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We’ve gone round and round about this in the Toolmonger office, and there’s no clear consensus: When does it make sense to wear steel toe work boots, and when does it make sense to wear lighter, more comfortable standard boots?

My take is pretty straightforward: If I’m going to be around heavy objects, I opt for the steel — or one of the many modern equivalents. When I’m just kicking around — and certainly when I’m traveling — I wear standard non-strengthened boots. Sean differs, though, opting for normal boots almost always. Of course, we totally understand that factory floor workers and others will require steel toe boots regardless of how we (or they) feel. But do those of you who wear them by requirement at work wear them by choice outside? If so, when?

Truth be told, heavy equipment isn’t the only reason to own foot protection. The guy who took the CC-licensed photo above’s use for ’em: mosh pits.

(Thanks, Mickey Glitter, for the awesome CC-licensed photo.)


48 Responses to Reader Question: When Do You Wear Steel Toes?

  1. Michael says:

    In my experience, it depends if you’re dating a shin kicker or a foot stomper.

  2. matt says:

    All the time. My job takes me into a wide variety of manufacturing facilities and I never know where the job will take me tomorrow. I also wear them all the time when at home and doing yardwork and such. Good protection from spinning blades, as well as a providing a good spot to drop stuff that you don’t want to land directly on the concrete! I constantly drop wrenches on the toes of my boots, just to break the fall.

  3. Brian says:

    Our work requires them for access to the factory… I’m in Engineering so I just choose to wear them for convenience… plus it helps my job pays for them. Since they are comfortable, and look like hiking shoes I choose to wear them all the time.

  4. brian says:

    I completely agree with Matt. I only wear steel toed boots. You never know when you’ll need them. They are the only foot wear I own. One pair of steel toes kept nice and polished for formal occasions, and one pair for anything/everything.
    Why take a risk having something break a toe and put you out of comission for weeks/months?

  5. Office Bob says:

    I wear mine when working around heavy items, as well as when I’m shooting fireworks displays – I’m not expecting a shell to land on my feet but I figure I’ll give my toes as much protection as I can in those situations.

  6. Tim says:

    Mythbusters had an episode where they discuss the safety of a steel toe boot versus a regular boot. A quick look at http://mythbustersresults.com/episode42 summarises their findings.

    I did some research on what makes a safe work boot. Besides reading all the marketing hype, I found some standards that at least suggest what to wear.

    In the US there are several “reasons” to wear steel toe boots.

    Some information on ANSI standards can be found here (OHSA references ANSI and ATSM):

    ATSM Standards:

    Canada even has a set of standards:

    I settled on Timberland Pro Endurance work boots (http://www.timberland.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3155142). They are noticeably heavy, but great if you are standing all day. I used them on several construction sites and found the puncture resistance a necessity. I pulled several sizes of nails and screws from the bottom of my boots (I hadn’t figured out the “shuffle” walk then). I am positive the boots saved my feet from harm each time. I don’t know about crush resistance. I am not interested in testing out how well they work 🙂 http://www.timberland.com/product/index.jsp?productId=3155142

  7. MR P says:

    I wear composite toe every day at work because you never know when you need it and what is one supposed to do, tell everyone to wait go to my office and change my boots to steal toe? that will never happen.

    I put on this pair 3 years ago and will keep on buy this model so long as I can
    Redwing 2225


  8. Deelow says:

    I’m a fan of composite toe just because when I do electrical work I want to minimize every possible chance I can of getting shocked.

  9. Painter B says:

    Every day. I’ve got Timberland’s titanium toe, which are relatively light.

  10. Ben says:

    I wear mine all the time. Surprisingly, they are the most comfortable boots I’ve ever had so I’ve never look back (it beats all my shoes!). I wear them for hicking, during long walks, etc. Most people think I’m crazy but it’s honestly the first pair of boots that don’t give me back pain if I stand up for a long time. Unfortunaly, a seam on one of the boot opened near the sole so I can no longer wear them if the ground is wet. I need to buy a new pair and all I hope for is to find a good one just as comfortable as those.

  11. Stephen K says:

    I am going to go ahead and be the dissenting opinion here. I can definitely see that there are many cases when steel toes are necessary (and many when they are required by regulation), but I don’t like to use them when I don’t have to. Maybe I am an oddball, but I find that the non steel toes are just more comfortable and I don’t feel like I get the benefit doing residential construction, where I use boots the most. I like the lighter weight and more toe-room of non steel and I also feel like I have more feeling and control that helps me be more careful of where I am stepping in general.

