The Best Work Boots for Men – 2021 Reviews

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*** This post was updated on: May 2, 2022 ***

A durable and comfortable pair of work boots 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 the right footwear can make all of the difference.

We’re reviewing the best work boots on the market.  We’ll touch on a wide variety of boot types including waterproof, steel toe, those designed for winter, and a few for summer.  In the end, you’ll know exactly you need.

Image Brand Features
Best Work BootsWolverine Raider
  • Most Comfortable and Durable
  • Available in 6″ & 8″ Height
  • MultiShox® removable full-cushion footbed
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Timberland PRO Men’s Pitboss
  • 6″ Soft-Toe
  • Roomier Toe Area
  • Electrical Hazard Protection
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Thorogood Men’s American Heritage 6″
  • American Made
  • Goodyear Storm Welt
  • Composite Shank for Support and Stability
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Top 15 List of the Best Work Boots

Traditional work 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 boots that specify fire and spark resistance.

Here’s our list of the 15 best work boots on the market in 2020.  Out top picks are general-purpose boots, while most of the others on our list are specialty boots.  We list everything you need to know about each work boot in the reviews below.

1.  Wolverine Raider Work Boot

The Wolverine Raider is the best work boot on the market in 2020.  Once broken in, you’re hardly aware of them as you go through your day.  They are #1 on this list because they’re consistently comfortable and very durable.

If you work in construction, a warehouse, or any job that means you’re on your feet the whole day, you know how important a pair of tough, comfortable work boots can be.

The Wolverine 6″ Raider (also offered in 8″ height) has a full-grain leather upper, rubber lug outsole and MultiShox® removable full-cushion footbed.

The Contour Welt construction gives great support all day.  When you are looking at Wolverine boots, consider the removable comfort-gel footbeds 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 work 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.

These are the most comfortable work boots we’ve tried to date.

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2.  Timberland PRO Men’s Pitboss 6″ Soft-Toe

Coming in second on our list are the Timberland PRO Pitboss work boots.  They are comfortable, safe, and tough, which is essentially what you want when you buy work boots.  This 6″ soft-toe 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 offer electrical hazard protection.

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.

Timberland’s roomier toe boxes provide a lot more comfort than some other boots.  They look great and feel great, in almost every situation.

Timberland provides 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 work boots also offer some anti-odor properties, which is nice after a long day’s work.

Timberland brings New England tradition to each of its products because it’s present in every aspect of the business.  Timberland understands the unique culture of that region and makes it part of each boot, and each store where you’ll find their work boots.

Because Timberland focuses on the outdoor lifestyle and on making work boots that will stand up to your tests in the forest or on the concrete, you can depend on them to be comfortable all day.

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3.  Thorogood Men’s American Heritage 6″ Moc Toe

The 3rd boots on this list come from a brand that is not as well known, but which has a long history in the boot industry.  While you may not know the Thorogood name as well as you do other brands, you should know that these comfortable, durable boots have been manufactured by Weinbrenner Shoe Co. for more than a century (1892).

Thorogood boots are made in Wisconsin, with the American Heritage Wedge Sole Collection being the most popular at this time.  High quality is the name of the game for Thorogood.

This “Made in the USA” product provides all of the benefits someone who spends a great deal of time on their feet is looking for in comfortable work boots, including the oil-tanned leather upper and high-quality stitching.

Overall, Thorogood American Heritage boots are 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 removable cotton lining to keep the inside moisture and odor-free, plus you get the trademarked Dual Density Ultimate Shock Absorption technology.

Thorogood American Heritage boots provide long-lasting comfort with a rubber cushioned midsole, slip-resistant and oil-resistant outsole, and cushion-wedge sole.

The boots are constructed using a Goodyear Storm Welt, cushioned footbed, rubber midsole, and an engineered, composite shank for support and stability.

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4.  Caterpillar 2nd Shift (Steel Toe)

The Caterpillar Second Shift offers serious protection and rugged construction.  The boots can stand up to the daily pounding they will take during your workday.

With a name like Caterpillar, you’d expect them to offer durability and performance in working environments, and you won’t be disappointed.  These boots are fourth on our list but are our top choice for the best men’s steel toe work boot.

One of the key benefits of the Caterpillar 2nd Shift is the Climasphere sock liner.   For those who tend to sweat, this liner wicks away moisture that develops inside as you work.

These boots have a nylon mesh lining for comfort, a slip-resistant/oil-resistant rubber sole, and are 6″ in height to 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 work 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 in the industry, for impact and compression.  On top of all this these are by far the most comfortable steel toe work boots we’ve tested to date.

