Manual labor can be hard on the feet

But don’t worry. We rounded up the best work boots so you can carefully tread over sharps, hot surfaces, high voltage, and dangerous objects — or just stand on a hard surface for hours at a time.

Like any tool, there’s a right boot for the job. The work boot balances the competing priorities of comfort and utility. But nobody wants to work all day in a big, heavy boot. Most of us will sacrifice comfort to get utility, but no more than necessary.

Even if you’re careful, heavy materials can unexpectedly fall and crush a foot. The only thing that sits between you and workman’s comp is a work boot. Proper footwear is a step toward a long and healthy career.

We sent a crop of the latest work boots out into the field this year to see which rose to the task. We’ve categorized boots into steel-toe, safety-toe, and soft-toe varieties. To better evaluate each boot’s utility, we rated each on a “utility scale,” measuring a boot’s casual wearability against its utility.

From weekend chore-masters to heavy-duty diesel drivers, here are the best work boots of 2021.

Feel free to scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, or jump to the category you’re looking for:


Best Steel-Toe Boot
Best Safety-Toe Boot
Most Comfortable Work Boot
Best Soft-Toe Boot
Best Insulated Work Boot
Best Waterproof Work Boot
Best American-Made Work Boot
Best Pull-On Work Boot
Best of the Rest

The Best Work Boots of 2021


Best Steel-Toe Boot: Danner Steel Yard 6-Inch




Danner Boots was founded on a vision to make the best work boot available. In addition to the brand’s hunting and hiking line, Danner outfits the U.S. military and police forces around the nation. These are men and women who work on their feet day after day.

The Steel Yard 6-inch ($160) is Danner’s all-rounder work boot. Supported with a steel shank and protected with a steel toe, the boot feels stiffer than most. It trades comfort for utility, and as such, it takes some dedicated time to break them in. But it will never feel as soft as, say, KEEN Utility’s Chicago.

This stiffness makes it best suited for jobs off the concrete and outside, where the ground provides a little added cushion. But for this much protection and support, the Steel Yard is surprisingly light on the feet. It weighs just 2 ounces more than its composite-toe counterparts.

In return, you get a quality-grain leather that’s double- and quadruple-stitched together and sewn to the outsole with a Goodyear welt. The outsole has a wide tread pattern that sits at a shallow one-eighth of an inch. It sheds dirt quickly and is oil- and slip-resistant.

The boot has a fat pull loop behind the heel and is easy to pull over the foot. Three speed hooks wrap the ankle. The top two hooks lock the laces in place, preventing laces from loosening over time. Laced up, the 6-inch ankle feels stable and supportive and prevents ankle rolls.

Danner is known for its timeless-looking boots. Following in its long labor pedigree, the Steel Yard is a modern but sharp-looking boot that delivers functionality. The fact that you can step into these for $160 makes them a bargain. We suspect we’ll see a lot of these on the job this year.

The Steel Yard is available in 6-inch (reviewed), 8-inch ($180), met-guard ($170), and Wellington pull-on ($170) variations. All models are available in a wedge sole and insulated options.



Utility scale: 90% utility, 10% casual; best for heavy-duty, outdoor work on softer surfaces

ASTM: F2413-18 I/75 C/75 EH

Toe: Steel

Height: 6″

Midsole: Polyurethane

Outsole: Oil- and slip-resistant rubber

Shank: Steel

Welt: Goodyear

Weight: 67 oz. (per pair)

Fit: While we find most Danners run a half size small, the Steel Yard runs true to size


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Best Safety-Toe Boot: KEEN Utility Chicago 6-Inch Waterproof With Carbon Toe — Men’s & Women’s




KEEN Utility’s Chicago work boots ($175) are as comfortable as you can get for a real work boot. The construction quality is evident to the touch, the eye, and the try-on feel. Crisp stitching, clean, straight lines, and generous use of full-grain leather dotted with quality hook and hole hardware set the product apart.

The break-in time is much shorter than an all-leather “heritage” work boot. This is because the brand incorporates fabric in the upper flex zones as well as decent forefoot flex in the sole. These feel wonderful on the feet right out of the box.

With that said, our reviewer “went full-blown lumberjack” with his KEENs, going on a 6-hour hike in the woods. Hot spots ensued on both heels, which could probably be chalked up to the stiffness of the soles and stout heel cup. Both lend to the supportive structure to the boot. But the carbon safety toe was unnoticeable and is the best protective-toe boot we’ve ever worn.

