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Aug 12, 2020 / Safety Toe Footwear

The Lowdown on Safety Toe Shoes: Steel vs Composite Toe

Chances are, if you’re required to wear safety toe shoes at work, you already know a thing or two about safety footwear. In fact, your employer probably has a strict safety requirement about what type of footwear you can and can’t wear on the job. These standards are pretty common practice when it comes to job safety.

What you might not know are the differences between safety toe footwear and which shoes are the best choice for your particular work conditions. Never fear, our footwear experts are here to point you in the right direction!

In this post, we’ll explain the differences between steel toe safety shoes, composite toe safety shoes, and alloy toe safety shoes – and bust some general myths about safety toes.

How Do Safety Toe Shoes Work?
Safety Toe Material

Safety toe footwear helps protect your toes from being either pierced or crushed while on the job. A safety toe box is placed inside the toe area of the shoe to provide foot protection. This protective footwear is designed to ASTM standards to protect against impact and compression.

Composite Toe or Steel Toe Safety Shoes?

Many people question, does safety toe mean steel toe? While they can be used interchangeably, it does not mean that all safety toe shoes have a steel toe. As of now, there are two main types of safety toe shoes: steel toe shoes and composite toe shoes, not to mention alloy toe shoes.

Safety Toe - Steel

Steel Toe Safety Shoes:

Built with heavy-duty steel toe caps to protect your toes. Steel toe shoes are the old-school standard, and some job sites specifically require you to wear a steel toe boot (so check with your supervisor). We especially recommend steel toe shoes for:

  • Job sites requiring steel toe shoes
  • Use in hazardous conditions with a higher likelihood of falling debris/objects or heavy impacts
Safety Toe - Composite

Composite Toe Safety Shoes:
Built from non-metal composite materials that usually include some combination of carbon fiber, Kevlar, plastic, and/or fiberglass. The non-metal design of composite toes makes them ideal for certain working conditions. While composite safety toe shoes are an excellent and popular option, composite toes could be compromised if they receive a direct, significant impact (resulting in fractures in the toe box composition) and should therefore be replaced. We particularly recommend composite toe shoes for:

  • Jobs with metal detectors(airports, other security/tactical work)
  • Jobs in extremely hot or cold weather
Safety Toe - Alloy

Alloy Toe Shoes are a lightweight, light-duty configuration of different kinds of metals. They tend to be pricier and there aren’t as many on the market, but they meet ASTM safety standards just like steel toes and composite toes.

Now, let’s bust some myths about steel vs composite toe shoes:

Safety toe work boots for comfort and protection. Shop now!

Myth 1:
Wearing steel toes could cause your toes to get cut off from an impact. While steel toes help protect your toes from injuries, they’re not always enough to prevent injuries in extreme circumstances. But the fact remains that steel toes do much more good than harm. In his 40+ years of working in safety footwear, Boot World President Ed Stone cannot recall anyone with a negative experience wearing a steel toe shoe that was fitted properly. In fact, he’s had countless customers share that a steel safety toe shoe saved their toes during an accident. Need more proof? MythBusters did a whole episode testing steel toes. Their conclusion: “You will always have more damage to your feet if you’re not wearing steel tips than if you’re wearing them.” The bottom line is, injuries sustained while wearing steel toes are not caused by the steel toes - and in most cases, steel toes help lessen the severity of the injury. 

If you are wanting to protect more than just your toes, there are other options available. Read our blog on what type of footwear protects your entire foot

Myth 2:
Steel toe shoes are heavier than composite safety toe shoes. This isn’t necessarily the case. The weight of a safety shoe depends on the construction and materials of the entire shoe, not just the safety toe box. So, depending on how a steel toe shoe is constructed compared to a composite toe shoe, the steel toe shoe may be lighter. Weight comes down to the protective footwear, not the safety toe material.

Myth 3:
Steel toes aren’t safe for electricians or people working around live wires. When it comes to electricity, steel toes are just as safe as composite toes. The only thing that protects you from electrocution or shock are the insulating properties of components on the bottom of certain shoes that disrupt the flow of electricity through the shoe into the ground (thus reducing the likelihood of electrocution). This is why EH (electrical hazard) shoes were invented. We’ll get into EH shoes more in another post, but if you’re looking for protection from electrocution or shock, choose a shoe with the ASTM EH label on it.

Myth 4:
Steel toes work just as well as composite toes in extreme weather: Composite toes are the clear winner when it comes to harsh weather conditions – both cold and hot. Since they’re not made of metal, composite toes don’t distribute temperature as steel toes do. This means that composite toe boots will insulate your feet better from extreme cold or extreme heat, whereas steel toes will absorb that temperature into the shoe, thus causing more discomfort to your feet.

Have more questions about which safety toe shoes are right for you? Come into any of our stores for a complimentary footwear consultation or check out our collection of women's and men's steel toe boots online. If you have more questions, email us at [email protected] 

Reviewed By:
Ed Stone

Ed Stone brings over 45 years of footwear knowledge and passion to his role as President of Boot World, a family-owned company and an industry leader in safety and occupational footwear. A second generation "shoe dog” Ed's footwear knowledge is unparalleled, serving as an informal advisor for some of the worlds largest footwear brands including Wolverine, Timberland PRO, and Reebok Works.

A lifelong Southern California resident, and ardent conservationist, Ed enjoys hiking and open water swimming.