Finding The Right Work Boots
Time to read 19 min
Time to read 19 min
When it comes to on-the-job safety, work boots are essential gear. But what features are right for you? That will depend on the work you do.
You’ve got to hand it to your feet. No matter how much abuse you put them through, they still get you through the day. But the simple joy of putting your feet up after a long day of work, may depend on what you put them into at the start of your day.
Get your workday off on the right foot by getting your feet into proper work boots.
Work boots are designed to protect your feet from specific hazards inherent in certain industries, such as construction, manufacturing, mining, ranching, and agriculture. They are typically made with leather and include safety features like reinforced toe caps and slip-and penetration-resistant soles. Some also boast waterproof or water-resistant features to ensure your feet stay dry and safe.
Other features can include:
Non-conductivity to protect against electric shock
Of course, good work boots are also designed for comfort and durability.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the importance of picking the right work boots for your specific needs, the types of work boots available today, the materials and components used, features to look for, and how to care for your work boots.
The importance of work boots cannot be overstated because they protect more than your feet. By helping prevent accidents, injuries, shocks, slips, falls, stumbles, and more, they can help protect your entire body. Proper ankle and arch support also offers greater stability, which can help reduce fatigue and strain, prevent sprains, and ease other foot ailments such as plantar fasciitis.
The bottom line is that the right work boots make the difference between safe and unsafe work environments.
Work boots come in a variety of styles to meet the specific needs of diverse work environments. The most common types include:
Each offers specific types of protection to increase safety and comfort from the elements.
For example, safety toe work boots are designed to protect your feet from injury caused by heavy falling objects or compression. As an additional layer of protection, these boots typically have a steel, aluminum, or composite toe cap that meets ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) safety standards and reduces the likelihood of severe foot injuries on the job.
Slip-resistant work boots are designed to reduce the risk of slips and falls—common causes of workplace injuries. These boots feature high-traction outsoles, which help you maintain your footing on slippery surfaces. They are usually made with specialized rubber soles with carefully designed or optimized tread patterns and are often composed of a specialized compound. The two most common variables in slip-resistant treads are lug designs (a thick sole with deep indentations) and the rubber makeup in the outsole. If you work in an industry where the floors are often wet or oily, you’ll want slip-resistant work boots. Many workplaces, such as restaurants, factories, construction sites, and ships most likely will require you to wear slip-resistant work boots.
Waterproof work boots are designed to keep your feet dry and comfortable in wet working conditions. These boots often feature a waterproof membrane that prevents water from seeping through while still allowing air to circulate. This keeps your feet dry while allowing moisture or vapor to escape; it also helps keep your feet from getting too hot. Waterproof work boots are ideal for any outdoor profession where you’re required to work in any weather, such as landscaping, farming, or construction.
Depending on the climate or environment you work in, boot breathability can be a more important factor than water-proof or water-resistant features in keeping your feet dry. Well-ventilated boots can help prevent fungal infections like athlete’s foot from developing.
Electrical hazard work boots are designed to protect you from electric shocks and other electrical hazards. These boots have non-conductive soles and heels—and usually a non-metal composite toe cap—which helps prevent the flow of electricity through the boots to your body. Electrical hazard work boots are commonly used in trades where workers are exposed to high-voltage electrical currents, such as electricians and utility workers. Look for boots with “EH” on the ASTM label.
Static-dissipating footwear is designed to minimize the amount of static electricity buildup on your body, protecting sensitive electronic and computing equipment from damage caused by static discharge. This technology which is commonly utilized in fields where “clean rooms” are used for the production of chips or other sensitive electronics is also infused into your footwear. These boots are clearly labeled with an “SD” on the ASTM label.
Insulated work boots are designed to keep your feet warm in cold working conditions. They often feature insulation materials you’ve probably heard of: shearling, wool, Primaloft®, and aerogel, for example. Insulated work boots are commonly used in industries where workers are exposed to extreme cold temperatures, such as construction, transportation and road maintenance, ranching, surveying, mining, and industrial fishing.