The arch feels low as well, but it’s not grossly unsupportive. And we didn’t notice too much arch fatigue related to the low arch.

Traction is excellent in mud as well as on ice. The soles have ample, thin sipes that provide great traction in winter conditions.

The boots aren’t insulated but are lined with KEEN Utility’s proprietary bootie liner. It helps trap heat, providing enough “R-value” to work into the low 30s.

The Chicago boots are at home doing real work. They’re relatively heavy and stiff, but not more than they need to be. They deliver the protection and support you need in a utility boot without being overly uncomfortable.

The Chicagos aren’t aimed at the lumbersexual (if that’s you, take a look at the heritage boots in this review). But they look good enough to pass this threshold when they need to.

The Chicago is available in a 6-inch boot with a carbon-fiber toe (reviewed), a met-guard ($180), and a low-cut Oxford ($140). If you don’t need the protection and just want a comfortable boot for tasks around the house, we’d recommend considering the soft toe ($170).



Utility scale: 75% utility, 25% casual; best for all-around, mid-duty work

ASTM: F2412-17 and F2413-17 M I/75 C/75 SD 100 standards

Toe: Carbon

Height: 6″

Midsole: Lightweight, compression-resisting midsole providing 50% more energy return than standard EVA foam

Outsole: ASTM standard slip and chemical resistance

Waterproof: Yes

Welt: Cemented

Weight: 50 oz. (per pair)


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Most Comfortable Work Boot: BOGS Bedrock Shell CT 8-Inch




Although BOGS is best known for its neoprene pull-on “farm” boots, the brand’s work boots are worth a look. Available in a variety of protection types, BOGS’ Bedrock series is a lightweight boot that wears like a hiker. We particularly like the 8-inch Shell CT ($180).

At the core of the boot is the bouncy midsole. The soft boot truly feels like a hiker and can be worn straight out of the box. This is what we’d expect from a boot with a cemented outsole, which generally provides a wonderfully comfortable fit.

The pebbled insole is a nice touch too. Slide your feet into the boots, and the insole massages your soles. It’s super comfortable and wakes up the feet.

A composite toe is made for each boot size. It slides under the toebox and is wrapped with lightweight but protective “action” leather. This “shell” leather is reputed to be 10 times more durable than traditional leather and (true to all BOGS) is 100% waterproof.

With an 8-inch shaft, the boot has the potential to be very supportive. We just wished it offered a little more. We found more ankle support in some of the 6-inch boots we tested.

The boot runs slightly wide, and it looks it. The boot has a large profile, and we’d recommend sizing down a half size for a more precise fit.

But the combination of supple materials and a wonderfully comfortable midsole made this boot the most comfortable work boot we stepped into this year.



Utility scale: 75% utility / 25% casual; outdoor work, all-around work

ASTM: F2413-11 / M I/75 C/75

Toe: Composite

Height: 8″

Midsole: Rebound cushion

Outsole: ASTM standard slip and chemical resistance

Waterproof: Yes

Welt: Cemented

Weight: 65 oz. (per pair)

Fit: Runs big (consider a half size down)


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Best Soft-Toe Boot: Thorogood American Heritage 6-Inch Moc Toe



If you gave a child a crayon and asked them to draw a work boot, chances are they would push back a sketch of a brown moc-toe boot ($205). A simple 6-inch shaft, bold, reinforced stitching, and a moccasin-style cap sewn over a wedge sole — it’s an American classic that defines the early work boot.

Many companies sell a wedge-style moc toe, but nobody owns the market like Thorogood. The American Heritage 6-inch remains the brand’s bellwether boot.

The American Heritage style has worked its way into the closet of the fashion-forward. But make no mistake — this is a hardworking boot that’s entirely capable of an honest day’s work. The 2.2mm, oil-tanned leather upper is unlined, triple-stitched for durability, and anchored to the MAXwear wedge sole with a Goodyear storm welt.

People who stand on hard surfaces all day swear by them for comfort. Why? Instead of putting pressure on a heel and the ball of the foot, the flat outsole disperses your weight across the entire sole. The tread is too shallow for reliable traction outside, but this boot excels on the hard, smooth, slick surfaces you find in warehouses.

