific situations, though you can usually be protected and comfortable in any setting when you have a high-quality boot.
Buying boots for winter work is a slightly different task. What you need is warmth and protection from moisture, in addition to the comfort and support you should get from great boots. You’ll get these benefits from the Carhartt CMC1259 10 PAC work boot, with Cordura®/Leather construction that is both waterproof and still breathes well (Storm Defender®).
They are made with 1000 LiteFire® insulation for outstanding warmth and have a composite toe for durability and protection. You’ll get good footing with the outer sole that is oil-resistant, chemical-resistant and excellent in moist conditions. The oil-tanned leather combines with abrasion-resistant material as well. These boots are also ASTM 2413-11 EH rated.
With all the durability you’d expect from Carhartt, you’ll also discover these high-quality boots are very light. That’s important to those who work in difficult conditions and are on their feet for 10, 12 or 14 hours every day. These would be a good choice for outdoor construction projects that don’t stop in cold weather, and for those who are called out to repair equipment during an emergency.
#2. Carhartt Men's Ruggedflex Safety Toe Work Boot
The basics of the Carhartt Ruggedflex work boot, with safety toe, are similar to other quality footwear from this respected company. The uppers are of very good leather, the rubber sole provides solid traction in most conditions and the composite safety toe gives you protection beyond what you would get with the standard toe.
But the story of this boot goes beyond the basics. As the name implies, this is a rugged product, but it’s flexible enough to give you comfortable wear on long days. The upper is made with oil-tanned leather, and the boot includes both Storm Defender waterproof membrane and 3M Thinsulate insulation to keep you warm and dry in colder weather.
The Ruggedflex outer sole gives you the performance you need, while there are five layers of cushioning so you’ll stay comfortable on the job. The composite safety toe meets ASTM 2413-11 electrical-hazard standards.
Carhartt makes a number of different work shoe and boot styles. This one is a full 8” height for maximum support. Yet the quality construction keeps the boot from being too restricting when you need to walk, bend or move on the job.
They are not as heavy as some boots that provide winter warmth and toe protection, coming in at under 2 pounds each. These will work well for outdoor construction projects that don’t stop in cold weather, and for those who are called out to repair equipment during an emergency.
Best Work Boots for Standing and Walking on Concrete
#1. Chippewa Apache Lace-Up Boot
Buying a work shoe or boot for the specific purpose of standing on a concrete floor all day is a different shopping process than buying a work boot for construction or outdoor conditions. That’s why you’ll need to look for particular features that will deliver the support and comfort you need. The Chippewa Apache lace-up boot is a great choice for this purpose. The company prides itself on making footwear for men and women who work hard.
They use quality leather construction and the 5 iron Texon insole for the maximum support you need. These USA-made boots have Goodyear® leather welt construction, fiberglass shank, Vibram® Stockbridge outsole and 4 iron midsole. You’ll stay comfortable for long periods with the removable orthotic cushion insole.
Chippewa boots also have antique brass, non-tarnishing hardware, heavy laces that stay tied and drill vamp lining for added comfort and performance. They’re available with ASTM 2413-05 steel toe. The company has been making top-quality footwear since 1901, with the original base in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
The boots were originally designed to be used by loggers and engineers but have become the go-to boot for those who must be on their feet all day. The Chippewa boot is still one made with uncompromising quality. You’ll notice a difference when you buy the authentic and dependable classic style. They're an excellent boot overall, but excel at providing comfort when working and standing on concrete floors for extended periods of time.
#2. Danner Men's Vicious 4.5 Inch Non Metallic Toe Work Boot
Some boots are designed for specific purposes. As people try them, the footwear made for the serious hiker or climber becomes the choice of the working man or woman who spends the day standing or walking on the factory floor. This could certainly be said of the Danner Men’s Vicious 4.5” work boot with non-metallic toe.
These quality boots are very lightweight because they use GORE-TEX and Vibram for the basic platform, yet they are a tough product that will stand up with you as the hours pass. The design cups your heel for a secure fit and gives you a bit more room in the toe area. This extra room can be important for people who carry or lift, or whose feet tend to swell a bit after a long day.
When you buy the Danner boot, you’ll get a dual-density, EVA midsole for shock absorbing qualities and ideal comfort. The outsole is oil-resistant and slip-resistant that is suitable for indoor or outdoor work. The upper is full-grain leather that is extensively tested before being selected for use in the quality boots. Because of the GORE-TEX® construction, these boots are 100-percent waterproof and breathable. No water gets in but sweat and moisture can get out.
