Composite Toe vs Steel Toe [Which Safety Toe is Best?]

There has been a long time debate between composite toe vs steel toe boots over which is better. Whether you’re new to safety toe boots or simply replacing an old pair, you need footwear for work that is going to offer the best protection.

Depending on your job, each carries its own benefits and drawbacks that will apply to your needs. What kind of hazards are you exposed to on the job? What is the temperature of your workplace environment? These are just a few questions to consider when m

We’re going to first take a look at the key differences between the two protection types, and then review some of the best boots that can get the job done based on your needs.





Top Pick!

6 Inch
Composite toe boots


Keen Utility
Steel toes


Legend 6 Inch
Composite toe


Second Shift
Steel toes


Irish Settler
Steel toes




Safety Toe Features

What is Composite Toe Made From?

Comp toe protection can be made from a number of materials such as fiberglass, Kevlar, and even plastic. While none of these materials are as tough as steel, composite toes still provide an impressive level of protection. 

They’ve been proven to handle an enormous amount of impact weight, and will generally set you back a few more dollars than their steel counterparts. But don’t count composites out yet, we’re just getting started.

What do you think will happen when a 4.5t forklift runs over composite toe boots?
Check out the video to find out.

Do You Need Protective Footwear
with Safety Toe Caps?

The majority of workplace injuries are musculoskeletal, meaning muscle, bone and other soft tissue are affected. Foot injuries are common with more than 53,000 foot injuries in the American workplace each year. These injuries can lead to time off work, high medical bills and even long-term disability It is both yours and your employer’s responsibility to ensure you are protected against foot injury while at work.

OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) regulations state that protective footwear is required for workers in industrial settings. This means anyone who works in construction, industrial, government or service fields, where there is a risk of injury to their feet, must wear appropriate footwear. According to OSHA, injury can be caused by:

  • Dangerous/Corrosive/Hot substances
  • Electrical hazards/risk of explosion
  • Heavy objects that could move and crush feet
  • Sharp objects that could puncture the feet
  • Uneven, slippery or otherwise hazardous surfaces

But what is the appropriate footwear to offset these risks? And when must that footwear include safety toe caps?

The Right Footwear for the Job

OSHA recommends choosing the right footwear for the job. That means wherever there is the risk that a heavy object could roll onto your feet, a sharp object could pierce your feet or an object could fall from a height onto your feet, you must wear safety toe caps. This is where the question of should I choose a composite toe vs steel toe and which is better. 

Construction site workers, machinists, mechanics, carpenters, welders and general labourers should all wear safety toe caps. If you work in any of these fields invest in a good pair of ASTM compliant boots with safety toe caps.

Some jobs involve a diverse range of tasks, particularly those on a construction site. In this case you may need more than one pair of work boots to provide the right protection at the right time. For example, when working around potential electrical hazards you may switch out your safety toe cap boots and wear composite toe boots with specially designed thick rubber soles. 

ASTM Compliance

Manufacturers must submit safety footwear to the ASTM for a series of tests. The ASTM measures whether the boots are adequately impact, puncture and compression resistant and awards or denies their approval.

Only those approved can truly call themselves safety toe cap boots and are approved by OSHA. You should only need to look at the label to find out if your work boots meet the standard and are ASTM-compliant.

Level of Protection

Certain jobs will require steel and others will require composite toe boots. At the end of the day, each material is designed to protect your precious feet and both are approved by OSHA to ensure they meet safety standards.

protection level gauge

Steel Toes - What can they offer

Steel toes are going to be the heavyweight champion in terms of sheer impact force protection. It’s a tough, long lasting material built to withstand the most intense beatings that a workplace can dish out.
Our overall main work boot picks are here. 

This kind of protection is going to be particularly useful in construction settings or any other job where you run the risk encountering objects that can puncture your steel toe boots and therefor cause damage to your feet. We’re also going to take this moment to quickly debunk the toe amputation myth.

Mythbusters proved that steel toe boots will not sever your toes even when exposed to extreme weight. That’s a relief.

Weight and Design

Depending on other desirable work boot features or how walking intensive your job is, you may not want steel toes protection that’s going to add a lot of extra weight. Of course, there’s not only weight to consider, but also how much extra room it leaves for your toes as well as visual appearance (if you care about that kind of thing).