Some specialized work boots offer one specific type of protection, but many work boots offer a combination of these features: safety toe, slip-resistance, waterproof, and electric hazard protection.
When it comes to work boots, the materials used to make them are crucial to their durability, comfort, and safety. The most common materials you’ll find in today’s work boots include:
One of the most popular materials used in work boots, leather offers an attractive ruggedness that is resistant to wear and tear. Leather work boots are also comfortable, breathable, and flexible, making them suitable for many workplaces and industries. Additionally, leather is easy to maintain and, with proper care, will last for a long time.
DuraTWX is a hybrid performance leather that is designed to perform in extreme environments. It is water resistant, breathable, anti-corrosive, and abrasion resistant, and is usually paired with full-grain leather.
Manmade materials, such as nylon and polyester, are often used in the upper portion of work boots to provide breathability, flexibility, and resistance to water and abrasion. These synthetic materials are lightweight and durable, making them an excellent option for industries that require workers to move freely and quickly.
As an alternative to rubber, polyurethane and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) are lightweight and remain consistent in cold temperatures, ideal for workers who work outdoors in winter, in food production, and cold storage industries. Polyurethane may have a longer shelf life than rubber; but it also can be more expensive.
Commonly used for outsoles in work boots, rubber offers superior slip-resistance while providing insulation and protection against electrical hazards. Vulcanized rubber is generally a durable choice for outsoles. Think of it as tires for your feet.
Because creating durability with ultimate comfort is a balancing act, some rubber outsoles are blends of natural rubber that offer good shock absorption and comfort, as well as synthetic materials that improve strength.
Water-resistant and waterproof materials Water resistant treatments and waterproofing are commonly used in work boots, allowing air to circulate while keeping water out, making it an excellent option for workers who need to work in wet conditions. They also help keep feet warm in cold conditions.
A variety of synthetic insulating materials are used in work boots. They work by trapping air molecules within densely packed microfibers, thereby blocking cold outside air from the inside of the boot. It also helps prevent heat from escaping the inside of the boots, keeping your feet comfortable and warm.
MetGuard is a patented device that protects your foot’s metatarsal bones; those long bones midfoot. Traditionally, you attach it to your work boot with your laces to protect the top of your foot from injury. If you don’t have laces, you can use straps. Boots with MetGuard are appropriate for workplaces and trades where you might drop heavy objects: mining, construction, home renovation, transportation, storage, forestry, landscaping, and even retail, for example. As a lightweight polycarbonate metatarsal guard, it is non-conductive for heat and electricity and fits all types of work boots.
Safety toe caps
Work boot safety toe caps are typically made from steel, alloy, or durable composite materials such as carbon fiber, or nanocomposites (often called nano toe). They are important because they help prevent toe injuries caused by heavy objects or equipment falling. Additionally, workers who operate heavy machinery or work around sharp objects or chemicals may need added safety-toe protection to prevent cuts, punctures, and other types of injury.
Typically made from steel, alloy, or composite materials, puncture plates are thin, flexible inserts placed between the sole and insole to help protect against nails, sharp metal, shards of glass, and other debris from penetrating your work boot. This is especially important for workers in industries such as construction, manufacturing, and warehousing, where sharp objects are commonly found on the ground.Although they provide ample penetration protection, they are designed to be unobtrusive, allowing workers to move around and work in their boots without discomfort.
Work boots are specialized footwear that bring together many technologies to protect your feet. And they are always evolving to bring the best in protection and comfort. As such, you’ll find a variety of materials in your work boots, from state-of-the-art outsoles to natural and synthetic uppers to metal hooks and eyelets. Super tough materials are used in work boots to provide excellent protection against cuts and abrasions. Additionally, some work boots feature reflective materials, which increase visibility in low-light conditions.