One of the best parts of owning a pair of American Heritage boots is Thorogood’s restoration program. After you’ve put some abusive miles on them, you can box them up and send them back to Thorogood, where the brand will rebuild your boots by hand to a “like new” condition for $90-125.

Not every job requires the protective heft of the safety toe, and that’s why we love the flexibility and comfort of this classic soft-toe moc. It has the durability most weekend work will ever need but the unassuming confidence to walk through life’s lighter tasks. If you need more protection, the American Heritage 6-inch moc toe is available in a steel-toe model ($210).



Utility scale: 50% utility, 50% casual; best for indoor warehouse work or carpentry

ASTM: Electric shock-resisting soles and heels capable of withstanding an application of 18,000 V

Toe: Soft toe

Height: 6″

Waterproof: No

Welt: Goodyear welt

Made in: U.S.

Weight: 56 oz. (per pair)

Fit: True to size


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Best Insulated Work Boot: Muck Arctic Pro Steel Toe Boot




For really cold, snowy, wet conditions, we reach for a simple pull-on neoprene boot. They’re super easy to work with and provide bombproof weather protection. Muck’s Arctic Pro ST ($235) is the go-to boot for contractors in Idaho’s ever-expanding mountain towns. And for good reason. They are easy to use, warm the legs, and allow you to work in deep drifts without ingressing snow, hampering progress.

The 17.5-inch shafts are made from a thick, 8mm neoprene and lined with a soft fleece. The lower boot is protected by a rubber layup, adding complete waterproofing. A 2mm thermal foam footbed rides over the EVA midsole. It’s comfortable and prevents valuable heat from seeping out of the sole.

The boots are anchored to their Bob Tracker outsole. It’s not an aggressive hiker grip and doesn’t sport the ice-gripping rubber found on the Arctic Ice. It’s more suitable for snow and “muck.”

The entire package brings these boots’ comfort range all the way down to -60 degrees F. We haven’t tested these ratings, and we hope you don’t have to either. But know that you’ll be comfortable working through any wet, wintry task.

Muck’s Arctic boot line is available in mid and tall models. But for serious work, we recommend the Pro version, which is the warmest in the fleet and sports a steel toe and shank for protection.

The fit is true to size with a minimal sock. Keep in mind Muck Boots are only available in whole sizes. If you prefer a thicker sock, we’d recommend sizing up.



Utility scale: 80% utility, 20% casual; best for heavy-duty winter work; if you don’t need the protection, go with the Arctic Pro Tall model


ASTM: F2413-11 M I/75 C/75 EH

Toe: Steel

Height: 17.5″

Waterproof: Yes

Welt: Cemented

Weight: 5.4 lbs. (per pair)


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Best Waterproof Work Boot: Xtratuf Safety Toe Legacy 2.0 15-Inch




If there were a “state boot” of Alaska, it would be the Xtratuf. Xtratuf makes several models of boots, all perfectly suitable for the torrential end of days.

We’ve used the thin neoprene Legacy 15-inch a ton and love it for wet weather, where dryness trumps everything else. In fact, the original Legacy 15-inch has been our wet-weather winter boot of choice for a while. We like the Legacy 15-inch 2.0 version for its added shaft circumference and upgraded traction.

True to the original Legacy, the boot rides over a chunky, inverted chevron outsole. The reversed tread pattern provides more contact with the ground. Newly designed siping on the 2.0 is designed to pull water out from under the 2.0. Boasting a new SRC rating, the 2.0 meets the highest specification for safety footwear. This boot has excellent traction on wet surfaces.

While the original Legacy had a straight cut across the top, the 2.0 drops down in the back. This gives the boot an extra 2 inches in the shaft, making it easier to slide the foot into. It also reduces chafing on the calf. There’s a little play over the top of the foot, but the heel seats firmly in the back.

The Legacy 2.0 is available in a soft-toe boot ($150), an insulated boot ($175), and a composite safety toe ($155). For wet work around heavy crab pots and fast-moving Hysters, the composite toe is a great choice. For more pedestrian wet-weather work, the soft toe is a little more comfortable.



