There is no one perfect work boot, but rather the best pair of work boots for you. It all depends on where you’ll be wearing them and what you’ll be doing in them.
The best work boots for men can be pricey and the features are a little confusing. Let’s look at the most important considerations when shopping for your perfect pair.
Fit and Comfort
A comfortable fit matters above all else. For long days on your feet, you could argue that wearing no shoes at all is better than wearing uncomfortable shoes. That’s doubly true for work boots that, in some cases, could be worn for eight, ten, even (gulp) 12 hours or more in a single day, depending on your job requirements.
Good-fitting boots should feel snug, but not tight, against the sides of your feet. You want a firm fit that stays in place without squeezing your feet. Sizes can vary widely between brands, so if you can’t find a good width, you may want to consider wider or narrow sizes. For your toes, you want about a thumb’s width between the tips of your toes and the inside of the boot. This is usually enough to account for the swelling that’s typical in hard-working environments.
One other thing to consider is the heel. Make sure it’s snug in place without any slippage, as this will keep you more surefooted. This is especially important for work boots where safety is key.
For maximum comfort, look to steel shanks, which provide support between the insole and outsole and reduce the load on your feet and calves, as well as any type of comfort insole.
Like hiking boots or water shoes, the soles of the best work boots are specially treated to offer a high level of traction—i.e., extra grippy and slip-resistant. These can include special treads at the sole or designs that increase friction to the ground like lugged, grooved, ridged, deep-cut teeth, etc. for better footing in slippery environments.
When it comes to the style of the sole for work boots, keep an eye out toward wedge soles and heeled soles. The wedge sole runs through the outsole from heel to toe, giving your whole feet complete contact with the surface. This design is easy on your feet because your weight is spread throughout a larger area. As such, work boots with wedge soles are often worn for working on (indoor) flat, hard grounds like a warehouse floor made of steel, concrete, or asphalt; but they’re not recommended for job sites or construction sites that are more likely to be bare ground rather than flat and hard.
The heeled sole—though only limited to the back of the boots—is often treated with more grooves and lugs for higher traction that can really dig the sole into the earth. As such, work boots with heeled soles are designed for bare-ground work in uneven, bumpy, rough terrains (usually in the outdoors but heeled soles are a pro at any kind of job site). The heeled sole also gives you more stability on a ladder. All in all, heeled-sole work boots are a must-have for outdoor workers like construction workers or loggers, but it isn’t as comfortable as wedge sole.
Good men’s work boots are made with multiple layers of different materials. So be on the lookout for materials (most often you get leather for the upper and rubber for the sole) and how they’re put together to make a pair of work boots.
Goodyear welt is a time-honored, tried-and-tested construction that puts shoes together by stitching the upper leather and insole together with a welt—a special piece of leather—along the outsole. This construction offers arguably the strongest and most durable build, though the leather will need time for breaking in.
It’s a fancy word for “what will you be using your work boots for?” If you’re looking for a pair to protect your feet at home while mowing the lawn, working on your car, or doing light demo work on that house you’re planning to flip, a pair of durable, but lightweight boots will probably get the job done.
If you’re working 12-hour days at a pit mine, you’re going to want something heavier, probably with a steel or safety toe. Then, of course, there’s a long list of versatile, medium-duty work boots that fall somewhere in-between.
If your work outdoors takes you into wet or muddy terrain, be sure to invest in a pair of waterproof (or at least water-resistant) work boots. But if getting around quickly is your biggest concern, opt for a lightweight pair that won’t weigh you down.
The best work boots for men (we’re talking brand-name work boots with a steel toe and dozens of great features) run north of $300. But, you can find a decent pair of light- to medium-duty boots for around $100-$150. If you’re minding your budget, there’s no need to overpay. Just find the best work boots that are only as tough and rugged as you need without unnecessary features.