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Tactical Boots: Comp Toe vs. Steel Toe

Safety toes are the epitome of work boots. Comfortable, practical, and most importantly, protective are some of the words that come to mind whenever I get a new pair. After all, safety toe boots offer a two-layer form of protection in the form of impact and compression resistance against objects that might pierce or crush your toes. But these days, steel toes aren’t the only safety boots available in the market. Advances in work-shoe technology have come up with a different type of safety shoe called the composite toe boot, and it’s definitely a contender for best protective workwear.

I’d like to preface this by saying that there isn’t a “one size fits all” answer regarding what type of safety boot is better. Ultimately, both types offer protection for your feet, and each offers certain benefits that you should consider if you intend to purchase a pair. However,  when it comes down to it, the one deciding factor you should consider is whether your workplace has mandatory safety shoe material requirements. There are several military regs that outline whether or not specific toe-types are required, so always check those first.

Steel Toe Boots

The classic steel toe military boot is the most commonly utilized type of safety work shoe. A classic icon in the minds of hard-working people everywhere, they have withstood the test of time by providing protection to workers for generations.  But, just why is it the standard of the industry? Well, simply put, steel has incredible impact resistance. But, unless you’re working in an extremely hazardous environment, it’s not very likely that you’ll require this extra amount of protection… unlike the military.

You see, military environments often require servicemembers to deal with seriously dangerous equipment. From heavy objects to weapons and armaments, servicemembers are frequently in need of additional protective equipment.  However, while this is true for the military, it might not be the same for civilian workers. Unless you’re working in construction or a field where the equipment is considered “heavy duty,” you’re not very likely to have a need for the extra protection afforded by steel toes.

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Funny enough, composite toe shoe users advocate their stance against steel toe by citing a rumor. The idea is that if a steel toe boot is crushed by an object that exceeds the weight handling capabilities of the shoe, it will cave in and cut your toes off. Thankfully, the rumor is false and has been debunked in the past by numerous sources, including the venerable Mythbusters.

Steel toe users stand by their tried and true safety boots as they’re not only protective, they’re often less expensive than most composite boots.

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Composite Toe Boots

Fans of comp toe tactical boots have their list of reasons why this is their footwear of choice.

  • Lighter and more agile than steel toe boots, the composite toes offer a great level of protection while allowing you to spend less energy as you move
  • The material (Kevlar, plastic or even carbon fiber) doesn’t conduct heat, which means that your feet will not feel the additional brunt of extreme temperatures as much as if they were wearing steel toes
  • They also don’t conduct electricity, which is vital if you work in any situation where electric shock may be a hazard
  • If you work in an environment where you have to pass by a metal detector, the composite type boots will not trigger the alarm

However, while composite toe boots are lighter, most of them tend to be comparatively bulbous (with the exception of the carbon fiber types which are actually thinner). There is a practical application to the additional size though… as we mentioned earlier, composite toe safety shoes aren’t quite as resistant to impact as the steel toe, so the extra bulk allows them to meet the safety standards.

It does bear mentioning that, while composite toe boots can withstand the primary tests for both compression and impact resistance with similar results to the steel toe boots, it has been noted in these same test that repeated strikes will actually yield decreasing results as the material weakens (keep an eye on the new Graphite Fiber safety shoes, as they are making a name for themselves in terms of impact resistance).

I personally recommend you replace your comp toe boots if they’re ever put under a lot of stress or have received a significant impact. Even if the boot itself doesn’t show signs of physical damage, this is not a signal to keep using it, as the wear and tear might be internal.

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What’s the verdict?

Both types of safety boots have their pros and cons. While it’s true that the steel toe shoes have stood the test of time as a testament to their reliability, the composite shoes are well on their way to surpassing them as they continue to develop. Ultimately, it should be your job requirements that are the deciding factor between comp toe or steel toe boots, but if there aren’t specific guidelines, I recommend you go with what is most comfortable.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the


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