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Written By Bob Beacham
Updated Oct 20, 2022 10:24 AM
The steel toe boot has been protecting feet since the 1930s, and in terms of safety it’s still hard to beat. Aluminum, and modern composite versions may be a little lighter but they almost always cost more, and don’t have the absolute strength that steel provides.
Not surprisingly this popular safety footwear comes in a wide range of styles. While all of them offer at least basic protection, different models are better suited to some tasks than others. Today we’re looking at the level of performance you ought to expect from the best steel toe boots, and we offer some top examples that showcase specific features.
- Best Overall: Timberland PRO 6″ Pit Boss Steel Toe Boot
- Best Budget: Skechers Men’s Burgin-Tarlac Industrial Boot
- Best for Women: Cat Footwear Women’s Echo Construction Boot
- Best Waterproof: Carhartt Men’s 8″ Bison Waterproof Work Boot
- Best Winter: Chippewa Waterproof Insulated Logger Boot
- Best Pull On: Ariat Groundbreaker Wide Square Toe Work Boot
Things to Consider Before Buying Steel Toe Boots
There is an urban myth that heavy impacts on steel toe boots could result in the back of the cap cutting into, or even severing, the toes. We can find absolutely no evidence of this, and experts agree that it is so unlikely as to be almost impossible. The truth is, steel toes protect without endangering the wearer.
When choosing the best steel toe boots for your particular needs you’ll want to think about the following key areas.
The Steel Toe
Any steel toe provides some protection, but cheap steel toe boots aren’t always made to a recognized standard. The OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) uses standards set out by ASTM International (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials. The relevant number is ASTM F2413-2011, though often just ASTM F2413 is used.
In order to meet this standard, the steel toe must absorb the impact of a 75 pound weight dropped onto it from a height of 3 feet. It must also be able to withstand compression (if rolled over by a vehicle, for example) of 2,500 pounds. Each of our top picks meets this standard.
There is also a similar ANSI standard (American National Standards Institute) that meets OSHA requirements: ANSI Z41.1. However, this is quoted much less often.
ASTM F2413 can also cover other aspects of boot safety. If the boot is rated EH it offers a degree of secondary protection against electrical hazards of up to 18,000 volts, for one minute. Given that steel conducts electricity, the protection usually refers to contact through the sole, and in dry conditions.
The sole may also be ASTM-rated for oil-, chemical-, and slip-resistance. Puncture-resistance is another possible feature. Boots that meet the required standard can withstand a puncture force of 270 pounds, and can be flexed 1.5 million times without cracking.
It’s important to understand that calling a boot ASTM-rated does not imply it meets all of these standards. The manufacturer should specify which are relevant.
Leather has long been the standard material used for the best steel toe boots. Despite advances in materials technology it remains the hardest wearing solution for footwear. Full-grain leather is strongest, made from fault-free hides that only have the hair removed before tanning.
The drawback with full-grain leather is that it often needs time to break in, and become fully supple. Some boots are oil tanned to help speed this process. Split leather (typically used for nubuck or suede) is thinner and more flexible, and while not quite so tough is still very durable. Leather generally needs periodic maintenance with oil or wax. For a day-to-day brush up, a boot cleaner is a good investment.
Synthetics, typically nylon weaves, are often used where reducing weight is a priority. With steel toe boots they tend to be used in areas less subject to heavy abrasion. The shaft, for example.
Steel toe boots may be tough, but they can also be very comfortable. Some are waterproof. They might also be insulated. Moisture-wicking liners that manage sweat are another popular option. Collars could be padded where they wrap the leg.
Insoles are often cushioned, and might be removable so you can upgrade to orthotic alternatives. Midsoles might offer impact protection, and be reinforced to prevent the foot twisting. Each of these aspects is worth investigating when deciding on the best steel toe boot for your needs.
Best Overall: Timberland PRO 6″ Pit Boss Steel Toe Boot
Why It Made the Cut: Figures from leading retailers suggest the Timberland PRO Pit Boss is probably the best-selling steel toe boot currently available. It is tough, protective, comfortable, and versatile.
