A Guide to Choosing the Best Steel Toed Work Boots

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A steel toed boot is not an everyday, run-of-the-mill piece of footwear. It takes more time and consideration to choose the right pair, because they serve a different purpose than regular shoes – they protect the feet from harm and serve as a safe work boot for environments when it is necessary to have some extra protection.

There are many things to keep in mind when purchasing a steel toed boot. In this comprehensive guide we’ll give you all the top things to look for, as well as an overview of some popular brands.

Use this table of contents to navigate this article:

Table of Contents

Alright, let’s wade into this puppy!

What is a Steel Toed Boot?

work boots

A steel toed boot contains a steel cap built into the toe box of the boot, in order to protect the feet from possible workplace hazards, such as the impact of a heavy object falling on your foot. Certain workplaces require steel toed boots to keep their workers safe.

Steel toed boots are heavier and offer slightly more protection than composite toed boots.

A steel toed boot has three soles: the outsole is the bottom of the boot which comes in direct contact with the ground. The midsole is the middle layer, which helps provide comfort and durability.

The insole in the comfortable layer on the inside of the boot, which comes in direct contact with the foot.

How to Choose the Best Steel Toed Work Boots for You

The first question you should ask yourself when choosing a steel toed boot is, “Where will I be wearing these boots?” This will determine if you need indoor or outdoor boots, for warm temperatures or cold, for work or recreation.

If you plan to be working outdoors in different weather conditions, it is good to find a pair of work boots that are also waterproof, because there is nothing more uncomfortable than having wet feet.

If, however, your boots will be used indoors, you can save yourself some money and choose a non-waterproof pair.

In addition, waterproof boot are not as breathable and can therefore make the feet hotter, so if you don’t require them, it is better to get a breathable pair.

If you are working outside in a climate where the temperatures can drop, make sure to find an insulated pair of boots to keep your feet warm.

choosing the best steel toed work boot

Steel toed boots come in different heights – anywhere from around 5 inches high to 12 inches. Most boots fall within 6-8 inches high on average.

There are different advantages and disadvantages to each height – it depends on where you plan to wear your boots, and what you find most comfortable.

A 5-inch work boot reaches just around the ankle and allows for the most flexibility and range of motion of this joint. 6 inches still allows quite a bit of motion while providing slight support for the ankle.

The higher the boot rises, the more support it gives to the ankles.

How to Make Your Steel Toed Work Boots More Comfortable


Chances are your feet will be spending a lot of time inside your work boots, so it is crucial to find a comfortable pair. Wearing an uncomfortable pair of boots that don’t fit your feet is not only painful, it can be harmful to your feet.

In general, your steel toed boots will be around the same size as your regular shoe size, but the steel box does shorten the length of the shoe a bit, so you may need to go up half a size to a full size.

The steel box also may feel different on your foot, so it’s important to try different boots on and walk around in them to get an idea of the fit. You want to take your time when shopping for boots and try on different sizes and styles to see what you prefer.

You should also take into consideration the socks you will regularly have on when wearing these boots. If you are working in cold conditions and plan to wear thick socks on a daily basis, make sure to wear those same socks when trying the boots on. You may need to go up half a size to a full size in order to accommodate for thicker socks.

It is also important to find boots that are not only long enough but also wide enough. Again, the steel box at the front of the shoe will take up a bit of room and may make your foot feel cramped, so look for wide boots to give your foot plenty of room.

The width of a boot can be measured with letters. Letter D means a regular width, and EE is a wide width. If you have normal to narrow feet, a D width may be okay for you. If your feet are slightly wider or square-shaped, you may want to go for an EE width.

Feet will expand when they are hot, and they also expand throughout the day, so this is also a good thing to keep in mind. This is why it is important to find boots that are long enough and wide enough for your foot, so that when your feet swell slightly, they won’t be too cramped.

