Is Hiking In Work Boots Really That Bad? The Truth Revealed [2021]

If you’re a hiker like me, you already know the market offers tons of great boots out there to help you walk comfortably and without no awkwardness.

That’s why, when you shop for hiking boots, it might feel a little overwhelming due to the sheer number of options available. But if you’ve ever asked yourself the question, “can you hike in steel toe boots”, the answer is “yes,” you can indeed hike in steel toe boots.

That being said, boots with steel toes are heavy; therefore, you might want to consider using other types of hiking shoes for many of your hikes.

In other words, while steel toe boots can be used to hike in, their design and purpose prevents them from being the perfect choice for many of us. While they do offer foot and ankle support, they are often not that great for very long hikes or hikes over rough terrain.

However, for some purposes and for some people, they are often the right choice. In the following sentences we will look into more detail about hitting the trails while wearing protective boots.

Let’s dive in.

What Are Steel Toe Boots Made For?

As you probably know, steel toe hiking boots are made for work use and not for hiking.

They are often used on job sites, such as construction sites where workers need not only a comfortable shoe but also one that protects their feet and toes if something heavy should fall on them.

In fact, steel toe boots often stress protection over comfort. This is another reason not to wear steel toe boots for long-distance hikes.

When You Should Wear Protective Boots For Hiking?

Here we will outline the most common reasons people use such shoes on the trail. We will also mention on which occasions it’s a good idea to put them on your feet.

You should wear hiking boots with steel toe if:

  • You are a trail worker and do trail maintenance or any other similar activity in your job and you need to do a short hike to get to your job location (and you don’t have the time or possibility to change)
  • You go on short hikes where there’s a high risk of damaging your feet or toes. For example, if you hike on dangerous terrains where rocks, heavy branches or stumps could crash your feet. Or bushy trails where you can accidentally hit any hidden branches or stones.
  • You don’t have regular hiking boots
  • Your protective shoes are multi-purpose and suitable for hiking (offer good ankle support, have anatomic design, are waterproof, and are relatively lightweight)
  • You want to use your boots as an additional weight to build muscle or burn fat on the trail
  •  You don’t have any other option to protect your toes from rattlesnake bite

When You Should Not Wear Protective Shoes When Hiking

Let’s see when wearing such types of boots is actually a bad idea:

  • When you own traditional hiking boots
  • When you go on long-distance hiking trips such as thru-hiking the Appalachian trail, for instance
  • When you hike in extreme winter temperatures (the risk of toe frosting is more serious because of the metal in the shoe)
  • You aspire to be an ultralight hiker
  • If you are not in a good shape (walking with heavy boots could be exhausting)
  • You are a senior hiker and your body is not as strong as it used to be

Pros and Cons of Using Steel Toe Boots for Hiking

While hiking boots are made specifically for traction on rough terrains and for extensive walking, steel toe boots are different. As we already mentioned, they are mostly designed for work and not for traction or covering long distances.

Here’s what some hikers have to say about wearing protective boots for hiking.

negative opinion for protective shoes when hiking

Steel toe boots are very protective and durable, which is good, but they are also very heavy; therefore, they are usually difficult for long hikes.

In addition, steel toe boots, while well made, are not always super comfortable. You have to do a diligent research to unravel those models that are really comfy and suitable for outdoor walking.

In addition, while steel toe boots almost always go up above your ankle, hiking boots can be with low-, mid-, or high-cut profile.

positive opinion on steel toe

Because of their specific make, it’s best to use steel toe boots only when your hikes are going to be short and over smooth terrain.

Steel Toe Boots vs. Composite Toe Boots: Which Is Better?

Unlike steel toe boots, composite toe boots don’t have any metal parts. Instead, they use plastic, fiberglass or carbon fiber for toe protection.

facebook pol for hiking in protective shoes

Both steel toe and composite toe boots can protect your feet in case something falls on them, and as far as how good they are at this, they are both equal.

As far as comfort goes, some people consider composite toe boots a little more appropriate because steel toes tend to be heavier. However, if heaviness doesn’t bother you, go ahead and choose steel toes. Truth is, when it’s cold outside, composite toe boots may keep you a little warmer, but as long as you purchase boots that are insulated and waterproof, you’ll be all right with either of these boots.

The only area where there is a big difference is if you have to go through some type of security device, such as a metal detector.

Here, most steel toes will set off the alarm, but there are a few composite toes that do the same. Overall, you’ll have to decide which feature is more important to you and buy your boots according to your preferences.

Other Considerations

While durability and protection are important, you need to make sure that other features are there as well when hiking in safety boots, including:

  • Are they breathable?
  • Are they waterproof?
  • Do they support your ankle properly?
  • Do the sole provide the support and traction you need?
  • Are they able to snug comfortably around your feet?

How to Hike With Boots With A Steel Toe (5 Actionable Tips)

If your hike is short and you are not going on demanding terrains with high elevation gain isn’t a lot of rough terrain, you can use steel toe boots and remain comfortable the entire time.

woman hiker legs climbing on sunrise mountain peak rock

Essentially, you need to save your steel toe boots for shorter hikes and hikes with smoother terrain.

If you decide to go hiking with your steel toe shoes, though, here are some useful tips:

  1. Maintain a slow to moderate pace to preserve your energy for longer time.
  2. Make sure to wear comfortable socks designed for hiking. In winter, it’s important to have merino wool socks that offer warmth, breathability, and cushioning.
  3. Bring walking poles with you for extra support and weight distribution.
  4. Avoid carrying bulky backpacks. Go with a lightweight one instead. You should aim to minimize your load as much as possible.
  5. Maintain a fit shape and train your leg muscles regularly to be able to bear the extra load that goes with steel toe boots.

Are Steel Toe Boots A Problem When Going Through Airport Security?

As mentioned earlier, steel toe boots can indeed set off alarms when you’re going through airport security. Do mind that if you fly to your hiking destination.

A few composite toe boots do the same thing, but this is much less common than steel toe boots. In addition, if you have to go through any type of security device at your work site, the same thing could happen.

Luckily the solution is easy – just take them off when passing through airport security.

Can You Wear Steel Toe Boots In The Winter? In the Snow?

Just as with regular hiking boots, steel toe boots can be uninsulated and non-waterproof. If you’re going to hike in the snow or when it’s cold outside, you should get a pair of boots that are both insulated and waterproof so you are comfortable and warm.

snowy trail

Generally, the risk of frosting is bigger with steel toe boots because they have metal toes. And that means poor insulation.

What Are The Most Comfortable Steel Toe Hiking Boot Brands?

Many companies offer protective footwear and steel toe hiking boots. Based on sales and customer reviews, some of the best brands include:

  • Caterpillar
  • Justin Work
  • Reebok
  • Timberland
  • Merrell

Conclusion

To wrap it all up, if you’re curious about whether you can wear work boots with steel toes on the trail, you can do so as long as the hike isn’t too long or too rough.

That being said, many people prefer steel toe boots when hiking, especially since “comfort” is so subjective. You need to try on your boots before you hike in them, using the same socks you’ll be wearing that day.

Overall steel toe boots are good for hiking when some conditions are met and you follow some simple rules.

Do you have any experience hiking in work boots? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

best winter hiking hats

Asen Stoyanchev

Founder of this website, Asen is a passionate hiker and writer who is also a gear nerd. He’s been featured on many established hiking websites where he gives hiking advice & tips. When he is not trekking with his family or friends, he is writing articles and product reviews. Asen spends most of his time in Bulgaria but he constantly travels the world in seek of more unforgettable experiences. Read more about Asen here.

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  • December 18, 2020
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