- Material: Nubuck Leather
- Size Range: 7 to 15 (including wides)
- Weight (each): 1.8 pounds
- Durable materials and construction
- High level of foot care
- Spacious toe box
- Not the lightest
- Insole could be improved
Timberland PRO makes a range of high-quality workwear, and the Pit Boss is perhaps the most popular. The design harks back to steel toe boots from generations ago, but safety and comfort are very current.
The upper is made of nubuck leather, which is the outer layer of a split hide. It is almost as tough as full-grain leather, but more supple. As a result, the Timberland PRO Pit Boss is durable, but doesn’t need breaking in. Speed hooks make for easy lacing, and there’s a padded collar for comfort around the leg.
Inside, the Timberland PRO Pit Boss is a breathable, moisture-wicking liner that allows air to circulate and draws sweat away from the foot. It is also antimicrobial, reducing odor, and helps prevent the hot spots that can cause blisters. The liner can be removed for airing. The PU (polyurethane) insole is also breathable, though quite basic in terms of cushioning. Gel alternatives are an inexpensive upgrade.
The steel toe is ASTM- and ANSI-rated, and the shape (called the toe box) allows plenty of space so that it doesn’t rub. A nylon shock-diffusion plate runs through the cushioned PU midsole. This provides torsional rigidity, supporting the foot and ankle while still allowing natural flex. The composite rubber outsoles are heat-, oil-, slip-, and abrasion-resistant. They are also non-marking.
The Timberland PRO Pit Boss is ASTM-rated for Electrical Hazard protection (EH). It comes in three finishes. There is very little to criticize, though it is water-resistant rather than waterproof. It is also a comparatively heavy boot, though this is a reflection of the very durable construction.
Best Budget: Skechers Men’s Burgin-Tarlac Industrial Boot
Why It Made The Cut: The Skechers Burgin-Tarlac Industrial Boot is a low-cost option that offers the same safety standards as many premium priced competitors, and the durability of full-grain leather.
- Material: Full-Grain Leather
- Size Range: 7 to 14 (including wides)
- Weight (each): 2.1 pounds
- Tough, full-grain leather uppers
- Comprehensive safety features
- Very affordable
- Need breaking in
The headline feature of the Skechers Burgin-Tarlac Industrial Boot is its very competitive pricing, so it would be reasonable to wonder where they have saved the money. It isn’t by using cheap materials. The upper is water-resistant, full-grain leather, which is very hard wearing—although it does mean these boots are initially stiff, and take a while to break in. Eyelets are metal, rather than cheap plastic, and there is an extra leather panel around the heel for increased support. Collar and gusseted tongue are padded, though it is minimal on the latter.
Inside the boot is a soft liner, though it doesn’t have moisture-wicking or anti-microbial properties. The breathable insole is filled with memory foam gel that adapts to the shape of the wearer’s foot, and minimizes chafing. The midsole is shock-absorbing PU. Safety provision is high. The steel toe is ASTM-rated for impact and compression, there’s secondary electrical protection (EH), and the high-traction sole is puncture resistant.
Not surprisingly these boots are very popular, but while the majority are happy with their purchase, there are reports of faults with stitching, and soreness or blisters in the heel area. The latter might be down to poor choice of size, and we know the Skechers Burgin-Tarlac Industrial Boot needs a breaking in period, but there also appear to be some quality control issues. It’s a shame, because if you get a good pair they are great value.
Best for Women: Cat Footwear Women’s Echo Construction Boot
Best for Women
Why It Made The Cut: The Cat Footwear Women’s Echo steel toe boot is built to conform to the female foot shape, offers excellent protection, and what Caterpillar calls “athletic comfort.”
- Material: Nubuck Leather
- Size Range: 5 to 11 (including wides)
- Weight (each): 2.1 pounds
- Very supportive and protective
- Fully waterproof, and moisture wicking
- Interesting color options
- Tend to run small, and a little narrow
- Premium price
Many steel toe boot makers produce small sizes to attract women buyers, but they don’t take into account that the female foot is a different shape. The resulting poor fit often leads to general discomfort, chafing and blisters. The Cat Footwear Women’s Echo Construction Boot uses the company’s patented iTechnology to create a boot for the woman’s foot form while also providing the necessary strength, and protection to survive the toughest workplace environments.
