Put Your Best Foot Forward: How to Select and Maintain Your Next Pair of Work Boots

Keen work boots

When it comes to preparedness on the jobsite, owning a reliable pair of work boots is essential. Having well-maintained and proper safety footwear can help prevent injuries and lead to increased productivity at work. With this in mind, knowing when it is time to purchase new boots can be critical for safety, foot health and overall wellbeing.

Safety and material advancements have revolutionized the way we think about work boots and, with more options than ever available, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin when shopping. Here are some clear indicators that it is time for new work boots, what to consider when purchasing and how to extend the lifespan of footwear going forward.

When to Replace Your Current Work Boots

A boot that is visibly falling apart at the seams obviously needs to be replaced, but there are other key signals that a work boot no longer can provide the safety, comfort and performance features needed for a day on the job. These indicators include:

Cracks or Holes: If your work boots have developed cracks and/or holes, they need to be replaced. This is especially important if the safety toe cap is visible on a boot with a leather upper. Even the smallest cracks enable dirt, mud and moisture inside the boot, which wears down the inner lining. If the leather is drying out or cracking at the highest flexion point of your forefoot, the integrity of your boot might be jeopardized.

Damaged Toe:  When a toe cap is damaged, it is unable to do its job of protecting your toes. This is true even if a toe cap does not look visibly dented after taking a blow. While steel or aluminum toe caps might show damage after significant impact, this is not always the case with composite or carbon-fiber toes where it is possible that micro-cracks have formed. If your toe cap takes impact, view it as a job well done and immediately replace your boots.

Delamination of the Outsole: Delamination occurs when the cement construction of a shoe wears out due to exposure to caustic materials or the age of the glue. When this occurs, the outsole will appear to be separating from the rest of the boot. To help combat delamination, consider the materials that might come into contact with your boots. Goodyear welted boots are built to withstand more caustic materials and work environments and may be a better choice for settings where these chemicals are present. Another option to consider are boots built by direct injection. This construction method forms a mechanical bond between the midsole and upper that is more durable and prevents delamination from occurring.

What to Look for When Shopping for a New Work Boot


The last decade has seen a lot of advancements when it comes to safety footwear. The first step to shopping for work boots is understanding what unique requirements you need on the job. Whether it is an EH rated outsole for electric shock protection or reflective webbing for conditions with low lighting, there is likely safety footwear designed for the requirements of a given work environment.

Safety managers and supervisors are a helpful starting point for understanding what specific safety requirements are needed for the jobsite. From there, consider some of the following features in your next work boot:

Toe Protection: Workers are often required to wear footwear with a toe cap to help reduce impact or crush injuries. Historically these caps have been made from materials such as steel and aluminum. While these are still excellent options, carbon-fiber safety toes are 15 percent lighter than steel and have grown in popularity in recent years. Beyond their lighter weight, carbon-fiber toes are non-conductive to heat and cold and completely non-metallic, making them an appealing choice for workers who have to pass through a metal detector. There are a variety of ASTM-rated safety toe caps available on the market, so it is important to determine which will fulfill the requirements of the job at hand (or foot). Some brands even offer asymmetrical toe-caps which provide a more comfortable and unobtrusive fit without sacrificing safety.

Slip-Resistance: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, over one-third of fatalities in the construction industry were the result of slips, trips and falls.1 Slip-resistant outsoles minimize the risk of these injuries through material compounds featured in the outsole and tread patterns, which are designed to maximize surface area and disperse liquids quickly. To ensure the right boot for your underfoot environment, look for footwear specifically labeled slip-resistant.

Seasonality: Many boots are designed to be worn year-round, but there are benefits to selecting work boots specifically intended for summer or winter months. For example, a boot with a waterproof system can ensure feet stay warm and dry in the winter and even insulated should your job require you to remain outside for extended periods, while a lighter boot with more breathability could help feet stay cool in the summer.

Comfort and Fit

There are also a few factors to consider when shopping for safety footwear in-store. Because feet swell over the course of the day, we recommend trying on potential new boots at the end of a shift, when your feet are naturally at their largest. It is also worthwhile to wear a pair of socks you would wear on the job while trying on boots. In our experience, a cushioned sock that features textiles such as merino wool will provide moisture wicking, odor control and comfort.

Even if you think you know your size, ask a store associate to provide proper sizing or a fit test. Boots that are too tight can result in a variety of health problems such as in-grown toenails and blisters, while boots that are too loose can present safety hazards from tripping.

Maintaining and Extending the Lifespan of Boots


Of course, once you’ve bought new work boots, you will want to maintain them. A few tips to extend the lifespan and quality of safety footwear include:

Unlacing and Proper Storage: While it may feel satisfying to kick off your boots without unlacing, this bends the heel collar which can result in pressure points and blisters. This also strains the laces and pulls stitching, ultimately resulting in unnecessary wear and tear.

Proper storage will also help keep boots ready to work for the long haul. Whether it is a shoe rack or storage locker, store your boots off-the-clock in a cool and dry environment. Never leave boots in a backpack or trunk where they will become incubators for mold, bacteria and fungus.

Clean Your Boots: Clean your work boots regularly, especially if they are worn in the mud. Yes, boots are built to handle dirt and debris, but over time, mud can break down stitching and wear more quickly. If your boots get muddy, wait for them to dry before removing the debris with a soft brush or even a toothbrush.

Alternate Your Work Boots: The more you wear work boots, the more quickly they wear out. Rotating between two (or even three) pairs will expand the lifespan of all of your boots. Additionally, remember that feet release moisture into your shoes over the course of every day, which can lead to quicker wear and tear as well as foot health issues such as athlete’s foot and blisters. Alternating footwear will reduce this bacteria growth and enable your boots to dry out in between wears.

Safety Starts from the Ground Up

There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to selecting new safety footwear. Every jobsite has its own criteria that should be considered prior to purchasing, and everyone has different preferences when it comes to their boots.

At Keen Utility, we believe safety starts from the ground up. With the demands of labor-intensive fields constantly evolving, investing time in selecting and taking care of your work boots will help enable you to put your best foot forward each step of the day.

Kevin Oberle is the senior director of global insights and engagement at Keen Utility. For more info, visit keenutility.com.

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