The All You Need to Know Guide: Work Boots
With the vast array of work boot styles and features, having the right pair makes all the difference in the world. The wrong pair of work boots can cause pain in your back, knees, or feet. We are here to shed some light on the benefits and reasons why some boots are better for certain jobs than others.
The Construction of Boots:
Although all boots are different, they are all made up of the same parts. In general, they contain the following:
Uppers: This is the upper (hence the name) of the boot. The upper can be made of a multitude of materials, such as leather, suede, or a breathable mesh fabric. The type of material the boot’s uppers are made of will give hint to what they should be used for.
For example: Leather is a very durable material, making it perfect for any job where the boots will be abused, such as construction, welding, or any labor demanding jobs. Whereas mesh is a material prone to being worn away over a few demanding jobs, making it bad for any jobs where you will be dragging your toes around or working with hard materials. Although, mesh is a very lightweight material making it great for some manufacturing jobs where you will be walking a lot. Keep this in mind while picking a pair of boots, as this will definitely determine the amount of time you will get out of your boots.
Footbed: This is the part directly under your foot, otherwise known as an insole. This part of the boot plays a direct role in the comfort of your boot. This is not a crucial part in determining which boot will work for you, as this can be replaced by a number of aftermarket insoles. The insole should be tough in order to take the everyday abuse you will be giving it, soft in order to create comfort for all day relief, and stable to keep your foot sturdy in the boot. When selecting your insole, be sure that there is stability in the instep of the insole, as I have found this to be one of the most important factors in the comfort of the insole.
Midsole: The midsole is the part of the boot that provides stability between the upper and the outsole.
Shank: The shank provides structural support to ensure that the boot flexes in the correct places. Shanks are made of different materials, such as steel and non-metallic(kevlar or fiberglass). Typically the non-metallic shanks are placed on lighter weight boots, although both materials have the same safety rating. Logger boots have larger a shank, typically called a lineman shank. These provide the extra durability and stability needed for the job of a linemen, and ensure that the boot will not flex easily.
Outsoles: This is the part of the boot that meets the ground. This part of the boot needs to durable to ensure a long lasting boot and also comfortable to ensure that you can keep working without thinking about your feet.
Different Types of Sole Attachments
This type of sole is cemented directly to the upper through a lightweight, flexible fastening process. This type of boot construction is the most flexible, and lightweight, allowing you to move freely. Any work that requires crouching, or lots of walking, this will be one of the best. Although, in the ranks of stability and performance, this is one of the lower performers. Therefore, if you do any type of heavy duty work, such as construction, or logging, this may not be the best fit.
Cement to Welt Construction
This type of construction is where the cemented forefoot stays lightweight while a welted and stitched heel will offer stability. The boot ranks high in both flexibility and stability which can be perfect for anyone who is in construction, manufacturing, or mechanics who needs a flexible and stable boot for the long hours of walking, climbing, or crouching. Although this construction is not ranked the highest in performance, the combination of the welt attachment assist in it’s durability. It is still constructed well enough to hold up to the harsh demands in just about any industry.
Direct Attach Construction
This boot construction consists of directly bonding the sole for strength while keeping the boot lightweight and flexible. This boot is above average in flexibility, stability, and performance. The boot construction is well rounded and great for construction, manufacturing, or any job where you need a flexible, stable, and hard performing boot.
Direct Attach to Welt Construction
This sole is permanently fused to the welt and the upper is stitched to the sole for a boot that ranks highest in performance. This is a construction type that is made to be beaten down day after day in the harsh environments of any industry. As with anything else, there is a trade off in having a boot that can perform this well, and that is that it is not made to be very flexible. That does not mean that the boot can’t flex, but instead that it is harder to flex than the boots that are specifically made to.
Built to handle the most punishable work environments, this construction consists of locking together the upper, welt, and sole together using two lines of stitching. This boot ranks best in stability and performance. Although, it lacks in flexibility, making it tougher to crouch for long periods of time. Although, if you typically destroy your boots in a few months, good luck trying with this type of attachment.
Different Sole Materials
Polyurethane - A man-made compound that allows for the outsole to be light, but also highly abrasion-resistant. These soles are typically softer and allows the absorption of vibrations, making them extremely comfortable. Polyurethane is also practical in keeping water out, which is also why some rain boots are made out of the material.
Rubber - Rubber tends to be a bit heavier of a material when used on boots, although it is also a very abrasion-resistant material and allows for the absorption of vibrations. By also being a material good at keeping the water out, makes it a good outsole material. The only downfall to rubber compared to its polyurethane counterpart is that it tends to be a bit heavier and wears down faster.