You’ll also benefit from the secure, speed-lace system and the electrical-hazard protection that meets or exceeds ASTMF2892-11 standards. Yet this footwear comes with a non-metallic toe that provides all the protection and safety you need. They’re perfect for steep terrain, for getting into and out of equipment and for use in specific work settings. They are light at 48 oz. per pair, yet deliver all the support and protection you’ll need during the work day.
What to Expect When Buying New Work Boots
One of the most painful (literally) aspects of buying new work boots is that they sometimes require a break-in period. This varies from one manufacturer to another. Some models require no break-in at all, while others might take a few days of solid use.
Much of this depends on the leather and other materials used. In each of our boot reviews we've tried to give you some idea of what to expect in terms of break-in.
Some General Buying Advice
Some people with experience in these fields will tell you that you should always buy a wider boot when you purchase footwear with steel toes. This is usually the case even when your “normal” size feels comfortable as you try them on.
At this point, many working people decide to try and “get by” with the pair they have, because they’ve already spent the money and think they should use the boots as long as they can. However, the second day of foot pain and blisters usually convinces them to spend the money it takes to get a quality pair. Proper fit with any work boot means no pinching on the sides or toes, as well as overall comfort from soft-but-durable leather.
You can also tell if the boot is giving you the support you need. In general terms, your feet should not ache more or feel more “tired” at the end of the day than the rest of your body. The insole of quality work boots will be soft and provide support without slipping that causes blisters. The midsole and shank are keys to good support when you’re on your feet all day. The outer sole must be of good material (rubber?) so your footing is always secure. This is more important than many people realized when it comes to buying boots that don’t wear you out.
Some individuals have discovered that spending a little extra on a high quality work boots is the best decision they ever made. In some job settings, you may be able to get a year, even two years, out of good footwear. But you may have to replace your boots in a matter of months if you work in places where they are attacked daily by chemicals, water, concrete etc.
When you’re considering the work conditions, it’s also a good time to think about protection from things like nail puncture or electric shock. If you are in a setting that may present these problems, it’s important to look for durable work boots that specifically address the issues. Better outsoles and little, if any, metal, will be the first things to look for. You can also be a bit creative with some silicone protecting the stitching where the upper is connected to the outer sole.
The Anatomy of a Work Boot
Though they may not look it, work boots are sophisticated products that require a great deal of engineering. We expect them to:
- be comfortable
- provide good traction on a variety of surfaces
- provide protection from above and below
When you consider everything that goes into a quality pair of boots it's no wonder some cost in excess of $300. Here are some of the most important features to look for in any pair you're considering for purchase. We'll start from the bottom (literally) and work our way up.
The Outsole (Where the Rubber meets the road)
Over one-third of all construction accidents occur because of slipping or falling. This makes good traction crucial. There are endless workplace scenarios in which slipping or falling can lead to serious injury or even death. Climbing ladders, walking on metal roofing, oil or chemical slicks and even just condensation can lead to a loss of traction.
How do you avoid this?
Obviously keeping your head in the game at all times is key. But a boot with an outsole offering excellent traction is a great backup. Companies like Vibram manufacture specialty rubbers which offer enhanced traction for jobs where slipping is a concern. Magnum brand boots utilize Vibram's outsole in several of their boots.
Thermo Poly Urethane (TPU) is another type of outsole. It is ideal for environments where chemical exposure is a concern. TPU is lightweight, durable, and offers excellent oil and chemical resistance.
Another important consideration electrical resistance. For those that work near exposed wire or other electrical hazards you'll want to avoid steel and alloy toe boots. Composite materials are much safer in these circumstances.
You’ll come across many boot companies offering electrical-hazard protection. There are organizations that set standards for this type of protection. Safety shoes are designed to significantly reduce the flow of electricity through the shoe to the ground. You’ll see such specifics as protection up to 600 volts in dry conditions. You may also find some shoes and boots that are made of materials that resist burning, especially in situations where products are made in factories using some type of heating process.
The shank is part of the support structure of a boot. It's generally installed between the insole and outsole right along the arch of the foot.
The purpose of the shank is to reduce the load on your feet and calves by transferring your weight load across more of the shoe. Generally they're made of steel or composites such as fiberglass or kevlar.
For those working in cold or hot conditions a composite shank offers less conductivity, keeping your feet warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
Along with the shank, a puncture plate can help save you from injury when stepping on debris, wood, or other hazardous materials. They are installed between the insole and outsole and are made from a variety of materials depending upon the protection needed.
As with the safety toe and shank, the material you choose should be based on the conditions in which you'll be working.
For those whose jobs require them to work in potentially dangerous environments safety toes are a must. In fact some jobs require you to own specific types of boots based on the level of protection they provide.