Utility scale: 90% utility, 10% casual; best for working on wet decks

Toe: Composite toe tested to meet ASTM F2413-11 M/75 C/75

Height: 15″

Midsole: Lightweight, compression-resisting midsole providing 50% more energy return than standard EVA foam

Outsole: SRC slip-resistant

Waterproof: Yes

Welt: Cemented


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Best American-Made Work Boot: White’s 350 Cruiser




I had a roommate in college who spent his summers working as a hotshot out of Spokane, Wash. Each year, the freshman crew was given a stipend and sent over to White’s to buy a pair of boots.

My buddy custom-ordered a heavy pair of logger-style Smokejumpers. What seemed like 10 feet of yellow cording laced up each boot’s shaft. The sticker shock seemed crazy to me — I couldn’t believe one could drop half a paycheck on boots. He shrugged it off with “it’s part of the gig.”

My buddy has since traded his fire tools for surgical instruments, extinguishing inflamed appendixes. But those White’s! They saw five intense seasons, were re-soled four times, and are still kicking around his garage some 30 years later.

White’s hark back to 1853 and are synonymous with the Pacific Northwest lifestyle. Today, they’re considered the benchmark for division employees working in our forests. About half of all the National Interagency Fire Center smokejumpers who fly out of Gowen Field wear White’s.

To describe White’s Boots as “stout” is an understatement. Despite being a soft-toe boot, very few jobs require the burliness (and National Fire Protection Association certification) of the stalwart Smokejumper or Logger boots.

To that end, White’s offers the 350 Cruiser ($560), a lower cut of the original logger boot. The 6-inch boot has all the stoutness of classic White’s but is much more approachable as a daily driver.

The 6-inch shaft is laced through four pairs of eyelets and closes around the ankle with three hooks. A fifth eyelet tops the ankle.

The Cruiser is available in Chromexcel, waxed flesh (6- to 7-ounce Horween), or roughout (a durable 7- to 8-ounce full grain). It’s undeniably a heavy-duty leather — some three to four times thicker than Redwing’s Iron Ranger — and you’re reminded of it every time you lace into them. It’s glorious.

A Vibram sole is double-stitched to the boot with a Rapid E sole stitcher. The traction isn’t aggressive; it’s not meant to be a forestry boot. The minimal tread strikes a preferred balance of sidewalks and trails.

The rounded “logger” heel sits about 2 cm off the foot. The cowboy-style heel gives the boot its notable “55 Arch-Ease” arch and pushes your center of gravity a bit forward.

At first, it feels like a lot of heel. Any logger-style boot will feel this way. But it feels surprisingly stable underfoot and adds to the arch support. A lot of this can be attributed to the wide platform sole and the supportive shaft. Twisting an ankle simply won’t happen.

Purchasing a pair of White’s requires commitment. It’s nearly a $600 boot, which makes it an upper-tier but still attainable boot (you can spend a lot of cash on handmade boots!). White’s is one of the last remaining boot manufacturers that hand-welt their boots, and the price reflects this.

This doesn’t matter to some, and the price alone will shut the door to many prospective buyers. But like a fine bottle of bourbon, if you’re into boots, White’s will eventually become your aspirational goal.

The team at White’s understands this and makes the buying process enjoyable. You’ll need to provide an accurate length, width, and circumference measurement — that and your preferred leather choice.

With this much money on the line, precise measurements are crucial. Taking time to measure (and remeasure) your foot’s specs will get you a custom-fit boot like no other on this list.

If you’ve been on the forums, you’ve read about the “White’s bite.” The bite is real. We felt it most aggressively over the top of the foot, where the ankle meets the foot. It can help if you skip that first speed hook or add a touch of conditioner oil over the bend of the foot.

After about a month or so, the boots begin to give and form to your feet. And this is when your lifelong relationship with the boot begins.

Like any full-leather boot, the 350s fade over time to reflect the way you wear them, giving them a gorgeous finish. And when you wear out the sole or shanks, you can send them back to Spokane to re-sole or completely rebuild your beloved White’s.

You can order directly from White’s. Huckberry also sells them in a waxed flesh version.



Utility scale: 50% utility, 50% casual wear; as listed, a mid-duty boot, customizable for more utility

Weight: 80 oz. (per pair)


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Best Pull-On Work Boot: Kodiak McKinney




The pull-on ankle boot is one of our favorite boot styles. They fit over the foot with ease and quickly kick off after a long day of work. Our Blundstone 566s are one of our favorite winter boots and are great for more desk-bound, office work. But they aren’t suitable for hard labor.

