Are Steel Toe Boots Bad for Your Feet? Avoid Foot Injuries

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by  William Barton | Last Updated: 

Do you work on building sites or in an environment that involves heavy lifting? 

With health and safety becoming more relevant than ever, many companies require their employees to wear safety equipment on site. From building sites to warehouses, road sweepers, and even stores like Ikea require their staff to have steel toe boots.

If you work in one of these environments, chances are you’ll need steel toe boots. The problem is that long hours wearing heavy, hot, and potentially uncomfortable boots can make life difficult at best, agonizing at worst. 

A great pair of steel toe boots can be a lifesaver though. And the trick to getting great steel toe boots is making sure they’re snug, not too heavy, and offer safety and comfort. Gone are the days that steel toe boots felt like wearing diving boots, with a little research you can find a great pair of boots that look and feel great.

Are your boots too heavy? Then composite may be for you, if your ankles hurt, have you tried safety trainers instead?

Are Steel Toe Boots Bad for Your Feet?

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Like every item of clothing or footwear, you should always buy well-fitting and comfortable, and the same goes for steel toe boots. It’s not that steel toe boots are necessarily bad for your feet, but more “Are the wrong steel toe boots bad for your feet?” Wearing a pair of jeans four sizes too small just to look great will have you waddling like a lame duck, just as the badly fitting boots will have you crawling home after a long shift.

A great pair of steel toe boots can be one of the best buys you ever make. After all, you probably wear them for work several hours each week. Having to wear steel toe boots shouldn’t mean you have to be uncomfortable in them.

If you get a pair of boots that aren’t a perfect fit, you could be in serious pain before you know it. A pair of sneakers that are slightly too large or a bit tight can be forgiving enough that you should be okay, but a heavy pair of boots with a huge steel toe at the front will soon have you suffering.

Does Size Matter?

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When it comes to a pair of steel toe boots size does matter, as they are made out of much stronger materials than other footwear. There is very little give in the movement, which is great for safety concerns but bad for comfort issues. 

If you can, always try on several sizes of the boot you’ve chosen. You may find that going up or down one size makes all the difference, especially if you’re going to be wearing thick socks for added comfort. Make sure you have space to wiggle your toes, but a close enough fit that when wearing thick socks you feel snug in your boots, and they’ll feel like a second skin in no time.

Most boots that have a steel toe are rigid to offer greater protection, but that can lead to several issues if the boot doesn’t fit properly. 

Steel toe boots can be bad for your feet when ill-fitting. The hard interior can rub against your toes or the top of your foot and cause serious discomfort. A common complaint made by people is after assuming a boot will rub for a day or two while being worn in, they find that the problem never goes away as the boot just isn’t the right one for them.

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Does the Steel Toe Damage Your Foot?

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The biggest safety feature of steel toe boots is, of course, the steel toe that protects your foot. But won’t having a piece of metal over your toes for long periods damage your feet? Thankfully not, as the metal cap is fitted between the outer layer of the boot, and an inner layer to avoid contact with the foot.

Continuous use can eventually wear down the inner layer, exposing the steel toe. When this happens, it’s time to replace your work boots before they start to rub your toes. This can take a long time though, but if you find your toes pressed against the steel toe your boot is probably too small.

Arch Support Is Vital 

Ariat Groundbreaker on foot

While the rigid structure of steel toe boots is great for safety, if the arch of the boot isn’t contoured well with your foot you’ll soon feel like you’re walking on glass.

Properly measuring your foot to see if you have a high or flat arch, and then ensuring your work boot properly supports you can prevent your feet from aching constantly.

If you’re unsure if you have high arches or flat feet, there’s a simple way to check, it’s called the “wet test”. After a shower place your wet foot onto a piece of cardboard to make a print, think kids handprints, only more mature. 

Ariat workhog next to noise protection earphones

Look at the shape of your footprint, if you can see the whole shape of your foot, you have a low arch, if the middle of the footprint curves in slightly, that means you have a medium arch, and if the middle part is almost completely dry, you have a high arch.  

Getting this right is important as the arch inside your boot won’t change to suit you, it won’t “wear in eventually”, and you’ll simply keep suffering until permanent damage is done.

A condition called plantar fasciitis can be the result of having poor support under your foot, the repetition of wearing rigid boots will eventually cause repetitive strain injury that not only affects your foot but can seriously damage your ankle and lower leg.

Ankle Support Can Increase Comfort

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High-top steel toe boots offer greater protection as they can keep your ankle properly secured while wearing your boots. High-top boots are laced up right to the very top, this locks the ankle in place and can increase your comfort levels dramatically.

Problems arise when you don’t lace up the boots to the top, especially in some of the heavier boots, as your ankle is put under more strain as you walk, and the high-top can rub or damage your ankle. 

A great analogy is to imagine ice skating without lacing up the skates; everything is fine until you turn your ankle. If the skates are laced up correctly you simply get back up, but if you don’t lace them to the top you could break your ankle.

Steel toe boots with a high-top need to be laced up correctly at all times, if you decided to buy safety trainers instead, that’s fine. it’s having high-tops but giving your ankle the space to move that can cause serious injury.

Are Steel Toe Boots Too Warm?

ariat workhog work boot with sawdust

Working in heavy steel toe boots for hours at a time can make your feet feel like they are in a furnace, leading to discomfort, sweating, and even more uncomfortable issues such as athletes foot. 

Rashes and blistering due to overheating can make wearing steel toe boots hard work. Wearing thick socks for added comfort while wearing your boots can also lead to your feet overheating, so it’s important to get as much air to your feet as possible. 

