Finding the perfect work boots wasn’t always a challenge. The Romans had two choices of sandals: with or without hobnails for traction. Around the year 1800, workers got the choice between laces and buckles. A little later, anatomical left and right boots debuted. Then, rubber soles were popularized with the introduction of the Goodyear Welt, and late in WWII, steel-toe protection was developed. The features and choices have snowballed since then. Today, there are boots designed for every job. They come in numerous widths, heights, colors, materials, types of toe protection, and resistance to water, oil, or chemicals.
Here, check out quick info on the best boots from our test, then read on for what you need to know before buying and in-depth reviews of these and other top performers.
Basic Types of Work Boots
The steel toe cap (safety toe) has largely been the standard in toe protection since it was developed in the 1940s. More recently, composite toe caps—made of Kevlar, carbon fiber, plastic, or fiberglass—have gained popularity. They both have their advantages. Steel is better at protecting against punctures and cutting, although it conducts cold well, which isn’t great in the winter. Composite is lighter and won’t conduct electricity, but it’s often more expensive. Some jobs require workers to wear boots with toe protection that meets specific standards set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).
Traditionally, boot leather was treated with oil or wax for waterproofing, but this required reapplication to maintain and didn’t always fully keep water out. Leather is still treated this way today, but truly waterproof boots are made with modern, synthetic membranes like Gore-Tex. Don’t confuse water-resistant with waterproof boots—the former won’t keep your feet dry if you’re standing in water for any length of time.
Insulated boots typically have a layer of polyester or other polymers between the liner and leather for heat retention. The amount of insulation is usually listed by weight, in grams. (This isn’t the total weight of the insulation in one boot, rather the weight of how much a square meter of the insulation weighs.) The higher the number, usually the thicker and warmer the insulation.
Some work boots provide protection from electrocution by preventing electrical current from completing a circuit to ground. Boots with this feature have been tested by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
Boots that boast slip-resistance have outsoles made of soft materials that can maintain grip on wet or oily surfaces, as well as tread patterns with siping designed to draw fluids away from under the shoe.
This feature has to do with the construction of the boot’s upper. Leather is oil-resistant, but typical synthetic threads or materials used in constructing the upper may break down in the presence of petroleum-based liquids like oil, diesel fuel, and kerosene. Oil-resistant boots use synthetics unaffected by petroleum products.
What is ASTM?
ASTM, the American Society for Testing and Materials, sets standard specifications for a vast number of products. As it relates to work boots, ASTM F2413 sets performance criteria for footwear designed to protect wearers from a variety of hazards. There are nine specific categories of hazards, represented by a one- or two-letter abbreviation:
- C: Compression, or crushing forces in the toe area, with four classes: class 75 (2,500 pounds) for men and women, and class 50 (1,000 pounds) for men and women.
- I: Impact to the toe area (class 50 or 75, as described above).
- CD: Conductive, or static electrical discharge hazards, to prevent ignition of volatile materials.
- EH: Electrical shock, resistance to protect heels and toes from connecting to ground.
- SD: Static dissipative properties, to reduce the accumulation of excess static electricity.
- PR: Puncture resistance, to protect soles from puncture.
- Mt: Metatarsal impact, to protect the top of foot from impact.
- CS: Chain saw, to provide cut resistance.
- DI: Dielectric insulation, to provide insulation in the event of accidental contact with circuits or conductors.
Footwear that meets ASTM F2413 uses a specific four-line format to identify the type of hazards it protects against:
- Line 1 identifies the specification: ASTM F2413
- Line 2 identifies user gender (M/F), and classification (50, 75) for I, C, and Mt.
- Lines 3 and 4 identify the specific hazards the footwear protects against.
How We Tested These Boots
Every boot on this list has been thoroughly evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and designers, and use our own experience with these brands and styles to determine the best options. We called in a range of boots and distributed them to our test editors, who used them in typical “work boot” situations, including: lawn mowing, raking leaves, loading/unloading trucks, snow blowing, construction projects, cleaning gutters, landscaping, cutting firewood, and working while standing on a concrete floor. Our team evaluated the boots on performance, value, comfort, durability, and aesthetics. We compiled the feedback and here are the results: 10 awesome boots to protect your feet on the job and look great once the work is done.
Cat Footwear Excavator Superlite
While there are a number of features to praise, comfort is at the top of the list for the Excavator Superlite. They felt light and comfortable right from the start, according to our tester, who ended up running a half mile in them to get out of a downpour on the first day wearing them. A composite safety toe, nonmetallic construction (there’s no steel shank in the outsole), a cushioned insole, and a contoured footbed with rebound foam help give the Excavator Superlite its springy, athletic-shoe feel. The outsole is made from a rubber material that resists slipping in both wet and oily conditions, confirmed by our tester in both the workshop and hiking a long, wet, rocky trail that followed and traversed a creek. That first experience in the rain, and the hike, also brought our attention to the fact that these boots are waterproof. The rubber toe cap and abrasion-resistant heel cup are effective at protecting areas that can typically scuff and wear, shortening the life of a work boot. The Excavator Superlite runs true to size and meets ASTM F2413-18 M I/75 C/75, EH for impact resistance, compression, and electrical hazard protection.