Kodiak’s McKinney Chelsea ($150) is an interpretation of the pull-on through the lens of the work boot. All seams on the 6-inch boot are double-stitched, which locks all the high-stress points. The composite safety toe rides unobtrusively inside the boot. And the silhouette is slightly stouter than a non-safety-toe boot, but the Chelsea styling hides it well.

The McKinney Chelsea runs about a size too large. We’d recommend buying a full size down from your normal size. But once the fit is dialed, you get a boot that provides all-day comfort with wearable protection. The composite toe is very light and provides full coverage for the first four toes. The pinky toe rides just outside the toebox.

Kodiak’s Chelsea has a fat chevron tread. The traction is blocky, but the spacing is tight and prone to collecting debris. A 1.5cm heel gives the boot a middle-of-the-line lift that, in our minds, splits the difference between what we look for in an indoor and outdoor boot, making this boot a good all-rounder.

The leather is waterproof. Unfortunately, the elastic stretch panels are not. Step into anything deeper than 4 inches, and your feet will get wet.

We also wished the boots had a front pull-on strap to pair with the back. Of course, that sort of detailing starts to tread into the look and feel of another pull-on style boot.



Utility scale: 70% utility, 30% casual; indoor/outdoor work, all-around work

ASTM: F2413 I/75 C/75 EH PR

Toe: Composite

Height: 6″

Midsole: Dual-density urethane

Outsole: Oil- and slip-resistant rubber

Fit: Runs large, so buy one size smaller

Shank: Steel

Welt: Goodyear

Weight: 64 oz. (per pair)


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Best of the Rest
Timberland PRO Boondock 6-Inch Comp Toe




Timberland’s PRO line offers boots for serious work and does it in comfort. The Boondocks ($190) are protected with soft, waterproof leather and a robust rubber toe bumper. All sewn together with double, triple, and quadruple stitching, the Boondock exudes quality in look and feel.

Despite tipping the scales at 35 ounces (per boot), these hardwearing boots are deceptively light on the feet. Under the hood, the toes are protected by a composite safety toe. A fiberglass shank lightens the load while providing structural support. The midsole is made from dual-density foams, simultaneously subtracting weight and adding flexibility and comfort.

The Boondocks have a hybrid outsole. The front three-quarters of the boot is fastened to the upper with a Goodyear welt, but the heel is cemented. Underfoot, the traction has a distinct hiker-style tread that sheds muck and is resistant to slipping, oil, and abrasions.

The combination welted and cemented sole allows durability, stability, and a very comfortable boot that breaks in quickly. These are the most comfortable “Goodyear welt” boots on the list. And we say that in quotes because, unfortunately, the three-quarter welt is not re-soleable.

A fully waterproof bootie sits under the waterproof leather, extending into the gusseted tongue. We typically find this level of weather protection in winter hiking boots but rarely in work boots. Bonus: This also protects against bloodborne critters.

Though the Boondock is not insulated, we found the waterproof membrane adds to the warmth. Our boots tested to be comfortable down to 32 degrees F.

Two speed hooks allow you to lace up to the top of the boot. The hooks have integrated eyelets so, should you prefer, you can lace the boot entirely through eyelets.

If your 9-to-5 runs closer to 7-to-7, the Boondock shouldn’t be overlooked. These are a supremely comfortable boot. Keep in mind these shoes run about a half size big and also wide — especially in the toebox.

If your dogs sit squarely in E, these will feel great. Otherwise, we’d recommend sizing down a half size. And if you still have questions, Timberland allows returns within 30 days — with a full refund.



Utility scale: 80% utility, 20% casual; best for heavy-duty work, though light enough for moderate work

ASTM: F2413-11 I/75, C/75; electrical hazard protection meets F2412-11, F2413-11, and F2892-11

Toe: Lightweight, non-metallic, asymmetrical-shaped composite toe

Height: 6″

Midsole: Dual-density foam

Outsole: Oil and slip resistance

Waterproof: Yes

Welt: 3/4 Goodyear welt; 1/4 cemented (under heel)

Weight: 70 oz. (per pair)


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Heritage Work Boot: Red Wing Iron Ranger — Men’s & Women’s




Heritage boots are defined as classic leather boots, often made in America. The style exudes a vintage aesthetic, traditional materials, and heirloom quality. Perhaps no boot brand better exemplifies heritage footwear better than Red Wing. At the tip of the feather of Red Wing’s Heritage line is its iconic Iron Ranger.

