Those of you who are our regular reader will know, but for those of you who stumbled upon this guide on the best steel toed tactical and work boots let us recapitulate the changes that we’ve seen in the ratings over the last two months (the updates to this guide are bimonthly).
What changed in the 2020 update?
Substantial changes happened over the last year. Primarily in the way we judge the boots. On the other hand, that didn’t reflect in the results as much and most of the top picks are still going strong.
As we are updating the two guides on boots that feature a steel toe protection, we keep receiving messages asking a similar question and that’s, “What’s the difference between tactical and work boots?”
It’s a fair question, it is confusing and if we technical about the explanation, we probably wouldn’t be of much help so let us try and make it really simple. A tactical boot with this kind of toe protection can make for a great work boot, but not the other way around.
The boots that we’ll present below can be comfortable safety pair of work footwear is steel toe safety is your main concern (plus, they look much cooler than a regular work boot). On the other hand, a classic work boot lacks the flexibility and will not do you any favors if you are a hiker or a camper. We hope this make things a bit clearer.
Now, back to the list our category winners…
As we mentioned, most of the winners are still holding their ground. And, as we’ll explain later, this guide is unique regarding the number of boots we review and list. We usually do 5, but for the steel toe safety boot, it’s 3.
The short explanation for that is that the composite toe has pretty much taken over, and there is only a handful of old-school steel toed boots left on the market that we feel deserve a place on this list. More on that after the reviews…
What goes into the final rating?
The boots are tested and rated in 10 different categories, everything from comfort and safety to design and value for the price. You can see the ratings in the individual review further below.
Without much ado, our top picks are:
THE TOP 3 STEEL TOED TACTICAL BOOTS ON THE MARKET TODAY:
|Belleville 330 ST|
|5.11 Men's A.T.A.C.|
SHIELD 8 inch
|89 / 100|
|88 / 100|
Now that we have our winners we can take our time and scrutinize each of the boots separately in their digest reviews. Here’s what you’ll see in each of the reviews:
- The fact sheet – what the company is saying about their product
- The PROS as per the users and our featured testers
- The CONs
- Our conclusions and a word or two about the final rating
So let’s get to it.
The boot that’s ranked as best in the category of tactical boots that feature steel toes has been on the top for 4 updates now (8 months) and that tells a story. It’s by far the best rated both by our featured testers and in the user reviews.
PRESENTING THE WINNER:
Review of Belleville 330 ST – Waterproof Safety Steel Toe Tac Boot
Here’s what Belleville is saying about the boot:
- High-quality brown leather
- Features a Vibram sole
- The steel toe protection meets the highest industry standards (ASTM F2412-05 and F2413-05)
- Completely waterproof
- The midsole is cushioned Polyurethane for added comfort in prolonged use
The height is standard military at 8″ and the upper is cattlehide leather.
On paper, what the company is saying about the boots sounds great, but let us move on and see what the people who actually have this boot are saying about it – the user reviews.
The PROs – the good things the users shared in their review of this pair. Here’s what they told us:
- Hits that sweet spot between comfort and protection I’m looking for in a boot
- Being a US helicopter pilot, I think it’s enough to say that 9 out of 10 people in my unit wear these. I’ve had them for about a year and a half, and they are practically unchanged expect for a bit of sole wear. I can only imagine how long these would last in a less-demanding conditions
- This is my third pair or work boots and those that were sturdy enough needed extra padding for the insoles. Not with these babies, by far the most durable and comfortable steel toed pair I’ve owned
- This is my second pair of these Bellevilles. Take it from me, for this kind of quality with a different brand you would have to spend at least twice as much
- I’ve worn these boots in the army on daily basis for 8-12 hours each day and exposed them to all kinds of abuse, especially weather-wise. Apart from looking somewhat beaten up after 18 months, the comfort and the overall feel hasn’t changed much
- Practically no break-in time with these boots, which was always an issue that would last for months with my other hunting safety boots
- They run a bit big (a half size I’d say) but the company was very professional and fast in replacing these for half size bigger
What the users didn’t like so much about these boots – the CONs:
- If you have especially wide feet, bear in mind that the regular version of the shoe might not be a good fit and you’d have to replace it.