Steel Toed Boots Safety Facts

Naturally, as steel carries the highest level of protection, it also carries the most weight. Depending on the thickness and other construction factors (such as leather, rubber soles, insoles, etc.), it can all make for a heavier boot that you have to lug around.

Weight aside, steel toe boots does typically have a low profile design. Due to its dense nature, the steel layer doesn’t have to be too thick to provide high-grade protection. A thinner toe cap gives the steel toe boots an overall sleek and even look.

army helmet protecting boots

Steel can give your toes more room to breathe and wiggle. However, some steel caps are prone to rubbing against the steel toes and causing discomfort after seeing significant use.

Composite Toe Safety Boots

On top of providing well above average protection, the best composite toe boots are usually up to 30% lighter than steel. The variety of materials that they can be crafted from give companies more versatility to incorporate protection without adding too much weight.

The drawback is that composite materials require a thicker layer to provide the work safety standard level of protection. Composite caps will usually have a bulkier design that protrudes more than other features of the work boot.

This will also compromise toe space and make it a little more cramped. On the plus side, these types of caps don’t cause the same discomfort issues as steel after being broken in.

Insulation and Electrical Safety

construction sign danger high voltage

Certain work environments may expose workers to extreme temperatures and electrical hazards. It’s important to pick the toe protection correct for your job so you can perform comfortably, and safely.

This will depend if you need winter work boots or summer work boots.


When placed in extreme temperatures, steel cap boots are prone to cooling down and heating up. This can lead to quite a bit of discomfort, and the primary reason that steel toed boots are not recommended for these kinds of jobs.

Contrary to what you may be thinking, it’s not uncommon for steel protection to meet or exceed electrical hazard safety tests.

Check out our homepage for more steel toe designs. 


Composite materials (such as carbon fiber) fair much better against the elements than steel. Most are naturally resistant to extreme temperatures while helping to keep your toes insulated and comfortable throughout the work day.

These materials also pass electrical hazard safety tests, making them a great choice for jobs where this is a relevant concern. This is why materials like carbon fiber are used. Carbon fiber does not conduct electricity like steel toes boots or some other metals. Carbon fiber is also a strong compound that can offer good protection. If you're looking for boots with steel toes protection you may want to consider carbon fiber composite toe boots. 

Composite Toe vs Steel Toe - Summary

As you can see, each type of safety toe offers unique pros and cons that are heavily reliant on your line of work. We’ve compiled a short summary to help make the selection process easier before we dive into the reviews.


  • Highest grade impact protection
  • Puncture protection
  • Heavier weight
  • Low profile design
  • Can offer electrical protection
  • Poor insulation


  • Above average impact protection
  • Not puncture proof
  • Lightweight
  • Bulkier design
  • Can offer electrical protection
  • Great insulation

Keep in mind your job requirements and what conditions you'll be working in when deciding if composite toe vs steel toe boots is better for you. 

Reviews of the Best Steel & Composite
Work Boots

Carhartt Men’s CMF6366 Six-Inch Composite Boot

These Carhartt work boots have a lot of awesome features that make them extremely versatile. To start, they come armed with the Rugged Flex technology which features five unique layers of flexibility, durability, and comfort.

The slip and oil-resistant rubber soles with ladder lock lugs provide extra traction for better stability. In addition, multiple shock absorbing layers in conjunction with energy-returning heel inserts help to make time spent on your feet a breeze.

Moisture wicking internal lining and a removable PU insole top them off to give you exceptional comfort. These composite work boots are built for the long shift worker that needs equal parts comfort and toughness.


  • Flexible rubber sole
  • Multilayer comfort features
  • Breathability
  • Wide composite cap for extra room
  • Durable long lasting design 

KEEN Utility Men’s Pittsburgh Steel Toe Work Boot

These visually dominant steel toe boots have two layers of waterproof protection. Between the water resistant leather and KEEN Dry technology with an internal breathable membrane, your feet will stay dry and comfortable no matter the conditions.

The metal speed hooks make steel toe boots easy to get on and offer a secure fit all the way through the ankle. The external body has reflective webbing to increase safety for workers that have the night shift.