The Iron Rangers are named after Minnesota’s Iron Range mountains, where miners still trolly taconite ore out of the hills to produce iron. The boot’s 2mm full-grain leather is triple-stitched and patched with an extra protective leather cap over the toes. Polished nickel eyes and hooks ride up the 6-inch shaft to close the boot around the ankle.

The Vibram 430 Mini Lug outsole sits under a cork midsole and is sewn to the boot by way of a Goodyear welt. It’s a negligible lug, providing just enough bite on sloppy sidewalks or in the back end of the restaurant.

The Iron Rangers are at the other end of our utility scale, wearing far more casual than utilitarian — which shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, this is the boot Bradley Cooper pairs with a two-piece suit. But that doesn’t mean it can’t pull swing shift.

Our friend Tim Reeve, who sits at the helm of our favorite knife company — Chris Reeve knives — has two everyday carries: his Sebenza 31 knife and his Iron Rangers.

The Iron Ranger lists for $330, but our reviewer bought his on eBay for $125. In addition to the price break, the boots were already broken in and perfectly faded.

If you’re upping your game from sneakers or desert boots, we highly recommend stepping into a pair of Iron Rangers. With comfort, looks, and handmade in America, you really can’t go wrong with the Rangers.



Utility scale: 25% utility, 75% casual; capable of light-duty shop work, but lack of safety toe makes this better off the shop floor

Fit: Size down a half size or one full size

Weight: 58 oz. (per pair)

Made in: U.S.


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Sustainable Work Boot: Patagonia Wild Idea — Men’s & Women’s




Known for hardwearing alpine clothes, Patagonia is getting back to its blue-collar roots, producing clothes for work off the mountain.

Yvon Chouinard started his bourgeoning operation out of a small tin shed in Ventura, Calif., forging steel pitons for climbers in Yosemite. He sold off Chouinard Equipment (now known as Black Diamond), to focus on his then-new side hustle — Patagonia. And we all know where that story went.

A few years ago, Patagonia got into the food business, ranching bison for their Provisions line. Sustainability is core to anything Chouinard touches, and the bison hide was one of the remaining unused parts of the bison. Enter another of Chouinard’s wild ideas: the Wild Idea ($349-399) bison leather work boot.

Bison leather has a discernible pebbled mottle to the hide. Unlike cowhide, bison hide isn’t stretched. This preserves the leather’s marbled grain. The pores of the hide are also larger than those of many types of leather, which makes bison a great choice for feet that sweat (or boots worn in warm weather). It’s very soft and has virtually no break-in period.

The vegetable-tanned leather is triple-stitched and anchored to a Vibram EcoStep outsole. True to Patagonia’s sustainability ethos, the EcoStep is made from 30% recycled rubber and is sewn to the boot with a Goodyear welt. The one-eighth-inch lugs are a traditional hiking tread but are more city-friendly. The good thing is once you wear them out, you can re-sole the boots.

Round, waxed lacing closes the boots around the ankles through brass eyes and hooks. The padded tongue is lined in buttery-softer leather, and a cork footbed provides a bit of cushion. The Wild Ideas wear better out of the box than the other soft-toe heritage-style boots on the list.

The Wild Idea boot is a soft-toe boot that has a timeless explorer vibe. They could easily pair well with khaki shorts and a straw pith hat. We prefer to wear them with our Carhartts. It’s a comfortable field boot that can walk into the office with swagger.



Utility scale: 20% utility, 80% casual; suitable for the office, weekend chores, and light hiking

Weight: 60.36 oz.


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How to Choose a Work Boot
Soles

Of course, a work boot should protect your feet, but the unsung task of the work boot is to enable you to work hour after hour, day after day.

If the boot isn’t working, your legs, hips, back, and neck will compensate and eventually take the brunt (and do so with less grace). Above everything else, a work boot’s task is to address stress at the ground level. A comfortable boot is arguably a safer boot. You’ll be more sure-footed and focused on the task at hand in a comfortable boot.

