How Do Steel Toe Boots Work?

Whether its a falling brick, hammer, or even a trailer that’s rolled over your toes, steel toe boots will aim to keep you safe. 

I can say that in my years working in the trades, there were a couple times where I was shocked I wasn’t hurt by a falling object. 

Fortunately, I got a little more cautious and my 20’s turned into my 30’s, but those early years gave me the chance to see that steel toe boots actually work. 

Even though at times it may have seemed like it, it wasn’t magic that kept me safe.

Instead, it was an example of well executed product design and engineering of a safety toe. 

It can often be that we don’t realize how big the PPE industry is, and how much time, research, and money goes into developing the products we use every day.

Many us probably have a better idea after the 2020 COVID pandemic, but certain facts can still come as a surprise.

There are laboratories working around to create next generation materials like Kevlar and Thinsulate

You probably knew that, but did you know that there is still research going into how to modernize and improve old technologies as well? 

Just because steel toes have been around since the 1930s doesn’t mean the scientific community and the PPE industries have stopped coming up with new designs and formulas.

All those things considered, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re up to speed on the basics about how a steel toe boot works.

The Magic of Steel Toe Caps

A steel toe work boot will keep you protected from harm by including a toe cap. A toe cap is the part of the boots that protects your toes from being smashed or crushed. 

Steel to caps were first made in the 1930’s. 

Despite the development of newer technologies, many continue to be made of steel to this day.

The toe cap is a hollow, semi-circular piece of of either steel, alloy, or composite materials. 

For the purpose of this article, we’ll just cover the steel type.

Just know there is more than one option.

As you can see in the photo above, the toe cap looks like a mini concert hall or bandstand. 

This is not a coincidence, as both shapes serve to redirect or redistribute energy. 

In the case of a bandstand, it’s redirecting soundwaves.

In the case of the steel toe cap in our boots, it’s redirecting kinetic energy.

When force is applied to the top of the toe cap, the steel resists its downward motion and redirects the energy off away from your foot. 

This allows your boot to withstand forces that would easily injure you in basic leather or rubber boots.

What is a Steel Toe Boot?

Officially, it’s a safety boot with a steel toe cap, but people often speak about steel toe boots in the general sense of “safety boots.” 

Just as people sometimes refer to a specific brand as the object (kleenex, hoover, etc…), some will refer to all safety boots as steel toe boots.

Before you make any purchase, specifically read the product description.

Don’t get confused by a friend or salesperson speaking in general terms.

How Much Weight Can a Steel Toe Boot Withstand?

Disclaimer: Please do NOT try this at home. This video is for educational purposes only.

You might be interested in comparing alloy vs steel vs composite toe.

Steel toe boots are tested to withstand no less than 2500 lbs of compression (C/75) and 75 lbs of impact resistance (I/75). 

The ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) determines this to be the mark at which a boot can be considered a safety boot.  

You might be interested in looking at the ASTM F2413 standard for more details.

This is also the distinction that OSHA uses when setting standards for protective footwear on their jobsites.

However, steel can withstand substantially more weight than that.

In the video below you can see some curious people test how much a steel boot can withstand.

They measured 2 tons of force at the point the steel toe cap was finally crushed.

Disclaimer: Please do NOT try this at home. This video is for educational purposes only.

Even if not scientifically sound, it’s absolutely interesting to see videos like this one where people test the real world applications of a steel toe.

A lot of times it’s hard to evaluate exactly what a number represents when we talk about how much weight a steel toe can hold.

For some, seeing is believing. 

Although I absolutely do not advise anyone put a boot on and have it run over by a car to test its safety, it’s interesting to see when someone else does it. 

Glad no one got hurt and they decided to use hot dogs in the press test.

Are Steel Toe Boots Effective?

In a research paper published for Foot and Ankle International, it concluded that a steel toe has a higher chance of protecting your toes than not having a steel toe.

This clearly demonstrates that it’s always worth using a steel toe where possible.

If you want to protect the entire foot then you’ll need a metatarsal guard.  That’s a topic for another article.

Who Needs A Steel Toed Boot?

People that work in heavy construction, factories, or other industrial settings. 

There are obviously exceptions to this rule, but put simply, anywhere there’s heavy machinery you’ll need steel toe boots.

Jobs in which OSHA regulations apply are also places that you would be required to wear steel toe boots. 

If any of these descriptions sound like they match your job, look into a pair of steel toe shoes.

Even if you’re not sold on steel toe footwear, check out our articles to see if they’d suit your needs better.

You might also be interested in composite safety toe or alloy toe protection.