What Does Comp Toe Mean? Should I Get Steel Toe Instead?

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by  Jon Wadsworth | Last Updated: 

Comp toe boots are becoming increasingly popular; composite toe boots meet safety regulations, so why do we even keep using steel toe boots

I recently needed safety boots for work and realized I had no idea if comp toe boots were safer or lighter than the steel toe competition, and many myths around that needed addressing before I made a purchase.

After a lot of digging around, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are obvious benefits to both, and the choice you’re going to make depends on where you wear your boots. 

Once you know the benefits and drawbacks of a comp toe boot, you can decide which is best for the environment you’ll be working in. 

If you need safety boots and can’t decide between steel toe and comp toe, this article could help with your decision-making.

What is a Composite Toe? 

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A composite toe is a simple enough premise—rather than using steel covering for the toe box of your work boots, another material is used instead. 

As technology advances, materials such as carbon fiber become more cost-effective, and more importantly, are actually strong enough to replace a steel toe.

Steel toe boots have been around since the 1930s; Red Wing introduced the first steel toe boots in the USA in 1934. 

In Europe, German factory workers were equipped with a similar boot with a steel toe as it had finally become cost-effective to look after your worker rather than fire them for injuring their foot in the factory.

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The introduction of liability insurance meant that work boots needed to be much safer. German non-commissioned officers soon embraced the steel toe boots that factory workers were wearing. It’s a simple and effective idea, which is why it’s hardly changed in 90 years. 

Several materials can be used in a composite toe boot, ranging from plastic and fiberglass to kevlar and carbon fiber. To put it into perspective, carbon fiber is used in making Formula 1 race cars; it’s one of the most robust materials ever created.

I kept asking myself why we use steel-toe boots when composite seems to be the natural progression for safety boots.

Benefits of a Composite Toe Boot

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When choosing a pair of safety boots, you need to know that they’ll be able to deal with anything you can throw at them, and composite toe boots have several key benefits that I think you’ll find incredibly useful. 

Unlike my dress boots, where I base my choice on how fabulous I’ll look, I had to really think about where I would be using my safety boots.

Certain professions and specific working environments stand out for me as the perfect situations where buying a comp toe boot will really add value for you. 

If you’re working in extreme cold, or if your job entails working around live electrical systems, then a comp toe boot stands out as an excellent choice. 

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Firstly, by definition, comp toe boots aren’t steel, which means they’re not going to set off a metal detector or conduct electricity. If you work in an industry such as security, law enforcement, or the military, there are going to be times when you’ll need to go through a metal detector. 

Comp toe boots will let you stroll through without having to explain why your feet are setting alarms off. 

It’s a big help for police officers or those that work in the courts, where PPE is still relevant, and you also need to look smart.

A pair of black comp toe boots like the Carhartt Men’s CSA Comp Safety Toe Boots will look smart at work without the hassle of setting off internal alarms.

Carhartt Men’s CSA Comp Safety Toe Boots
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Another great benefit to a comp toe boot is that composite materials don’t retain cold; if you’re an outdoorsy sort who works in cold, icy temperatures, you’ll know that steel toe boots can retain the cold for some time.

I’ve trekked through snow in old steel toe boots before, and felt like I would lose toes to frostbite. It wasn’t even that cold, it was the steel toe holding the icy cold in.

Composites such as plastic and carbon fiber aren’t affected by the weather, so you’ll be able to work in sub-zero temperatures with no after-effects.

It’s not a primary concern if it’s a quick walk to work in winter. But if you’re outside in the cold all day, a comp toe boot with a carbon fiber protective toe will allow your natural body heat to keep your toes warm.

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Many of the reviews I read online state that comp toe boots are incredibly comfortable too, which is a plus when you’re expecting to wear your boots all day at work. The Carhartt CMF6366 Composite Toe Boot is reported to be one of the most comfortable comp toe boots around. 

Most boots require a period of wearing in, sometimes for months on end, but these boots are good to go right out of the box.

Carhartt CMF6366 Composite Toe
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Drawbacks of a Composite Toe Boot

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There aren’t many drawbacks to a composite toe boot; they’re tested to ensure they meet the safety standards required of a boot. And just like a steel toe boot, they can withstand heavy loads falling on them. 

The problems arise when there is a chance of a repeat accident; steel toe caps will take the same force over and over, composite toe boots won’t.

This is the only major drawback to composite boots that I can find. If you have an accident in them, especially one that suddenly, and drastically, impacts the composite material, you may have to replace them. 

And because you’ll never know if the composite is compromised, you don’t have much choice.  