- The sole is not as durable as the rest of the boot. It seems to me that if the sole could stand it, this would last forever.
Our conclusion and final ratings:
This Belleville has been on top since we started rating boots in this category. Rated at 95/100 with an 8 in the design category with the only reason for the low score there being the absence of color choices.
We have seen reports in this update about the changes in how it fits. Some of the brand fans say that it’s not what it used to be. When we see something like that we dig deeper to see if there’s stats to back the claim up. We haven’t found substantial evidence about any changes in production practices.
The data we collected supports most of the claims made by the company, especially the ones about longevity and comfort.
The other issue worth mentioning is the fact that if getting these tac boots you should probably go a size down because it runs 1/2 to a full size big.
Review of 5.11 Men’s A.T.A.C. SHIELD 8 inch
This steel toed tactical (and work) boot is the only one on this list that’s on it since the first time we compiled the review, and that tells a story.
To be honest, knowing what we know from experience, we expected more 5.11s on this list from the get-go, but as soon as we started researching we realized that they moved to composite toe protection with most of their safety models.
Still, for those of us who like things old school, there still are a few of steel toed safety 5.11 boots out there and this pair is by far the best rated. Let’s see what makes it so good.
How 5.11 advertises it – the fact sheet:
- Full leather and a manually made sole
- Waterproof mesh used for the uppers of the shoes for breathability
- The lining of the shoes is antibacterial, and the materials get rid of inner moisture and sweat by “pulling” (wicking) it to the outside of the shoe
- Ease to work (stay-tied) laces
- Aggressive tactical design
The PROs – what does who own and like boot are saying about it:
- My job requires me to wear safety boots for over 10-12 hours a day (I’m a dog handler) and this is my 3rd pair of these babies. By far the most comfortable boot of the sort I’ve ever tried
- They look sturdy, but they don’t look like they would allow the foot to breathe and I wasn’t buying the whole moisture-wicking story. I’ve been wearing the boot for 8 months now, and it feels like it’s all mesh, the dry socks at the end of a hard day’s work are my proof…
- These are something like the 10th pair of safety boots I’ve owned and worn around the construction site over the years and it’s the best price vs. value I’ve seen…
- I’m a snow trail trucker and, for me, the most important thing about this boot is the great traction, it’s fun looking at everybody else slipping and flapping they arms around like little girls and I don’t even feel like I’m on snow and ice
- Definitely waterproof, I’ve never seen any leaks in almost 3 years of use
- Quality stitching and glue, I see no separation, and I’ve abused these boots in ways that an average Joe can’t imagine
CONs – what people didn’t like about these boots:
- The leather used is soft and while that might be good for comfort, expect to loose that “new-boot” feeling pretty fast, you can see every scratch
- The zipper is useless. If you want to get in and out of these by keeping the laces tied, you’ll soon be seeing the stitches stretch
- If you have wide-feet I’d go with a different boot, it took me a few months to really get comfortable in these, it seems like there’s no difference in the sole in the wide version of the boot…
- This is not a warm pair of boots. I work in the cold, and I do like these but the few times I’ve worn them without warm cushion socks my toes were freezing
The final ratings of the boot
Review of Rocky Ranger Steel Toe GORE-TEX Boots
The fact sheet of these Rockys:
- Leather upper and rubber sole
- Heavy insulation – 600 g of Ultra Thinsulate
- Waterproof but breathable GoreTex layer
- Slip and oil resistant – Vibram sole
- Steel protection for the toes
The PROs – the most important positives people shared:
- Amazingly comfortable and quality boots, especially for the price…
- Great fit, there’s practically no wear-in time
- To be honest, I didn’t expect much having the price in mind and was pleasantly surprised…great bang for the buck…
- Just perfect for my needs, just right in sizing and pretty good overall support…I got more than I expected at that price point
- I’d like to say a few positive words about the customer service…when I* received these it was obvious they weren’t a good fit, too tight. We contacted the vendor, returned the boots and were credited within two days. This is how business is supposed to be run…
- I’ve worn Rockys since the beginning of the ‘90s, and I’ve noticed a decline in quality but I stuck with them, and I’m glad I did after getting these boots. Good old-school safety boot, universal, I use them for anything from hunting to gardening…
