|Best Overall||Timberland PRO Direct Attach Steel Toe Work Boot||SEE IT||
This boot comes from a brand recognized for high quality. It is tough, protective, comfortable, and suitable for a wide variety of work environments.
|Best Budget||NORTIV 8 Men's Safety Steel Toe Work Boot||SEE IT||
Hiking-style boots are always popular, and this boot offers a range of safety features while retaining a casual look, and a budget-friendly price.
|Best Composite Toe||Carhartt Men’s 6 Inch Composite Toe Boot||SEE IT||
Tough work boots can often be stiff and heavy, but a composite toe and modern materials technology help make this boot flexible without sacrificing durability.
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A good work boot should be hard-wearing, it should protect your feet, and it should be comfortable all day long. The problem is that “work” is such a broad term. A construction worker, gardener, mechanic, and engineer, for example, can have quite different views of which features are important to them.
The result is that footwear manufacturers produce an enormous variety of work boots, but while it’s great to have plenty of choice it can be difficult to focus on what makes one boot better than another for a particular situation.
In this article we’re looking at all the options, the pros and cons, and highlighting some of the best work boots currently available for a range of different tasks.
- Best Overall: Timberland PRO Direct Attach Steel Toe Work Boot
- Best Budget: NORTIV 8 Men’s Safety Steel Toe Work Boot
- Best Composite Toe: Carhartt Men’s 6 Inch Composite Toe Boot
- Best Waterproof: KEEN Utility San Jose 6″ Waterproof Work Boot
- Best Pull On: Ariat Workhog Tall Steel Toe Work Boot
Things to Consider Before Buying Work Boots
When it comes to high quality work boots we are spoiled for choice. There are thousands of pairs to choose from. However, while some are very versatile, focusing on a few key features will help you find the best work boots for your particular needs.
Leather is still the optimum material for most work boots. It is tough but breathable, and in many people’s opinion still better looking than synthetic alternatives. Full-grain leather is strongest but often very stiff, and usually means the boots need breaking in. During this time there can be some discomfort. Nubuck and suede are more flexible, and still offer good resistance to abrasion.
Synthetics (usually nylon weaves), are often used in less critical areas. They help reduce weight. Composite rubber is generally preferred for soles because it is harder wearing than the natural product. High-density polyurethane (PU) and thermoplastic urethane (TPU) are equally good alternatives.
The primary protection in work boots is offered by a safety toe. Steel is the original material, and still the most common. It is very strong and relatively cheap, but is also the heaviest option. Aluminum is lighter, and composite toes (which can be nylon, plastic, fiberglass, kevlar, or carbon fiber) are the lightest. However, both of these options are more expensive.
The key feature with safety toes of whatever type is that they meet the requirements of ASTM F2413 (often just written as ASTM-rated). This is demanded by the OHSA, and often a workplace requirement. Cheap work boots may not comply. It doesn’t make them a bad work boot, but you don’t know the level of protection provided.
Soles may be oil-, heat-, and slip-resistant. Some are also rated under ASTM as protecting the wearer from secondary electrical hazards, and will be marked EH.
Chances are you either leave home in your work boots, or you put them on in the car when you get there. They are then on your feet all day. Comfort is a key feature, and is tackled in different ways.
Moisture-wicking liners draw sweat out of the boot, helping prevent blisters. Insoles are often cushioned, but may offer more advanced orthotics. Alternatively they may be removable so they can be upgraded. Midsoles frequently have shock-absorbing properties. They may also incorporate a steel or nylon shank, which protects the arch, and stops the boot from twisting.
The work environment has a major impact on boot choice. For example, a warehouse operative may want work boots with a safety toe, but doesn’t need them to be waterproof. The latter might be a key issue for a construction worker or gardener.
Similarly those who work indoors seldom need a tall boot, whereas they offer greater all-round protection for those who work outdoors in wet or muddy conditions. For those who frequently work in the cold, insulation will be a consideration. We have put together a complete list of the best work boots for winter here.
Best Overall: Timberland PRO Direct Attach Steel Toe Work Boot
Why It Made The Cut
The Timberland PRO Direct Attach Steel Toe Work Boot is tough, versatile, feature-rich footwear that is suitable for a wide variety of working environments.
- Material: Nubuck Leather
- Size Range: 7 to 15 (including wides)
- Weight (each): 1 pound 15 ounces
- Durable materials and construction
- 200g Thermolite insulation
- Supportive and comfortable
- Periodic maintenance required
- Not for heavy mud
The Timberland PRO Direct Attach Steel Toe Work Boot is based on the brand’s first model, introduced in 1973. They have always been regarded as tough, high-performance footwear, and that’s as true as ever today.
The upper is nubuck leather. It has high abrasion resistance, but is supple so the breaking in period is minimal. Timberland PRO describe the leather as waterproof, though they don’t say how this is achieved (the boot doesn’t have a waterproof membrane). Occasional treatment with oil may be necessary to maintain this, but that should be part of leather-boot care anyway. Seams are sealed to keep water out. A padded collar closes comfortably against the leg.