Thorogood American Heritage 8-Inch Tobacco Plain-Toe
The Tobacco Plain-Toe has a classic work boot profile, just with the unexpected comfort of running shoes, no break-in period required. The tobacco oil-tanned, full-grain leather is soft and pliable right out of the box—we liked it so much we were reluctant to put the boot on and scuff it all up. We did, however, and found it runs true to size, fitting well with mid-weight to heavier socks. It’s a tall boot, so we appreciated the speed hooks, which allow for quick lace-ups. The soft, nonslip MaxWear wedge outsole was comfortable when we were standing on hard floors or surfaces. While the boot we tested has a plain toe, a steel-toe option is available, should you need that level of protection. One of our favorite aspects of Thorogood boots is that they’re fully serviceable; once you’ve put many miles and years on them, you can take advantage of the refurbishment program the brand offers to give them new life.
Keene Troy 6-In. Composite Toe
According to Keen, the Troy—with its waterproof upper and anatomically shaped, asymmetrical carbon-fiber safety toes—is a medium-duty boot. So, it may not be the best option for heavy construction or extreme conditions on a daily basis. In testing we felt the comfort and middle-of-the-pack weight make it a good candidate for work that keeps you moving and on your feet. We found the Troys to be comfortable right out of the box, with no unusual pressure points, and wore them all day after putting them on. Sizing was spot on for our staff, and according to our tester, these only got more comfortable over time. The Troy has a partial rubber cap around the front of the toe where leather boots frequently get cuts or scuffs, a feature we’ve come to appreciate. Keen uses a rubber material across the forefoot as well, creating a hinge where leather can crack from repeated bending over time. Testing during the summer made us thankful for the breathable, waterproof lining, which helped keep out feet dry and comfortable on humid, 90-plus degree days.
Keene’s Troy work boots meet several ASTM standards, including:
- ASTM F1677-96 MARK II, non-slip standards
- ASTM F2412-17, F2412-18, F2413-17, and F2413-18 M I/75 C/75 EH for impact, crushing, and electrical hazards
- ASTM F2913-17 SATRA non-slip standards
- ASTM D471-06 903 oil and isooctane chemical resistance for the midsole
Carolina Elm Plain Toe
These Elm work boots by Carolina are traditional, eight-inch, all-leather loggers. While boots of this style often require days of break-in, our tester said that aside from being a little stiff, they laced up fairly comfortably right out of the box. And, while it took two days to get them loosened up, it wasn’t two days of discomfort. We appreciated the padded tongue—and thin webbing attaching it to the upper—which helped keep things comfy when we had the boot laced up firmly. The Elm runs true to size and had adequate arch support for our average-footed (by his estimation) tester. We noted the round, button-like speed hooks appear to be forged, rather than stamped out of flat sheet metal—they were easy to lace and should resist getting caught and bent. Our feet stayed dry during early-morning testing in tall, wet grass and brush, thanks to a light waterproof lining and that tongue webbing that continues almost to the top of the boot. Like with other tall boots, operating the gas pedal in some cars could be a little uncomfortable, due to the height of the boot collar. But we didn’t experience this with the more upright position driving a pick-up.
Carolina’s Elm meets ASTM F2413-18 EH for electrical hazards and ASTM F1677-05 for oil and slip resistance.
A favorite among public safety and emergency services personnel, the eight-inch Acadia has a military look with the rugged features to back it up. A fiberglass shank and 8mm Vibram sole make a stable platform with enough flex to be comfortable while still resistant to torsion. The Acadia comes with a composite safety toe, and the lugged outsole maintains traction on dirt inclines, wet rocks, and oil-slicked asphalt. In several inches of water, our tester’s feet remained dry, while the boot still felt breathable when wet. It’s clear why soldiers and police started wearing textile-plus-leather styles like this—they feel more ergonomic and cooler than all-leather options. You can even run in them, though lighter boots do exist. As advertised, the Acadia runs narrow and long—unless you have narrow feet, consider an EE width and buying down at least a half size. Break-in was less severe for us than what other owners say they’ve experienced. We had one complaint, though: The collar can create hot spots where it overlaps the tongue.