  12. Toolaremia says:

    @Ben, what brand and model of boot do you wear?

    I think I’d be a lot smarter wearing steel toes than sneakers when I work in my garage. Especially now that I have a scissor car lift…

  13. Ben says:

    The brand is Dakota and my steel cap are wider on my boots compared to other models. I’ve never felt them on my toes. Actually, the salesman at the store told me a lot of guys make the mistake of buying steel toe boots that hurts them a little and think they’ll eventually get use to it. It never happens. You need to find the right model that fits the shape of your feet. it might be the most expensive one too. I had my boots for well over 6 or 7 years and I can’t find that model anymore. The one that is the closest is this one: http://www.markskamloops.com/Footwear/WP1016.html

  14. SharkyTM says:

    Every darn day, rain or shine, summer or winter, pleasure or business…
    I’m another Redwing convert.
    Model 2226 for me.
    I’ve been wearing the current pair for over 2 years, and I mean EVERY day. I brought them on my trip to Paris, India, and New Zealand as my only shoes. The biggest thing for me is to thoroughly dry them out every night. I’ve got a Peet boot dryer next to my bed, and a travel-sized one for when I’m on the road. Best investment ever, next to the boots.
    I’ve already got another pair, I’m slowly breaking them in.
    I used to wear Timberland Pro’s (Mudsill model), but they didn’t hold up for crap. Now I pay the $200 entrance fee, and have amazing boots that are comfortable, safe, and reliable. Plus, free laces and oiling can’t be beat. Salt-water does a number on drying out the leather.

  15. Darrell says:

    I wear my Red Wing steel-toe boots for every job — work or in the shop at home. You never know what can happen, and you certainly paid for them, so wear em!

  16. Kif says:

    Black combat style boots with white laces is an unusual combination, and can have a disturbing meaning. Steel toe or not, you wouldn’t catch me dead in them.

  17. Slow Joe Crow says:

    These days I work in IT so the last time I wore steel toes on the job was when we were in a factory area and the safety regs said we had to wear steel toes or those plastic strap on toe protectors. When I worked in tool rental shops we had to wear them and clumsy customers dropped things on my toes often enough to justify that, plus the steel toes were great for testing metal detectors. I started out buying Knapp boots, but switched to Sears when we figured out they lasted just as long but cost half as much (YMMV since I bought my last pair in ’92 or 93). The ironic thing is that I usually had to replace my boots because the leather over the steel toes had been cut or torn while the soles were still OK.
    I still keep them around for jobs where I need the protection and because I see no reason to get rid of usable boots.

  18. Jerry Vandesic says:

    Come on, this is easy. I wear my steel toed boots when I am wearing my matching steet toed socks.

  19. Dave P says:


    Booots and braaaaces….

    I don’t think too many folks would whoop your ass for wearing white laces in your Docs. Unless you’re sporting a shaved head and a crisp set of braces. Speaking of skinhead wear, you know who’s really, really into Ben Sherman shirts down here in Atlanta? Lesbians. It’s totally weird; I wonder what the white supremacists are doing now that their style has been co-opted.

  20. Chris says:

    I am an ironworker, i work the high steel. I never wear steel toe boots and neither do 99% of ironworkers.

  21. fred says:

    We insist on them in the pipe shop and we reimburse a portion of the cost (100% for some styles/prices) for 1 pair per year. Our cabinet shop and jobsite workers – mostly plumbers, carpenters and installers have the option – but most opt-out. Some take the free pair – but never seem to wear them on the job. Go figure. We used to have a Lehigh truck come into the shop area a few times a year – but now most everyone buys them online. Mine are Red Wing.

  22. Those white shoelaces in my boots were nothing more than a lacing experiment, believe me. =)

  23. Ethan says:

    I work in shops that do a lot of steel work, and feel uncomfortable without my steel toes. On the other hand, I usually walk a mile or two to work, and hate to take that walk in big heavy boots. When I can store them at the shop, I wear tennis shoes to get there, and put on my steel toes to go out on the floor.

  24. aaron says:

    i used to wear them all the time (company paid-for doc marten steel toed ankle boots) doing engineering work, but now that I do less physical work and more desk work I’ve stopped. I found that if I was doing anything physical – even the most basic lab work – they’re very handy. very comfortable, safe, and like Matt I use the toe as a tool – breaking the fall of heavy objects, using it as a support, etc.

  25. I have a pair of Stanley steel toe boots sitting on the step from the house into the garage. I put them on whenever I do yard work, mostly because they are there and they save my other boots and shoes from wear. I do make a point of wearing them when I have a vehicle jacked up, when I’m mowing the lawn, and when I’m using the chainsaw.