When shopping for steel toed boots, half sizes may not always be available. If you can’t get a half size, it is always better to go up to the next full size rather than down. It is better for your boots to be half a size too big than half a size too small. There are things you can do to correct a boot that is too big, like wearing thicker socks, but there is nothing you can do about boots that are too small, and they will end up hurting your feet.

It is generally safe to say that women’s sizing is usually two sizes smaller than men’s sizing. So a women’s size 8 would be a men’s size 6. If you are a woman looking for work boots in men’s sizing, going down 1.5-2 sizes from the number you usually wear will likely get you a pair that fits.


To help make your boots extra comfortable for everyday wear, insoles can be a good option. They provide extra cushion and support. If your feet are very sensitive, you can even get custom orthotic insoles to help with things such as arch support, making your boot significantly comfier.

If you find there are any areas of your foot that are chaffing or being rubbed the wrong way inside the boot, try placing moleskin directly on that area of your foot to act as a barrier. Moleskin, which can be found at most drugstores, is a thin material that will adhere to you foot.

How to Break in Steel Toed Work Boots

Most shoes need to be worn a few times before they are broken in and begin to feet comfortable on your foot. Steel toed boots in particular need a bit more time to be broken in due to the rigidity of the structure. It is a good idea to break in your boots before you begin wearing them for long periods of time to avoid blisters and other foot pains.

breaking in boots

The first step to breaking in your boots is to wear them for a while every day for a few weeks. This will help the fibres of the boot begin to mould to your foot. To help stretch the fibres even more, do this wearing thick socks.

It is best to start out slow, and gradually increase the amount of time you wear them each day, until you are wearing them for hours at a time. Don’t take them to work and wear them all day right away, this will be painful.

Before putting the boots on, give the heel few good stomps to soften it up, as it is one of the hardest parts of the boot.

Bending the body of the boot back and forth for the first couple weeks helps the boot become more flexible. Also, bend the toe of the boots upwards and backwards towards the tongue of the boot.

If there are any areas that are pinching your foot, you can take a broom handle, insert it into the boot while the boot is off your foot, and use this to stretch out the boot a bit.

Moisturize leather boots to help them become more pliable. Leather is an animal skin, so when it is dry it gets hard and unbendable. Moisture helps to soften the material and lets it move with your foot much easier.

Apparent “shortcuts” on the internet such as submerging the boot in water or using heat will only damage the boots and should not be attempted.

Leather can only take so much water before it becomes damaged, and heat will only dry out the leather, causing cracking.

Best Socks to Wear in Steel Toed Boots

The best socks to wear in steel toed boots are moisture-wicking socks. These boots can make your feet hot because they are not very breathable, and when feet are hot, they sweat. This will then create blisters on your feet when they rub against the boot, because moisture creates more friction. Therefore, the ideal socks to wear are moisture-wicking socks which will keep your feet dry and blister-free.

moisture wicking socks

Moisture-wicking socks are the best option for any season, hot or cold.

One material to avoid, especially in hot weather, is cotton. Although a cotton garment may feel cool in the summer, cotton socks are actually not ideal, because they absorb and hold the moisture.

Sock sizing can be different for men and women. Generally, women have narrower feet with more rounded toes and a slimmer heel, so buying socks specifically made for women can be a more comfortable option, providing a better and tighter fit.

An Overview of Popular Work Boot Brands

These are some of the biggest and best brands making steel toed work boots, in a variety of styles and price ranges.

Ariat logo

Founded in 1990, Ariat is an American company that specializes in boots for horseback riding, but they also make work boots. Most of their boots are in the cowboy style, so if this is your style, this is the brand for you.

They are also known for their VenTEK technology which uses mesh panels to allow for maximum airflow and breathability, making them exceptionally comfortable.

Visit: https://www.ariat.com/

carolina built for work logo

Carolina is another American brand that specializes in work boots. They are known for their durability and style.

They are made of quality materials and come in a variety of styles for both men and women. Carolina boots are sold at a variety of retailers.