A dual density PU midsole and full-length stability plate help to keep your footing firm and confident while the naturally contouring arch support prevents fatigue from setting in. This pair is not the cheapest steel toe boots around, but the KEEN name makes the price tag worth it.


  • Excellent waterproof features and breathability 
  • Arch support is great for flat feet
  • Little to no break in period
  • Durable leather and fabric design


  • Soles lack durability
  • Heavy design
  • Comfort features need upgrading

Wolverine Men’s Legend 6-Inch Waterproof Comp Toe Work Boot

Starting with the soles, these Wolverine boots come with slip-resistant rubber lugs that have advanced treading so you can grip any and every surface. A waterproof membrane and leather exterior keep moisture out.

They’re equipped with Wolverine’s Durashock technology that is focused on returning energy to your step. The H-plate suspension system is designed to give your feet superior support and stability along with the soles.

CarbonMax safety caps offer a lightweight design with ample room so your toes don’t feel cramped. To wrap up, your feet will be cradled by the removable Ortholite cushion inside this tough work footwear.


  • Snug feeling and secure fit
  • Durable leather build
  • Great energy return features
  • Strong laces


  • Can cause toe discomfort
  • Soles prone to falling apart
  • Membrane is not breathable

Caterpillar Men’s Second Shift Steel Toe Work Boot

Caterpillar boots are well known for their extremely durable design. High-grade leather along with Goodyear welt construction form a solid base for these steel toe boots. The soles are slip & abrasion resistant, as well as electric hazard safe.

Climasphere technology lines the inside of these steel toe boots for moisture wicking and exceptional temperature control so you don’t get too cold or warm. The removable contour insole also has Climasphere technology.

Lastly, the steel cap in these boots pass class 75 certifications so you can be sure that your toes are under some of the best protection. Caterpillar built steel toe boots to last and stand up to the worst you have to throw at them.


  • Extremely durable
  • Provides good ankle support
  • Spacious toe protection for steel toe boots
  • Temperature regulation


  • Needs better comfort features
  • Boots are not waterproof
  • Stiff and long break in period

Irish Setter Men’s 83608 Six-Inch Steel Work Boot

Keep grounded and grip all surfaces with polyurethane V-Grip outsoles. They’re wrapped with the standard Irish Setter durable leather to ensure a long lasting design that can weather the elements.

A non-metallic shank is built in for added support and energy return, ideal features for the worker that walks a lot and spends time on their feet. They’re lightweight and flexible to prohibit fatigue from setting in.

The safety and electrical hazard resistant steel toe keep you ready to tackle a variety of workplace settings. These steel toe boots carry a very affordable price tag with a top name brand.


  • Roomy fit for steel toes
  • Anti-fatigue and support features
  • Long lasting leather
  • Lightweight even for steel toes


  • Not breathable
  • Lacking sufficient arch support
  • Leather is hard to break in

Thorogood Men’s GEN-FLEX 6-Inch Lace-Toe Composite Toe Boots

Few composite toe boots come packed with as many unique features as these. If the dual density rubber outsole doesn’t offer enough for you, the extra abrasion resistant rubber around the toes and sides will.

Understanding the importance of being confident on your feet, Thorogood has incorporated an anti-roll heel bar for extra support and stability. The composite shank also helps with this.

The insoles and midsole are both EVA, but there’s an added extra layer of gel to help take care of any jarring shock that makes it through. For being Thorogood branded composite toe boots, they offer a price tag that will make any worker want to buy them.


  • Extra ankle support
  • Versatile use in multiple environments
  • Superior shock absorption
  • Flexible wear out of the box


  • Rubber toe prone to peeling
  • Heavy build
  • Soles lack durability

The Chosen Winner is...

We’ve covered a lot of high-quality boots, but one, in particular, stood out above the rest. Our selected winner for boots with safety toe protection is the Carhartt Men’s CMF6366 Six-Inch Composite Toe Boot.

They come complete with a wide composite toe to ensure you have enough room, electrical hazard protection, and great energy returning features that complement the comfort insoles.

The composite caps offer lightweight, high-grade protection with great insulation that works well with the moisture wicking lining. They come ready to stand up to the toughest jobs and make sure you go home with happy feet.

As you can see we didn't choose steel toes. 

The right composite toe vs steel toe boots for your occupation will vary, you should consider all the aspects before making a purchase. 

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