    I don’t quite understand why people think they are so heavy. Given mine may not be the highest quality boot available, but if they are anything like hiking boots, usually that means they are heavier than more expensive pairs. I walk behind the lawn mower for an hour with my pair and don’t even notice. They seem pretty comfortable too.

  26. B. Foo says:

    I am a clumsy oaf! Of course I wear steel toes! I’d have no toes left if I didn’t! They work good for kicking people too if you need that feature…

  27. Robert says:

    required for plant work here

    I’m in love with Wolverine CarbonMax.

    Light, comfy, and with wide toes, more roomey.

  28. russ says:

    Our company buys one pair per year, like a previous poster stated. I have Red Wing also. Most plants require them where I go. The problem is I would prefer the composite since I do work both electrical/mechanical. Are the composite more comfortable than the steel toe?????

    My feet can’t stand me wearing steel toe shoes due to their comfort but the first time I worked for a company that required them, I bought a pair as instructed and within the next week they paid for themselves which is why I still have toes. That made it easy to make a deal with my feet – after hours I change back into my tennis shoes.

  29. Jason R says:

    Nope. I don’t like steel toes. Composite toe might be alright in some situations but I really prefer nothing. I’m a commercial/industrial electrician, never felt I needed them.

    Less comfortable for people with wide feet.
    Less comfort when kneeling and in many body contorting positions.
    Less feel in your toes(bad on ladders, small steps, near rooftop edges, etc.)[Driving stick]
    More bulk or less room, or both.
    Heavier. I’m walking up to and over 5 miles a day, and climbing stairs and different types of ladders all the time. The weight does matter for me.

  30. Morgan W says:

    Anytime i’m in an industrial work environment. While it’s true that YOU may never handle anything heavy enough to break a toe, you never know who else is. Plus, as careful as you may think you are you never know if some idiot has left something sharp sticking up.

    To Jason R.:

    Buy GOOD boots, and all the issues you think you have with them will disappear.

    I’m currently wearing Wolverines (touted as the world most comfortable, i’m inclined to agree) but I would also recomend J.B. Goodhue’s Biotech boots if you don’t need full leather. Those are what i wore for 3 years while working with a moving company spending upwards of 12 hours a day running around on every conceivable surface.

    If you have wide feet, get your shoe store to order wider shoes. I went from fighting my feet wearing size 12s to nearly dancing around in 9.5 EEE.

    Less comfort kneeling, again, get a better boot and that becomes a myth, you’ll worry more about your knees hurting than you feet.

    Less feeling, with wide feet, you either need wide boots or longer boots to compensate, so, yeah, your toes don’t reach the end of your boot.
    I’m a field welder, up and down ladders, scaffolds, stairs carrying welders, steel, gas canisters 60 lbs of gear and haven’t tripped once on my boots. As for driving stick, if it’s that big a deal keep a spare pair of shoes in the truck.

    You can be as safe as you imagine yourself only to have some other idiot ruin your life for want of a $180 pair of boots.

  31. Morgan W says:

    Chris, you’re full of it.

    99% of stupid ironworkers don’t wear steeltoes.

  32. Shopmonger says:

    After working in many shops i would have to agree with Chris, most of the guys did not wear steal toe. Now when working in an iron mill, maybe, but i still opt for cross-trainers that breath. I have had some large pieces dropped on my toes, and yes it hurts, but that is few and far between so the rest of the 364 days out of the year my feet are comfortable and not sweaty. I will agree there are places where they are mandated and even necessary, but as was brought up in the mythbusters special, if is hard enough and heavy enough to need the steal toe, then it is more likely to do more damage then just smashing the toes. I did break one toe once, with a 1″ peice of 12×12″ plate steal. But i was back at work the next day, just limping a tad.

    So No Steal toes here…. Although i do own a pair of Kevlar reinforced boots from Vietnam that my father gave me… the standing joke was that they were mine proof, so when the mine went off , they could find you leg to ID the rest of you.


  33. Chris says:

    If you’d like to hear some people who have lost toes from wearing steel toe boots.


  34. craig says:

    i wore them off and on in the early seventies.

    then i met a railroad lineman with a limp.

    when some equipment fell, his toes couldn’t be readily extricated from his boots. by the time they got him to town he needed two shoe sizes.

    i have a couple of broken toes and foot bones, however they all still go in my boots.

  35. Office Bob says:

    No love for Blundstone?