Now that you know what they’re made of, let’s take a closer look at the different components that make up work boots. From top to bottom, they include:
The upper is the part of the boot that covers your foot and extends up the ankle. It is usually made of leather, synthetic material, or a combination of both. A sturdy upper helps protect your foot from sharp objects, abrasions, and other potential hazards.
The vamp is the front part of the upper that covers the top of the foot, extending from the toe box to the eyelets where the laces are threaded. It is typically made of a single piece of leather or synthetic material that is designed to be durable and provide protection to the foot from potential hazards such as sharp objects or falling debris. The vamp is an important component because it is the part of the work boot most likely to come into contact with hazards on a job site. As such, it is often reinforced with additional layers of material to provide extra protection. The vamp can also impact the overall comfort and fit of the boot, so it is important to choose a boot with a vamp that fits well and provides the necessary protection for the specific work environment.
The toe cap is a reinforced layer of material that covers the front of the boot/shoe. They are the rubber or plastic feature on the outside of the boot/shoe which protect against abrasion and damage, extending the life of the boot.
The lacing system helps provide a customized fit while providing additional ankle support.
The tongue is the flap of material that sits under the laces and covers the top of the foot. It is typically made of a soft, flexible material such as leather or synthetic fabric. Not only does it help keep the laces in place, preventing them from rubbing against the top of the foot, it also helps to keep debris out.
The gusset is the additional piece of material that connects the tongue to the upper of the boot. Typically made of a flexible material such as leather or synthetic fabric, the gusset helps provide a secure and comfortable fit by preventing the tongue from slipping to the side or bunching up.
The collar is the part of the boot that wraps around the ankle. It provides support to help prevent ankle injuries.
The midsole is a layer of material that sits between the insole and the outsole. It is often made of a firm, shock-absorbing material such as polyurethane or ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam. The midsole is an important component of work boots because it provides shock absorption, cushioning, and additional support—preventing foot fatigue, blisters and calluses, and injuries caused by repetitive impacts.
The shank is a load-bearing component that runs through the midsole, providing stability and support. It usually sits between the ball and heel of your foot, under the arch. Although it is a narrow piece of metal about the size of a popsicle stick, it helps to reduce foot and arch fatigue, diminishing the load on your calves and knees. Shanks can be made from steel, fiberglass, leather, plastic, nylon/glass-fiber, or carbon.
The insole is the layer of material that sits directly beneath your foot inside the boot. It provides cushioning and shock absorption, helping to reduce fatigue and prevent foot injuries.
The outsole is where the rubber hits the road … or the field, factory floor, or construction site. It needs to be durable, slip-resistant, cushioning, and puncture resistant.
Collectively, the different components work together to provide protection, support, and comfort.
Your job is demanding. You should demand the best from your footwear. The right work boots can make all the difference in your workday. However, not all work boots are created equal. Here are some key factors to consider when choosing the perfect pair of work boots.
First and foremost, comfort is crucial. If you’re on your feet all day, you’ll need a pair of boots that will keep you there. For ultimate comfort, look for boots with cushioned insoles, breathable materials, and a secure but relaxed fit. This will help prevent fatigue and keep you focused on the task at hand.
Durability is also essential. You need a pair of boots that can withstand all the wear and tear your job dishes out. The key is the materials. Your next pair of work boots should be made of high-quality, weather-resistant leather, or a sturdy synthetic with strong stitching and reinforced toes.
Support is another critical factor to consider when purchasing a new pair of work boots. To be sure, your ankles need proper support to prevent sprains and injuries. But if you’re standing for long periods and carrying heavy loads, you need support for your whole foot. For example, a good work boot with proper arch support distributes weight evenly, preventing foot and leg pain. Insoles and outsoles with adequate cushioning help absorb shock and reduce impact on your feet and joints. (A removable insole allows you to customize the level of support and comfort in your work boot. A good insole should provide arch support, cushioning, and shock absorption.)
