By Jayden Mark
People choosing between the various types of safety boots for work, hunting, or hiking often ask the same question. Composite toe boots vs steel toe, which is better? Once you understand how these boots are made, it is easier to distinguish which might be the best option for you. They both have their pros and cons.
What you will learn about in this article.....
While this is primarily a discussion about composite toe boots, I’ll be comparing them to their steel cap toe counterparts, as this is an important factor for anyone deciding what type of work boots they should use. Some of the same criteria could be used if you’re considering hiking or hunting boots.
One of the things that has people undecided between steel and composite toe boots is the price. The latter is usually the more expensive option. You may be wondering if it’s worth paying extra for what is arguably the better technology. Of course, the advantages of composite toe technology only applies in some circumstances.
To get to the bottom of the saga, I’ll start by explaining what is meant by the term composite toe boots.
What are Composite Toe Boots?
Safety boots are mostly defined by the protective toe cap that prevents your feet from being damaged by impact. Traditionally, these were made by fitting a steel cap under the front end of the boot. However, steel has its drawbacks. It is heavy and not at all flexible.
In an effort to make work boots more comfortable, manufacturers looked at alternative materials that would provide a similar level of protection without compromising too much on user comfort and the fatigue that may result from wearing heavy boots.
The answer came in the form of composite materials. These are non-metal materials that would include:
Composite boots are manufactured in the same way as steel toe boots and may look identical. The only difference is the material used to make the protective toe cap. Comparing steel to composite toe boots is not as simple as one might think. This is because not all composite toe boots are equal.
Looking at the list above, you can see a variety of materials can be used to make composite toe boots. The type of material will affect the price and the amount of protection the boot provides.
Kevlar is an extremely tough material, known for its impact absorbing properties. It used extensively for military protective gear and bullet proof vehicles. The big advantage to using Kevlar is its weight. Since this material is relatively lightweight and has the ability to protect against bullets and (to some extent) bombs, it seems like the ideal material for safety boots.
Even more unique, in the context of protective footwear, is its flexibility. Unlike other, more rigid materials, Kevlar allows the foot move naturally without much restriction. This is a valuable trait when mobility and agility are of great importance, making Kevlar the preferred material for military and law enforcement protective gear. In a profession where you may need to run, jump, or climb, Kevlar is the best option.
The downside to using Kevlar is that it is expensive and can be quite bulky. You need a relatively thick layer of Kevlar compared to some other materials used for protective boots to provide the same level of impact protection.
Carbon fiber composite toe boots are the most expensive. They are also the best. Carbon fiber is extremely lightweight and as tough as nails. Actually, carbon fiber is tougher than nails. While composite toe boots are generally considered less able to withstand impact compared to steel, some carbon fiber boots can compete as equals and may even be stronger. It is also an excellent material for extreme weather.
Not all carbon fiber boots cost the same and their ability to protect your feet will also differ. Regular carbon fiber is great but does not always compare as favorably to steel or metal alloys for maximum impact protection.
Carbon nanotube is a space age material that surpasses traditional carbon fiber. It is made from microscopic strands of carbon atoms that are bonded to form a hexagonal tube. The nanotubes are woven into a mesh which is super-strong and extremely lightweight.
Carbon nanotube is, without a doubt, the best material for protective toe caps in boots. It provides maximum protection with the least amount of weight and has all the weatherproofing advantages of any composite toe boot. Of course, being the best also means it is the most expensive. Carbon nanotube toe boots are rare and pricey, making them the least common type of safety boot for work and play.
Plastic is inexpensive, lightweight, and reasonably strong. This makes it an excellent material for affordable work boots and is probably the most popular material for composite toe hiking boots.
While plastic is not as strong as steel, metal alloy, or carbon fiber, it does provide a reasonable amount of protection and provides all the other benefits of composite toe boots.
Like plastic, fiberglass is a cheaper option and has the same drawback. This being that neither plastic nor fiberglass are strong as other materials used to make safety boots. It does, however, have the same weight benefits and all the other attributes that make composite toe boots the preferred option for some professions.
The Benefits of Composite Toe Boots
While the more affordable composite toe boots don’t provide as much protection as steel toe boots, they do have their advantages, which is shared by more expensive materials, like carbon fiber, carbon nanotube, or Kevlar.
Since the advanced materials are more expensive and don’t always match the protective ability of steel, you may be wondering why anyone would pay more for a boot that seems to be inferior.
The fact is all composite toe boots, regardless of the price or the material used, have numerous advantages:
Composite Toe vs Steel Toe Boots
OSHA recommendations for safety boots don’t distinguish between steel or composite toe boots. As long as the boots meet the required tensile strength, they are acceptable for most professions. Though, people who work in demanding jobs generally prefer steel toe boots despite the fact that they are heavier than composite toe boots.
In the construction industry, and other professions where the risk of injury from heavy falling objects is prevalent, steel toe boots remain the most popular choice. While some carbon fiber, and in particular carbon nanotube safety toe boots can compete with steel toe boots, they are rare and expensive. In the end, steel toe boots remain the most common choice for jobs that require maximum protection for your feet.
If you don’t need the same level of heavy-duty protection, the more common types of composite toe boots (plastic or fiberglass) can be a better solution. More affordable composite toe boots cost roughly the same as steel toe boots, albeit that they are not as tough. They still provide adequate protection for most situations.
The lightweight benefit of composite toe boots is the most commonly cited reason why people prefer them. They can be a necessity if your job requires non-metallic boots, like electricians. Generally, composite toe boots are more comfortable. Furthermore, composite toe boots don’t get as hot as steel toe equivalents.