Sore, pinched or cold feet can make a workday absolutely miserable. That’s why choosing the right footwear is so important. Your feet’s needs vary with the different tasks you tackle. For optimum comfort and performance, you need to select a boot or shoe that’s suited for the conditions you’ll be working in.
Some footwear is waterproof; some is insulated to protect against the cold. Some types feature steel or composite safety-toe construction; others provide comfort when standing for long hours on concrete floors. The question is, what features do you really need?
To help you examine your options, the HANDY editors came up with eight types of footwear needs and cited some examples of what’s available for each type. Consider the features described on the following pages to help you find the best way to treat your feet.
Everyday Work Boot by Duluth Trading Co.
Many DIYers take on a lot of different jobs and therefore need boots that can stand up to a wide variety of conditions. Look for a pair that is both oil- and water-resistant and has a nonslip sole but is not so heavy that it will unnecessarily weigh down your feet. The Everyday Work Boot from Duluth Trading Co. is one example of this type of footwear. It not only has a slip-resistant rubber sole and a gusset tongue to keep out dirt, pebbles and moisture but also features removable and washable insoles and permits the use of orthotic inserts if needed.
Utility Cleveland by Keen
Outdoor Safety and Comfort
If you spend a significant amount of time working with outdoor power equipment such as a chain saw, you need a boot that is waterproof and provides safety features such as steel toe reinforcement. Long known as a maker of outstanding hiking boots, Keen offers work boots (such as the Utility Cleveland shown above) featuring asymmetrical steel toes that are anatomically designed to fit the unique shape of the left and right foot. Other features include waterproof leather uppers, a waterproof breathable membrane, an oil- and slip-resistant rubber outsole, locking metal lacing hooks and additional impact protection.
Red Wing Model 237
Perfect for Landscapers
When you spend a lot of time working outdoors, you need boots built for comfort as well as protection. The Red Wing model 237 is a great all-around work boot, but its features make it an especially good choice for landscapers. It features Red Wing’s highest-grade waterproof full-grain leather to protect against abrasions. The leather surrounds a three-layer waterproof system that’s warranted not to leak for one year. The Dynaforce insole provides excellent support and stability. In addition, the boots meet the ASTM F 2413-05 standard for electrical-hazard protection, meaning added shock protection in case you hit a buried line. If you work with heavy materials such as boulders, consider the model 4437, which has similar styling and features plus a steel toe.
If you work in a hazardous environment and your employer requires you to wear safety boots, make sure that the ones you purchase are certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), an international organization that provides voluntary testing standards. In the United States, relevant standards for work boots are outlined by ASTM Standards F 2412-05 and ASTM Standards F 2413-05. Although the ASTM does not enforce its standards, most of them have been adopted and enforced by governmental agencies.
Timberland Pro Ratchet Steel Toe Hiker
Walk into any department store and you’ll find aisles and aisles of women’s shoes, but when it comes to work boots, there aren’t many choices. One attractive alternative is the Timberland Pro Ratchet Steel Toe Hiker. Though it’s designed and labeled for hiking, this boot’s steel toe, oil-resistant high-traction rubber outsole, OrthoLite footbed and super-durable leather upper make it perfect for indoor and outdoor home-improvement tasks. The best part is that despite their sturdy design, the boots are flexible and ready to wear right out of the box.
Yeti II 600i by Hi-Tec
Boot for Hazardous Environments
If you work around chemicals or biohazards, it’s important to have footwear that protects your feet from contamination and does not track hazardous agents into another environment. Boots made specifically for such conditions, such as the Yeti II 600i from Hi-Tec shown here, are waterproof and have chemical-resistant soles, and they’re impervious to penetration by blood-borne pathogens — a potential lifesaver if you work in the medical or emergency-response fields. The boots are made with a patented “Ion-mask” process, during which each pair is loaded individually into a hypobaric chamber, where a pressurized vacuum is formed. A current of plasma then transfers a fluorocarbon monomer that molecularly bonds to every surface of the boot, providing repellent qualities.
Wolverine Red Tooth
The Work Shoe
Work boots are often a bit heavy, and their protective features may be unnecessary for everyday chores. If you’re simply working in the shop or yard, a pair of lightweight, comfortable shoes that provide great support, such as the Wolverine Red Tooth shown here, might be just right. This one is a low-cut hiker with a composite toe, which offers great protection for those times when you have a slippery grip on something heavy. You won’t slip, however, because the flared-heel Vibram-rubber outsole sports some pretty grippy lugs. Best of all, the compression-molded EVA midsole is comfy and will put a nice spring in your step.
Timberland Pro Titan Wellington Boot
Withstanding Water and Mud
Few boots are as good for working in wet, mucky environments as the Wellington, a style that has a long and distinguished history. Originally based on 19th-century Hessian leather military boots and made popular by Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington, this style resembles a cowboy boot but offers more protection. Often made of leather (for example, the Timberland Pro Titan Wellington Boot shown here), Wellington boots are also available in a variety of materials including rubber and PVC, and you can find insulated versions for cold climates. Choose a steel-toe model if you’ll be working in hazardous conditions or with power equipment such as a chain saw; you can opt for a lighter-weight variety without the safety toe if you just want protection from mud and water.
PTC Slip-On II by Keen
When you want to quickly don or doff work shoes, nothing beats a pair of slip-ons. But as a name, Slip-On is a funny fit for these clog-like shoes that are made to prevent wearers from slipping on anything. The rubber soles of Keen’s PTC Slip-On II shoes even meet ASTM nonslip testing standards. And if slip-on conjures the idea of slippers in your mind, all the better: These shoes are made for comfort, even when you’re on your feet all day. The soles are cushy on the inside but rigid on the outside, protecting your soles from jarring jobs such as digging with a shovel. And with a leather lining and water-resistant leather on the outside, they help keep your feet dry while letting your toes breathe.
Common Work-Boot Terms
- Lasts: forms that are made in the shape of the human foot and tailored for a specific use. For example, a boot last would be designed to hug the instep for a close fit.
- Footbed: the inside part of the shoe, often removable, that runs under the bottom of the foot. A footbed is also referred to as the insole or inner sole.
- Vibram sole: a rubber-base sole (originally developed by Vitale Bramani and first used in mountaineering boots) that provides increased traction and is the model on which other soft-lug soles are based.
- Lug sole: a type of outer sole, typically found on heavy-duty and utility shoes, consisting of deep indentations that improve stability and traction.
- Safety toe: an internal box of steel or crush-proof composites at the end of a boot that protects the toes from injury.
- Welt: a strip of leather, rubber or plastic that is stitched to the upper and insole of a shoe as an attachment point for the sole. The space enclosed by the welt is filled with cork or some other filler material, and the outsole is both cemented and stitched to the welt. This type of shoe construction (referred to as Goodyear Welt construction because the machinery used for the process was invented by the son of Charles Goodyear) allows you to replace the sole when it wears out.
- Cement construction: a manufacturing method in which the outsole of the boot is glued to the upper part of the boot. Cement construction is less expensive but also less reliable than other methods, even though improvements have been made in recent years.
- Molded construction: a manufacturing method in which the outsole is molded directly to the leather or fabric of the boot’s upper, creating a strong bond that typically lasts longer than cement construction.