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Choosing the Right Work Boots: Steel Toe vs. Composite Toe

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Unless you’re the Bionic man, you definitely need foot protection on your job.

“When the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten” said the ancient Taoist sage Chuang Tzu. The old man had a point – when something is right, there’s no problem with it and we don’t even notice it. And that is just as valid for your work boots, as it is for most things in life. It is only when the shoe doesn’t fit (your needs), that you remember your foot. So picking the right shoe is important if you’re concerned about your safety, health and the simple everyday enjoyment of your job. Consider these main differences between steel toe and composite toe work boots, to find out when you should choose one over the other.

Steel Toe Work Boots

The good old steel toe boots, loyal protectors of your toes and metatarsals. Bricks and stones may break your bones but your toes and soles will be all safe and sound. The chainsaw, every limb’s nightmare, slides off the steel toe cap like some petty little toy that briefly got in the way.

A 2011 study of steel toe and regular work boots clearly demonstrated the advantages of steel toe. Non-protected samples experienced an average of 8.2 fractures per foot, while the steel toe protected ones had 3.6 fractures. In other words, steel toe boots:

  • Offer immense protection from most falling, piercing or cutting objects.
  • Weigh more than non-steel or soft toe due to the material.
  • Can withstand higher impact and compression than the former.

What more could one ask for? Well, composite caps have their advantages as well.

Composite Toe Work Boots

Fancy and modern, composite toe boots are the techy grandchildren of steel toe. They may not be as hardcore and tough as their predecessors but they still do a great job. Composite toe boots may be your perfect fit, because they:

  • Don’t contain any metal and are made up of composite materials like carbon fiber, plastic, kevlar or fiberglass.
  • Don’t set off metal detectors and are perfect for security personnel, airport workers and anyone who isn’t handling really heavy and dangerous stuff.
  • Are significantly lighter and spare your feet from weariness.
  • Don’t get along with chainsaws, grinders and the like, but still offer very good protection from the work environment.

So far, so good. But there are some…

Additional Considerations

Hard work takes its toll. But it pays to have good work boots!


Keep in mind that picking your work boots is a more complex thing than just deciding between the type of toe cap they should have. While that is quite important, you also need to keep in mind the specific requirements of your job. To shortly list other important aspects of your choice of work boots:

  • Outsoles can be made from conductive, chemical-, slip- and puncture-resistant materials such as rubber, TPU or EVA. Each material offers unique advantages, so choose based on your top work needs.
  • You can choose the construction of the boot and how the upper and inner soles are stitched together. Two common options are cement construction and a Goodyear welt construction.
  • The safety requirements of your job are another important factor. Obviously the requirements for an industrial worker are somewhat different than those for a home builder. Consult the Occupational Safety and Health Administration‘s (OSHA) website about foot protection standards for the different jobs.
  • You must make sure that your shoe is comfortable and fits well. This sounds like a no-brainer but pain and fatigue are not to be underestimated, considering how much time you’ll be spending with those shoes on.

Finally, whether steel toe or composite, in order to be on the safe side, you can also check whether your boots conform to safety standards. So when choosing boots you could consult the American Society for Testing Materials‘ (ASTM) website about the performance requirements for protective footwear. These requirements will provide you with an idea what you should be paying attention to when buying work boots. Now that you’re more informed, check out the full range of work boots that we provide, and find the ones that are suitable for you!

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