What to Consider When Buying Construction Footwear [Boots vs Shoes]


When choosing the best construction footwear, you have a seemingly limitless amount of options. Work boots are available with varying combinations of soles, uppers, lacing types and safety features. And then you also have construction work shoes that are a lightweight, low-top alternative that offer more comfort than most work boots.

With so many choices on the market, how do you find the right construction boots or construction shoes? Obviously, the specific type of work you do plays a large role, but in this article let’s discuss some of the most important things to consider when buying construction footwear, and whether construction boots or construction shoes make the most sense for you.

BOOT PROSSHOE PROS
DurableLightweight
Better for Rugged TerrainFlexible
Better for LaddersBreathable
SaferMore Responsive

Construction Boots: Wedge vs Raised Heel Outsole

If you are shopping for construction boots, one of the biggest decisions you will need to make is the type of outsole you need. You can buy work boots that have a flat sole (called a “wedge” outsole), and you can buy work boots that have a more traditional raised-heel outsole. There are pros and cons to both.

Wedge Outsoles

Wedge soles provide support across the foot, reducing pressure points and improving overall comfort. There’s no raised heel or lugs on these outsoles, so they are best used on smooth surfaces like concrete or packed dirt. If you work on rugged terrain, wedge outsoles likely won’t be a great fit.

thorogood-american-heritage-boot-sole

But for certain outdoor jobs where you work mostly on smooth terrain wedge outsoles can be just fine. One huge benefit to wearing wedge soles outdoors is they don’t have the deep lugs so they don’t track as much mud and debris.

Wedge soles are self-supporting, so they can be made from softer materials. This makes these boots more comfortable, but the soles wear out faster. Heeled soles have to be harder, so the sections are self-supporting. This makes them less comfortable and harder wearing.

Raised Heel Outsoles

Raised-Heel soles are available with thick lugs, which helps with traction. Heeled soles make it easy to place weight directly over the shank. This provides support when climbing ladders or pushing on shovel heads. Some wedge sole shoes do without a shank to maximize flexibility.

chippewa-logger-outsoles

One downside to raised-heel soles that have deep lug outsoles is those deep lugs pick up and track more dirt, mud, and debris. Depending on your job and working conditions, this could be a serious nuisance. For this same reason, lugged soles fail rapidly when used for paving, because they trap cement and asphalt.


Weather Protection for Construction Footwear

Waterproof Boots

Waterproof boots use a waterproof liner in combination with waterproof coating to help keep water from reaching your feet. They will also use some if not all of the following details to prevent water and debris from entering:

  • Gusseted tongues attach to the sides of the upper to keep out water.
  • Raised eyelets replace punched eyelets to reduce holes.
  • The seams on these types of boots are sealed to prevent leaking.
  • Kilties deflect water away from where the toe and the tongue meet.

Obviously, your climate will determine how important it is for you to use waterproof construction boots. The most important thing to confirm if you work in a wet climate is that your boot has a waterproof liner instead of just using a waterproofing spray.

We have a wide range of articles that can help you find the right waterproof boot to fit your specific needs. Here are some resources for you to consider:

Insulated Boots

Cold weather boots are made using synthetic insulation in the upper which is non-bulky but very good at trapping heat. This provides warmth without causing the boot to be bulky and awkward. Thinsulate (made by 3M) is by far the most common type of boot insulation used today.

The weight of insulation will greatly impact how warm the boot is. For most contintental US climates, 200g-400g work boots will do the trick, but there will be exceptions. Most standard insulated boots use either 200g or 400g of insulation.

I personally wear both 200g and 400g depending on the weather (I’m located in Kansas). If you work in a more extreme environment, you may need to consider 600g or even higher.

We get moderate winters here, and can have severe conditions. But we also do experience periods of mild winter temperatures.

winter-work-boots

So I personally rotate from 200g to 400g as the weather turns. I can’t make that a standard recommendation because I don’t know your job, climate, or personal comfort level, but that is what has worked for me.

Here’s a photo of my 400g Insulated USA Work Boots (Danner Quarry ~4 years old):

danner-quarry-boot-side

If you need something for extreme weather, you can find work boots insulated up to 2000g, but as fair warning, your options become limited beyond 600g, and extremely limited beyond 1000g. To read more about options, visit our article linked below.

If you’re looking for an actual temperature guarantee, for most companies those basically don’t exist, and we certainly can’t give one either. Most companies won’t make themselves legally vulnerable by placing a temperature guarantee on a product.

Unfortunately, as I have learned, sometimes it’s just trial and error to find the boot that best fits your winter needs. Again, 200g and 400g will work for most continental climates but, yes, there will be exceptions. You can click on any of our articles below to find more insulated options that fit your needs:

Again, 3M Thinsulate is by far the most common type of insulation used in work boots today. It is known for being very lightweight and non-bulky, while still being very capable of retaining heat.

Hot Weather

Work boots and hot weather don’t mix well. Heavy-duty leather is not very breathable. Some boots will use moisture-wicking liners to help pull away sweat. Does this help? Yes. Will it make a huge difference in the brutal heat? In my experience, no.

