How can I find the most comfortable work boots?

Presented by: KEEN Utility


Q:

How can I find the most comfortable work boots?

A:

When you work hard and spend your whole day in a pair of work boots, you naturally want and deserve the most comfortable pair you can get. If you are like me and spend 12 hours per day (every day, for two to three weeks straight) in your work boots, comfort is critical.

Qualities of Comfortable Work Boots

Ideally, your work boots should have the following qualities:

  • Comfort (I always wear a new pair of work boots around my house for a few days to ensure they are comfortable before I use them at work)
  • Lightweight
  • Flexible
  • Waterproof
  • Great ankle support
  • Shock absorbing capabilities
  • Anti-fatigue features
  • Non-slip and oil resistant sole designed for the surface you will be working on
  • Insulation (for cold environments)
  • Breathability

Methods of Manufacture

With work boots there are three primary methods of manufacture.

Cement

With cement manufacture, the sole is cemented directly to the upper sole. These types of boots are generally more lightweight, flexible, comfortable, and cheaper to buy.

The downside is that when your soles wear down, they cannot be repaired.

Goodyear Welt

Not to be mistaken with the tire company, this type of manufacture consists of a leather welt sewn around the edge of the work boot. While this type of boot is still comfortable, it will be a little stiffer, possibly heavier.

You can resole these types of boots as the soles wear out.

3/4 Welt

This is a combination of the two previous methods. Three quarters of the boot (the toes at the front and the arches on the side) is held on with stitching, while the other quarter (the heel) is cemented. 3/4 welt boots provide more flexibility while walking.

Direct Inject

This is a newer method that involves injecting a thin layer of polyurethane that binds the midsole/outsole to the upper leather of the boot.

Types of Safety Toes

There are three types of safety toes: steel, aluminum, and composite. All are good options depending upon the purpose.

Steel toes are the best choice if you're working around very heavy equipment or machinery and there is a possibility of something very heavy dropping on your foot. They are, however, the heaviest option and draw heat from your feet more quickly in very cold environments.

Aluminum is lighter and loses heat reasonably quickly in very cold environments.

Composite toes keep your feet warmer in the cold and are lighter, making them more comfortable. They also won't set off metal detectors, which makes them ideal for working in security.

If possible, go for a boot with a wider safety toe. That will provide the same amount of protection but with added comfort.

(Learn more in Safety Toes: An Overview of the Materials That Keep Your Feet Safe.)

Weight

Look for a lightweight pair of boots, at least as much as is feasible based on your work environment and the hazards in it. You might not care too much about the weight of a boot when you first put it on, but you will feel the difference when you spend long hours on your feet.

Material

Most work boots are either made of top grain leather, waterproof leather, dry tanned leather, nubuck/suede leather, or oiled leather.

Nylon is another option for lightweight boots, but they are generally not waterproof.

Increasingly, it is possible to get safety footwear made of mesh or knit materials. These are more breathable and flexible, but better suited for indoor environments.

Reputable Quality Manufacturer

It’s best to look for a pair of boots from a manufacturer with a reputation for manufacturing high quality, comfortable boots.

I once made the mistake of purchasing the cheapest work boots I could from a manufacturer I didn’t know at a major discount retailer. They turned out to be so painful to wear that I had to throw them out after only one month and buy a quality pair after all. Generally speaking, you get what you pay for.

Physical Conditions

Some manufacturers make work boots with options available for those with flat feet, plantar fasciitis, or other conditions. Check with your manufacturer or retailer for options suited for you.

In and Out

A work boot with good anti-fatigue, shock absorbing, and removable insoles can be worth its weight in gold. Outsoles should be light weight and be slip and oil resistant.

(Learn more about Selecting the Correct Footwear to Prevent Slips, Trips, and Falls.)

Fit

Ensure your work boots fit well. A work boot that is too wide will shift around and be loose on your feet once they're worn in. A pair that is too small will be painful to wear and will wear down more quickly as you stretch the materials.

You may need to have a little extra room for the winter months if you use heavy socks or Bamas in your boots to stay warm and dry.

I recommend a work boot that laces up high enough to prevent potential injuries or at least reduce the severity if you roll an ankle.

Understanding the Type of Job You're Doing

You want boots that are comfortable to stand and walk in, but you also have to factor in what your work calls for.

If your work frequently involves climbing ladders, for example, you'll find it more comfortable to use a boot with a 90-degree angle to lock your foot in as you climb, and a stronger shank to support your arch. If you spend a lot of time on your knees, you'll want a boot the flexes better (usually one with cement construction instead of a welt) so your feet don't have to work as hard.

Breaking Them In

Wear your work boots around the house for a while and gradually extend the amount of time you wear them, eventually wearing them outside and finally at work once they begin to break in.

Some recommend soaking your work boots in water for 30 minutes to soften the leather, emptying the water out and wearing them around for a while to stretch the softened leather. Others recommend coating your boots in mink oil over night and wiping them off in the morning, leaving the leather softened and easier to break in.

Take Your Time

Take your time when looking for a comfortable pair of boots. Do your research and know what you are looking for. Test them out for fit and comfort before using them at work. A little knowledge of what to look for in a work boot will help ensure you find that perfect pair of comfortable work boots.

Have a question? Ask Todd here.


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Written by Todd Wells
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Todd Wells is a safety professional who works to turn complex projects into successes, implementing effective safety initiatives and consistently achieving measurable positive results on his projects.

Todd is currently a Surface Safety Coordinator with Hatch and understands that world-class safety is about establishing a culture that manages risks and workplace behaviors that cost money.

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