Composite toe vs Steel Toe – Which one is best for You?

There has been a long time debate between composite toe vs steel toe boots over which is better. Whether you’re new to safety toe boots or simply replacing an old pair, you need footwear for work that is going to offer the best protection.

Depending on your job, each carries its own benefits and drawbacks that will apply to your needs. What kind of hazards are you exposed to on the job? What is the temperature of your workplace environment? These are just a few questions to consider when m

We’re going to first take a look at the key differences between the two protection types, and then review some of the best boots that can get the job done based on your needs.

Boot

Design

Protection
Rating

Price

Top Pick!

Carhartt 
6 Inch
Composite toe

$$

Keen Utility
Pittsburgh
Steel-toe

$$$

Wolverine
Legend 6 Inch
Composite-toe

$$$

Caterpillar
Second Shift
Steel-toe

$

Irish Settler
6"
Steel-toe

$$

Thorogood
6"
Composite-toe

$$


Safety Toe Features

What is Composite toe made from?

This type of toe protection can be made from a number of materials such as fiberglass, Kevlar, and even plastic. While none of these materials are as tough as steel, composite toes still provide an impressive level of protection.

They’ve been proven to handle an enormous amount of impact weight, and will generally set you back a few more dollars than their steel counterparts. But don’t count composites out yet, we’re just getting started.

What do you think will happen when a 4.5t forklift runs over a composite toe?
Check out the video to find out.

Level of Protection

Certain jobs will require steel and others will require composite footwear. At the end of the day, each material is designed to protect your precious feet and both are approved by OSHA to ensure they meet safety standards.

protection level gauge

Steel

Steel toes are going to be the heavyweight champion in terms of sheer impact force protection. It’s a tough, long lasting material built to withstand the most intense beatings that a workplace can dish out.
Our overall main work boot picks are here. 

This kind of protection is going to be particularly useful in construction settings or any other job where you run the risk encountering objects that can puncture your footwear and therefor cause damage to your feet. We’re also going to take this moment to quickly debunk the toe amputation myth.

Mythbusters proved that steel toed boots will not sever your toes even when exposed to extreme weight. That’s a relief.

Weight and Design

Depending on other desirable work boot features or how walking intensive your job is, you may not want protection that’s going to add a lot of extra weight. Of course, there’s not only weight to consider, but also how much extra room it leaves for your toes as well as visual appearance (if you care about that kind of thing).

Steel Toed boots safety facts

Naturally, as steel carries the highest level of protection, it also carries the most weight. Depending on the thickness and other construction factors (such as leather, rubber soles, insoles, etc.), it can all make for a heavier boot that you have to lug around.

Weight aside, steel does typically have a low profile design. Due to its dense nature, the steel layer doesn’t have to be too thick to provide high-grade protection. A thinner toe cap gives the boots an overall sleek and even look.

army helmet protecting boots

Steel also gives your toes more room to breathe and wiggle. However, some steel caps are prone to rubbing against the toes and causing discomfort after seeing significant use.

Composite toe safety boots

On top of providing well above average protection, the best composite toe boots are usually up to 30% lighter than steel. The variety of materials that they can be crafted from give companies more versatility to incorporate protection without adding too much weight.

The drawback is that composite materials require a thicker layer to provide the work safety standard level of protection. Composite caps will usually have a bulkier design that protrudes more than other features of the work boot.

This will also compromise toe space and make it a little more cramped. On the plus side, these types of caps don’t cause the same discomfort issues as steel after being broken in.

Insulation and Electrical Safety

construction sign danger high voltage

Certain work environments may expose workers to extreme temperatures and electrical hazards. It’s important to pick the toe protection correct for your job so you can perform comfortably, and safely.

(best winter work boots article here)​

Steel

When placed in extreme temperatures, steel cap footwear is prone to cooling down and heating up. This can lead to quite a bit of discomfort, and the primary reason that steel toed boots are not recommended for these kinds of jobs.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, it’s not uncommon for steel protection to meet or exceed electrical hazard safety tests.

Composite

Composite materials fair much better against the elements than steel. Most are naturally resistant to extreme temperatures while helping to keep your toes insulated and comfortable throughout the work day.

These materials also pass electrical hazard safety tests, making them a great choice for jobs where this is a relevant concern.

Composite vs Steel Toe - Summary

As you can see, each type of safety toe offers unique pros and cons that are heavily reliant on your line of work. We’ve compiled a short summary to help make the selection process easier before we dive into the reviews.

Steel

  • Highest grade impact protection
  • Puncture protection
  • ​Heavier weight
  • ​Low profile design
  • Can offer electrical protection
  • Poor insulation

Composite

  • Above average impact protection
  • Not puncture proof
  • Lightweight
  • Bulkier design
  • Can offer electrical protection
  • Great insulation

Keep in mind your job requirements and what conditions you'll be working in when deciding if composite toe vs steel toe footwear is better for you. 


Reviews of the Best Steel & Composite
Work Boots

Carhartt Men’s CMF6366 Six-Inch Composite Boot

These Carhartt work boots have a lot of awesome features that make them extremely versatile. To start, they come armed with the Rugged Flex technology which features five unique layers of flexibility, durability, and comfort.