Originally steel plate was used in the toe area to protect the end of the foot from injury. Steel is still used in many boots today, but there are lighter and more comfortable materials available as well. Aluminum, alloys, carbon fiber, and kevlar are used as well. Each material has it's advantages and disadvantages. Here's what you should know about each.
Steel is the old standby. While it was one of the first protective materials used in work boots, it's still the strongest. Here is some of what steel offers.
- generally less expensive
- offers superior shear resistance from grinders or chainsaws
- can withstand the most weight compression
Composite Material Toes
Made from plastic, fiberglass, carbon fiber, or kevlar, composite toes generally contain no metal. This has several important advantages, but also some disadvantages.
- won't conduct extreme heat or cold to your feet
- can be up to 30% lighter than steel toes
- aren't an issue when going through metal detectors
- while they are strong, a heavy enough load will shatter the toe, ruining the boot
The final type of toe is made up of alloys like aluminum, titanium or a mix of materials. Like steel they do conduct heat or cold so they're not ideal for jobs that require exposure to extreme heat or cold.
- Anywhere from 30% - 50% lighter than steel toe
- toe box of the boot can be larger as alloy toes can be made thinner
The steel does tend to add some weight, though this has changed considerably with new technology. Steel can also be a bit colder in winter, so it’s important to give the material serious consideration depending on the type of work you do and the conditions you’ll be in on a regular basis. It’s also possible to get protection from aluminum-toe safety boots. This is lighter, of course, but you’ll need to look into the test ratings to make sure you have the protection you need.
If toe protection isn't enough you can also find boots designed to protect the entire top of your foot. Boots with metatarsal guards come in a variety of designs and styles. Some slip over the boot while others are made to be tied on with the boot laces. These can be metal with leather covering, rugged plastic etc.
When researching the best pair of work boots you’ll come across a few terms that the non-professional won’t understand. Here are three that you could encounter.
- Cement attachment – This method of attaching the upper to the insole uses a strong adhesive rather than the traditional double-stitching. Both have been used for a long time, as the only methods durable enough to make quality footwear.
- Blake stitch – This manner of constructing footwear was created by a man named Blake, in 1856. The outer sole is directly stitched to the insole, giving flexibility and light weight.
- Goodyear welt outsole – This method uses leather, rubber or plastic that runs along the perimeter of the outsole. The process was created by Charles Goodyear Jr. in 1869. It’s still considered one of the best ways to make good work shoes.
Do Good Boots Need to Be Heavy?
Some people may still believe that a heavier work boot is a better boot, but the truth is much different. Today's technologies produce durable and lightweight materials that can outlast the best boots from just a few years ago. If you take your time to find the best lightweight work boots that give you support in these places, and have high-quality leather in the upper, you should be ready for a day’s work and then some.
When you invest in a pair of high quality work boots you must be prepared to take care of them. This involves keeping them clean with a moist (not wet) cloth and moisturizing the leather so that it stays pliable, flexible, and doesn't crack. Many boot manufacturers even sell their own brand of treatment for their products.
You may also want to ask your employer or supervisor if the company has a program that helps you purchase better footwear. This is the win-win situation that protects you when you’re on the job and keeps the employer from having to replace valued workers who are off the job because of foot injury or related problems.
When it’s time to buy your first pair of comfortable men’s work boots, or to replace the boots you have struggled with for too long, set your mind to paying a bit more, even if it means giving up something else for a short time. The boots will last longer, so you’ll spend less in the long run. You’ll last longer when you’re on the job, so you can focus on the tasks you’re given each day.
Ask any working person who’s been in your position. They will tell you quality work boots are definitely worth the extra money.
When you’ve been through dozens of examples of quality work boots and read about electrical hazards, Blake stitches and full-grain leather, you’ll be ready to make the choices that will give you a great pair of work boots. Most of the boots you should buy for support, comfort and protection will cost from $100 to $300, to put it in loose, rounded numbers.
It’s essential that you select a specific boot that fits your work conditions – extra support for working in a factory and in a standing position; insulation for working outdoors in cold weather; quality, lugged-rubber sole for traction and to keep you from slipping. If you don’t need major ankle support you can probably be comfortable with a 6“ boot. Some indivdiduals will do just fine with shoe-style footwear, in non-hazardous situations.
If you’re going to be working in outdoor construction, with concrete or chemicals, you may want to consider a composite material, though leather that is cared for properly should also stand up to rigorous work conditions. The bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Don’t expect high-quality performance from low-quality boots. Spend some extra money and be comfortable.