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While the suede Chelseas worn while sending work emails from a café might technically qualify as “work boots,” the work boot product category is reserved for footwear that’s built for more demanding environments. The best work boots are all about function, and their most important function is protecting the person wearing them.
The only work boots worth wearing meet rigorous, independently set, and verified safety standards, like those promulgated by ASTM International. Bill Ells, the outgoing chair of the organization’s technical committee on walkways and safety footwear, has spent more than 40 years working on these standards, which he said are the first thing to look for when shopping for work boots.
ASTM Standards and Work Boot Safety
While technically voluntary, ASTM standards do have some legal heft. “In certain workplaces, if you didn’t have work boots that met these standards, you would be violating an OSHA rule and subject to some kind of penalty,” Ells said. Since OSHA rules are serious business, footwear companies are eager to comply with ASTM standards.
“Although these are volunteer standards, the minute they’re referenced by code, in this case, OSHA, brands are very cautious about making sure that they have up-to-date standards,” he said. “I’ve never come across a safety shoe that is in the market that hasn’t been tested to that standard.” Along with protecting businesses from liabilities, Ells is confident that ASTM standards are keeping people safe.
“We don’t get reports of injuries. Doesn’t mean they’re not there, but if they are, they’re very minimal,” Ells said. “Due to the lack of that information, one has to assume these standards are doing their job—because you don’t get notified when things work; you get notified when things don’t work.”
What to Look for in the Best Work Boots
The first step in shopping for work boots, then, is making sure that they meet the ASTM standards relevant to what you’re going to use them for.
Chris Heffernan, president of Brunt Workwear, said “the first filter is ‘do you need to protective toe or not?’” And whether it’s steel, composite, carbon fiber, fiberglass, or another material, checking that the protective toe meets ASTM F2413-18—the latest version of the Standard Specification for Performance Requirements for Protective (Safety) Toe Cap Footwear, last codified in 2018—is essential. It “includes performance requirements for footwear to protect workers’ feet from a variety of workplace hazards,” Heffernan said. The best work boots will meet one or a handful of these requirements, which include:
- Impact resistance for the toe area of footwear;
- Compression resistance for the toe area of footwear;
- Metatarsal protection that reduces the chance of injury to the metatarsal bones at the top of the foot;
- Conductive properties which reduce hazards that may result from static electricity buildup, and reduce the possibility of ignition of explosives and volatile chemicals;
- Electric shock resistance;
- Static dissipative (SD) properties to reduce hazards due to excessively low footwear resistance that may exist where SD footwear is required;
- Puncture resistance of footwear bottoms;
- Chain saw cut resistance; and
- Dielectric insulation
How to Check Your Work Boots’ ASTM Standards
There’s a similar standard, ASTM F2892-18, for soft-toe protective footwear. To check before you buy, Heffernan said “The ASTM committee also makes sure that any work boot on the inside of the tongue has a label that says exactly what safety requirements the product meets.” Online shoppers can also typically find this information on manufacturer websites without too much difficulty—manufacturers are understandably eager to advertise their adherence.
Among the boots that meet the relevant safety standards, there are a few other factors Heffernan said you should consider. One is how tough you need them to be. Heavy-duty work boots have a welted construction with a firm sole and are made for strenuous outdoor work—think standing on rebar or walking over rocky terrain. Medium-duty work boots are made for outdoor and indoor settings, which a standard general contractor working on standard construction sites might encounter. Light-duty work boots are made for indoor settings like factories. Choose the best work boots for yourself based on how you’ll use them.
The Best Work Boots of 2023
Best Keen Work Boots
While Keen might be better known for its hiking boots, the Portland-based brand has a robust lineup of legit work boots, too. The San Jose is one of its best sellers, likely because it’s loaded with technical features like a waterproof (but breathable) membrane to keep feet dry and a siped outsole with channels that disperse liquids quickly for slip protection. These Keen work boots meet four different ASTM standards, and the soft-toe version is recommended for everything from carpentry to trucking.