The slip and oil-resistant rubber soles with ladder lock lugs provide extra traction for better stability. In addition, multiple shock absorbing layers in conjunction with energy-returning heel inserts help to make time spent on your feet a breeze.

Moisture wicking internal lining and a removable PU insole top them off to give you exceptional comfort. These composite work boots are built for the long shift worker that needs equal parts comfort and toughness.

Pros

  • Flexible rubber sole
  • Multilayer comfort features
  • Breathability
  • Wide composite cap for extra room
  • Durable long lasting design 

KEEN Utility Men’s Pittsburgh Steel Toe Work Boot

These visually dominant boots have two layers of waterproof protection. Between the water resistant leather and KEEN Dry technology with an internal breathable membrane, your feet will stay dry and comfortable no matter the conditions.

The metal speed hooks make these boots easy to get on and offer a secure fit all the way through the ankle. The external body has reflective webbing to increase safety for workers that have the night shift.

A dual density PU midsole and full-length stability plate help to keep your footing firm and confident while the naturally contouring arch support prevents fatigue from setting in. This pair of work footwear is not the cheapest boots around, but the KEEN name makes the price tag worth it.

Pros

  • Excellent waterproof features and breathability (Full article on waterproof work boots here)
  • Arch support is great for flat feet
  • Little to no break in period
  • Durable leather and fabric design

Cons

  • Soles lack durability
  • Heavy design
  • Comfort features need upgrading

Wolverine Men’s Legend 6-Inch Waterproof Comp Toe Work Boot

Starting with the soles, these Wolverine boots come with slip-resistant rubber lugs that have advanced treading so you can grip any and every surface. A waterproof membrane and leather exterior keep moisture out.

They’re equipped with Wolverine’s Durashock technology that is focused on returning energy to your step. The H-plate suspension system is designed to give your feet superior support and stability along with the soles.

CarbonMax safety caps offer a lightweight design with ample room so your toes don’t feel cramped. To wrap up, your feet will be cradled by the removable Ortholite cushion inside this tough work footwear.

Pros

  • Snug feeling and secure fit
  • Durable leather build
  • ​Great energy return features
  • Strong laces

Cons

  • Can cause toe discomfort
  • Soles prone to falling apart
  • ​Membrane is not breathable

Caterpillar Men’s Second Shift Steel Toe Work Boot

Caterpillar boots are well known for their extremely durable design. High-grade leather along with Goodyear welt construction form a solid base for these work boots. The soles are slip & abrasion resistant, as well as electric hazard safe.

Climasphere technology lines the inside of these boots for moisture wicking and exceptional temperature control so you don’t get too cold or warm. The removable contour insole also has Climasphere technology.

Lastly, the steel cap in these boots pass class 75 certifications so you can be sure that your toes are under some of the best protection. Caterpillar built these boots to last and stand up to the worst you have to throw at them.

Pros

  • Extremely durable
  • Provides good ankle support
  • Spacious toe protection
  • Temperature regulation

Cons

  • Needs better comfort features
  • Boots are not waterproof
  • Stiff and long break in period

Irish Setter Men’s 83608 Six-Inch Steel Work Boot

Keep grounded and grip all surfaces with polyurethane V-Grip outsoles. They’re wrapped with the standard Irish Setter durable leather to ensure a long lasting design that can weather the elements.

A non-metallic shank is built in for added support and energy return, ideal features for the worker that walks a lot and spends time on their feet. They’re lightweight and flexible to prohibit fatigue from setting in.

The safety and electrical hazard resistant steel toe keep you ready to tackle a variety of workplace settings. These work boots carry a very affordable price tag with a top name brand.

Pros

  • Roomy fit
  • Anti-fatigue and support features
  • Long lasting leather
  • Lightweight

Cons

  • Not breathable
  • Lacking sufficient arch support
  • Leather is hard to break in

Thorogood Men’s GEN-FLEX 6-Inch Lace-Toe Composite Toe Boot

Few boots come packed with as many unique features as these. If the dual density rubber outsole doesn’t offer enough for you, the extra abrasion resistant rubber around the toes and sides will.

Understanding the importance of being confident on your feet, Thorogood has incorporated an anti-roll heel bar for extra support and stability. The composite shank also helps with this.

The insoles and midsole are both EVA, but there’s an added extra layer of gel to help take care of any jarring shock that makes it through. For being Thorogood branded boots, they offer a price tag that will make any worker want to buy them.

Pros

  • Extra ankle support
  • Versatile use in multiple environments
  • Superior shock absorption
  • Flexible wear out of the box

Cons

  • Rubber toe prone to peeling
  • Heavy build
  • Soles lack durability

The Chosen Winner is...

We’ve covered a lot of high-quality boots, but one, in particular, stood out above the rest. Our selected winner for the best work boots with safety toe protection is the Carhartt Men’s CMF6366 Six-Inch Composite Boot.

They come complete with a wide composite toe to ensure you have enough room, electrical hazard protection, and great energy returning features that complement the comfort insoles.

The composite caps offer lightweight, high-grade protection with great insulation that works well with the moisture wicking lining. They come ready to stand up to the toughest jobs and make sure you go home with happy feet.

The right composite toe vs steel toe footwear ​for your occupation will vary, you should consider all the aspects before making a purchase. 

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