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Shopping Guide for Best Work Boots

If you clock in each day at a construction site, factory, or other hazardous environment, you know that safety begins with your feet. Selecting the proper work boots for your job is essential, but how do you choose? The market boasts hundreds of different models, many of which serve a specific purpose. There's no universal work boot that performs well in all environments.

At BestReviews, we want those who routinely put themselves in harm's way to start each day on the right foot. That's why we researched and evaluated dozens of pairs of top-performing work boots: to present you with the best possible options.

We're dedicated to writing the most honest and unbiased reviews out there. We never accept free products from manufacturers. Instead, we buy products off of store shelves, test them in our labs, consult experts, and examine feedback from product owners.

We're proud of the five excellent recommendations in our product matrix. But one size doesn't fit all, and we know you may still have some questions about what constitutes a quality work boot.

Below are some things to consider when shopping.

We evaluated more than 100 pairs of work boots to help you find the perfect pair.

How to Decide on a Work Boot

Your work boot choice depends heavily on what you plan to do while wearing them.

  • Welders need boots that protect them from hot metal shrapnel.
  • Carpenters need boots that safeguard them from puncture wounds.
  • Concrete workers benefit from waterproof boots with deep tread.

In some work situations, the question of what to wear on your feet has already been answered by a supervisor who tells you exactly what to buy. In other situations, the employer provides a set of guidelines, but it's up to you to find footwear that adheres to them. For example, laborers and skilled craftsmen in the U.S. must wear boots that are approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The first question you should ask yourself is a broad one: “What exactly are my needs?”More specifically, what type of toe protection does your job require? Does your work environment dictate a specific tread pattern? Would you benefit from a metatarsal guard? Would you prefer boots with a cement adhesive or high-tech injection technology?

Read on to discover the answers to these questions.

Mark
EXPERT CONSULTANT

Mark has been working in boots since high school, but became a true expert when he wore them every day as a dock worker for a freight company. Working in both extreme heat and cold, Mark had the opportunity to see which boots could hold their own and which boot features are the most important. He's proudly worn the same pair of steel-toed work boots for the past six years, and they're still going strong.


Mark  |  Work Boot Expert

Types of Toe Protection

Some work boots include a steel plate inside the toe box. Others feature a toe cap made of aluminum or composite materials. It's up to you to decide which type of toe protection suits you best.

Types of Toe Protection

Steel

Hearty and dependable, steel-toed boots shield the toes from falling debris, hot construction materials, and dropped tools. This type of footwear has graced the market for decades.

We spoke with former freight line worker Mark Rice, who told us that steel-toed boots were a must-have during his days on the railroad. Steel toes are great for anyone who works with heavy equipment or has cause to use their foot as a blunt-force tool, Mark said.

But steel is heavy, and over the course of an eight- or ten-hour shift, its weight can bring on foot and leg fatigue. What's more, steel-toed boots can conduct electricity, making them unsafe to wear around machinery with a strong electrical and/or magnetic field. Steel-toed boots are also notorious for retaining heat or cold — an uncomfortable proposition, to be sure.

Nevertheless, steel-toed work boots are exceptionally durable. Workers who don't mind wearing a heavy boot of metal should be satisfied with this variety of footwear.

Our two top boot picks both have steel toes, making them ideal protection for the toughest jobs.

Staff
BestReviews
Types of Toe Protection

Aluminum

Aluminum wields several advantages over traditional steel, including its lighter weight and increased flexibility. Because aluminum toe caps are so much lighter than their steel counterparts, they create less foot and leg fatigue for the wearer. 

Retention of heat/cold is still an issue, but heat dissipates faster through aluminum than it does steel. And while it's true that aluminum also conducts electricity, it doesn't do so to the same extent that steel does. You may experience annoying static electricity when wearing aluminum-toed boots around certain types of machinery, but the side effects aren't nearly  as severe as they could be if you were wearing steel-toed boots.

Some workers question the strength and durability of aluminum vs. good, old-fashioned steel. Suffice it to say that aluminum toe plates meet industry safety standards and offer essentially the same level of protection as steel.

DID YOU KNOW?

Aluminum-toed boots are lighter weight and sometimes more comfortable than their steel-toed counterparts.

Types of Toe Protection

Composite Materials

Special polymers and ceramic materials can be combined to mimic the strength of a steel-toed boot. We'll refer to these components as "composite materials."

Composite materials pose no problems with heat/cold retention. They're not overly heavy, they protect the toes from falling debris and other hazards just like steel does, but they're far more comfortable to wear.

