Work boots buying guide

Work boots buying guide

Let’s talk boots!  This is one of my favorite subjects.  I fully expect this topic to lead to many more articles.  I will keep this article as simple as possible and provide some solid recommendations to work boots readily available in stores and online.  This is not meant to be a brand-focused article.  Having said that, you will likely see some recurring brands in my recommendations that I have had really good success with in past.

What makes a good work boot?

A good work boot boils down to comfort, purpose, and style.  Let’s call these “boot requirements”.  If the boot you are considering does not meet these requirements, then it is not the right pair and will likely experience some level of frustration when it comes time to get some work done.  I usually do not focus on price when looking at work boots.  That does not mean that you should look for most expensive pair.  Nor does it mean that you should spend more than your budget allows.  Your feet are valuable and you need to protect them. 

Keep the boot requirements in mind as I mention over 22 work boots with different styles, materials, and soles.

Click “Shop this article” to jump to a list of all the boots mentioned in this article.

Click “What do I use” to jump to my work boot collection and why.

What to consider?

  1. Type
  2. Sole
  3. Toe
  4. Material
  5. Height


Work boot types are largely based on closure and style.  I could get lost on this subject alone.  For this article, I will focus on the most common closures and style types.  When purchasing a work boot, you could find any combination of closures across all the different styles.  It really depends on what you like and what connects with you.


  • Lace up – Just as you may think, lace up boots have laces. Some have speed laces, eyelets, or a combination of both.  But ultimately, if there are laces, it is a lace up boot like the Timberland Pro Pitboss or the CAT Second Shift.
  • Pull on – No laces here.  Usually tabs or holes in the top of the boot to pull them on and get to work.  Solid examples of these are the Thorogood Wellington, Ariat Workhog, and the Carhartt Wellington.
  • Other – There are other options like side zip and velcro.  However, those are less common and designed for very specific purposes.


  • Round – I am leading off with the most common work boot style which encompasses the largest range of options.  They are basically anything with a rounded toe box.  I would say that these start with a basic design like the Timberland Pro Direct 6 inch and can beef up to the the tough as nails Timberland Pro Boondocks.
  • Western – These are my favorite style type.  Western work boots can have square or round toe boxes so they could technically fit in the “round” style category but they are truly their own thing.  The style is not for everyone.  But if you know, you know.  And I know that the Ariat Sierra is awesome.
  • Moc – The moc toe is an interesting style type.  They are specifically designed to allow for higher side walls and increased flexibility to provide more room in the toe box.  Most moc toe boots are work boots.  There are not many casual moc toe boots out there.  A fan favorite is the Carhartt Wedge or the Irish Setter Ashby


When it comes to the sole of your work boot, you want to consider cushion, stability, and traction.  There is an argument for durability.  However, if the pair you are eyeing is designed specifically for how you plan to use them, they will likely meet your needs.  There is a little bit of a “Goldilocks” situation when it comes to cushion and stability.  Both contribute to the boot requirement of comfort.  The more cushion, the less stability.  The more stability the less cushion.  This goes back to personal preference as long as they still fit the purpose requirement. 

As for traction, make sure they are oil and skip resistant (if you need it) and have plenty of tread for how you plan to use them.

Lastly, certain shoes will have a sole that has added features to resist against shock, fire, and chemicals.  If you need those, make sure the boots call those features out in their description.


When I refer to the toe of the boot, I do not refer to style or design.  I am referring to protection.  It is the level of reinforcement in the toe box.  There are three levels or types.

  • Soft toe – No reinforcement.
  • Composite toe – Reinforcement is some sort of non-metallic material specifically designed to protect the toe box without the use of metal.
  • Steel toe – This is exactly what it sounds like.  A steel plate surrounds the tow box for maximum protection.

I cannot say one is better than the other.  All three have their place and purpose.  I own one of each toe type.  If reinforcement is needed or desired, then go for steel toe.  However, metal is heavier and some work environments prohibit metal in their boots.  So a composite toe is the way to go.  And soft toe work boots have their place as well.  If I am mowing the lawn, I do not want a heavy steel toe boot.  A lightweight and breathable material with a soft toe works best.


To keep this one simple as well, I will focus on three main types of material.  I am also referring to the uppers of the boot and not the insole or outsole since we sort of just covered those areas.

  • Leather – Leather is classic and durable.  With minimal care and upkeep, they can last for a really long time.  They are also naturally water resistant. Their downside is breathability.  Leather does not breath as well as a synthetic material.  Leather boots can be found in all styles and closure types.  And their finish will either be smooth like the Ariat Groundbreaker or more rough like the Timberland Pro Direct 8 inch.
  • Synthetic – Synthetic materials are basically anything other than leather.  They are generally good in warm and cold weather if insulated and treated with weatherproofing spray. Their downside can be durability because the material is not as solid as leather.  I had a pair of Timberland Pro Powertrain boots that were a fantastic in the heat of summer.  Keen also makes some great work boots that have more of a hiking boot design with synthetic material s like the Keen Lansing Mid.
  • Rubber – Rubber is obviously used in the outsole of the boot but it can also be found around the boot to add protection and grip like the Carhartt Rugged Flex which is also a great winter boot because it is insulated with 400gm of 3M Thinsulate.


The height of a boot can be both a preference and a performance factor.  You will see these categorized generally as low, mid, and high.

  • Low – Great flexibility and breathability but not as stable and lack protection around the ankle.  A good example here are the Sketchers Mariner Utility Boot.
  • Mid – A good middle ground.  Good flexibility, breathability, stability, and ankle protection.  You will see these usually at or under six inches like the Timberland Pro Pitboss.
  • High – A little more rigid and stiff but offer exceptional stability and protection.  I would call these anything higher than six inches with extreme options like the Georgia Boot Logger.

What do I use?

I am not exactly sure where to begin discussing what I use.  I have used many different styles and types… even a logger boot.  As I mentioned in previously, I have to say that the right boot is the one that fits the requirements of comfort, purpose, and style.  Many times that is not the same boot for all situations.  I usually have three different boots at all times. 

Heavy duty

The Ariat Groundwork waterproof steel toe boot is my heavy duty pair.  I use these all winter long and whenever I need to work in the mud or extreme conditions.  I can match these up with a good pair of wool socks and work in freezing temperatures.  I am very happy with how well they have held up to the beating they have taken.

General duty

My favorite all-purpose boot has been the Timberland Pro Pitboss.  That is probably no surprise since I have mentioned them many times in this review.  I have worn them in wet and rainy weather as well as the high heat of southern Arizona.  Having said that, I recently purchased the Ariat Rigtek composite toe lace ups and they are proving to be a solid contender. 

Light duty

And for the third pair, I have the Timberland Pro Direct 6 inch in a soft toe.  These are a classic work boot style with a loyal following for good reason.  I use these for light to medium duty work including yard work, cleaning out the garage, and other DIY projects.

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Round Toe - Lace ups

Round Toe - Pull ons


Moc Toe

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