I feel like I really need to start this post with the disclaimer that I am in no way a “men’s man”. I feel more comfortable in front of the PC rather than with a saw in my hand.
That in itself should explain why, as I started taking apart our old patio terrace, I stepped with my running shoes on a nail protruding through one of the old planks I had just removed.
Luckily the sole of my shoes was just firm enough that I could feel the nail going in and stopped applying pressure the minute I felt a prickle. It still hurt enough that I decided I needed steel toe boots before I proceeded with the work.
Before I went down to the store though, being a natural couch potato, I decided to do a little digging about steel toe boots, and up came all these articles about the problems other workers have had when using incorrectly sized and designed shoes. So, for all my fellow potatoes, here is what a few hours of research will yield.
Are Steel Toe Boots Bad for Your Feet?
No, steel toe shoes are not bad for your feet, on the contrary, they can be the only thing that stands between you and a tetanus shot, and they just might save your toes from being crushed one day. Having said that, you are essentially wearing a suit of armor for your feet, and there will be inherent problem areas that you need to be aware of when you decide to buy new steel toe boots. Here are some of the things I refer to.
The Steel Toe Area
Since the sole of the steel toe shoes is also made of steel or an equally strong rubber, the toe area is the most problematic part of the shoe. Most people have this preconceived notion that a shoe will give over time and adjust itself to your feel. For that reason, provided the shoes are not extremely tight, most people will buy slightly uncomfortable steel toe boots and somehow expect that they will give.
The obvious problem is that the toe is encased in a type of steel that should be able to take a 100-pound steel beam falling on it and not even bend. So, do you really think your toes will be able to push through that? Rather, you will find that the metal toe will bend and warp your feet with time just like the Chinese geishas of the Sung Dynasty.
Even in cases where the foot fits the steel toe perfectly, you should pay particular attention to the area where the steel toe protector ends, usually just above the balls of your feet. With poorly designed boots the edge of the metal is not masked perfectly in softer fabrics and they can bite into your flesh.
The Sole of the Shoe
As I mentioned before, with steel toe boots, it is not just the toe that is covered in metal, it is also the sole of the shoe. That means the sole is incredibly rigid and, as you are walking your soles do not role so as to make a smooth transition from the tip of the toes to the heal.
If you would like to have a better feel of what I am talking about just try walking on a concrete surface with just your socks on without rolling your soles. In other words, try to do the Frankenstein walk for more than 10 minutes and you will start feeling uncomfortable immediately, and then a dull pain will appear within minutes.
The problem is that the sole of the shoe absolutely needs to be that rigid so the one thing you can and should demand from a decent pair of steel toe boots is that they at least have adequate arch support for your soles. Even though the rolling effect is something you will miss with most steel toe shoes, as long as the arch of your feet is supported – and thus your weight is distributed evenly along your soles – walking should not become too uncomfortable.
The Heel and Shock Absorption
Somewhat connected with the rolling motion of the feet as you are walking, is the shock absorption effect of the heel of the shoe. The entire sole of a shoe has to be fairly rigid to protect the feet and also to prevent early wear signs due to the rough work environments that the shoes are designed for. However, you should still expect that your work boots will absorb some of the pressures created by walking.
In all honesty, getting the heel right is probably the most difficult challenge of designing a good steel toe shoe. On the one hand, you need to put enough bounce into it as to offset the fact that the rest of the sole is incredibly rigid.
On the other hand, roofers and other people who constantly work with ladders will need a fairly rigid sole that will make them feel secure as they are walking up and down the stairs. Getting that balance right is something that I will definitely be looking for when I buy my first pair of steel toe boots.
Are Steel Toe Boots Breathable?
Lastly, with all those layers of protection, most steel toe boots do not really allow air and humidity to escape the shoe. Besides the extra rigid sole, the metal encased toes, the strong leather designed to absorb 10 times the wear and tear of regular shoes, you also have extra strong stitches, enforced with glue so that the shoes are watertight.
Taking all of that into consideration you can see how most steel toe boots are so tight that your feet will end up swimming in sweat by the time the workday is over. In fact, some of the most horrifying stories I have read online from workers who use these types of boots every day, have to do with feet that literally rot in the shoes.
Even with the best steel toe boots you absolutely have to wash your feet every day with antibacterial soap, and you need to stay away from cotton socks. Instead, you should investigate buying professional wool socks when you buy the boots. Cotton traps moisture whereas wool keeps your feet dry and allows the air to circulate. But more than that, you should invest in a pair of boots that has good ventilation.
I know I have been giving you what seems like a lot of reasons why you should not buy steel toe boots, but, I would like to reiterate that I am currently in the process of buying this type of boots. They are the only thing that stands between nasty infections and the risk of losing your toes. Furthermore, provided you choose wisely and don’t just go for the cheapest pair, they can be relatively comfortable and useful.