Visit: https://www.carolinashoe.com/

caterpillar work boot logo

Caterpillar has been in the boot business for over 90 years, so it is no surprise that their boots are of exceptional quality and durability. They are also the manufacturers of other well-known brands such as Hush Puppies, Harley Davidson, and Merrell.

Caterpillar boots need a bit of time to break in because they are very sturdy and firm. They are built to last.

Visit: https://www.catfootwear.com/

dr marten's logo

Dr. Martens may be known first and foremost for their style, but they make very comfortable work boots. They are sturdy and lasting. They are not cheap, but not the most expensive – their pricing is usually mid-range, and worth the cost.

Visit: https://www.drmartens.com/

skechers logo

Since the early 1990s, Sketchers has become one of the biggest footwear brands, which speaks to its quality. Although you may know them for their sneakers, they also manufacture great work boots at a reasonable price.

Visit: https://www.skechers.com

thorogood boot logo

Thorogood is an excellent brand for work boots that has been in the business since 1892. They are a respected brand because of their attention to safety, comfort and quality.

Their price reflects this as they can be on the expensive side, but they will last a long time and be very comfortable on your feet.

Visit: https://www.thorogoodusa.com/

Can Steel Toed Work Boots Cause Foot Problems?

Usually, steel toed boots won’t cause your feet any troubles. However, if your boots don’t fit your feet properly, they can cause foot problems.

First of all, arch support is of extreme importance when it comes to work boots. Without proper arch support, the foot is stretched and becomes flat when weight is put onto it, instead of staying curved at the arch.

This stretches the ligaments, muscles and nerves of the foot too far. After time, this can lead to plantar fasciitis, also called policeman’s heel, one of the most common foot injuries.

To prevent this, it is therefore crucial to have good arch support. If you have a high arch, you will need more cushion underneath the arch. But even if you have low arches, you still need cushion and stability underneath. Look for boots that follow your foot’s natural contour, or make sure to purchase insoles to insert into your boot to add support.

It is also important to pay attention to heel height. Logger or Lineman boot heels are slightly raised, because both of these professions would benefit from the support given by a raised heel (loggers work and climb uneven terrain, and linemen spend lots of their time climbing ladders).

If, however, you are working on a relatively flat terrain, you want to avoid raised heels, as they shift the weight distribution to the balls of your feet and can put too much strain on the knees, hips and lower back. They can also cause your toes to go numb.

Steel Toed Work Boots for Diabetics

work boots for diabetics

High sugar levels can lead to bad circulation, and this can cause problems in the feet. Without proper circulation, wounds on the feet can take much longer to heal, and feet can even go numb and lose feeling.

Therefore, people with diabetes have a higher risk for developing foot ulcers and open sores on the skin.

It is therefore crucial to make sure the boots are long enough and wide enough. Boots that are too short or narrow will cause rubbing against the toes and heels, cause blisters, calluses and potentially open wounds that will be painful and slow in healing.

Additionally, boots should be flat with no heel, so there is no unnecessary pressure put on the wrong parts of the foot, as this can obstruct blood flow.

There are companies that manufacture work boots specifically designed for people with diabetes, which take into account ample width and comfort.

Where to Buy Steel Toed Work Boots

detective searching for clues

There are many retailers that carry steel toed work boots, such as Mark’s Work Warehouse, Payless Shoes, Canadian Tire, Walmart, Factory Shoe, and most other shoe outlets geared towards this type of shoe.

You can also find them on Amazon or order them online directly from the brand you are purchasing.

This is an item that can be difficult to purchase online as you won’t be able to try them on first, so it might be a good idea to go to a shoe store first to get an idea of what size you are. This will help you choose the right size when you order online.


Steel toed work boots can be a daunting purchase, but hopefully this article has shed some light on the topic and will help you make a decision. If you keep these tips in mind, you’ll be sure to find the right boot for your foot.