- I’ve been looking for truly waterproof safety boots for almost a year. The last two developed leaks within months before I stumbled upon this Rocky. Not a single drop of water got in and I’ve been wearing them daily for 7 months now…
- A surprisingly light boot, great choice for your main work boot…
- They are sturdy and very safe with the steel toe and all and yet, the materials are soft enough to avoid any blistering, I’m sticking with the model…
Some of the things people didn’t like and shared in their reviews – the chosen CONs:
- Don’t expect this pair to last, the sole is too soft and it starts to thin after a few months of use on rocky terrains…
- If you have wide feet like I do, these are not the bots for you, especially not the regulars or the wide option. I am wearing these but the extra wide model…
- Not a heavy-duty safety boot. Put them up against the abuse of rocks and you’ll see what I’m talking about, the sole is slowly losing shape and pieces of rubber are falling out…
- I don’t understand why there’s no color choices, I need the boots in sage or olive green to go with the new regulations…
The final ratings of this Rocky:
Update: We’ve received a number of request to clearly answer the basic question of when to choose steel over composite toed protection – so let’s address that.
Composite toe work boots vs. steel toe (or tactical boots)
When we do these guides, as we explained, we usually go for 5 TOP rated boots in each category. For this guide, however, we decided to go with 3 since we felt that the other steel toe boots don’t really deserve a mention in the category. It’s the trend of the industry, the composite toe is quickly becoming an industry standard, but we are not giving up on our nostalgia for the god ole steel toe and we’ll keep updating this guide as long as there are good models out there.
Right now, we feel the 3 pairs we listed above are the only ones worth spending your hard-earned money on.
So what is the difference between steel and composite toe protection?
Let’ start strong and say that there’s no “better” here – that is our honest opinion. Although the industry is moving toward composite toe protection, there are still jobs out there that call for the compression resistance of steel protection.
So, if it’s a new job, the best advice anyone could give you is consulting your colleagues or your supervisor what dangers you might face on the site and what accidents might have happened before making your decision.
If you are choosing a tactical safety boot and thinking about getting a steel or composite, just think about the potential worst-case scenarios and if these would call for impact or compression resistance.
Composite toe protection boots
What are these “composite” materials they are using for toe caps today?
It’s the 21st century and if the modern materials can stop bullets, it’s only logical they found their ways into safety footwear. The work boots we are talking about here are:
- Kevlar toe
- Carbon fiber
- Fiberglass toe work boots
Advantages of a composite toe boot
- More comfortable, especially if we are talking about extreme weather conditions. Metal toes conduct heat or cold, and for you, this means that the boot will be colder in the low Ts and warmer in the high
- Related to the previous point – you’ll probably save on cushion socks and get away with lower quality if you go with composite
- These materials don’t conduct electricity, so for an electrician, a comp toe boot is the way to go
- Pretty much any composite is lighter than steel, so you’ll save energy and be able to do more if your job or any outdoor activity calls for long walks
The steel toe boot – still an old school classic
- In spite of new technology heights materials have reached, this is still true – as far as protection and impact, steel offers more resistance and protection
- A myth we have to debunk – it’s strange how this myth still holds strong even after it was debunked on MythBusters. We’re talking about the belief that faced with enough weight, steel can give in and (we know this sounds terrible but we have to say it) become just a sharp object in your boot and cut your toes off.
- Steel toe is (by far) the more affordable option
The ASTM standards – if you’re still confused about steel vs. composite toe boots
Obviously, we can’t tell you what the best option for you is, we can just point you in the right direction. When it comes to protection, you can’t be diligent enough when making choices.
Great help here is the f2413 standard that the American Society for Testing Materials that regulates resistance by assigning a number to reflect it. The numbers go up to 75 (with the rating of 75 being anything that goes above 50). This data is usually disclosed on the products detail page.
What’s your opinion and experience, which is better suited for your needs?
Share your view in the comments or drop us an email, we like to connect with like-minded people.