—BEST TRADITIONAL STYLE—
Carhartt 6-In. Moc-Toe
Carhartt’s six-inch Moc-Toe work boot is ideal for those who prefer the typical aesthetics—the type you’d find on residential building sites. Our test editor liked the fit and feel of the supple oil-tanned leather and lightly padded liner, saying they were up to the task of a day’s work, right out of the box. After two days, creases had formed in all the right spots, and it was easy to forget about the new boots on our feet. The liner incorporates a waterproof membrane that kept us dry during rain and when stepping in standing water during testing. However, our experience with moc-toe boots and stitching around the toes has been that, eventually, water will get in. So, we probably wouldn’t recommend these for landscapers who may be frequently walking through wet grass. That said, they’ll perform as expected on a construction site for carpenters, electricians, or plumbers, working in and out of the rain or stepping in the occasional job-site puddle. The Moc-Toe meets ASTM F2892-18 EH for electrical hazard protection.
Timberland Pro Work Summit 6-In. Composite Toe
As burly as Timberland Pro’s Work Summit looks, the upper is comprised of multiple materials and padding that make it quite flexible—we were surprised how comfortable this rugged-looking boot is. The theme of flex and comfort continues with the insole and outsole, which are designed to absorb shock and return energy. While we can’t confirm energy return, we did find the combination almost bouncy. One of the things we’ve noted with super-soft outsoles is that they can get twisty and lack support on uneven surfaces. The Work Summit has a fiberglass shank to prevent this, and it seems to work fairly well from the heel through the arch. It does feel a little twisty in the forefoot though. The toe and heel of the boot are wrapped in thermoplastic urethane (TPU) to protect these abrasion-prone areas, and there’s a hard lip at the heel to facilitate pushing them off with your other foot. The waterproof boot liner is generously padded and, overall, the Work Summits were remarkably comfortable from the moment we put them on.
The Timberland Pro Work Summit meet ASTM F2412-18a and ASTM F2413-18 I and C for impact and compression.
Wolverine Hellcat Ultraspring
Wolverine’s Hellcat Ultraspring, with a smooth, seamless toe and thick chunky outsole, sort of resembles a traditional hiking boot. In fact, our tester decided to do some hiking to gauge the Hellcat’s comfort and reported that the boot was supportive on uneven, rocky surfaces. We found it to be true to size and comfortable in daylong outdoor use during the humid heat of an eastern Pennsylvania summer—although it did take a couple of days for the webbing on the tongue to settle into place. While we wouldn’t say the Hellcat is lightweight, it is reasonably light, with the carbon safety toe and nylon shank keeping it from feeling heavy. The breathable, waterproof lining performed well during a day’s worth of landscape maintenance on several acres of wet grass after a rain, keeping our tester’s feet dry and comfortable. In these same conditions, the lugged outsole provided adequate traction without fear of slipping on side slopes. The Hellcat Ultraspring meets ASTM F2413-18 M I/75 C/75 EH for impact resistance, compression, and electrical hazard protection.
Brunt The Perkins
Brunt is a relative newcomer to the work boot world, with an aim to make no-nonsense, durable boots for tradesmen—sold direct to you, without markup by distributors or retailers. The Perkins we tested is a pretty standard safety-toe work boot with a couple of nice features. Out of the box and right onto our feet, we noticed a seam on one of the tongues wouldn’t quite lay flat and created a pressure point when we laced them up. This is honestly the luck of the draw, as they say—it’s a possibility with any boot. The good thing to point out is that Brunt has a 30-day, no-questions-asked return policy. After a couple of days, the tongue eventually broke in and the pressure point faded away. The composite safety toe is capped with a durable, abrasion-resistant material, a feature we’re appreciating more and more. We found the lightly padded, waterproof lining comfortable and effective at keeping our feet dry, working in early morning dew-covered grass. One feature the Perkins has that we’re starting to see more of is sturdy lacing hooks that you can also feed the lace through, like an eyelet. It’s a nice option if you have issues with laces loosening and coming off the hooks. And the Perkins meets all ASTM F2413-18 standards including impact resistance, compression, and electrical hazards.
According to Keen, the Pittsburgh—with its waterproof upper and anatomically shaped, asymmetrical steel-toe inserts—is a medium-duty boot. So it’s probably not the best option for heavy construction, or similarly extreme conditions, on a daily basis. The comfort and middle-of-the-pack weight make it a good candidate for landscape maintenance, surveying, and other work that keeps you moving and on your feet. Sizing was spot on for our staff. And according to one tester who typically complains about boots being awkward or clunky, “These conformed to my feet right away, and they’ve only gotten more comfortable as I’ve continued to wear them.” With the trend in work boots toward more fashionable styles, our tester stressed that they really like the way this Keen looks, and has added the pair to the rotation in their daily wardrobe. Despite the classy appearance, the Pittsburghs meet ASTM F2412-11 and F2413-11 I/75 C/75 EH footwear safety standards.
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