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5.  KEEN Utility Men’s Pittsburgh (Steel Toe)

Keen work boots give you a slightly different look, with their design taking you away from the traditional leather upper design.

This brand will give you the comfort and support you need on the job.  Great for exterior work and break into your personal fit quickly.  The flexible upper provides great movement, which is perfect for the worker who must bend and climb on a regular basis.

The boots provide complete comfort for those who walk quite a bit during work, 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.  They 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 work boot 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.  KEEN 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.

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6.  Timberland Pro Men’s Pitboss 6″ (Steel Toe)

If you’re familiar with Timberland’s standard 6″ work boot, you know what the lace-up steel-toe model delivers in addition to the added toe protection.  In basic terms, these are what steel-toe work boots should be: just as tough and comfortable as the soft-toe design.

Timberland PRO Men’s Pitboss work boots use a 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 an anti-microbial treatment to control odor, plus you get nylon plates for shock-diffusion and rigidity.

The Timberland PRO footbeds are open-cell polyurethane and are also treated for odor control.  The outsoles are Timberland PRO rubber for resisting abrasion, oil, and moisture.  They weigh about 1.6 pounds each.

As with the soft-toe version, these can be considered a solid investment and a good value for the price.  Timberland PRO boots hold up well even in tough conditions, and the steel toe meets all ANSI safety standards.

The bottom line: for comfort that will last, Timberland’s are a solid 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 a lot of time on their feet.

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7.  Wolverine Men’s Gold 6″ (Waterproof)

The key elements that make these the best men’s waterproof work boots on our list are the waterproof pig-skin upper and the overall comfort.

This lace-up also offers 3M’s Thinsulate thermal foam insulation for added warmth, making them great feeling in the winter.

But this waterproof work boot also delivers the same comfort and support of all Wolverine products, 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 work that sometimes can be hard on traditional leather boots.

If you spend a lot of time on concrete or do a lot of walking over rough terrain, the lightweight nylon shank is highly effective for battling against foot fatigue.

They also deliver outstanding traction on all surfaces with its quality rubber outer sole, because your work boots 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, making it highly durable.

Consistently durable and always comfortable, the Wolverine WP is the best waterproof work boot on the market.  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.

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8.  Timberland PRO Men’s Titan 6″ (Waterproof + Safety Toe)

Timberland continues to produce quality boots for every setting and for all weather, including this design with both safety toe and waterproof leather upper.

Billed as the lightest product in the PowerFit™ comfort line, the Timberland PRO Titan has sturdy, supportive polyurethane midsole and high-rebound heel inserts 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 a Timberland TiTAN® alloy toe cap for maximum strength while remaining lightweight.

The dual-density, rubber outsole is light in weight but delivers excellent traction on oily, moist, or abrasive surfaces.  You get open-circuit protection from the superior outer sole that meets all ANSI and ASTM standards for electrical hazard protection.  You can work all day with these durable, reliable boots that weigh in at about 1 lb. 7 oz. each.

Timberland produces a wide range of work-related footwear, always with a focus on the outdoor, rugged lifestyle of their New England roots.  This shows in the durability and comfort of their boots.

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9.  Carhartt Men’s Rugged Flex 6-Inch (Waterproof)

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, and construction projects.  Yet you won’t feel like the boots are cumbersome, thanks to the Ortholite™ technology that provides comfort, cushioning, and odor-fighting properties.

Even if you work in a setting that puts you in contact with wet ground or 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 unknown 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 workwear industry.

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10.  KEEN Utility Men’s Flint Low (Steel Toe)

Don’t be fooled by the shoe-like appearance of the Keen Flint Low, Steel-Toe.  This is the best summer work boot on our list!  This is a durable, protective, workwear product that is also very breathable and comfortable for on-site performance.  It’s quite popular with carpenters, contractors and other trades working on job-sites.

They’re especially flexible, so they’re ideal for people who end up kneeling or squatting close to the ground during their work.

If you need a men’s work boot that holds up to tough and potentially dangerous conditions, these may not be the right boots for you as they lack substantial toe box strength.  But they’re designed more for flexibility and grip.  All in all, they are a comfortable boot that is extremely durable.

Because of their low-cut style, these are the ideal work boots for summer use and in situations that call for something other than the 6″ or 8″ reach of the traditional work boot.  They’re sturdy enough and reliable enough to get you through a 12-hour workday, even on a concrete floor.  They 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 boot 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 durability.

The Portland, Oregon-based company has always focused on designing and manufacturing work boots 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.

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11.  Caterpillar Men’s Convex Mid (Steel Toe)

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 shoes, 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 boots but also get electrical hazard protection.

The slip-resistant sole technology makes these work boots outstanding for almost every setting or surface, while the EASE midsole and custom-engineered foam make you comfortable, in a lightweight product that stands up to work requirements.

