Composite Toe vs Steel Toe: How to Choose the Right One For You

Composite Toe vs Steel Toe: How to Choose the Right One For You

A safety toe boot is required in many occupations and on many jobsites. Where there are dangers of foot injury due to impact or compression, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires workers to wear protective footwear. First responders, engineers on worksites, and men and women in the trades are some examples of workers who need safety toe boots, like composite toe or steel toe boots.

Steel toe boots are the traditional, old-school choice for protecting feet from work-related trauma. But boots using lighter, tough materials (like Kevlar, plastic, or carbon fiber) are also built and tested to ASTM standards for safety and workplace use. Choosing between composite toe vs steel toe safety boots is a decision involving safety standards, environment, comfort and fit, durability, and reliability.

Do composite toe boots count as steel toe?

Composite toe boots and steel toe boots are not the same type of safety boots, but both are acceptable for most peoples' work needs. You'll want to consider comfort, temperature, durability, and reliability when choosing which type of boot is best for you.

Composite Toe vs Steel Toe: Safety Standards

The first question to ask when deciding between composite toe vs steel toe safety boots is: Do the boots meet minimum safety standards? All safety boots must meet ASTM standards for impact and compression, so if a boot is listed as ASTM compliant, the boot will automatically meet the minimum safety requirements needed to work around hazards and machinery.

This is the first step: make sure your safety toe boots are ASTM compliant. Check with the outfitter, and remember to always shop with reputable companies. An example of appropriate compliance can be seen on our MACV-2 Safety Boots.

Both composite toe and steel toe boots can satisfy the safety requirements for impact and compression, tested to ASTM standards.

Impact and compression, however, are not the only hazards tested for. ASTM compliant boots will have other codes listed that indicate features like puncture resistance (PR), electrical hazard resistance (EH), and metatarsal protection (MT). Look for these indicators if your workplace requires extra safety boot considerations.

Are composite toe caps as safe as steel?

Yes, both composite toe and steel toe boots can meet the standard for workplace safety set by OSHA. That means both types of safety toe can handle excessive impact and compression. Check if other safety codes are required for your job, such as puncture resistance (PR) and electrical hazard resistance (EH).

Composite Toe vs Steel Toe: Environment and Temperature

Safety toe boots, composite or steel toe, are approved for work in a variety of environments. However, temperature plays a role in choosing the best protective footwear for the job. Whether you're working in extreme temperatures is a serious determinant in whether you choose composite toe or steel toe boots.

For example, if the weather is cold, steel acts as a thermal conductor, moving heat away from your feet and making them feel cold. Composite materials, however, insulate and do not move heat away from your feet. Common materials used in composite toe boots are Kevlar, plastic, and carbon fiber. If you're in cold environments, steel toe boots will let your feet get colder, while composite materials insulate.

No matter what, if you're working in cold environments, choose an insulated and waterproof boot. Even steel toe safety boots are available insulated and waterproof. Composite toe boots, however, are generally a more comfortable selection for cold temperatures as they're totally insulated without internal metal components.

Temperature is one of the biggest factors when choosing protective-toe footwear. Remember, steel can create cold air pockets around the toes.

Choosing Boots: The Type of Work Matters

Temperature isn't the only environmental consideration when selecting safety toe boots. If you're walking through metal detectors or around MRI machines at your worksite, go with composite toe boots. You might get waved through the metal detectors and the MRI machine might be turned off, but composite toe boots are an easy solution to potential inconveniences.

Are composite toe boots warmer than steel toe?

Yes, composite toe boots have a temperature advantage to steel toe. Composite materials do not conduct heat like steel, so your feet do not experience cold pockets in the boots. If you're working in cold or wet environments, choose insulated and/or waterproof boots.

Comfort and Fit

When you're wearing boots for hours each day, comfort is important. It's even more important when you're in high-stress environments, lifting and carrying heavy objects, or using heavy machinery. Foot care is as essential as you, the hard worker.

And while there is a lot that goes into comfort, composite toe vs steel toe plays a role, too. For instance, composite toes are lighter than steel toes. It may not feel significant at first, but after hours on your feet, a small amount of extra weight adds up to extra fatigue. In other words, a composite toe safety boot is slightly more nimble and better for all-day wear.

The fit and quality of your boots plays a big part in comfort, too. Even a composite toe boot made with subpar construction and materials will feel flat and unsupportive after a few hours of wear.

Essential Comfort Features

When shopping for composite or steel toe safety boots, look for these features...

  1. Padded upper: the upper is the softer part of the boot that wraps the top of your foot. You'll want padding that hugs the top of your foot, your ankle, and your lower leg, here. We use extra foam padding in our MACV-2 Safety Boot upper to make your boots fit like a glove.
  2. Rugged sole: our MACV-2 Safety Boots have an aggressive outsole (the bottom of the boot) and rugged midsole (above the outsole, closer to your foot) because a good day starts with how good your feet feel. If the bottom of your feet are having a bad time, the rest of you will be, too. Take care of your feet, knees, and back with serious quality and construction in the sole of the boot.
  3. Contoured arch support: your foot isn't flat, and your boots shouldn't be, either. The MACV-2 Safety Boots have a contoured foot bed for maximum support from heel to toe.
  4. Appropriate offset: our Special Forces roots have taught us a few things about spending all day on our feet, wearing boots. We know how important comfort and durability are, and a 13mm offset is how we build our safety boots for all-day wear, for all the days ahead. A 13mm offset ensures the boots have enough cushion beneath the heel and they feel supportive, no matter what kind of work you do.

Are composite boots lighter?

Yes, composite toe safety boots are lighter than steel toe boots. The difference may not feel like much, but if you're on your feet for hours, a composite toe is the better option in terms of weight.

Composite Toe vs Steel Toe: Durability

The durability of a safety boot is not dependent on whether it uses a composite or steel toe cap. Both can be ASTM compliant when they're made with quality materials and construction, so impact and compression ratings between the two are similar. Durability, however, has to do with the overall build of the boot. Don't be afraid to spend extra money on safety boots. Like a quality mattress and trusted car tires, extra money goes a long way when taking care of your feet.

Many employers compensate their workers for a pair or two of boots per year. Check with your department for a footwear stipend.

How often should you replace composite toe boots?

Composite toe and steel toe boots should be replaced every 6 to 12 months, depending on wear. We recommend our MACV-2 Safety Boots for one year. Quality materials and craftsmanship is essential for durability.

Reliability when Choosing Safety Boots

When deciding which safety boots are the most reliable, choose the ones with excellent user feedback. In other words, which boots have good reviews? We created our MACV-2 Safety Boots because our rucking boots have collectively garnered thousands of positive reviews. Ruckers are hard workers who know a thing or two about long hours on their feet. Turns out, many of them wear safety toe boots at work, too.

It was a logical progression for us to turn our highly-rated rucking boots into composite safety toe boots.