Steel Toe vs. Composite Toe Protection

Composite Safety Toe Caps

Composite Safety Toe Caps

Both steel toe boots and composite boots are designed to protect the feet. You may be wondering how you are supposed to choose between them. In order to make the best decision between purchasing steel toe boots and composite boots, you must first understand the difference between them.

Steel toe boots, as their name suggests, contain a piece of steel in the toe area of the boot for immense protection. Naturally, steel toe boots meet the ANSI safety requirements. After all, they are designated to protect the feet of electricians, construction workers, and other workers who function in a hazardous environment.

Unfortunately, some of these workers must regularly pass through security which may entail metal detectors. The metal within the steel toe boots can set off the metal detectors causing some annoyance and possibly wasting some time (if you have to be individually checked for instance). Therefore, if a worker does not have to pass through detectors, steel toe boots are an ideal choice.

Composite toe boots are lighter than steel toe boots and do not contain any form of metals in them. Instead, they contain a composite material in the toe portion of the boots. Composite materials include, but are not limited to, Kevlar, plastic, and carbon fiber. Composite toe boots also meet the ANSI safety requirements for shoes intended to provide the feet with added protection in comparison to boots without a safety toe.

However, composite toe boots are typically more suitable for people who have to pass through metal detectors, such as nuclear workers, security personnel, and airport workers. This is because composite boots do not set off metal detectors like steel toe boots because they are non-metallic.

There are two things you must know when shopping for either steel toe boots or composite toe boots: impact rating and compression rating.

The impact rating is a number that informs you of the amount of pounds of impact the shoes will protect against. For example, an I/75 impact rated pair of boots can withstand an impact of 75 pounds.The test done to determine the impact rating is done by dropping a weight from a certain height at a specified speed onto the boots. If the boots can withstand the 75 pound weight, they are labeled as I/75. The minimum impact rating for safety toe boots is I/50.

The compression rating is the number of loads the shoes can withstand before cracking or breaking. For example, a C/75 will guard against compressive loads of up to 2,500 pounds. A C/50 pair of boots can protect against compressive loads of up to 1,750 pounds.

In conclusion, when it comes to choosing between steel toe and composite toe boots, the major determining factor will be your job. Will you have to regularly walk through metal detectors? What dangers will you face on the job? How heavy is the equipment around you that could fall on your feet? What level of protection do you feel most comfortable with? Answering these questions can help you make the right decision.

32 Responses to “Steel Toe vs. Composite Toe Protection”

  1. shawn February 16, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    I use an industrial size z-turn mower. Which would better protect my feet from the blades? Composite or steel toe?

    • @WPSBusinessTeam April 16, 2013 at 6:09 pm #

      Although both have the same compression and impact ratings, steel is much more durable for cut protection on the toe area.

  2. shawn February 16, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    I had an accident once but I had thick rubber boots on. They actually stopped the blades

  3. John November 10, 2013 at 8:24 pm #

    i work at a welding company and i just bought some composite toe boots but the label says “composite toe and shank” not sure what the shank part is but my main question is will my composite toe boots keep my feet safe from falling burning metal and argon gas cylinders?

    • @WPSBusinessTeam November 27, 2013 at 6:34 pm #

      The shank is a piece in the boot that sits under your arch and offers support. The composite toe offers the same protection as the steel toe for impact and compression ratings.

  4. alvin December 22, 2013 at 1:59 am #

    how do I know what the impact and compression rating for the shoe is if the distributor does not display it? am I suppose to find out myself?

  5. windowworker December 31, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    I deal with carts of heavy windows and and my toe are always getting ran over. What would be better steel or compisite toe?

    • Brandy Bohm January 15, 2014 at 7:09 pm #

      To be on the safe side, I would say to go with steel toe. Here you can see the compression ratings and that should help to guide you in your decision.

  6. Bill January 13, 2014 at 7:23 pm #

    I umpire High School / College and Professional Baseball. Will the composite hold up to possible continual impact from baseballs (foul balls,)?

    • Brandy Bohm January 15, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

      Hi Bill,

      Here is a link to the impact chart. This should give you more of an idea as to what composite toe caps can handle. If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask. Thanks!