One option is to find lighter boots, there are several kinds of materials used to make steel toe boots, so finding a lightweight pair will help reduce heat. Carrying a spare pair of socks to replace wet socks will also help restrict heat rashes.

Wearing thinner socks will also keep your feet cooler, and providing your boots are a great fit, this won’t impact comfort in any way. You may find that after long periods, your feet become red or itchy due to the heat and a lack of airflow around your feet, but you can combat this to some extent by taking the boots off as soon as you are finished working. 

Unlike most footwear, which is made of more breathable materials, steel toe boots need to be fully contained. Stopping water or possibly dangerous liquids from getting in is as important a feature as being able to protect your feet from being squashed. 

Unfortunately this means sweat can’t get out too. Sweat will cause itching and irritation over time, so it’s important to clean your feet thoroughly after wearing boots to prevent long-term problems. 

Can Steel Toe Boots Cut Off Your Toes?

Danner Bull Run on model

Thankfully, there is very little chance of your toes being cut off by the steel toe in your boots if anything heavy lands on your foot. It’s just an urban myth, and you have more chance of seeing a Yeti or receiving a tax rebate than losing your toes to your boot.

The benefits of wearing safety boots far outweigh the negatives, and should anything heavy land on the top of your steel toe boots, you will be much better off than if you had been wearing standard footwear. 

And that’s why you should always wear your steel toe boots at work, employers who demand the use of steel toe boots are unsympathetic if you don’t wear them and then get injured. In fact, you’ll probably get fired, even with your new limp, so it’s important to choose a well-fitting and solid pair of boots.

Even composite boots, where the steel is replaced by toughened plastic, will prevent many injuries and won’t cause  any damage your toes.

There’s a myth circulating that should your foot be run over while wearing steel toe boots, your toes will be chopped off, forklift trucks being a prime suspect in a warehouse environment. The reality is that a quality pair of steel toe boots will prevent any serious injury, you are less likely to break a bone, let alone lose a toe.

Most Common Steel Toe Boot Injuries

Most common injuries caused by wearing steel toe boots are avoidable, making sure the boot is a perfect fit, and that you use them correctly, can prevent most problems. 

Common injuries include:

  • Plantar Fasciitis
  • Ankle Sprains
  • Bunions
  • Hammer Toe

One of the most common injuries found is plantar fasciitis, where the arch of your foot is not being supported properly. The resulting injury can be extremely painful and long-lasting but can be prevented by making sure your steel toe boot offers support wherever it is in contact with your foot.

Ankle sprains are another very common complaint whilst wearing safety boots, in rigid boots your ankle is suddenly your weakest point. an uneven surface is harder to feel while wearing steel toe boots, and trips and falls can happen. Lacing your boots up properly can prevent these types of accidents from happening.

You wouldn’t wear a baseball cap that was three sizes too small for you, you’d feel like your head was being crushed, so why should you accept steel toe boots crushing your toes? 

Bunions can be painful and don’t look great either, making your feet red and sore, and even resulting in a deformity of the foot. Getting the right fit is vital to avoid suffering from hammer toe, where your toes are pressed so tightly together that your toe remains bent, causing a lot of discomfort.

Are Steel Toe Boots Comfortable?

The right pair of steel toe boots can be great for keeping your feet safe at work, and as long as they fit you correctly there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be comfortable to wear.  Like most things in life though, several quality-of-life additions can make them even better to wear.

Steel toe boot makers have greatly improved the quality of their products over the years, they are now much lighter, more flexible, and offer greater stability. But if you want even lighter footwear perhaps composite boots are the way to go. Rather than having a steel toe cap, hardened composite materials are used, offering the same protection but with less weight.

Another positive to switching to a composite design is heat, these boots are often better at regulating the temperature of your feet, cooler in summer, and less likely to freeze your toes in winter. 

Likewise, the choice of socks worn while wearing your boots can make life easy, or hard. You should avoid ankle socks, they will simply slip down, meaning you will be forever taking your boot off to pull your socks up. Sports socks are a better idea, they are longer so offer ankle coverage, especially in combat-style boots.

There are many excellent insoles available for work boots, and these can offer even greater comfort if you are going to be wearing steel toe boots for many hours a day. Prices range from a few dollars up to well over $50 and finding the right insole could turn comfortable steel toe boots into something that feels like your favorite pair of slippers.

Conclusion

Steel toe boots are like any other item of clothing, they need to fit properly to be fit for purpose. A great pair of boots can last for years, and feel like a second skin if properly fitted. 

Every argument about steel toe boots being bad for your feet has a solution, it’s simply about using due care when buying and wearing your boots.

Wearing steel toe boots offers challenges though, with issues such as overheating and poor arch support, that do require more thought and attention. Keeping your feet in good condition is important to keeping healthy and comfortable at work.

FAQs

Why should you wear steel toe boots?

Many working environments require additional personal protective equipment (PPE), and many sites require by law that employees wear safety boots. Aside from the regulations, you may not be able to even get on some sites without steel toe boots, but the additional protection they provide can be enormously beneficial.

Are heavy steel toe boots uncomfortable?

In the early years of steel toe boots, the materials used were incredibly heavy, each foot would feel like it was encased in concrete. But modern boots are made of much lighter materials. Advances in composite materials mean that a good pair of steel toe boots won’t feel much heavier than a normal pair of shoes.

Is wearing steel toe boots every day bad for you?

Wearing your steel toe boots every day can cause issues, especially if they aren’t as well-fitting as they should be. Your feet can become wet due to the lack of air getting to your feet, which can also cause skin conditions. Ideally, you should remove your boots when they are not required, this keeps your feet aired and allows you to wear them when you have to.

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