A work boot with good heel support should fit snugly around the heel, preventing slipping and sliding.
Also look for boots with sturdy, non-slip outsoles that offer good traction and stability—because sometimes, the best support is the one that keeps you standing.
Proper support is largely reliant on proper fit. Work boots that are too loose can cause blisters and slips, while boots that are too tight are uncomfortable and can cause further foot problems—as well as back and knee pain! To find your perfect fit, start with the socks. Make sure to try on boots with the socks you'll be wearing on the job. If you need the extra support of custom insertable orthotics, be sure to include those with your fitting, as well.
When you walk, your heel should be snug and not move up and down and rub against the back of your foot. Yet, your toes should be fairly roomy, leaving about an inch in front. However, your toes should not slide forward. That’s when the side fit comes into play.
The sides of your feet should be firm enough against the uppers to prevent sliding but not so tight as to cause painful pressure. If you have wide feet, do not expect a narrow boot to stretch enough to accommodate those wide loads. Also avoid sizing up a regular width boot to fit your girth; this can lead to tripping and stubbing your toe, which can cause a whole new set of hazards on the job.
Your final fit check is the tongue. Once laced up, make sure the interior stitching, tongue, and gussets do not dig into your instep.
Work boots can have a reputation of being heavy and cumbersome. But the truth is that work boots come in all sorts of different weights, depending on their function and a variety of factors, such as if they are insulated or not. So, ask yourself: what do you need in a boot?
Lightweight work boots are generally more comfortable and provide greater flexibility. They are ideal for jobs that require a lot of movement and mobility, such as nursing, law enforcement, landscaping, or mucking stalls.
Mid-weight work boots offer a balance of protection, support, and flexibility. They are practical for a wide range of jobs and are particularly well-suited for those that involve moderate amounts of walking, climbing, or standing. They are also good choices for workers who need some degree of protection from falling objects or sharp-edge hazards.
Heavy-duty work boots generally offer the highest level of protection for the most-demanding jobs. They often feature rigid safety elements such as steel toes, shanks, and metatarsal guards—making them most appropriate for logging, mining, and other hazardous occupations.
Ultimately, your choice of work boot weight will depend on your preferences—as well as the job requirements. Many occupations dictate what work boots you’ll need. Once that’s decided, ask your co-workers which types and brands they swear by. Chances are they have a recommendation they’re willing to stand on—literally!
Make no mistake. Work boots are an investment—but a worthy one. So, now that you’ve picked out a pair that offers the comfort and safety you need, you’ll want to take proper care of them so they last a long time. To ensure the longevity of your footwear, make sure you routinely condition, clean, waterproof, and inspect your work boots.
Heat, sun, dirt, rain, and grime will draw out leather’s natural moisture. If you own a good pair of work boots, you’ll likely need to occasionally condition and re-oil the uppers and leather components. Using a leather conditioner routinely will help prevent your work boots’ uppers from drying out and cracking.
There are several leather conditioners on the market that include natural substances which moisturize leather so it remains flexible and durable over time; they can include oils, beeswax, fats, and other conditioning agents. Apply the conditioner evenly to the entire surface of the boot and let it absorb for several hours or overnight.
Using a conditioner can also help break in your work boots, making them more supple and flexible and ultimately more comfortable.
Work boots are meant to get dirty. So, it’s often easy to ignore the grime. But routinely cleaning your boots will help them last longer. Moreover, you’ll want to keep them longer.
To clean, use a soft-bristled brush to remove any dirt or debris from the surface of the boots. An old toothbrush is a great tool to clean around the gussets and where caked-on gunk can get into creases. Tougher stains may call for a mild soap, water solution, and a soft cloth. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials that can damage the leather or other boot materials.
Using saddle soap not only cleans leather but helps moisturize, as well. Use a clean cloth to wipe away any excess lather and let your boot air dry. But do keep in mind that you always follow up with a conditioner as saddle soap can dry out the leather.
