Choosing the Best Work Boots

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Finding the Best Work Boots is as Important as Finding the Best Drill


Laying a foundation for worker safety truly starts from the ground up, and the best foundations have the support from the best work boots. Many workers don’t realize how important proper safety footwear is on the job and thus choose sub-par construction work boots. At my company we consider them another important tool–a tool for your feet which helps to combat workplace hazards, discomfort and fatigue. This is why it’s important that you find the best work boots to match your needs.

Safety Footwear is Essential.

In April 2012 the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a revised update to the Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System (OIICS) which is used in the Census of Fata Occupational Injuries (CFOI) and the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII). Among their findings in each census were a staggering 2,986,500 non-fatal injuries and illnesses in the private industry with nearly a million of those resulting in days away from work. Moreover, of the 4,600 fatal injuries on the job, 666 were directly associated with falls slips and trips (as reported by United States Department of Labor)

Safety footwear is an essential part of workplace safety, protecting the feet and toes and improving traction and stability on a variety of surfaces and environments. In fact, injury cases involving falls, sprains, strains and ears were among some of the leading causes to days away from work (as reported by United States Department of Labor). On-­site injuries take away from productivity and can be costly for both parties.

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Know your Needs.

The market is full of manufacturers introducing new construction work boots, proprietary technologies and the latest and greatest additions to the art of safety footwear. However, understanding what you need and knowing the terminologies to navigate this sea of construction work boots will help you to better find what will hopefully be your best work boots yet. After all, comfortable feet make the work day easier and let you focus at the real job at hand.

Understanding the various safety features in work boots is paramount to finding the best work boot for your needs. Always start with your safety manager, foreman or HR manager to determine if there are specific safety-­gear requirements for your specific job or project.  And, although it’s very important to seek the advice of others, the best work boots for a fellow contractor, may not be the best work boots for you.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces guidelines for occupational foot protection based on requirements established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). These guidelines help to ensure that skilled craftsmen and laborers wear the right protection when exposed to jobsite hazards. It’s important to review requirements with your company or employer and then select the best work boots that meet the requirements. Today’s footwear manufactures do a great job of creating footwear that is ANSI compliant, but knowing what you specifically need ahead of time will save time and effort when browsing for the best work boots.

Before you venture to the store, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. That starts with understanding safety and technology within footwear and how to better shop for your next pair of construction work boots.

How to Find Your Best Work Boots


Safety Toes

The environment of a craftsman or industrial employee is often wrought with heavy hazards. Finding the right protective toe is in part, preference, but also is important in making sure you have the best work boots for your job. There are three types of protective toes: steel, composite and aluminum. All three toes can be ASTM-rated similarly for protection. Oftentimes workers will select a specific safety toe based on their working environment and needs.

Steel Toes: Steel toes are the traditional choice for protective toe caps and are heaviest and most compact. While your feet aren’t exposed to the steel insert, steel toes can conduct temperature more than alternative safety options.

Best Work Boots - Steel Safety Toe

Image from rogansworkboots.com

Footwear manufactures today have begun devising ways to improve fit and comfort of steel toes by using protective toe-­caps designed for the fit and size of the boot. KEEN Utility construction work boots use asymmetrical safety toes in industrial footwear that are contoured to the shape of the toes and feet, thus reducing bulk and weight without sacrificing safety.

Best Work Boots - Asymmetrical Toes

Aluminum Toes: Aluminum toes offer another choice for lightweight protection while still meeting ANSI/ASTM safety standards. They are the thicker than steel-­toes and provide a great option for workers looking for the most lightweight choice in footwear.

Composite Toes: Composite toes are typically comprised of carbon fiber, plastic or Kevlar. They comply with ANSI/ASTM safety requirements and are lighter than steel but are the thickest option for a safety-­toe and therefore have a bulkier silhouette. Composite toes do not transfer cold or heat and since they are non-metallic, offer a great safety option for those working in an environment that needs to stay metal-­free.