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.

This boot design delivers unmatched comfort while giving you all the safety needed 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 boots.

As with other quality shoe-style footwear, these will be ideal for people who must have comfort and higher support while they work, but don’t want to wear a higher-cut boot.  The combination of materials and the steel toe make this the perfect 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.

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12.  Carhartt CMC 1259 Men’s 10 PAC

The Carhartt CMC1259 10 PAC’s are the best winter work boots on the market.  The most important features of any good winter boot are warmth, comfort, and moisture wicking.  This boot’s Cordura/Leather construction is waterproof and still provides excellent breathability.

They are insulated with 1000 LiteFire® insulation for outstanding warmth and have a composite toe for durability and safety.  The outer sole is oil-resistant to provide good footing, chemical-resistant, and is excellent in moist conditions.  The oil-tanned leather combines with abrasion-resistant material as well.  They are also ASTM 2413-11 EH rated.

With all the durability you’d expect from Carhartt, these high-quality boots are very light.  That’s important to those who work in difficult conditions and are in their boots 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.

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13.  Carhartt Men’s Ruggedflex Safety Toe

The basics of the Carhartt Ruggedflex, with safety toe, are similar to other quality boots 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 strength beyond what you would get with the standard toe.

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 to keep you comfortable on the job.  The composite safety toe meets ASTM 2413-11 electrical-hazard standards.

Carhartt makes a number of different work boot styles.  This one is a full 8″ height for maximum ankle support.  Yet the quality construction keeps them from being too restricting when you need to walk, bend, or move on the job.

These boots are not as heavy as some other boots that provide insulated warmth in the winter as well as 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.

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14.  Chippewa Apache Lace-Up

These boots were specifically made for wearing them while standing on concrete for long periods.  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 work boots for construction or outdoor wear.

Look for particular features that will deliver support and comfort.  The Chippewa Apache lace-up boot is a great choice for this purpose.  The company prides itself on making work boots for men and women who work hard.

They use quality leather construction and the 5 iron Texon technology for the maximum support you need.  They offer a Goodyear® leather welt, fiberglass shank, Vibram® Stockbridge outsole, and 4 iron midsole.

The Chippewa 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 work boots since 1901, with the original base in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

This brand originally designed their boots to be used by loggers and engineers but have become the go-to product for those who must be on their feet all day.  The Chippewa boots are still made with uncompromising quality.  They’re an excellent product overall but excel at providing comfort when working and standing on concrete floors for extended periods of time.

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15.  Danner Men’s Vicious 4.5 Inch

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 a non-metallic toe.  These are the best boots for factory work on this list.

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 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.

Danner work boots provide a dual-density EVA midsole for shock-absorbing qualities.  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® lining, they are 100-percent waterproof and breathable.  No water gets in, but sweat and moisture can get out.

The boots have a secure, speed-lace system and electrical-hazard protection that meets or exceeds ASTMF2892-11 standards.  Yet these work boots come with a non-metallic toe that provides all the coverage and safety needed.  They’re perfect for steep terrain, for getting into and out of equipment and for use in specific work settings.  Weighing just 48 oz. per pair, these boots deliver all of the support and protection you need.  This is a high-quality boot for working on concrete.

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How Much Should You Spend?

how much to spend when purchasing working boots

One of the first questions that come up when looking at quality work boots or shoes is ‘how much should I expect to pay?”

With some of the top-rated work boots 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, it’s crucial to have boots that you don’t have to think about the entire time.  That’s not to say you have to drop $300 on Red Wing Heritage boots to get quality, but you should be prepared to invest in your comfort.

Buying quality only hurts once, and any money you save generally comes at the expense of comfort and durability.  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.

If you suffer from pain while working on your feet, it could also be related to your foot shape.  In another article, we cover the best insoles for work boots which are designed to eliminate pain and foot fatigue.

It’s for this reason that we’ll go into the mundane details of what makes comfortable and supportive work boots.  You will know exactly what you need and why they cost what they do.

Which Work 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 you cool in the summer.  There are models with protective toes and those with steel toes.

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.

Steel Toe Boots

steel toe

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 one 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 lot of time working in extreme temperatures, you might consider a composite-toe.  They also have the advantage of not setting off 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.

Waterproof Work Boots

Boots for wet conditions

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 water resistant barrier between the water and your feet is important for more reasons than comfort.

Bacteria thrive on moisture.  If you’re on your feet all day and 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 weather, consider a water resistant boot that will offer protection against the elements.

Summer Work Boots

These boots offer cushioning and, most importantly, breathability.  During the hot months of summer, these boots will help you stay cool.  Or cooler, anyway.