Best Thorogood Work Boots
Work boots for men are primarily functional objects, but these show that they can also be damn handsome. These made-in-the-US Thorogood work boots have 3M Thinsulated insulation, making them ideal for working hard in colder climates and meet ASTM standards for slip resistance and electrical hazards. We’re also fans of the eight-inch shaft, which increases stability for those prone to rolling their ankles while hard at work.
Best Brunt Work Boots
Steel toe work boots were once the only option for serious toe protection, but these Brunt work boots feature one of the newer composite materials. Brunt calls it the “Nano Toe” and says it’s lighter than steel with fewer drawbacks while still protective enough to meet the ASTM F2413-18 standard. The Marin, a wedge sole work boot with a classic moc toe, put Brunt on the map with its competitive price point, enthusiastic reviews, and eight variations.
Best Ariat Work Boots
It might clash with their rustic, rugged public image, but cowboys deserve high-quality work boots, too. These Ariat work boots unite the classic cowboy boot silhouette with specs that meet ASTM standards for safety toe, electric hazard, and slip-resistant footwear. The stitched flame (or wing) design has nothing to do with that, but it does help make these some of the best-looking work boots around.
Best Timberland Pro Work Boots
Most composite toe work boots provide standardized protection, but this pair from Timberland PRO (the capitals mean they’re serious) comes equipped with anti-fatigue technology, the promise that they can not only make work safer but less tiring via “shock-absorbing, geometrical technology that returns energy back to the foot.” How well it works will vary from person to person, but everyone should appreciate the anti-microbial treatment on the moisture-wicking lining for less stinky work boots.
Best Xtratuf Work Boots
A mainstay on commercial fishing boats in Alaska, these heavy-duty rubber work boots are perfect for any job that involves copious amounts of moisture. They meet ASTM standards for viral penetration resistance and electrical hazards—two dangers that are more pronounced when working in and around water. To fight the biggest problem with waterproof boots, the comfortable open-cell foam footbed reduces the amount of moisture inside the boot.
Best Wolverine Work Boots
Untied laces aren’t just a pain to fix mid-job, they can present a safety hazard on a worksite. One of the best pull-on options, Wolverine’s Trade Wedge steel-toe work boots solve that problem, adding easy-on convenience to boot (pun intended). They still meet ASTM standards for impact and compression resistance and electrical hazards, so the lack of laces doesn’t mean a lack of safety.
Best Rocky Work Boots
These Rocky work boots meet the ASTM standard for the less common but still crucial metatarsal protection, meaning the top of the foot is protected from both impact and compression. Beyond that, they’re just a solid, handsome pair of steel-toe work boots that are waterproof, slip- and oil-resistant, and American-made. The Goodyear welting means these boots can be resoled if and when hard work wears them down, making them a great choice for serious workers.
Best Carhartt Work Boots
While best known for making men’s jackets and workwear, Carhartt also makes a variety of work boots. The oil-tanned leather on these looks great, while the rubber toe and heel bumpers, EVA midsole, and flexible rubber outsole ensure they’re plenty comfortable too. They meet ASTM F2892-18 EH standards for electrical hazards, and while less serious, the Storm Defender waterproof, breathable membrane is another welcome inclusion.
Best Red Wing Work Boots
The look of these Red Wing work boots is notably hiking-inspired, but don’t let your eyes fool you: they’re built for more than a walk in the woods. The brand’s VersaTrax outsole delivers best-in-class slip, oil/gas, and chemical resistance. Some of its more unique features include heat-resistant soles and puncture-resistant ceramic insoles.
Frequently Asked Questions About Men’s Work Boots
What are the best work boots?
The best work boots vary by what you need them for. Light carpentry and commercial fishing require very different types of footwear, of course. However, any work boots worth buying meet at least one ASTM standard for protective footwear, and the most heavy-duty options offer that kind of protection against multiple hazards.
What’s the best way to break in work boots?
The best way to break in any pair of boots is to wear them, which means wearing a new pair of work boots when you aren’t working is the best way to ensure they’re comfortable when you are working.
What are the most comfortable work boots?
This varies from person to person, but features to look out for include a moisture-wicking lining, flexible outsole, and padded insole (bonus points if they’re removable and therefore customizable). Despite that, many workers will say they prefer some kind of orthotic insert to go inside their boots.