The outsole is where the rubber meets the road. Riding over the cushiony midsole and in direct contact with the ground, the outsole is about grip and protection.

Many boots use special formulas of urethane compounds that strike a balance of flexibility, durability, and increased traction on slick surfaces. If you work in shops where oils occasionally spill on the floor, look for shoes that specifically indicate oil and slip resistance. The best of the best are certified to meet SRC slip-resistance standards.

For standing all day on concrete, we prefer the simple wedge-shaped sole. Unlike a heeled boot, the sole has full contact with the ground. This helps absorb the shock with every step and disperses forces equally across the sole. A full-contact outsole also adds a little extra traction and, hence, it’s often a preferred sole for those working on slick surfaces.

When you think of the wedge sole, you immediately think of the classic moc-toe boot. We listed Thorogood’s American Heritage 6-inch Moc Toe MAXwear Wedge as our preferred soft-toe boot. But if your shoes are re-soleable, a wedge sole can be added to any work boot regardless of toe type.

If you’re standing all day on cement, like working the floor at Costco, a wedge-shaped sole should be on your list. Or, if your work brings you outside, look for a hiker-like tread that provides more traction in dirt and mud.

Sitting opposite the wedge sole is the heeled boot. The raised cowboy-style heel shifts your center of gravity slightly forward. These boots can be extremely durable and stable. But that gap between the heel and under the ball of the foot doesn’t give the foot full contact with the ground.

Because of this, they can feel a little squirrelly on slick ground. But they seat well with climbing spurs and have added ankle stability while climbing. Hence, you’ll often find taller heels on logger-style boots. The only boot on this list that flirts with a tall heel is White’s 350 Cruiser.

Soles can be cemented or welted to the boot. Cemented boots are lighter, more flexible, and arguably more comfortable out of the box. But once the sole wears out, shoes with cemented outsoles are irreparable.

A Goodyear welt can be re-soled several times, increasing the life of your purchase. The outsole welt is sewn to the bottom of the shoe, enabling boots to be sewn and re-sewn multiple times. The shoe won’t be as comfortable underfoot as a boot cemented to an EVA midsole, but the durability and support are reasonable trade-offs. Over time, slipping into a Goodyear-welted boot will feel wonderfully comfortable.

Need more support? Consider an aftermarket insole. Available in a variety of thicknesses and cushion levels, Superfeet orthotics add a touch of personalized support to your boot.

We particularly recommend an aftermarket insole for boots that lack a midsole. Patagonia’s Wild Idea comes with a supremely comfortable cork insole that ups the game of this Goodyear-welted boot.

Photo credit: DannerWeatherproof

Dry feet are warm feet. If you’re working in truly wet conditions — like pulling crab pots off the Aleutian Islands — look for 100% waterproof boots. There’s really no better boot than Xtratuf’s 15-inch Legacy. If it’s both wet and cold, upgrade to a thicker neoprene shell-like Muck Boot’s fleece-lined Arctic Pro. It’s both 100% waterproof but rated down to -60 degrees F.

Other boots, like the BOGS Bedrock, use waterproof leather. In addition to waterproof leather, Timberland adds a waterproof-breathable membrane to its Boondock (which also resists bloodborne pathogens). These membranes allow boots to be both waterproof and breathable.

Insulation

Cold-weather boots include a thermal footbed and insulation in the shaft. The insulation is listed in the fabric’s weight per yard in grams. The higher the gram count, the warmer the boot is.

For cold job sites, we recommend boots with no less than 200 g of insulation in the liner (with 400 g the preferred winter standard). Danner’s insulated Steel Yard is lined with 400 g of Thinsulate. Muck Boot’s Arctic Pro has a fat neoprene outer lined with fleece.

If winter work boots have a safety toe, look for boots with insulation around the cap (or composite cap). This reduces the conductive effects of heat transfer from the toes to the safety toe.

And hi-vis accents are great if your work starts and ends in the dark or if you’re working roadside.

Toe Protection

When he was younger, my dad worked on a farm that still plowed the fields with steel-wheeled tractors. He’s also got nine toes. The importance of protective boots can’t be overlooked.

“Safety boots” are boots that have a protective cap that covers the phalanges (your actual toes). The cap resists compression, puncture, and impact forces.