Best Work Boots - Composite Safety Toe

Image from workingperson.me

Metatarsal Guards

Construction work boots with metatarsal guards help to protect the upper foot and toe area from heavy falling objects. This additional protection is also advantageous for welders or men and women working in environments where falling embers or hot materials may be a concern.

Best Work Boots - Metatarsal Guards

Protection Taken to the Next Level

There are some remarkable products on the market today that take protection to the next level in footwear. Tough-­Tec leather provides increased abrasion-­resistance and is often added to the boot’s upper to provide further protection to the upper and foot. For those craftsmen working near open flames, Kevlar fibers have wonderful applications for fire-resistance. Some manufactures utilize special Kevlar laces for firefighting and welding wear that won’t melt when heat is applied.

Best Work Boots - Tough-Tec


There are a number of durable materials on the market creating outsoles that are long-wearing, slip-­resistant and protective. While some industries may require a specific material, having an understanding of the options will help you make a more informed decision.

Rubber  Outsole:  This  catch-all  term  refers  to  the  bottom  of  the  boot;  however, understanding its materials and their functions is paramount. Rubber is a common outsole component and is typically abrasion, oil and slip-resistant–important features for work in construction or manufacturing settings. Vibram® is a high performance rubber and an excellent choice for work sites with rugged terrains and provides maximum traction on both wet and dry surfaces. Today’s manufacturers often have their own proprietary rubbers, allowing their outsoles to have additional performance or safety attributes.

Best Work Boots - Rubber Outsole

TPU Outsole: Outsoles made from Thermo Poly Urethane are long-­wearing and are abrasion, oil and chemical-­resistant.  Designed to be tough, they typically resist splitting, and are more lightweight than their rubber counterparts.

Best Work Boots - TPU Outsole

Image from woodville-surplus.com

EVA Midsole: A boot’s midsole is designed to disperse weight or provide stability for the foot. An EVA midsole, short for ethylene vinyl acetate, is a foam-like material that is lightweight, flexible and cushions the foot with each step

Construction Applies to Feet as Well

How a work boot is constructed can be directly related to weight, flexibility and performance. Today’s footwear brands are continually innovating construction methods to improve durability and comfort for the wearer. Some constructions include:

Cement Construction:  Cement construction refers to the boot’s sole and is cemented directly to the upper. This construction is lightweight and flexible but could result in de-lamination over time. Cement constructed boots cannot be re-soled.

Best Work Boots - Cement Construction

Image from batesfootwear.com

Goodyear® Welt Construction:  Goodyear® Welt Construction provides durability for footwear as the upper and inner sole is stitched together with a leather strip or ‘welt’. The sole is then stitched through the welt. This process allows boots to be re-­soled or repaired, thus extending the longevity of the footwear.

Industry Innovations:  Today’s footwear manufacturers are always challenging themselves to find the next best way to create safety footwear. You see brands innovating welt construction to improve flexibility, durability and even appearance. KEEN Utility recently unveiled a new welted construction that combines the tried-­and-­true Goodyear® Welt with a cemented toe-­cap, protecting the stitching and reducing de-­lamination from repeated flexes, which is an excellent feature for welders and other workers constantly bending and flexing their feet on the job site.

Fit Matters

At the end of the work day your feet should not be rubbed raw, squeezed tight or sore with blisters and abrasions. Too-­tight shoes can lead to a variety of foot ailments including in-grown  toe nails, blisters, corns or worse. Additionally, the wrong fit may cause discomfort in the toe box from the safety toe cap. A leather boot will stretch somewhat as it conforms to the shape of your foot; however, a steel toe will never stretch and once tight, always tight, so never purchase a pair of safety-­toe boots with the idea that they will eventually break in and stretch out. Finding the right size boot is very important for having all-­day comfort. Today’s manufacturers offer regular and wide widths. When trying on a boot for the first time, if it feels too snug, don’t be afraid to move to a wide width.