If you needs something ultra-breathable, it’s probably time to turn to construction shoes. Low top constructions shoes will fit and feel much like an athletic shoe: lightweight, breathable, comfortable, and very flexible. For example, here is the Caterpillar Streamline shoe which is one of my favorite construction shoes – it is very flexible just like an athletic shoe:

caterpillar-streamline-composite-toe-side
caterpillar-streamline-composite-toe-flexibility

The downside to these types of athletic work shoes is they are not even remotely close to being as durable as leather work boots. These low top shoes use textile uppers and lightweight foam midsoles that just cannot take a beating like a heavy-duty work boot can.

So, of course, you will need to first consider if a work shoe even makes sense for your job. Does it meet the safety requirements? If it does, these lightweight work shoes are a nice way to add breathability and comfort to the job.

For example, look at these Reebok composite toe work shoes I own pictured below. These shoes are so breathable you can actually see through them side to side:

reebok-material

Hot weather and summer boots are constructed to maximize breathability. This means lighter materials and nylon panels on the tongue and around the upper. The downside is these materials are less durable than a full leather upper. Summer boots are different from heat-resistant work boots, which are designed to withstand extreme heat from fresh asphalt and metalworking.

To read more about hot weather shoes, visit my article about the best breathable composite toe shoes. If you need steel toe, visit my article about the best breathable steel toe shoes.

Construction Boot Shanks

A shank is a rigid support between the insole and midsole, running under your foot’s arch. This adds stability and shock resistance, which helps with fatigue when standing on cement and uneven surfaces.

Steel shanks offer maximum support, flexing only slightly under load. They’re great at protecting feet from impacts with ladder rungs and shovels. Composite shanks aren’t electrically conductive, and they’re lighter and more flexible than steel shanks. They’re less durable than metal shanks, but they’re also more comfortable.

As I mentioned earlier, certain construction work shoes will have the flexibility of an athletic shoe. Obviously, these athletic style work shoes don’t have heavy-duty shanks, and won’t provide the under-foot protection that work boots can offer. If you will be pounding a shovel consistently, sticking with a heavy-duty work boot is probably best.

If you need a metal free boot for safety reasons, always be sure to ask what type of shank the boot has. Some soft toe work boots will still have a steel shank for under-foot support.

Comfort in Construction Footwear

Too much cushioning can actually make the foot unstable, which can be bad for active work and put extra stress on your joints as your body tries to compensate for the instability under the foot. But if you stand in place on concrete for extended periods of time, this cushioning can be a relief.

I personally like the Reebok Sublite work shoes that use the memory foam insoles (Reebok calls it “Memory Tech”) that are grooved in a way that helps relieve stress off the bottom of my foot. My Reebok Sublite composite toe shoes are extremely lightweight (my size 12 weighs 0.94 pounds per shoe) and comfortable, but as we discussed earlier, these athletic-style work shoes won’t make sense for all construction jobs.

reebok-sublite-comp-toe-weight
reebok-sublite-comp-toe-insole
reebok-sublite-comp-toe-shoes

If you need a steel toe shoe for work, I’d recommend the Skechers Cankton shoe because I thought it offered the most comfort and had a more durable construction than some of the other lightweight steel toe shoes I tried. To read more, visit our article about the best steel toe shoes.

If you choose to wear a work boot, and want something that will last for years, it’s important to remember this basic rule: Usually, the longer a boot will last, the harder it will be to break in. The cheapest, most comfort-focused boots and shoes use soft soling and leather that forms to the foot quickly, but can break down just as fast.

High end work boots are made with harder leathers and outsoles that take time to wear in and wear out. Once you break them in, they can be extremely comfortable and last a long time.

If you are looking for lightweight option, just remember that lightweight usually means it won’t last as long. For example, gluing (instead of stitching) soles to boot uppers helps keep weight down, but it means the boot may not be re-solable. Goodyear welts make boots easy to resole, but it’s also the heaviest attachment method.

Slip On, Lace Up and Side Zipper Boots

There’s one major reason you should consider slip-on work boots for construction: carpet. Being able to slip your boots on and off will save you a lot of hassle on remodeling jobs. Obviously, lace up boots aren’t as easy to get on and off, but the laces help add stability to the boot.

Many work boots have hook eyelets at the top of the upper which makes it easier to unlace and allows you to get in and out of boots faster. Side zipper boots try to bring together the best of both worlds. You can adjust the fit with the laces, then unzip the uppers when you want to get your boots on and off. However, these zippers are easy to snag and break, if your work involves tight spaces.

Safety Standards for Construction Footwear

Work boots have a tag that lists all the ASTM F2413 standards they meet. Here’s are some of the most important letters and numbers you might see on these tags, and what they mean:

  • Mt: Metatarsal resistance shows impact protection for safety toes.
  • C: Compression resistance is the amount of force it takes to crush the safety toe shoes.
  • PR: Puncture resistant boots can withstand certain levels of penetration forces.
  • EH: Electrical hazard boots meet certain safety standards around electricity.
  • CD and SD: Boots with static dissipative or conductive resistance conduct static electricity from the wearer to the ground.

My advice for safety standards is to always allow your management team to provide you with the most up-to-date information regarding the safety standards for your job. They can usually advise you where to find the type of construction footwear needed to meet the specific safety demands of your job.

Paul Johnson

Paul is a lead content creator for Workwear Command. He has had several blue-collar jobs which have provided him a wide range of experience with tools and gear. He also has a business degree and has spent time in business casual office settings.

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