Millions of Americans wear boots to work. From construction workers to delivery truck drivers. From landscapers to carpenters to plumbers. Countless careers depend on quality footwear. But your work boots take tremendous wear and tear. Buying new boots is expensive. Injuring feet and knees due to bad footwear is even worse. It's worth the extra time and money up front to prevent injuries down the road. Choosing the comfortable work boots – and increasing your comfort and support with high-quality insoles – will keep your feet happy on the job all day, every day.
Here are 6 tips to for amazingly comfortable work boots.
1. Comfortable Work Boots Require the Right Fit
Boot fit is vital for foot comfort. Take time when purchasing to ensure the fit is right. Pay special attention when trying out a new brand or a new style. Boots that are too short or too narrow are uncomfortable. Boots that are too big allow too much movement and can cause blisters and hot spots.
When you try new boots on, make sure they fit:
- Wear the socks that you will wear on the job. Polyester or wool/polyester blends will keep your feet more comfortable – winter and summer. Cushioning on the bottom will provide an added level of comfort.
- Slide your feet forward until your toes touch the front of the boot. Bend your knee forward. The width of your index finger should fit between the heel of your foot and the back of the shoe – no more, no less.
- Make sure that the laces are snug and keep your foot comfortably in place. They should prevent your foot from sliding to the front of the boot without being uncomfortably tight.
- Make sure that the boots flex at the ball of your foot. They should NOT bend in the area of your arch.
- Know that your feet will swell at the end of a long day, especially when it’s hot. If possible, try boots on after work so your feet will be at their largest.
2. Buy Quality Work Boots that Last
Poor quality boots wear out quickly. Cheap leather and linings do not last. A ripped lining makes boots really uncomfortable. The torn material can rub against your foot, causing blisters. Quality comfortable work boots will have leather or high quality textile linings that last for years. Look for top-notch leather and durable stitching.
Cheap boots also do not fit as well as better-made boots. Many inexpensive boots have a bulbous fit that does not hold the foot securely. Here are a few boot brands to look at:
Wesco – Built for guys whose lives depend on their boots. Unbelievable quality. Made in the USA. They are expensive. But remember, these comfortable work boots can be resoled many times and will last a lifetime if cared for. Check out the Job Master model. Similar quality can be found in Whites Boots.
Timberland – Known for their yellow leather work boots, Timberland has been around the block more than a few times. Most of their boots are made with the direct attach method. The soles are molded directly to the uppers resulting in a very watertight construction. Unfortunately, direct attach boots cannot be resoled. Make sure your Timberland boots fit well.
Keen - Especially good for wide feet, Keen started as a sandal company, and has grown into all categories of casual footwear. The work boot program has evolved from athletic and hiking designs rather than traditional boot making. Check for durability. Generally not resolable.
Redwing – An historic brand with a wide variety of styles and constructions. Though most are imported, a few are still made in the USA. Their new Crv models look to be taking a cue from the curved shape of Keen boots. Check out the Irish Setter collection.
Chippewa – Great quality with lots of made-in-USA styles available. Many traditional designs, many are resolable. These guys have been around since 1901. Dependable products.
3. Choose the Right Boots for Your Needs
There are many kinds of comfortable work boots. A postman and a smoke jumper have very different needs. Here are some important features to consider:
- Height – Taller is better for linesmen and for protection in the deep woods. But they are harder to put on and heavier. Shorter boots are lighter, cooler, and better for all-around use.
- Weight – The highest quality boots (Whites and Wescos) are massively strong but not the lightest. Backpackers say that a pound on your feet is equal to 5 in your pack. Keep this in mind. Think about your outsole choice. The heavy lugs of a logger sole are great if you need them, but a crepe wedge sole is more comfortable on pavement and much lighter weight.
- Water Resistance – Some boots have waterproof leathers. Some have waterproof membranes (GoreTex). Some are made with especially breathable materials. Waterproof boots can be great when you stand in water all day, but they do not let moisture out (despite the claims). They will always feel hotter and clammier than regular leather or fabric boots. Waterproof boots will also be harder to dry each night (see below).
- Steel Toes - Necessary on some job sites for safety, steel-toed boots add weight and can make your feet cold in winter. Alternative protective footwear is made with composites instead of steel.
- Insulation – When the temps drop, insulated boots are a must for outdoor use. Know that these boots will be hot in summer and create sweaty feet. At the other end of the spectrum are fabric or mesh boots for hot weather use. Not as durable, but worth a look if you are a UPS driver in Tuscon.
- Construction – Welted and stitchdown boots are built to last and can be resoled many times. Cement construction – where the outsole attaches directly to the upper – can sometimes be resoled, depending on the boot. If resoling is important to you, ask your retailer for detailed information.
- Style – In the end, we all care about how we look. Choose from traditional moc-toe styles, contemporary hiker styles, or pull out the stops and go for the smoke jumper look.
4. Rotate Your Footwear
Most guys buy a pair of boots and wear them till they’re worn out. Boots (and shoes) last much longer if they are rotated in use. Alternating 2 pairs gives each one a chance to completely dry out between uses. Your boots will last longer and your feet will be more comfortable. 1 + 1 = 3
5. Maintain Your Boots
All boots will last longer and be more comfortable if they are well taken care of:
- Dry Your Boots – Allow your boots to dry after a long day on the job. Boots like to air dry without excessive heat. Never subject your boots to more heat than your hand can stand. Remove insoles to speed drying. If your boots get soaked, fill them with wads of newspaper. It will draw out the moisture from within.
- Keep Them Clean – Remove mud to keep the leather from drying out. A stiff brush works well and avoids getting your boots wet. Remove salt with a mild solution of vinegar and water.
- Leather Boots Like Conditioner – Waterproof leathers do not need the same level of conditioning as regular leathers but all leathers benefit from conditioner. Boots should be clean and dry before applying conditioner. Oil-based treatments (SnoSeal, Mink Oil, Redwing Boot Oil) will soften the leather. Silicone- or PTFE- (Nikwax, Graingers) based treatments add waterproofing without softening the leather.
6. Insoles Make Your Work Boots Comfortable
The generic insoles that come in new boots will not support your feet – or your work. Replacing them with cheap foam insoles from the drug store is no improvement. These cushioned inserts might give you initial relief, but their lack of structure won't provide your feet the support they need to make it through the day.
Instead, look for insoles that provide great arch support – regardless of whether you have high arches or flat feet. For both conditions, the key is even pressure across the foot. For those with high arches, Tread Labs' quality arch support will relieve excessive pressure by distributing your weight across the foot. For the flat-footed out there, the Stride's deep heel cup stabilizes the back of the foot and distributes weight evenly across its base. Either way, you get the needed arch support to control for overpronation or supination.
Tread Labs provides medical-grade arch support and quality comfort. Inserting insoles into your boots will lengthen their lifespan while increasing your comfort.
Choose inserts that will hold up to the hard work that you do. Stay tuned for our next post on selecting the best insoles for your needs or click below to learn more about Tread Labs insoles.