Winter Work Boots

winter boots in the snow

Winter weather brings its own set of problems when it comes to work boots.  Snowy and icy surfaces 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.  Composite materials offer much better comfort.

Thick insulation provides an additional layer of warmth when you spend extended periods of time in the cold, 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.

General Safety Work Boot Buying Advice

steel toe boots are one option

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 an idea of what to expect in terms of breaking-in the boot.

Some people with experience in these fields will tell you that you should always buy a wider boot when purchasing work boots 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 of boots they have, because they’ve already spent the money and think they should use them as long as possible.  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 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 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.  Boots should 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, so your footing is always secure.

Some individuals have discovered that spending a little extra on a high quality boot 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 work boots.  But you may have to replace them in a matter of months if you work in places where your boots are attacked daily by chemicals, water, concrete, etc.

When you’re considering where you will be working, 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 using silicone to protect the stitching where the upper is connected to the outer sole of the boot.

Do They Need to Be Heavy?

Some people may still believe that a heavier boot is better, 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 support in these places and have high-quality leather in the upper, you should be ready for a day’s work and then some.

The Anatomy of a Work Boot

Though they may not look like it, work boots are sophisticated products that require a significant amount of engineering.  We expect them to:

  • Be comfortable
  • Supportive
  • Durable
  • Provide good traction on a variety of surfaces
  • Provide protection from above and below

When you consider everything that goes into quality work 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 Insole

This is one of the most important parts of any work boot.  This is what supports your arches and insures proper alignment from your ankles, up through your knees, to your spine.  While many of these products offer great comfort, the best insoles for work boots will generally need to purchased after-the-fact.

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.


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 utilizes 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.

Electrical Resistance

Another important consideration is electrical resistance.  If you work near exposed wires or other electrical hazards, avoid steel and alloy toe boots.  Composite materials are much safer in these circumstances.

Some boots offer electrical hazard protection, and there are organizations that set standards for electrical hazard safety.  Safety boots are designed to significantly reduce the flow of electricity through the boot to the ground.  Look for information on the level of insulation offered by the boots.  For example, a manufacturer may offer protection up to 600 volts in dry conditions.  You may also need to find shoes and boots that are made of materials that resist burning, especially in situations where they will be used in factories using some type of heating process.

The Shank

diagram of a work boot

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 boot.  Generally, they’re made of steel or composites such as fiberglass or kevlar.

For those working in extreme cold or heat, a composite shank offers less thermal conductivity, keeping you warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Puncture Plate

exposed nails are a common hazard

Along with the shank, a puncture plate can help prevent 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 chosen should be based on the hazards of where you will be working.

Safety Toes

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 work boots based on the level of protection provided by them.

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 its advantages and disadvantages.  Here’s what you should know about each.

Steel Toes

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 through to your boots
  • Can be up to 30% lighter than steel toes
  • Aren’t an issue when going through metal detectors
  • Strong, but a heavy enough load will shatter the toe

Alloy Toes

The final type of toe is made up of alloys like aluminum, titanium, or a mix of materials.  Like steel, these metals do conduct heat or cold, so they’re not ideal for jobs that require exposure to extreme temperatures.

  • Anywhere from 30% – 50% lighter than steel toe
  • toe box can be larger as alloy toes can be made thinner

The steel does tend to add 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 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 be sure to look into the test ratings to make sure the boot has the strength and coverage you need.

If toe coverage isn’t enough, you can also find options 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 outside while others are made to be tied on with the laces.  These can be metal with leather covering, rugged plastic, etc.

Sole Attachment

Goodyear welt construction

Example of Goodyear welt

When researching the best pair of work boots, there are a few terms that the non-professional may not understand.  Here are three that are most common.

  • Cement attachment – This method 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 work boots.
  • Blake stitch – This manner of constructing shoes 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 boots.

General Care

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.

You may also want to ask your employer or supervisor if the company has a program that helps you purchase better work boots.  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 an existing pair, make peace with paying a bit more, even if it means giving up something else for a short time.  They will last longer, so cost less in the long run.  You will last longer when you’re on the job and be able to focus on the tasks you have to accomplish each day.

Final Thoughts

It’s essential to select a specific product 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 prevent slipping.  If major ankle support isn’t needed, you can probably be comfortable with a 6″ boot.  You may 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.  The bottom line is, spend a little extra money and be comfortable.


Guide to OSHA Footwear

About the Author

Karl is a former welder and landscaper who now enjoys tinkering and teaching at his local DIY shop. His favorite shop activities are TIG welding and plasma cutting. In his spare time he also enjoys deer and elk hunting in the mountains of Oregon. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and can contact him via email.