When working in a hazardous environment or handling heavy machinery, proper safety footwear can protect your feet against falling objects, potentially dangerous equipment, cuts, and even burns. The steel toe boot is the tried-and-true safety boot for many generations of hardworking American men and women, but its lighter and non-metallic counterpart, the composite toe work boot, is quickly catching up. So, which one is better? The comp toe or the steel toe?
Before we start off, bear in mind that the most common types of safety work boots are those that employ either
- Steel toe caps
- Composite or Non-Metallic Toe (NMT) caps
- Aluminum safety toe caps.
But even though all these three categories meet the ASTM (American National Standard for Personal Protection) impact and compression safety standards, not all safety boots are created equal. Now let’s take a look at the main differences.
Composite vs. Steel Toe Boots – Main Differences
Steel toe boots are the world’s classic protective footwear. They come with a heavy-duty steel toe box or their whole midsole is made of a steel plate for extra protection when working in dangerous job roles. Steel toe boots offer the highest heavy impact and puncture protection, but they have their cons, like the extra weight and electrical conductivity.
Composite toe boots are constantly evolving in manufacturers’ pursuit of a more modern and better alternative to the classic safety boot. They are non-metallic and non-magnetic (which can be a big plus in some job settings) and lighter than steel toe boots.
Now let’s take an in-depth look at each type of boot’s main advantages and disadvantages.
While steel toe caps are made of good old steel, composite toes are made of non-metallic and non-magnetic materials, like carbon fiber, fiberglass, Kevlar, or thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). So, one of the top advantages of comp toes is that they won’t set off metal detectors, unlike steel toe boots.
Comfort and Style
Composite toe shoes are usually around 30% lighter than steel toe boots thanks to the non-metallic materials used. Therefore, they are comfier and are ideal for people who have to stand all day or walk really long distances. Steel toe boot makers, on the other hand, are constantly developing current technologies to make these boots lighter as well.
What’s more, composite work boots tend to be bulkier than steel toe boots because the non-metallic material needs to be thicker than the steel layer to meet the compression and safety standards. As a result, don’t expect a wide range of styles from composite toe boots. For nicer looking shoes, be it men’s or women’s, look for steel toe shoes instead.
Puncture and Heavy Impact Protection
Steel toes offer hands down a higher flat protection than composite toes, meaning they can better hold to larger loads and higher impacts before cracking or shattering than composite toes. Steel toe boots are recommended for job roles involving heavy hazards or potentially dangerous tools like chain saws. Here’s a short clip on composite vs steel toe boots when it comes to real world protection against a chain saw going haywire. We’ll let you decide which one’s the best.
Also, steel toe boots score higher when it comes to puncture resistance. See another nice video here.
Many people steer clear of steel toes because of the false belief that a steel toe cap could cut off their toes if enough pressure is applied on the boot. Fortunately, Mythbusters have long debunked this myth (see episode 3, season 4), showing that you’d be better off wearing a steel toe boot in case of heavy impact than a soft shoe.
As a side note, in ASTM tests, composite work boots can withstand the same rate of compression and type of impact as a steel toe boot. However, during heavy impacts a comp toe shoe will crack and shatter internally even though, on the outside, there may be no signs of physical damage like cracks or dents. So, it is highly recommended to buy a new comp toe boot after a significant impact event, as the boot has become practically useless for future foot protection.
A big plus of composite toes is that they do not conduct cold or heat to the foot like a metal toe box does. In other words, steel toe boots can get extremely uncomfortable in extreme temperatures, especially in the extreme cold. So, comp toes do a much better job at keeping your feet warm in winter than steel toes. If you work in extreme weather environments, choose a composite toe boot because they have the best insulation.
Another big pro of comp toe boots, according to their fans, is their lack of electrical conductivity, making them ideal for workers handling high-risk electrical components, such as electricians. Indeed, composite toes lack any metallic component, which makes them safe around live wires, but most steel toe shoes have passed the Electrical Hazard ASTM testing as well. Just look for the Electrical Hazard (EH) sign on their packaging, which means that they can withstand 18,000 V at 60 Hz in dry conditions for one minute just like a comp toe boot.
Steel toe work boots are usually cheaper than their composite toe counterparts, and some manufacturers may not offer refunds for comp toe footwear.
To sum up, choosing between a steel toe work boot and a composite toe boot largely depends on the nature of your job and type of work environment or tools. For people handling heavy duty machinery like construction workers and service members or those operating in hazardous environments, like electricians and loggers, steel toes will offer the maximum protection they need.
Composite toe boots, on the other hand, are recommended for people who stand or walk around a lot because they are more comfortable and lighter than steel toes. Also, workers interacting with metal detectors on a daily basis, such as airport employees and security personnel, will find this type of work boots particularly handy.