Different Styles for Different Uses
There are thousands of boots to choose from, and many different styles. They all have benefits to different types of jobs, and many of them can be switched between industries. The best thing for you to do is to look at what your daily tasks include. Whether that’s walking miles everyday, crouching for long periods of time, crawling on the ground, or standing on concrete all day.
I will go over some of the more popular movements or tasks people do in their everyday work and what features of a boot will work best.
Crouching multiple times throughout the day: The number one feature I would look for if this was an everyday task for me is a boot that is flexible. Which means you should look for a boot that has the outsole directly attached to the upper or cemented.
Climbing: The number one feature to look for in a boot that you will be climbing constantly in is the heel. This does not need to be a “logger heel”, it just needs to have a 90º heel to help stabilize you on the ladder. Another feature to look for if you are consistently going up and down on the ladder is a harder outsole. Too soft of an outsole will wear away quicker.
Crawling on hard surfaces: This feature of a boot is most helpful for the longevity of your boot, and not an absolute necessity. You should look for a boot that has some type of guard over the front toe. This can be an add on to just about any boot afterwards, although I have found the ones that are stitched on, or just part of the upper, last the longest.
Standing on hard surfaces for long periods of time: An absolute necessity if you are looking for comfort-ability, is a soft outsole. This comes as a “pick your poison” choice, as a soft sole is very comfortable, but will wear away much faster than a hard sole. If you will be doing lots of walking, I warn you that this sole will wear away, so you may want to think about getting a boot that has the outsole welted to the upper, as this will allow you to replace the sole when it wears down.
Walking, Walking, Walking, Walking: If you will just be walking, all day long. You will want to find a boot that has a harder outsole. This type of outsole will last much longer, although will not give you the same comfort as the softer sole. In this case, you may want to look for an insole that has a good arch support.
A little bit of everything: I know, most jobs can’t be simplified down to just one or two of these things. When selecting the boot though, you may want to look at what you MOSTLY do. But, if you truly do everything equally, every single day, then there’s a boot for that too. Look for a boot that has the 90º heel, a medium hardness outsole, a guard over the toe, and an outsole that is directly attached to welt or welted to the upper.
For Welders: I believe the job of welding deserves a very specific style of boot. Look for a boot who’s upper is mostly one piece. Try to keep the amount of stitching to a minimum, as I have seen it countless number of times of people bringing in boots after welding for a few months and their perfectly good boots has the stitching coming apart because of the sparks burning up thread. Some companies will use wax with their thread when putting the uppers together to keep the boot more waterproof, but I believe it also adds an extra layer of security to the stitching. Also, leather laces are a great idea.
For good reason, most workplaces require their employees to wear safety toe boots. Each company,depending on the industry, may have their own requirements. For example, it is standard that in an industry where electrocution is possible, they will require your boots to be EH rated. Below is a typical label in a boot, letting you know that it meets these different standards.
Line #1: The ASTM F2413-11 is the standard specification for performance requirements, meaning it meets the requirements to be concluded as a safety boot.
Line #2: M/ stands for Male, meaning it’s intended for a male to wear (F is intended for Female)
I/75 is for impact meaning the boot has an impact rating for 75 foot lbs.C/75 is for compression meaning the boot has a compression rating of 75 which equates to 2,500 lbs of force
Line #3: The EH is for electrical hazard which means the outsole can withstand the application of 18,000 volts at 60 hertz for one minute with no leakage.
The PR is for puncture resistant, which means it reduces the possibility of an object penetrating into the foot at about 275 lbs of force.
Other possible features:
MT/75 is for Metatarsal toe meaning the boot’s metatarsal guard can withstand 75 lbs of force.
The SD is for Static Dissipative, which means the boot reduces the amount of static electricity created. This is followed by either 10, 35, or 100, meaning
Safety Toe Types
All of the safety toe types listed below will meet or exceed the ASTM safety standards. Although, when selecting which one to go with, there are a few things to consider.
Steel, known as one of the most durable materials on the planet, this material makes for a very durable safety toe. Although, the major drawbacks would be that it is going to be the heaviest of the three options, and also the fastest to get cold in colder climates. The aluminum toe shares the same downfall of getting cold during the winter, although it is a lighter alternative to the steel. The composite toe (non-metallic toe) is the best option of the three, as it is both the lightest weight, and also tends to get cold slower compared to the metallic ones. If you work in an outside environment during the winter, composite is going to be your best option, especially if you will be in the snow and water. Although, if you work inside, any of the above will meet the standards and should not alone determine which boot you are going to go with.