On the inside, there is a breathable, moisture-wicking liner for sweat control. It is also antimicrobial to combat odor, and the 200g of Thinsulate insulation will keep feet warm in all but the most severe weather. A PU insole uses what Timberland calls Anti-Fatigue Technology, providing cushioning, shock absorption, and rebound. Beneath that is a contoured shock-diffusion plate that protects the foot from heavy impacts, and helps prevent the twisting that can cause rollover ankle injuries.
The Timberland PRO Direct Attach Work Boot has a steel toe that meets ASTM standards, and is also rated EH for secondary electrical hazards. The slip-resistant, non-marking MaxTrax sole is composite rubber, and offers good traction indoors, and on most outdoor surfaces. However, the lugs are quite shallow so they aren’t ideal for thick mud.
Best Budget: NORTIV 8 Men’s Safety Steel Toe Work Boot
Why It Made The Cut
The Nortiv 8 Men’s Safety Steel Toe Work Boot is a stylish model that combines tough leather with synthetic fabric to provide durability with reduced weight.
- Material: Full-Grain Leather and Synthetic
- Size Range: 6.5 to 13
- Weight (each): 1 pound 12 ounces
- Durable but light
- Breathable and waterproof
- Low price
- No wide fittings
- Steel toe may not be ASTM-rated (see below)
The Nortiv 8 Steel Toe Work Boot is a style that is always popular both for work, and as casual wear. In fact while it isn’t a full-on hiking boot it does have features that make it suitable for weekend trail walking. The combination of full-grain leather, and breathable synthetic fabric makes it durable and offers good protection in high-abrasion areas, while remaining comparatively light.
A waterproof membrane keeps feet dry. A cushioned, breathable, and sweat-absorbent insole is fitted, and can be removed for airing. An EVA foam midsole provides further comfort, and protects the foot from impact shocks. The non-slip composite rubber sole has multi-directional tread that provides good traction on both solid, and loose surfaces.
While a steel toe is fitted, there is no indication that it meets ASTM standards. We contacted Nortiv 8, but at the time of writing had not received a reply. If you need a steel toe that meets OHSA regulations that would rule this boot out. If you don’t then the Nortiv 8 Men’s Safety Steel Toe Work Boot is a tough, smart, and very affordable choice.
Best Composite Toe: Carhartt Men’s 6 Inch Composite Toe Boot
Why It Made The Cut
The Carhartt Men’s 6 Inch Composite Toe Boot has been designed for those who work outdoors, and need maximum protection while allowing the foot to flex naturally.
- Material: Oil-Tanned, Full-Grain Leather
- Size Range: 8 to 15 (including wides)
- Weight (each): 2 pounds
- Rugged outdoor footwear
- Made in the USA
- Competitively priced
- Need breaking in
- Not lightweight
The U.S.-based brand Carhartt has been making boots for over 130 years. They don’t make casual or “fashionable” boots, so their whole focus is on working and outdoor footwear. Their 6 Inch Composite Toe Boot is a prime example, and is primarily intended for construction, forestry, and other workers who spend a lot of time outdoors.
The upper is tough, full-grain leather. It has been oil-tanned to make it more supple, but it’s fair to say they still need a little time to break in. The oil-tanning process does make them highly water-resistant, although not 100-percent waterproof. Inside the boot is a moisture-wicking FastDry lining to reduce sweat build-up.
Cushioning comes from a padded PU insole, and an EVA foam midsole that also helps absorb shocks. The composite rubber sole uses cement construction, meaning it is bonded to the upper rather than stitched. This allows for what Carhartt calls Rugged Flex, so the foot can move naturally. The sole wraps behind the heel, and around the toe to offer additional bump protection. Deep lugs give good grip on loose and muddy surfaces.
The composite toe is non-metallic, so in addition to meeting the ASTM standard for impact and compression, it is also rated EH for secondary electrical protection. However, given the heavy-duty nature of the Carhartt Men’s 6 Inch Composite Toe Boot the toe makes little difference to overall weight.
Best Waterproof: KEEN Utility San Jose 6″ Waterproof Work Boot
Why It Made The Cut
The smart, casual appearance of the KEEN Utility San Jose 6″ Waterproof Work Boot is deceptive, and conceals a host of valuable safety features.
- Material: Premium Leather (see below)
- Size Range: 7 to 15 (including wides)
- Weight (each): 1 pound 10 ounces
- Light and comfortable
- Multiple safety ratings
- Smart, casual style
- Not for mud or loose surfaces
- Premium price
KEEN is one of the leading brands in the working footwear market, with a reputation for high-quality, and attention to detail. The KEEN Utility San Jose 6-inch Waterproof Work Boot is aimed at construction, manufacturing, maintenance, and utilities trades where a protective but light and flexible boot is often preferred.