Buying 101 – Buying the Best Work Boots

Just as you prepare for a long day on the job, shopping the right way to find your best work boots takes preparation as well.

Below are some simple tips to remember when shopping for your next pair of work boots:

  • Do your research first. Find out what requirements you might have in your work environment and what personal needs you may have.
  • Shop for boots in the afternoon or early evening. Feet tend to swell throughout the day, especially for those on their feet. By trying on footwear when your feet are at their largest, your work boots will also feel comfortable, even on the longest days.
  • Come prepared. Bring a typical pair of socks that you might wear to better understand how your boots might fit.
  • Don’t forget about comfort. While protection is paramount, comfort, as they say, is king. Brands today incorporate many comfort features to partner with their performance and protection enhancements. Anti-microbial insoles, lighter, more asymmetrical steel-toes, additional padding, and other modern comfort features all these go into making a pair of boots that will still feel comfortable when you take them off as when you put them on.
  • Don’t forget your homework. Yes, the job doesn’t end when you punch out. After care for your footwear provides a longer life for your boots. Treat leather with mink oil or leather treatments to keep materials supple and resistant to water. Store your boots in a clean, dry place to reduce odors and preserve the leather.  Also, part of doing your homework is talking with your peers to find what works best for them.  Read over 100 posts on the Pro Forum topic where members discuss their experiences with various work boots.
  • And, if you’re interested in a more in-depth Keen review, read what one forum had to say about his experiences.
  • Plus, don’t forget about your socks.  Read what our members have to say about work socks and what their favorites are and also how often they wash their work socks.

Written by Mark Reilly, Division Director for KEEN Utility. KEEN Utility specializes in creating innovative hybrid safety and industrial footwear for men and women. For more information, please visit keenfootwear.com/utility.

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24 comments on “Choosing the Best Work Boots

  1. Mike

    I prefer to buy the ones made in the USA over anything from China. Italy makes good ones as well. Chinese boots rarely make it to the cobbler for a resole, they fall apart first.

  2. michael mathews

    I wear a 13-H boot and it’s very difficult to find anything that fits. Last pair were from Red Wing. They are the only boot maker that has successfully fitted me with boots. Oh, did I say that I’m also flat footed!

  3. Bill Brow

    I need a safety toe boot with some type of protection for the leather above the toe since I do some work in a kneeling position and the toes wear out long before the boots. I was hoping to see some options in the article.

  4. Steve U

    RED WINGS all the way, get a new pair every 2 years, have a new sole put on previous pair, now have 4 pairs of GOOD boots, some look aged but my feet are dry and comfortable all day.

  5. ali khaddour

    I am a consultant that visits the sites once or twice a week , I am looking for comfortable safety shoes that also has good ventilation what doe you advise me to look into ?


      Hi Ali! We have a variety of styles that provide good ventilation. It really depends on what your overall needs are. If you are looking for something lightweight, super breathable and more light-industrial then you may want to check out the Altanta Cools. They are available in steel toe and soft toe options. The Flint is another outdoor-inspired silhouette with lots of ventilation you may want to check out. As always, our customer service team is here to help so if you ever have questions, please contact us! 1.866.676.KEEN (5336)

  6. Pingback: And the most comfortable work boots for men are.... | Work boot critic

  7. John

    Hello, thanks for article.

    I work on concrete most of the day and the balls of my feet feel like they are tender and on fire. I wear shorts during the summer and pants in the winter. Can you recommend a light hiker type shoe or boot in a soft toe?

  8. Carolyn

    Why is it so difficult to find information about WOMENS workboots? I have a narrow foot and wear size 6. All boots seem to be made in wide and extra wide width so I end up wearing 2 insoles and 2-3 pairs of socks just to be able to walk in my boots without them falling off.
    Please, will someone out there design safety workboots for those of us with small feet.
    Thank you 🙂

  9. Pingback: Easy Techniques to Get Rid of the Bad Smell of Your Work Boot | Go Crazy Blog

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