The upper is nubuck leather for durability without stiffness. It has been treated to make it fully waterproof (though Caterpillar don’t say how). The 8-inch shaft provides good support for the ankle and lower leg. There are speed hooks for rapid lacing, and a padded collar.
Caterpillar’s own nylon weave called Nylex is used to create a lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking sockliner. The insole is PU foam, with a PVC midsole to provide additional cushioning and absorb shocks. A steel shank gives excellent support through the arch. The sole is composite rubber with both slip- and abrasion-resistance. Caterpillar calls the whole system ERGO technology combining stability, flexibility, and comfort. The boot is also comparatively light for its size.
The steel toe is ASTM-rated, of course, and Caterpillar has managed to create plenty of room in the toe box without the boot looking clunky. The Echo Construction Boot is also rated for electrical hazards (EH). Color options of Frost Gray and Marlin make a refreshing change to brown or black (though the latter is available too). Some buyers have said that the boot can run small, and narrow, but half sizes and wide fittings are available.
Best Waterproof: Carhartt Men’s 8″ Bison Waterproof Work Boot
Why It Made The Cut: Carhartt has a reputation for high-quality, purposeful work boots, and the 8” Bison Waterproof Work Boot is no exception. It’s tough, supportive, and offers good all-round protection.
- Material: Oil-Tanned, Full-Grain Leather
- Size Range: 8 to 15 (including wides)
- Weight (each): 2.5 pounds
- Waterproof but breathable
- Clever heel flex joint
- High traction sole
- Need breaking in
- A little heavy
Carhartt has been making work boots and outdoor footwear for well over 100 years, and has several manufacturing facilities in the U.S. This boot is actually imported but construction quality remains high, as can be seen by triple stitching in key areas.
Super-strong full-grain leather is used for the upper. This has been oil-tanned to make it more supple, though they are still a little stiff at first. The 8-inch shaft height provides abrasion protection well up the leg. At the heel, there’s a clever TPU (thermal polyurethane) achilles flex joint that provides reinforcement, ankle support, and defense against side impacts. Yet it still allows full natural flexing.
Carhartt’s own Storm Defender membrane makes the Bison Work Boot completely waterproof. It is also breathable to reduce sweating. There is a cushioned PU insole, a PU midsole that acts as a shock absorber, and a steel shank to resist torsion, and add arch support. The sole is again PU, this time using two compositions to maximize traction whatever the weather conditions. The ASTM-rated steel toe is spacious, so it shouldn’t rub even when the wearer is very active. The Carhartt Bison Work Boot is also EH-rated.
Best Winter: Chippewa Waterproof Insulated Logger Boot
Why It Made The Cut: According to the OSHA, logging is the most hazardous job in the country. The Chippewa Waterproof Insulated Logger Boot has been designed to support and protect in the toughest conditions.
- Material: Full-grain leather
- Size Range: 6 to 14 (including wide and extra wide fittings)
- Weight (each): 3.3 pounds
- Heavy-duty construction
- Waterproof and insulated
- US made (sole imported)
- Need breaking in
The Chippewa Waterproof Insulated Logger Boot is one tough boot. It is built in the USA, can cope with dangerous terrain, and survive extremely wet and cold conditions. No expense has been spared in sourcing top-quality materials.
The upper is full-grain leather that reaches 9 inches up the leg, providing defense against thick undergrowth and thorns. It is stiff, and will require at least a few days to break in. They aren’t the quickest to get in and out of, but speed hooks for the laces help.
Inside there are numerous layers to keep the feet warm, dry, and comfortable. Dri-Lex offers sweat control when the feet get hot, and is moisture-wicking and breathable. Chip-A-Tex is a 100-percent waterproof membrane. There is also 400g Thinsulate Ultra, that can retain warmth in temperatures down to -40°F. The steel toe box is spacious and ASTM-rated, the boot is also EH-rated for electrical protection.
The insoles are basic, and an area where an upgrade is worth considering. A steel shank runs through the shock absorbing midsole, protecting the arch area, and preventing the boot from twisting. The sole itself is from specialist Italian manufacturer Vibram. The deep lugs are self-cleaning, offer excellent traction, and are unaffected by weather conditions.