Features of Boots
Boots now have many different features, here is a list of some of them to keep in mind.
Waterproof: Many boots now offer this feature, but there are still a few different things to look out for. My favorite type of waterproofing, is a boot lined in Gore-Tex. I have had many boots like this and have never had an issue with water leaking in. Most manufacturers have their own kind of waterproofing that is added to the leather, and this is fine and will last, but they should be retreated one in a while because the waterproofing will wear off eventually, depending on how often you’re in water. Boots that are rubber, are obviously the best at keeping the water out, although they are not as abrasive-resistant as leather.
Insulation: Boots typically come in ranges of 200g - 2000g insulation in increments of 200. The happy-medium of insulation that I find tolerable is about 400g. This seems to be enough to keep my feet warm in the colder months with some warm socks, and not too hot in the summer months with regular cotton socks. I know many people that have winter boots that are insulated at about 800g and then also keep an uninsulated boot for during the summer months.
Puncture Resistant: This feature is a necessity in Canada as this makes the boot CSA approved, but in America it can be required by certain companies. This feature means that the boot will withstand a puncture force of 270 lbs, will not crack after 1.5 million flexes, and show no signs of corrosion after being exposed to a 5% salt solution after 24 hours.
Electrical Hazard: Ensures that the boot can withstand the application of 14,000 volts at 60 Hz for 1 minutes with no current flow or leakage in excess of 3.0 milliamperes under dry conditions.
Safety Toe: The impact rating requirement for any safety toe boot is 75 foot pound-force. For testing, a weight is dropped onto the protected area. There are three different types of safety toes; Steel, Aluminum, and Composite (Non-Metallic).
Metatarsal Guard: The metatarsal guard is used to protect the upper foot (metatarsal bones) from “drop” hazards. For testing, there is a waz form fit into the footwear and a weight dropped onto the protected metatarsal area of the footwear. The wax form must be a minimum of 1 in after exposure to the impact energy of 75 foot pound-force.
Static Dissipative: Constructed to reduce the excess static electricity by conducting the charge from the body to the ground. The boot should maintain a level of electrical resistance between 1 megaohm and 100 megaohms.
Slip Resistant: Helps reduce slipping hazards.
Heat Resistant Outsole: Ensures the boot is able to handle hot surfaces, such as blacktop/roofing.
Wider Toe Box: This feature has different names among brands, Redwing Shoes calls theirs “King Toe”, while Thorogood calls theirs “Emperor Toe”. Both being the same thing and carrying the same benefit of providing a comfortable amount of toe room in the front of the boot.
Proper maintenance for work boots is very easy. You don’t need to apply leather conditioner everyday or make sure you don’t walk through the puddles to not wear off the waterproofing. Just keep an eye on the leather, when you begin to see the leather dry out, clean off the boot (with water and a rag), let them dry completely and apply leather conditioner. You don’t absolutely need the newest and coolest horsehair brush, just a clean rag will do. If you’d like the boot to keep the water resistance longer, applying a leather protector or silicone based conditioner will help.
Proper Fit of Boots
First things first, all brands and boots are going to fit differently. They all have their own lasts, which is the mold used to create the boot. The best way to tell if a pair of boots fit is to try them on. You should have pressure at the balls of your feet, between your toes and arch, as this is the part of the boot that breaks in the most. If you are wearing a safety toe boot, make sure that the safety toe is not the part of the boots causing the pressure, as that will definitely not break in.
Break in Period for Boots
Your average boot (depending on the type of leather) will break in within two weeks of wear. There are all kinds of different remedies to break in your boots, and I’m not saying that they don’t work, I have found that just wearing your boots is the best way. Initially, your feet may hurt or ache, but this should only last a few days (if that). If you find that your boots haven’t broken in or felt better by the end of the week, try applying leather conditioner or boot oil to help with the break in period. Refer to the directions on your product to ensure the correct application.
What you should expect out of your boots
Depending on the type of job you do, and which boots you select, you should expect at least one year out of your boots. As they say, “You get what you pay for.”. If you get the boots made for your type of job and you maintain them properly, you should expect to get at least a year. You can tell when your boots are towards the end of their life, as it usually causes discomfort in your back, knees, or feet. This is typically because of the outsole wearing down and not providing the correct stability.
At Great Lakes Work Wear, we pride ourselves on getting you the right pair of boots for the right job. Having the wrong pair of boots for the job is like bringing a hammer to take out a screw, it might work but it'll make for a long day. We would love to hear any feedback you have, or any questions you may have about the boots, just shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.