• Head to Feet Safety

Composite Toe Vs Steel Toe Work Boots - Their Similarities and Differences

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

Composite or steel toe work boots - which is best for you?

This is an often-asked question among working people who are considering a new pair of Work Boots.

Both options, composite and steel toe, meet the regulatory requirements for feet protection offer great protection to your feet.

While steel toe boots have a steel cap built into it, a composite toe boot has a combination of non-metallic materials that provide protection to the toe region.

These reinforcements, steel or composite, are rugged enough to protect your feet from failing objects and feet collision against hard surfaces or objects. Apart from Composite toe boots, there are the alloy toe Work Boots.

By OSHA standards, Safety Toe shoes are compulsory on work sites that present significant danger to the feet. It is a regulatory requirement on construction sites, sites with heavy machinery equipment, settings with risk of falling objects, chemical exposure and or high voltage environments. Employees must wear protective Work Boots and employers of labor must ensure the use of appropriate feet protection on their work sites. Refer to what are safety boots and why wear them for details.

Steel to vs composite toe

We have established the need for work boots and that both Steel Toe and Composite Toe Work Boots meet regulatory requirements. The question now is, how do these two compare one against the other? Each offers special benefits that should be given due consideration before making a purchase.

The following sections will compare steel toe boots with composite toe boots based on:

  1. The level of protection they offer against hard objects,

  2. The level of comfort they provide,

  3. Their performance in extreme weather conditions,

  4. The easy of passing metal detector security checks and

  5. Their level of protection against high voltage.

1. Steel Toe Vs Composite Toe – Protection against hard objects

Protection against falling objects and feet collision against hard objects is arguably the most important consideration in choosing Work Boots.

Put simply, the greater the protection your work environment requires, the stronger the appropriate safety toe that will be required for your safety either directly by your employer or OSHA regulations.

Work Boots toe caps are tested for compression and impact in accordance with ASTM F2412 and ASTM F2413. To qualify for as a feet protection Work Boot, the design must pass these tests. It is safe to say that all ASTM complaint Work Boots in the market, offer sufficient protection to the feet regardless of the material the toe cap is made of.

A standard Compression test for Work Boots examines the amount of protection the boot offers when a heavy object rolls over it while an Impact test examines the effect on the boot when a heavy object falls on it.

Work Boots are marked with codes to reflect the nature of hazards they have been tested for. A proper understanding of this coding system is a good guide to choosing the right boot for your specific job.

Steel toe Work Boots are known to retain a better protection after first impact than composite toe Work Boots. If your work place has a high exposure to possible impacts with falling and heavy objects, a pair of steel toe work boots might be your preferred option for long term protection.

2. Steel Toe Vs Composite Toe Work boots - Comfort

The degree of comfort you get from your work boot is a function of its design, weight and your ability to choose the right fit for your feet. Your work boots are supposed to offer your support and comfort at work. The heavier your Work Boot, the greater fatigue your feet and legs will experience! It is also established that Composite toe boots generally weigh less than their steel toe but weight is not the only factor that affects your comfort in your Work Boot. In addition, the sole of your Work Boot contributes significantly higher to its overall weight than the toe cap material.

Given this argument, you may be tempted to believe that the toe cap material makes no difference. This might be true if your job function does not involve long hours on your feet. If on the other hand your job involves long hours standing, walking about and possibly climbing, every additional ounce of weight can contribute a significant discomfort. You want to shed of every possible ounce of weight!

Regardless of how light your boot is, choosing the wrong fit will cause you great discomfort.

Whatever choice you make, composite toe or steel toe, never sacrifice protection for comfort!

Ensure the Work Boot you are purchasing incorporates cushioning and balance into its design.

In summary, composite toe caps weigh less than a steel toe caps, but this effect might be counter balanced by the weight of the sole material. To choose a lighter boot, consider the weight of the entire material used in making the boot. Your comfort in either a steel toe or composite toe boot will be greatly compromised if you choose the wrong fit for your feet.

