What is a Gusseted Tongue in Footwear and How Does it Help?

You’re shopping for footwear, and there in the description you see “gusseted tongue” and you’re wondering what that means. Well, you’ll be pleased to find out that gusseted tongues due solve an annoying problem. What is a gusseted tongue in footwear and what is its purpose?

A gusseted tongue is a tongue that is attached to the shoe or boot not only at the base of the tongue, but also on the sides of the tongue. A tongue gusset is used in outdoor shoes and boots to help keep water and debris from sliding through the laces down into the shoe. This is where you can see a photo of a gusseted tongue.

A gusseted tongue is most commonly found in hiking boots and running shoes, but is also very common in work boots. If you spend time working in rocky terrain or brushy areas, a gusseted tongue helps keep that debris from slipping down through the laces and irritating your foot.

Here is a gusseted tongue on one of my work boots:


As you can see, it is attached directly to the side of the shoe to prevent any type of debris from slipping through my laces. Not only are these popular in hiker work boots, they are also often used in both low top steel toe work shoes and low top composite toe work shoes.

In this article let’s take a closer look at gusseted tongues so you can have a better idea what they look like and how they help.

What Is a Gusseted Tongue in Footwear?

As we discussed above, a gusseted tongue is a tongue that is attached to the shoe or boot not only at the base of the tongue, but also on the sides of the tongue. A tongue gusset is used in outdoor shoes and boots to help keep water and debris from sliding through the laces down into the shoe.

What is a Gusseted Tongue Used For?

A ‘normal’ tongue has laces and a tongue that are not connected. This means that water and small debris like pebbles, rocks, and brush may slip down through the laces and irritate the foot.


A gusseted tongue helps prevent this. Since the sides of a gusseted tongue are connected to the shoe, debris can’t slip through.

What Style of Footwear Uses a Gusseted Tongue?

There are several types of footwear that might use a gusseted tongue. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Work Boots – Some outdoor work boots will use gusseted tongues. For indoor work boots, a gusseted tongue doesn’t provide much value, so you rarely see it. Many hiker-style work boots will have a gusseted tongue. Some work boots may instead use a kiltie, which serves a similar purpose (we discuss kilties later in article).
  • Hiking Boots – Obviously hiking boots are used on rocky, rugged terrain, where pebbles, rocks, and other small debris can be a nuisance. It is very common to see a gusseted tongue used in hiking footwear, and is almost a necessity.
  • Tactical Boots – Most tactical boots made for the military or other service jobs will have a gusseted tongue. Obviously these types of tactical boots are built to be responsive and functional, and are made to perform in any type of environment, including rugged terrain.
  • Running Shoes – Not all running shoes will have a gusseted tongue. They are most common in trail running shoes. For street running shoes, the chances of having small debris lodge down through the shoe is much less, so you will commonly see those types of shoes made without a gusseted tongue.

Are Boots With a Gusseted Tongue Comfortable?

For the most part, yes, boots with a gusseted tongue are just as comfortable as any other type of boot. In fact, because they hold out debris, they give you an extra layer of protection that other boots don’t, which helps. If you want to see some examples, visit our article about the best lightweight composite toe shoes.

The one potential drawback to a gusseted tongue is that because it is attached on the sides, it does reduce the breathability of the work boot a little bit. Obviously, this won’t make a huge difference in most circumstances, but if you work in a hot environment, and truly don’t need a gusseted tongue, I’d avoid buying a boot that had one just to ensure as much heat can escape the foot as possible.

Alternatives to a Gusseted Tongue

Gusseted tongues are not the only way that a boot company will help ensure that water and debris don’t slip through the laces and eyelets. Let’s discuss some other things a company might use in replacement, or in combination, with a gusseted tongue to help ensure water and debris stay out.


Kilties are very common in work boots, and are also commonly referred to as “false tongues”. Kilties extend down past the base of the tongue, and just like a gusseted tongue, they help keep water and debris from filtering through the laces down into the foot.

Here is a look at a kiltie on one of my work boots:


Obviously, this kiltie style isn’t necessarily for everyone. If you don’t like it, then a gusseted tongue might be the better option. Kilties are not used in many other types of footwear other than certain types of work boots (like logger boots) or western boots.

Raised Eyelets

This is a sneaky one here that never gets much attention, but can be very important. Many companies (for both work boots and hiking boots) will use raised or attached eyelets to help ensure that water does not slip through the eyelets down into the foot.

Punched eyelets, which are the more traditional option, expose a hole in the boot, which water can slip through. These raised or attached eyelets solve that issue, and remove the need to punch a hole in the shoe or boot. For example, here are some raised, attached eyelets on a pair of waterproof work boots I use:


These types of eyelets are often used in combination with a gusseted tongue to provide the maximum amount of waterproof protection for those of us who need a work boot that keeps us dry in a wet work environment.

Extra eyelets

Extra eyelets is another way a company might try to help reduce the chances of water or debris slipping through the lace area. With more eyelets, that means a boot or shoe can lace tighter, and flatter, against the top of the foot, which reduces the space for debris to slip through.

Overall, most companies aren’t interested in adding extra material unless they have to (which increases cost), so this method is often disregarded.

Zip Covering

Some boots may actually have a covering that zips up over your laces after you tie your shoe. Obviously this is a great way to hold our moisture and debris.

But it is very uncommon to see this method used. Why? Well, not only does it up material costs, and create a style that most people don’t like, it also traps in heat. Because of this, you will most commonly find this style used in snow boots, where keeping snow off the laces is important.

Slip On Boots

Another obvious alternative to a gusseted tongue is to just avoid the tongue altogether. A slip on Chelsea work boot might be a better option for those of you who work in rocky, brushy terrain and are constantly picking rocks out of your shoe. For heavy brush areas, a pull on work boot might be the best option to provide extra abrasion protection on the leg itself.

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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