  7. Miko February 10, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    I’ve had a hard time with the steel-toe shoes of any kind including alloy ever since I started to work at a manufacturing plant five years ago, though the most of the time I work in the office. I had no idea why all my feet/legs were always red, itchy and uncomfortable. As a result I scratch my legs until bleeds without being conscious. Finally last Summer I figured out I’m allergic to metals. I’m hoping the composite-toe shoes will be my rescue.

  8. Kim Ross March 6, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

    I work in a grocery store I stand on my feet 8-12 hours a night. My feet suffer the most soreness at the balls of my feet. When stocking shelves in order to bend down to stock the lower shelf you have to squat is there a composite toe or steel toe that can hold up. Usually once you bend down or squat the shoe bends and from that point the toe never is the same it than bends into your toes. Could you suggest a shoe or shoes?

  9. Nick April 8, 2014 at 2:34 am #

    I work for a landscape company. I’m going to be on my feet a lot as well as a lot of driving from job to job. While shopping for a type of wellington boot, I’m coming across more “safety toe” options that are in stock and well priced.

    One of the main stories I hear about a steel toe is the fact that if your feet are crushed by something, the steel toe is more likely to sever your toes. Not that a crushed toe is much better but somehow the pinch and cut idea is a bad thing for steel toe options?

    If I go with a saftey toe which I assume is a composite, is that threat similar or just too far fetched?

    • mike smith May 10, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

      The severed toe thing is a myth. It was specifically tested on the show Mythbusters.

  10. Joey May 2, 2014 at 4:26 am #

    I bought a pair of carhartt composite toe back on 04/26, an today 05/01 I noticed that the toe lost it’s firmness it’s like now I have a regular pair of boots. Is this normal for composite toe boots?

    • Brandy Bohm May 3, 2014 at 1:03 am #

      Did you buy them from WPS? This is not normal.

  11. Frank June 10, 2014 at 7:50 pm #

    Working on a factory cement floor all day, doing a lot of walking. Need a shoe with a protective toe that’s lightweight. I had bought a pair of sketchers due to the toe, chemical protection (very important for me) and electrical protection. The problem is that they are just too dang heavy. I think the composite toe is fine given the impact and compression ratings, but really just want to find something lighter. Preferably a slip on as post back surgery and plain ole getting old, it’s harder and harder to bend down to tie a shoe anymore LOL. Any suggestion besides early retirement?

  12. J. Moyer July 31, 2014 at 4:56 pm #

    Do you have any type of gel cap that would go between the sock and steel cap? My husband’s steel cap boots are MURDER on socks!!

    • Brandy Bohm August 5, 2014 at 1:44 am #

      Have you ever tried steel toe socks? That is what we would recommend. Hope that this is helpful :)

  13. Billy November 8, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

    I work for a steel door company and I run there shears and turret press we make hollow metal doors and frames from 12gauge to 18 gauge metal which would you recommend steel or composite toe shoes

    • Brandy Bohm December 16, 2014 at 12:01 am #

      That is a choice for you. The composite toe are going to be lighter, but will offer the same protection.

  14. JC February 16, 2015 at 6:05 pm #

    im working in Gas&Oil bussiness, always running from the rigfloor to the cabin.. what would you recommend me?

    • Brandy Bohm February 20, 2015 at 10:16 pm #

      When it comes to steel toe or composite toe, it is a preference thing. If you have to go through security a lot, then composite is the way to go. Also, more often than not composite toe’s are lighter. Hope this helps!

  15. Angela Herbest March 25, 2015 at 4:02 pm #

    I recently had my ACL replaced and am looking for the lightest weight boot with a protective toe. I know the steel toe is heaviest and I have been looking into plastic, composite or aluminum. Any suggestions on a certain boot or brand that has the lightest weight? Also I am a welder so it has to be mainly leather.

  16. Barbara May 19, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

    Hi. I lady of age had to leave my job a couple months ago because of the pain in my heals (Plantar Fasciitis) for standing and lifting for 12 hrs a day, I have been asked to go back and works for them but require something that is well protective light weight and well cushioned to take the pressure of my feet. do you have any sujestions.

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