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Jun 18, 2021 / Safety Toe Footwear, Slip Resistant Footwear

What is the Difference Between Safety Toe and Steel Toe?

Materials, specifications, and overall models—across everything from boots to sneakers.

When people think of safety toe footwear, the first image that comes to mind is the classic steel toe work boot. That’s not a bad place to start, as many traditional work boots include a steel toe as a baseline safety standard. But safety toe technology has experienced incredible innovations as seen in newer models of protective footwear.

It isn’t limited to heavy-duty steel toes anymore. Nor are safety toes only found in boots.

You might be wondering: does safety toe mean steel toe? In many ways, they’re interchangeable. But nowadays, the kinds of safety toes available vary widely. And you can find them in a wider range of protective footwear than ever before.

Let’s discuss.

Steel Toe: A Staple in Traditional Boots

Steel toes are the original, classic design of work safety boots.

Steel toe boots and shoes include an internal toe box made of heavy-duty steel. It covers the phalange bones of your foot, more commonly known as your toes, protecting them from harm.

From the outside, a piece of steel toe footwear may look the same as any other shoe. However, what matters is the steel cap on the inside.

A steel toe box offers the maximum amount of protection from:

  • Impact
  • Puncture
  • Compression

All of these hazards may result from heavy objects falling on your foot, a hazard shared by a wide variety of occupations. All construction and building-adjacent fields involve working with or near heavy materials that could drop at any second. That’s why most women’s and men’s construction boots are typically made of the sturdiest materials.

An injury to the toes and feet can be debilitating, throwing off your balance and leading to other injuries, as well. That’s why OSHA requires ASTM-rated protection on safety footwear used for work. With a steel toe cap, you know that your feet—and you—are protected. So, does this mean that steel toe shoes are the be all and end all? And if not, what type of footwear protects your entire foot besides the standard steel toe?
Queue the safety toe.

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

Safety Toe: Reinventing Rugged Footwear

What is a safety toe boot? What is a safety toe? It’s almost the same thing as a steel toe. In fact, all steel toes belong in the category of safety toes.

But not all safety toes are steel.

All safety toes work in the exact same way as steel toes, explained above: a layer of tough, durable material is inserted into the toe box of the boot or shoe. That toe box might look special from the outside, or you might not even know it’s there.

The difference is that the material underneath isn’t always steel.

Safety toes are often made from:

  • Hard plastics
  • Carbon fiber
  • Fiberglass
  • Kevlar
  • Alloy

The above materials offer benefits comparable to steel toe protection. Like their steel counterparts, they’re ASTM-certified to protect you from workplace hazards. And, aside from an alloy toe, these options are all non-metal, which makes them ideal for certain job sites.

So, is safety toe steel toe, categorically? No. But it does meet many of the same safety specifications and standards. Whichever one you use should protect you.

That brings up the question:

Is Safety Toe and Steel Toe the Same Thing?

In a way, yes.

In practice, safety toes offer many of the same benefits as steel toes, so they may be considered interchangeable. But there are some important differences between them.

For one thing, steel and safety toes are found in different kinds of shoes. Some boot and shoe models are better suited to non-steel toe boxes. Since some safety toes are made of lighter materials, they can work better in hybrid shoes like work sneakers, as opposed to a safety boot. Although a safety boot may be more heavy-duty, there are still many features that brands have added to footwear to produce comfortable steel toe boots that will keep you safe without hurting your feet.

No matter what kind of shoe, there are some trade-offs between steel cap and safety toe cap shoes. And there are scenarios where one might be preferable to the other. For instance, consider:

  • Mobility – Non-steel safety toes can be lighter than steel options. When paired with a lighter overall shoe construction, this can add to your overall flexibility and dexterity, while still providing toe protection.
  • Durability – While they can withstand the same impacts, non-steel safety toes may be compromised by a single significant blow, or by a high volume of wear and tear. Steel toes offer greater durability and impact resistance over the long term, in exchange for being slightly heavier.
  • Weather Conditions – In extreme heat or extreme cold, non-steel safety toes outperform their steel counterparts. They offer improved insulation from outside elements, keeping conditions inside the shoe stable.
  • Workplace specifications – Some job sites require steel toe boots as a safety standard for all personnel. If that’s the case, your decision is made for you: a steel toe cap. On the other hand, if any safety shoe is permitted, you might consider a non-steel option for a lighter daily carry. Non-steel options also facilitate access to metal-detector guarded areas.

Whether you need women's and men's steel toe boots or safety toe shoes, or any other kind of footwear, Boot World has an option that’ll fit your needs. We carry your favorite brands including women’s and men’s Timberland PRO boots, CAT boots, and more. Reach out today or browse our inventory to find the safety toe shoe you’ve been looking for.

  • ISHN. Footwear Standards Define Performance Criteria.
  • OSHA. Personal Protective Equipment.
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.