This awesome technology is relatively new, and it may be difficult to find on store shelves.

EXPERT TIP

Composite-toe boots are a relatively new entry to the field of work boots, and mimic the strength of steel-toe boots with less weight.


Mark  | Work Boot Expert

Boot Construction

The quality of the connection between a boot's lower and upper — the body and sole — impacts its durability. Manufacturers use three basic methods to attach rubber soles to leather uppers, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Boot Construction

Cement

Cement construction is a popular and relatively inexpensive method used by numerous manufacturers. The leather upper and rubber sole are simply glued together with an industrial-strength adhesive.

These boots may cost less than others, but adhesives tend to degrade over time, especially when exposed to the hazards of a construction site or factory floor. Some boots with cement construction can be repaired or re-soled, but many require complete replacement once the adhesive bond fails.

FOR YOUR SAFETY

Laborers and skilled craftsmen in the U.S. must wear boots that are approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Boot Construction

Molded

Some manufacturers join sole to upper via injection technology. The leather upper is held in a special mold while a heated rubber compound (the sole in liquid form) is poured, or injected, into the bottom of the mold. As it cools and dries, the rubber compound fuses to the upper, creating a strong bond that requires no adhesive or stitching.

This method reduces the chances of the boot splitting apart over time and provides superior weather-resistance. Once broken, however, a molded work boot is nearly impossible repair or re-sole.

Boot Construction

Goodyear Welt

Besides manufacturing rubber tires for automobiles, The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company produces treaded soles for work boots. Attaching these soles requires a complicated stitching process and an additional leather strip, known as a “welt.”

Manufacturers of high-end boots embrace Goodyear welt construction for its exceptional strength and water-resistance. While they tend to cost a lot more than the competition, these boots can easily be repaired or re-soled. As such, they usually last a lot longer.

EXPERT TIP

Like many people, I feel more comfortable in a boot with non-reinforced toe. But during my days on the railroad, I always wore steel-toed boots to protect myself from on-the-job hazards.


Mark  | Work Boot Expert

Other Features to Consider

Considerations

Metatarsal Guard

In addition to a toe box, some workers benefit from a metatarsal guard. This component fits over the boot's tongue and extends to the toe box, thus protecting the upper foot from sudden impact and hot materials.

Considerations

Laces

The laces you choose can enhance your safety on the job. For example, rescue workers may want to replace standard cotton laces with a set made of synthetic, waterproof material. Factory employees who work in high heat should consider Kevlar-based laces that resist heat and fire. And those who work on difficult terrain may want to try laces with a rough texture, as they tend to stay securely tied.

Considerations

Tread Style

Tread style affects your stability and comfort on the job. Let the type of work you do guide your decision. For example, if you work at a soft-ground construction site, you'll want a tread that enhances your earth grip. If you work in wet or oily conditions, you might consider a slip-resistant tread that provides extra traction.

EXPERT TIP

Look for brand new boots that advertise compliance with ASTM. If your boots are older, however, the logo may advertise compliance with ANSI standards.


Mark  | Work Boot Expert

Maintenance Tips

  • Scrape dirt and debris from your boot tread as soon as possible. Mud-filled tread provides no traction, and ground-in dirt can lead to abrasions and blistering.
  • Inspect your boots for damage daily. Due to the heavy protection work boots provide, you might not even realize that you've stepped on a nail or screw until after the fact.
  • Use mink oil or another leather conditioning product to keep the uppers supple and water-resistant.
  • When not in use, air out your boots on a shoe stand.
Consider adding a quality insole to your boots for extra comfort. Well-made insoles support your feet and distribute your weight evenly, making a long day’s work much more bearable.

FAQ

Q: Do standard shoe sizes apply to work boots?

A: Not always. We suggest you move up at least ½ of a size.

Q: Will boots that pinch or feel tight in the toe cap “break in” over time?

A: Leather is a flexible material, but steel, aluminum, and composite materials won't necessarily flex for you over time. Better to get the right fit the first time than to trust that the boot will adapt to your foot.

Q: Will a boot that's a little loose be good enough?

A: Again, we recommend a precise fit. A boot that feels too loose is just as bad for you as a boot that feels too tight.

Q: How can I find out if the boots I'm interested in are approved by OSHA?

A: OSHA adheres to standards prescribed by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) for safety-toe boots. This can be a bit confusing because in the past, OSHA endorsed the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards.

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