A steel toe boot that suffers a heavy blow or has something roll onto your toe will be unaffected, but tests have shown that composites can (I stress can, because it might not, but that’s the issue isn’t it) suffer a loss of stability.

Your foot may have been perfectly protected from harm, but if it happens again, the composite may not be sufficiently strong enough to protect your foot.

ariat workhog work boot with sawdust

Another potential pitfall with composite toe boots is their price; they can be more expensive than steel toe boots, sometimes noticeably more costly. 

The added cost comes partly from the extra use of materials in a composite toe; the toe box of a composite toe boot is often substantially bulkier than a steel toe boot, and composites like carbon fiber can be expensive to source. 

Just take a look at the Timberland Pro Boondock Comp-Toe boot, and you’ll see what I mean; it’s a beast of a boot, I quite like the chunky look and feel of these boots, but they are bigger than steel-toe boots. 

You’re not walking around in clown feet, and the weight isn’t affected, but if the look of your work boots is important to you, then it’s something to be aware of.

Timberland Pro Boondock Comp-Toe Boot
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Composite Toe Boots vs. Steel Toe Boots: Which is Better?

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When I was looking for a pair of safety boots for myself, two factors came into consideration; the overall look of my new boots and the toe protection the boots would offer me.

I was going to be in an environment where the risk of heavy loads was minimal, so composite toe boots won out for me in the end. I knew the chances of injury were minimal, I needed lightweight boots that meet safety standards, and I knew I would be working around live cables.

So for my situation, comp toe boots won hands down; they’re light and won’t conduct electricity.

Having said that, I would have gone for steel-toe boots if I had been working outdoors, especially on a building site or somewhere with heavy machinery or loads. 

They can take a lot of damage and remain completely safe; if I needed to guarantee my boots could take being run over by a truck, steel toe wins for me, especially if the truck wants to run over my feet tomorrow as well.

The Right Boot For the Right Job

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Choosing steel toe over composite toe completely depends on your environment and profession. A logger or someone working on a building site will probably be better served to wear steel-toe boots. 

The ability of a steel toe to take severe damage and still be structurally sound is vital in dangerous workplaces.

It’s no surprise that many engineers, electricians, and warehouse workers favor comp toe boots; the risks, while still there, are reduced in these professions. 

Electricians love the fact that the comp toe won’t conduct electricity; even after the material has worn off the front of your work boots, there’s nothing but the composite material on show.

Sure, comp toe boots are slightly lighter, but we’re not talking 10 pounds lighter per boot; it’s negligible. I won’t choose a pair of work boots because they’re 5oz lighter than another pair that offers more benefits such as greater protection, and neither should you.

Composite toe boots are more expensive, but you can shop around. So what decides which boot wins? Where you’re wearing them.

Ariat workhog next to noise protection earphones

If I’m working on sites with higher risks of heavy materials landing on my foot or logging in the woods, I’m going for a steel-toe boot. 

The design has worked for almost a century, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

If composite toe boots become strong enough to take a sharp, heavy blow repeatedly and still be able to be worn, then I can see composite taking over in even these environments.

Comp toe boots are a clear winner if you’re working in a warehouse environment or somewhere with less risk of serious injuries. 

Someone fitting electrical cables or working in a factory will find comp toe boots perfectly comfortable and safe. As technology progresses, it looks like steel toe boots will take a back seat to comp toe, but for now, choose wisely.

Conclusion

A comp toe boot is very nearly as protective as a steel toe boot. In most situations where you’ll need safety boots, composite will work just as well as steel toe. 

If taking a hit with a sledgehammer is a potentially daily occurrence, I would still go for steel-toe boots, but the gap is certainly closing. 

A pair of Carhartt CSA Comp Safety Toe Boots will perfectly protect you from anything a steel toe boot like the Timberland Pit Boss boots will.

Timberland PRO Pitboss Steel Toe
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FAQs

Is composite toe stronger than steel toe?

Composite is not quite at the standard of steel or alloy toe boots yet; steel is more robust and will be able to handle higher stresses than composite. Steel can also be thinner, allowing a lower profile for your boots. A composite toe boot often looks slightly bulbous compared to a sleeker steel toe boot.

Are composite boots OSHA approved?

Composite boots, like any other safety boot, must meet the required standards; comp toe boots meet both OSHA and ASTM safety regulations. If a boot is rated 50/50 by the ASTM, then it will mean it’s as strong as a steel-toe boot with the same rating.

Is carbon fiber the same as a composite?

Safety boots with a carbon fiber toe are classed as composite; the carbon fiber isn’t made of metal. As an incredibly strong and durable material, it will provide excellent protection for your feet. Carbon fiber is noticeably lighter than steel, too, so your boots won’t feel as heavy.