    I find these to be more comfortable than the Red Wings I own.

  36. GadgetLovingGeezer says:

    It makes sense to wear steel toed boots when chopping wood, sawing logs, or when you’re in a butt kicking contest.

  37. Matt says:

    Wearing them for work is fine, however I wore my Redwings winter camping and felt like there were two igloos over my toes. Replaced immediately with a pair of non-steel toed Danners.

  38. area_educator says:

    The Kids in the Hall consider steel-toes (if this works…):

    If it doesn’t work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3oPWQUOcm8

  39. fred says:

    @ Chris – another precint heard from ?


  40. Scott says:

    I always wore them while at work. During a college summer I worked at an axle factory so it was required and managed to drop a 75lb hub on the edge of my foot… The boots saved my toes.

    I also wore them when on the factory floor at an engine plant and foundry I did IT work for.

    At home I wear them if I am splitting wood, and tried it once while in my shop. I quickly stopped wearing them in the shop because when I bend down to look at stuff I quickly found that i bruised the top of my feet from the steel toe digging into the top of my foot.

  41. zoomzoomjeff says:

    Steel Toes. Always.

    A 10 year old pair of Wolverines that I refuse to throw away because they’re so damned broken in and confortable. The actual steel is exposed on the toes.

    And a RedWing pair with the metatarsel flap for welding.

    Can’t find a good enough replacement for my Wolverines and hate the red color of the RedWings.

  42. Jim says:

    The best place to wear them is in line for security at the airport… as long as you’re not in a hurry. 🙂

    I used to wear them when I traveled because it was easier than packing them. This was pre-9/11. Now I don’t have to wear them anymore and I certainly wouldn’t try to go through security with them on.

  43. O'Bunny says:

    I work in live and installed audio, and I wear high collared steel toes all the time.

    Steel toes in part because of a friend missing a toe where a road case on wheels rolled ofer his sneaker-wearing foot; high collar because I stepped on a stage piece that hadn’t been fastened down and broke a bone in my foot when I went over. The orthoedics department, X-ray techs, etc., were all amazed — that sort of fall usually results in a broken ankle, needing surgery and six months in a cast, instead of 6 weeks.

  44. Jeff says:

    When? A better question is when I don’t. If you’re gonna wear boots, might as well be steel-toed. I own other types of shoes, but my steel-toes have been my daily pair for about two and a half years(Timberland Pros, fantastic boots once you break them in.) You get used to the extra weight quickly if you wear them often enough, I haven’t noticed it in years.

    Then again, I’m a former skinhead, so I was used to wearing steel-toes daily anyway.

  45. All the time. I don’t own any non-steel-toed shoes.

    They’re not even required at work — I’m in vehicle systems engineering, so I spend most of my time in labs and parking lots. Even at the plant, they’re not required. But I wear ’em anyway, and they’ve saved me from my klutziness a few times. Benchtop linear power supplies are heavy!

    I’m surprised more IT people don’t wear steel-toes. When I was working with rackmount hardware, I accumulated quite the set of dents and gashes in the leather over my toes, and I can’t imagine what it would’ve done to unprotected feet. The only way I could go back to sneakers would be if I had a 100% desk job, and if that happened I’d probably be looking for a new job anyway.

    After bouncing between cheap brands for a few years, I finally got some Red Wings two months ago. What a difference! Lighter, more comfortable, and they take a shine so much more easily.

  46. Marsha Carter says:

    I am required to wear safety toe shoes at work. However I wear holes on the top on the inside of my shoes. The shoes r in good shape except for that what is causing this. Am I getting my size wrong?

  47. douglas bohn says:

    I bought some composite toe work boots as they are mandatory for my work place. A 3/4 ton load of steel hit the top on my boot and it still broke my big toe. The good part apart compsite is that it springs back. I mean the toe ripped down through the sole but sprang back. Have small fracture on the tip of my great toe and it broke the skin open on the sides by the nail and at the bottom. Without the shoe I would have lost a least 3 toes and possibly half of the foot. I am a believer now for sure!!!I never found a pair of steel toes that did not hurt my feet. The composite toe however is comfortable and saved my foot. Size 15EEE

  48. Amanda Drew says:

    That’s probably actually a really good idea to use steel-toed boots for mosh pits like the person who took the picture you’re using. People do tend to accidentally step on your toes when you are that close together. I’d imagine, then, that they’d be good anytime you think that you’ll be somewhere that someone could either step on your toes or drop something on them or otherwise hurt them. Maybe I should find somewhere to get some boots like these.

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