Continuing on with my quest to detail all the parts of a work boot that you need to know about (hint: it’s literally all of them), we’ve gotten to the shank.
No, I’m not talking about the weapon used in street fights and prisons, I’m talking about a part that is likely in boots you’ve worn or are wearing.
What is a shank, what does it do, and why should you care?
Read on and find out.
What is a Steel Shank in a Boot?
A steel shank is a part in work boots that spans the area where the arch of your foot is. It is a thin piece of steel that provides stability against torsion and supports the direct weight of your body as you stand in your boots.
The shank is one of several parts that work to ensure your boot feels like a structure that supports your foot.
What else would a boot be, you ask?
Without a toe cap, outsole, and solid Goodyear welt construction it’s just a loose sack of leather This would end up looking like the boots of centuries gone by.
Our friends over at Rose Anvil do a great job of helping visualize what all this means.
If you’re looking for a nice overview of the topic, this is a great video to watch.
If you already read everything I wrote and want a bit more of the visuals, check that youtube video.
Why Are Steel Shanks Important? What do they do for the person wearing the shoes?
Steel shanks are important in preventing the boot from twisting and losing its structure.
They also prevent the boot from bottoming out in the area between your heel and the ball of the foot where the outsole has a gap in many boots.
The shank is a structural element that ensures the outsole functions as one complete unit.
This is opposed to the outsole being a floppy sheet of rubber that could twist in both directions if you got in a tight spot on the job.
If you can’t imagine how this could happen, you haven’t been working long enough, give it time.
Additionally, they resist the downward force your body is putting on the boot.
They also reinforce the natural arch of your foot and prevent your toes and heel from curving up and the arch from pancaking down.
Shanks provide your feet with added arch support it needs for work.
Where Does the Shank Go in Work Boots?
The steel shank is usually sandwiched in between the insole and midsole.
This means that unless you’ve torn your shoes open, you’ll never actually see the shank.
What Jobs Can Benefit The Most For Steel Shank Boots?
Anyone that carries heavy weights or is required to climb during the course of their work can benefit from a steel shank.
The shank helps your muscles and bones fight back against gravity and whatever you’re carrying to limit the stress on your body.
Linemen and loggers are the first professions that come to mind when considering who needs a shank in their boots.
That’s not to say there aren’t other professions that could benefit from steel shanks.
Truthfully, I had no idea that was the case until doing my research for this article, but it makes perfect sense.
One of the reasons why I love writing about things I thought I knew about is you always learn something new.
Without a steel shank, many shoe styles would simply collapse under the weight and stress of a human body taking part in even the simplest of actions.
Either that, or the person wearing them would find that their feet, ankles, and legs were much more tired at the end of the day as the stress was absorbed by their body instead of the shank.
Are All Shanks Made of Steel?
No, shanks come in a variety of different materials.
In recent years, shanks have most often been made of steel but it is also possible to make them out of leather, TPU, composite materials and even fiberglass.
Plastic technology has advanced to the point where you can rely on a plastic shank just as easily as one made of steel.
What’s Better, Steel or Non-Metallic Shanks?
There’s no hard and fast answer here, as it depends on what you’re looking to achieve.
If you’re looking for a little additional puncture protection in the thinnest part of your outsole, steel shanks are great.
Alternatively, if you want a material that doesn’t react to heat, cold, or electricity, go non-metallic.
Sometimes people are interested in getting boots completely free of metal, so they choose to avoid the steel toe and steel shank combo and go instead with a composite toe and fiberglass shank.
Is There Anyone That Shouldn’t Get Boots With a Steel Shank?
Anyone working in extreme temperatures will experience discomfort or even danger from wearing boots with a steel shank.
I’d also want to highlight that anyone that frequently deals with electricity in their work should avoid steel shanks on the off-chance a current finds its way into your shoe.
Firefighters, workers in arctic or cold weather climates, and anyone that’s required to go through metal detectors at their job should avoid steel shanks.
The metal detector one is pretty obvious, but why firefighters and arctic workers like Alaskan fisherman?
Although it will take some time, the steel will respond to the extreme temperature if you allow enough exposure.
This could end up creating a situation where you’ve essentially put a heating or cooling plate right under the most sensitive part of your foot.
In the best cases, this might be uncomfortable, in the worst cases it could actually injure you with burns or hurry along with frostbite.
Why Do People Still Like Steel Shanks If There Are More Modern Materials?
There are a couple reasons, but the primary one is that steel is a known and trusted material.
Steel has a level of consistency that workers trust more than newer designs that they don’t have a lot of experience with.
Furthermore, the uses of steel are always in a way that demonstrates its strength.
This is in contrast to a material like fiberglass that workers might have an experience of using in ways that weren’t focused on strength.
Let me be clear: I am not saying that fiberglass isn’t a substantial material for shanks; it is.
I’m just noting that people think of whatever their last experience with a material is and assume that represents the material in all its uses.
Being from a coastal area where everyone surfs, fiberglass boards can get dinged super easy.
I don’t think of it as a material for strength because I’ve easily damaged it before.
Top Boot Brands That Offer Products With Steel Shanks
I can’t think of a single reputable work brand that doesn’t offer at least one style with a shank.
It’s become a staple of modern boot design so you can count on the most popular work boot brands, and even boutique boot makers to include a steel shank in many of their products.
If you’re a fan of Timberland, Thursday Boots, Keen, it doesn’t really matter. You’re going to find a steel shank option in their catalog.
Binding It All Together
Steel shanks can be among the most important features for people who really ask the most from their body while at work.
I highly advise you look into finding a pair of boots with steel shanks if you fall into this category.