KEEN calls the upper “premium” leather. We suspect it’s a split hide like that used for nubuck or suede. It still has high abrasion-resistance but it’s lighter, and more supple than full-grain. Inside is a KEEN.Dry membrane that makes it 100-percent waterproof and is breathable to let moisture out. The boot also has Cleansport NXT technology that uses live microorganisms to break down the bacteria that cause odors.
A removable PU footbed provides the first layer of comfort underfoot. Below this is the KEEN Luftcell midsole that has tiny air pockets for cushioning, and impact absorption. There is also a nylon shank to support the middle of the foot, and resist twisting. The lightweight composite rubber sole is sipped to disperse liquids. It works much like a tire tread, forcing water sideways away from the contact area. It is very effective on floors, concrete, and other solid surfaces though it has its limitations on dirt and mud.
Safety provision is outstanding. The aluminum alloy toe meets the same standards as steel but is 30-percent lighter. The KEEN Utility San Jose 6-inch Waterproof Work Boot is also ASTM EH-rated for secondary electrical protection. Additionally the oil- and chemical-resistant midsole, and the slip-resistant outer sole, meet ASTM requirements.
Best Pull On: Ariat Workhog Tall Steel Toe Work Boot
Why It Made The Cut
The Ariat Workhog Tall Steel Toe Work Boot is a style that is always popular because it has the durability and protection needed for work, but also looks great as casual wear.
- Material: Full-Grain Leather
- Size Range: 7 to 14 (including wides and narrows)
- Weight (each): 2 pounds
- Hard-wearing and protective
- Light for their size
- Work or casual wear
- Need breaking in
- Not waterproof
Western-style work boots have been popular for hundreds of years. For ranch, and farm workers there is simply no footwear better suited to their job. The Ariat Workhog Tall Steel Toe Work Boot carries on this tradition, but now incorporates modern safety and comfort features. Today you’ll also find this boot everywhere from construction sites to warehouses and even offices.
The upper is full-grain leather, rising 11 inches up the leg. They are stiff to begin with, and need breaking in, but the durability is outstanding. As is common, the boot is water-resistant, but not fully waterproof. The shank is decorated with 6-row stitching, and several colors are available.
Pull-on work boots can sometimes be a little awkward to get into, but Ariat have developed a U-Turn design that makes this easier. Inside the boot is a mesh lining that increases breathability. The cushioned Pro Performance insole is removable, and beneath it is an EVA foam midsole to absorb shocks. A lightweight shank supports the arch area, and prevents torsion along the boot while allowing natural flex. The Duratread composite sole again focuses on flexibility, is hard-wearing, and provides good grip. The steel toe is ASTM-rated for impact and compression.
How We Made Our Picks
I am an engineer by profession, and I have also undertaken some major house remodels. I don’t know how many pairs of work boots I’ve owned, but it’s been a few. In addition to my own experience, which will be much like many other people’s, I also checked out a wide variety of work boots from leading brands, and at local discount stores.
As you can see from my picks, there is no single work boot that is best for everyone. In fact I set out to find as varied a selection as possible so that there were solutions for lots of different people. I also took into account that sometimes people go straight from work to a bar, out to dinner, or other social venues.
Finally, I considered price. While I usually avoid cheap, unbranded footwear, I nevertheless found some work boots that offer particularly good value.
Q: How long should a good pair of work boots last?
How long a good pair of work boots will last will very much depend on the work environment, and whether the boots are properly cared for. Leather, for example, usually benefits from periodic oiling. Two years is a reasonable expectation, though they could last longer.
Q: Which leather is best for work boots?
Full-grain leather is usually considered the best for work boots because it is very tough. However, boots made with it can be stiff, and need breaking in. Nubuck and suede are also very durable, but more supple.
Q: Who makes good construction boots?
Good construction boots are made by Timberland PRO, Caterpillar, Thorogood, and others. Much depends on whether you prefer a lace up or pull up boot. If it’s the latter then Ariat is a good choice. You can also check our reviews of the best pull-on work boots.
Q: How much do the best work boots cost?
How much the best work boots cost depends on the materials used, construction quality, and to some extent the brand. Our top picks cover a range of prices from $60 to $200.
Q: What are the best steel-toe boots for work?
The best steel-toe boots for work will depend on your needs, and the advice above will help you choose. The Timberland PRO Direct Attach is one good choice.
Q: Are waterproof work boots worth it?
Waterproof work boots are definitely worth it if you work in wet or damp conditions. If water gets into your boots it will make your feet cold, uncomfortable, and can lead to blisters.
The Timberland PRO Direct Attach work boot excels in just about every area. It is well made, and durable. It needs almost no time to break in. It protects your feet, and it’s comfortable. The sole offers confidence-inspiring grip. It even comes in a choice of finishes. The price is competitive, but for some it will still be quite an investment.
The Nortiv 8 is not just another cheap work boot. It is tough, waterproof, and the hiking style makes it great for casual wear. The steel toe boot is not ASTM-rated, but if that level of protection isn’t a necessity, they are great value.