If you work in heavy industry or participate in activities that pose a risk of foot injury, you should wear safety-rated boots. The two most popular types of safety boots are steel toe boots and boots with toes made of composite materials. Boots with steel toes make for durable and protective safety footwear, but this footwear is much heavier than styles with composite toes. Here are seven differences between composite and steel toes to keep in mind when selecting your next pair of safety boots.
1. Steel Toe Boots Are More Durable Than Composite Boots
the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) bases its F2412 and F2413 standards on impact and compression tests for work and utility boots. An impact rating refers to the number of points of impact that the steel toes in boots can withstand. A compression rating indicates the number of loads reinforced toes can withstand before breaking or cracking.
Although high mass or velocity impact could dent a steel-toe boot, you do not have to replace this footwear to maintain the same level of protection. If damage to a steel toe makes wearing a boot uncomfortable, it’s time to replace these boots. To get the same rated level of protection, you must replace composite boots after an impact or compression event.
2. Composite Boots Are Lighter Than Steel Toe Boots
Composite boots are typically made of non-metal materials such as carbon, fiberglass or plastic. Graphite fiber is the latest composite material that manufacturers are using to make safety toes. All of these materials weigh less than steel.
It is also possible to get boots with alloy toes composed of elements that weigh less than steel, such as copper, chromium, magnesium, manganese, titanium, or zinc. Factors such as electrical considerations or the need for protective footwear that does not conduct cold temperatures could make the choice clear.
3. Steel Toe Boots Are Often More Stylish
Steel toes are typically made out of thinner gauge metal than the thickness of the materials combined to form composite toes. As a result, a pair of protective boots that have steel toes can look more like lifestyle or fashion footwear.
Boots with composite or alloy toes tend to have more bulbous toe boxes than steel toes and are more recognizable as utility or work shoes. If style is your next priority after safety, you may prefer to wear protective boots that have low-profile steel toes. In addition to being available in a wider range of styles, boots with steel toes are usually more affordable than composite toe boots.
4. Some Composite Boots Are Rated For Electrical Consideration
Boots made with non-metallic or non-conductive toe materials are often the ideal choices for electricians and construction workers. Boots with metal toes may raise your risk of electrocution, while insulated boots can add another dimension to your personal safety when working in a hazardous environment.
Check to see which materials are used to reinforce the toes of boots. Boots that feature alloy toes made of conductive materials such as copper are also not suitable for wear in environments that call for electrical shock resistance. Look for boots that are capable of withstanding up to 18,000 volts at 60 hertz for one minute with no current flow or leakage in excess of 1.0 milliampere.
5. Steel Toe Boots Conduct Cold
In addition to conducting current, boots with metal toes or shanks can also conduct temperatures. If you work in a chilly environment, you may prefer to wear protective boots that are made of materials that will not conduct cold temperatures towards your feet.
Some styles of steel and composite safety boots are also insulated for warmth. Based on the conditions where you plan to wear steel toe boots, you may want to check for boot linings and size up if necessary to wear thick boot socks or look for footwear made of materials that are less likely to conduct temperatures.
6. Composite Boots Don’t Offer As Much Puncture Protection
While testing for the ASTM F2412 and F2413 footwear safety standards includes impact and compression resistance, these standards also cover other forms of protection. Composite boots made of the right materials are ideal for conductive protection, electrical shock resistance and static dissipation, but these shoes may not be the best choice for preventing punctured soles.
Construction workers and others who wear boots in unfinished interior environments should seek out sole puncture-resistant footwear. This grade of footwear should be able to withstand a minimum of 270 pounds of nail penetration force.
7. Steel Toe Boots Last Longer Than Composite Boots
Steel can generally outlast composite materials, and this is particularly the case when you experience an incident involving impact or compression. Steel toes will continue to be protective after an incident, but composite toe boots must be replaced to meet ASTM footwear standards.
Given that steel toe boots cost less than composite boots, are more durable and have the potential to last longer, the safety- and value-oriented choice may seem clear. The experience of wearing heavy steel boots compared to composite boots can make the right boots less obvious if you do not require heavy-duty protection.
When To Wear Composite or Steel Toe Boots
If you need to cover distances or move quickly while protecting your feet from impact and compression hazards, you may prefer to wear composite boots. Boots with composite toes are more lightweight and are often about as durable as steel toes. Extreme working conditions may make steel boots the better option and the better overall value.
Any gear that meets relevant ASTM safety standards for footwear can deliver the rated level of protection from impact or compression. The main difference between steel and composite toes is that you can continue to wear intact steel toe boots after an incident, while it will be necessary to replace a pair of comparably rated composite boots. In short, choosing composite toe boots can be more comfortable but also more costly.