3. Steel Toe Vs Composite Toe Work boots - Performance in extreme weather

Frozen toes and feet is not an experience you want to have on the field. Imagine having to stand all day on snow and how badly this will affect your feet if your work boots offer poor insulation. In such environment you want to reduce every possible chance of heat transfer from your feet.

According to OSHA’s cold stress guide, people working in cold environments should wear properly insulated and water proof work boots. This guide however, does not recommend a composite toe over a steel toe work book for cold regions.

However, we know, from physics, that steel, a metal, is a good conductor of heat while plastic, a major component of composite toe caps is an insulator. That said the steel in your work boot is normally not in direct contact with your toes. They are usually covered by some form of insulating lining on the inside. Continued usage will lead to wear and your toes might eventually come in contact with the steel cap. A rare occurrence but a possibility.

Longer term insulation and protection against cold weather is better guaranteed in a composite toe than a steel toe Work Boot provided that the boot does not compromise your protection against falling objects and your comfort. If you arr working in a high temperature environment, you need to consider heat resistance as a major part of your choice of Work Boots.

4. Steel Toe Vs Composite Toe Work boots- Protection against slips, trips and falls

This is a function of the sole and general design of the boot. A steel toe or composite toe Work Boot will just be as good in protecting you from trips, slips and falls if the sole design gives sufficient traction and balance.

5. Do you have to go through metal detector security checks in your Work Boots?

If your answer is yes, then, a Composite Toe Work boot has a clear advantage that you need to take into consideration. They will not set off metal detector alarms because they are free of metal! An exception is a situation where the design of a composite toe boot’s shaft has an embedded metal. A steel toe boot on the other hand will give issues with metal detector security checks because, as we know, steel is metal.

6. Steel Toe Vs Composite Toe Work boots - Protection against electrical hazards

Because steel is a known thermal and electrical conductor, some persons have a confusion about the ability of steel toe work boots to protect against electrical hazards. The truth is yes they can and do protect in high voltage zones. They are designed to provide sufficient insulation to protect from electrical hazards and have been performing this function before the advent of composite toe work boots.

Work boots designed for use in high voltage environments are subjected to electrical hazard tests before they are moved to the market. This test checks that your work Boot is able to prevent an electrical charge from leaking through the outsole into the ground. The Electrical Hazard work Boots are built to hold 18,000 volts, at 60 Hz, for 60 seconds, with no flow of more than 1.0 milli-amperes under dry conditions.

Protection against electrical hazards is independent of the toe cap material and remains largely in tact even if the steel cap becomes exposed to a source of electricity. This is because the sole of the boot keeps the worker from being grounded.

However, note that:

  1. Any Work Boot with an exposed toe cap should be considered for immediate replacement and

  2. Wearing an insulating wok boot is no reason to ignore safety measures for staying off electrical hazards. They should be considered a second layer of protection and not a primary protection against electrical hazards.

A composite toe or Steel Toe? Either option will protect you against electrical hazards so long as the sole is designed for the purpose and passes the electrical hazard test.

Keep in mind that this test is carried out under dry conditions and on a brand new work boot. The implication is that the result you get on the field may vary from initial test results.


Both steel and composite toe work boots are designed to meet OSHA and ASTM standards and will offer sufficient protection to your feet. Given that both steel and composite toe boots meet regulatory standards for feet protection, your choice of one over another boils down to your work environment, work conditions. your comfort and personal preference. If you are constantly in an environment with heavy equipment exposure, consider getting a steel toe boot so long as you have no issues with metal detectors. Composite toes become weaker after first major impact and may not offer sufficient impact and compression protection long term.

A composite toe option is a great fit for extreme weathers and a default choice in areas with metal detectors. This however assumes that the boot design has no metal in its shaft.

Never compromise protection for comfort and remember that comfort is a function of design, weight and your ability to choose the best fit for your feet. Check out our detailed reviews of steel Toe and Composite Toe Work Boots.

Composite toe or Steel toe? Share your experience and questions in comments below.

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