The Chippewa Waterproof Insulated Logger Boot is heavy, and expensive, but few other boots will withstand the harsh environments that this one can tackle. This also makes them popular with some people as hunting boots.
Best Pull On: Ariat Groundbreaker Wide Square Toe Work Boot
Best Pull On
Why It Made The Cut: The Ariat Groundbreaker Square Toe Work Boot is a superbly made example of a style that is always popular thanks to it being easy to wear, anywhere from farm to city.
- Material: Full-Grain Leather
- Size Range: 7 to 14 (including wides)
- Weight (each): 1.9 pounds
- High-quality construction
- 4LR comfort and support system
- Light for its size
- Periodic maintenance required
- Premium price
Ariat are one of the leading manufacturers of pull on cowboy boots, known for the quality of materials and construction. Their steel toe Groundbreaker Work Boot uses tough full-grain leather to maximize protection, and has a reinforced heel section. Several retailers describe the boot as waterproof, though Ariat themselves do not. There is a mesh liner for comfort, but no membrane so we suspect they are water-resistant, rather than 100-percent waterproof. Occasional treatment with oil or wax will be a good idea to maintain condition.
Ariat’s 4LR (four layer) system is designed for support, and all-day comfort. There is a well-cushioned insole, then a shock absorbing PU midsole. A synthetic shank is fitted for arch support, and to prevent lateral twisting. The final layer is the composite rubber Duratread sole. It is oil- and slip-resistant, and has multi-directional tread for all-terrain traction. The steel toe is ASTM-rated, though not EH.
The Ariat Groundbreaker Wide Square Toe Work Boot is available with several different shaft styles. It makes a durable boot for riding, farm or jobsite, and is also great for casual wear.
How We Made Our Picks
As an engineer by profession, I have worn steel toe boots for much of my adult life. In the past, I have had some that I couldn’t wait to get out of. Modern steel toe boots are based on similar safety principals but good ones are fortunately much more comfortable.
When making our top picks the priority was that they all met the requirements of ASTM F2413, thus ensuring a known safety level. After that I tried to find solutions for a variety of different buyers.
There are some extremes here. Steel toe logger boots deliver outstanding strength, and protection in the harshest working conditions, but obviously aren’t for everyone. However, there are other models that do a great job of concealing the fact there is a steel toe inside, and don’t look out of place as casual wear.
Price is always a key factor. I did not consider cheap steel toe boots with unproven safety. In fact all of the best steel toe boots I found come from well-known brands. That said, it isn’t always necessary to pay a premium, and some offer great value.
Q: Are steel toe boots OSHA approved?
Steel toe boots that are OSHA approved will meet ASTM F2413, or ANSI Z41.1 standards. Not all steel toe boots meet these requirements so it is important to check.
Q: How much weight can steel toe boots handle?
If they are ASTM F2413 rated, the steel toe boots can handle the impact of a 75 pound weight dropped from a height of 3 feet. They can also withstand 2,500 pounds of compression load.
Q: How much do steel toe boots cost?
How much steel toe boots cost depends on a number of factors including size, shaft height, materials, and brand. Good steel toe boots can vary in price from around $60 to over $200.
Q: What is the difference between moc toe and steel toe boots?
The difference between moc toe and steel toe boots is often that the moc toe is a more casual style, with a stitched ridge running around the toe area. Steel toe boots are usually plain. However, there are moc toe boots available that have a steel toe inside.
Q: Should steel toe boots cover all of your toes?
Yes, steel toe boots should normally cover all of your toes, though people’s feet do vary in structure. Fit should be snug, but the toes shouldn’t actually touch the toe cap area or there’s a risk they will rub uncomfortably.
The Timberland PRO Pit Boss Steel Toe Boot is hugely popular, and consistently ranks among the top three in independent tests. It is protective, durable, comfortable, and despite the rugged looks isn’t especially heavy. It’s a great work boot, and won’t hurt your feet if you choose to trek a few miles on the weekend. It’s a shame it’s not waterproof, but there are sprays for that.
Sketchers are probably best known for fashion and sports footwear. Their Burgin-Tarlac Industrial Boot certainly wouldn’t look out of place on the street, but it isn’t all show. It meets high safety standards, while remaining very affordable. However, like the Timberland PRO these are water-resistant, but not fully waterproof.