And don’t neglect the inside of your work boot. After all, that’s where the funk is coming from. To clean and help deodorize, remove your insoles and wash them with a mild low-Ph soap or shampoo. While your insoles dry, use a damp cloth and mild soap to clean out the inside of the boot until the smell is gone. If you can suspend your boots upside down, they’ll dry more thoroughly at room temperature overnight.
As for your outsoles, they’ll naturally get dirty and don’t require as much cleaning maintenance as leather does. But pebbles and debris jammed into your tread can lead to excess stress and cause cracks. To remove debris and grime, use a hard brush on your outsoles. You may have to pry small stones from the tread.
Even though most work boots come with some type of waterproofing, few things put a bigger damper on a workday than damp, wet feet. Moisture seeping through your boots can also cause a pool of nasty ailments—from blisters to fungus. To avoid these, you’ll want to routinely re-waterproof your boots to help keep your feet dry. How often will depend on frequency of both wear and saturation.
Leather, on the other hand (or foot, as it were), needs routine waterproofing treatments. Often, the leather conditioner you use has a waterproof component to it—oils or beeswax, for instance. Other solutions include sprays, creams, pastes, or waxes.
Waterproof sprays may be the easiest to apply. Simply lay out your clean boots on some newspaper or tarp, hold the can 8 to 12 inches from your boot, and spray away. Apply a light coat at first and let it dry. If necessary, spray on a second coat.
Creams created from lanolin (sheep’s oil) provide a natural solution for waterproofing boots. Spread it on leather boots with a soft cloth to make them both flexible and waterproof. And do not neglect the tongue and gussets.
If using beeswax or another kind of wax, be sure to get the wax into cracks and crevices. After you’ve done that, warm the boots slightly to smooth out uneven areas.
Even if your leather is perfectly waterproofed, moisture may seep inside via the seams. To prevent this, you can use a urethane- or latex-based seam sealant. Simply apply it wherever there is stitching.
Whatever waterproofing method you choose, give your boots time to dry in a room with good ventilation, low humidity, and average temperature. Try not to dry your boots in direct sunlight as the heat and UV rays can damage leather or any adhesives used.
A final consideration, waterproofing agents can darken leather. If you’re adverse to changing the look of your boots, test any waterproof method on a small section first.
Regularly inspecting your work boots is also an important part of maintenance. Check for any signs of wear or damage such as holes, cracks, or loose stitching. Replace any damaged parts or have them repaired by a professional. Additionally, check the soles of your boots for wear and replace them when they become too worn down.
By following these simple steps for cleaning, conditioning, waterproofing, and inspecting your work boots, you can ensure that they will last longer and provide you with the comfort and protection you need on the job. Remember to always follow the manufacturer's instructions for care and maintenance and consult a professional if you are unsure about how to care for your specific type of work boot.
Properly selected and cared for, your work boots will help keep your feet warm, dry, protected, and comfortable. In your demanding job, you may not know what each day may bring. But you should be able to rely on your work boot to get you through it.
At Twisted X®, we hand craft boots in all sizes and shapes—as innovatively and environmentally friendly as possible. Looking to create footwear better for land and people, we continually seek out a variety of eco-friendly-materials to infuse in our product.
For example, combining our patent-pending CellStretch® comfort technology, Blend85™ recycled foam footbed, and nylon/glass-fiber shank adds much-needed stability and comfort to a variety of our work boots. And our leatherTWX® fabric uses upcycled leather to create the same look and feel of traditional leather with a reduced environmental footprint; it is comprised of 80% recycled leather from production that would otherwise end up in landfills.
Many of our work boots are made with oil- and slip-resistant outsoles to keep you on your feet. And all provide the comfort, safety, and durability you need to outperform in any demanding work environment.
Our work boots are made with the wearer and the planet in mind. Moreover, these boots were made for working. And that’s just what they’ll do.