Steel toe versus safety toe: What’s the difference? All steel-toe boots are considered safety-toe boots. Safety-toe boots are available in composites, alloy, Kevlar, and hard plastics. Steel is more durable and is considered the gold standard on many job sites. But they can conduct cold, heat, and electricity.

Composites still meet the compression and impact safety standards, but they may only be able to sustain one of these impacts. On the flip side, composite toe boots are lighter and won’t conduct currents. If you need toe protection on cold-weather job sites or work with high-voltage equipment, consider buying a non-metallic safety-toe boot.

Nineteen of the foot’s 26 bones sit under the tongue and vamp of a shoe. The five bones that connect the toes to the ankle and form the arch of the foot are your metatarsals. Some boots come with an additional protective “met-guard” that lies over the laces, protecting the metatarsals.

ASTM Safety Standards

Protection is what elevates a boot from a supportive hiker to an industry heavy hitter. Standards provide confidence in the boot’s ability to perform under specific stressors.

If you poke around work boots enough, you’ll likely come across safety ratings set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). These are international standards that identify the minimal requirements for protective footwear on the job site. They rate everything from viral penetration to puncture resistance to compression ratings.

ASTM-F2413 standards rate boots specifically for compression, impact, metatarsal, conductive properties, electrical hazards, static dissipation, and puncture. Here are some typical ASTM abbreviations.



I for Impact

C for Compression

Mt for Metatarsal

Cd for Conductive

EH for Electrical Hazard

SD for Static Dissipating

PR for Puncture Resistant

CS Chain Saw cut resistance

DI for Dielectric insulation, insulation from circuits or conductors


Each is followed by a number. To find how your prospective boot rates, the ASTM standards are outlined in four lines.



Line 1: Compliance and year

Line 2: Gender/impact/compression/metatarsal resistance

Line 3-4: Specific hazards the boot protects against


So if we interpret the Timberland Boondock, we get the following:



ASTM F2413-11: Complies to the performance requirement of F2413, issued in 2011

M/I/75C/75: A men’s boot that complies with the impact and compression requirements of a 50-pound weight dropped from 18 inches, delivering 75 foot-pounds of force on the toe, and can endure 2,500 pounds of rolling force over the toe

EH: Outsole is made from non-conductive materials that are shock-resistant

Photo credit: AmazonBuying Your Boots

Which boot is best for you? If you’re puttering around the house on weekends, choose a comfortable boot with appropriate protection for your daily task.

Unless you’re Clark Griswold, you probably don’t need a heavy-duty, steel-toe boot to hang Christmas lights. You’d be better served with a comfortable, supportive boot with traction. If you’re splitting wood or mowing the lawn, it’s not a bad idea to consider a safety toe for protection.

Many jobs will explicitly share which footwear meets required ASTM standards before you can step foot on the site. Neglecting to follow them can incur large fines from OSHA. Getting injured while deciding not to wear protective boots on the job can affect your workman’s comp and insurance. If you’re unsure, ask your boss what standards your boots need to comply with.

You can buy any of these boots online. And some manufacturers, like White’s, will only build a boot off of your mailed measurements. But for most boots, it’s best to try them on at a local shop. A boot’s last can be different than your street shoe. A shop can measure your feet and ensure you’re stepping into a proper-fitting boot.

Try boots on at the end of the day, preferably after work. Your feet swell over a day’s work, and trying on shoes after your shift will provide a better gauge of a proper fit.

When you try on ski boots, you bring ski socks. The same goes for work boots. Bring a pair of socks you intend to wear with the boots. Better yet, buy yourself a new pair of socks; they wear out quicker than you think. Plus, nobody wants to try on shoes with socks pulled from the shop’s community bin.

Take care of your boots. Invest in a good horsehair brush to regularly dust off dirt and grime. Clean your boots with warm water. Leather is like your skin and needs moisturizing. Condition your leather boots after every wash.

Your boots are tools, so periodically check them for wear and tear. Treat the safety toe like a helmet. If a composite toe has taken a hit, it’s probably best to retire the boots. If the boot has a Goodyear welt, uneven wear on the sole’s heel, or any splitting from the boot, it’s a good indication it’s time to re-sole.

Work boots can be expensive, but they’re part and parcel of your health and wage. Buy wisely, and they should serve you well for years to come.

Have a favorite work boot? Let us know in the comments, and we’ll check it out for future updates to this article.








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