Footwear FAQs – Work Boots and Safety Toe Boots

Footwear Frequently Asked Questions

Find answers to common questions about safety toes, outsole materials, and choosing the right style.

Once all your footwear questions are answered, shop our wide selection of footwear at Gemplers.

Safety Toe Options:

  1. What is a steel toe?
    A steel toe is a steel cap that is built into the toe box of a work boot during its construction to provide protection for the toes and feet of the wearer. The steel toe is designed to meet specific ANSI/ASTM safety requirements for foot protection against both impact and compression.

  2. What protection does a steel toe boot provide to the wearer?
    Steel toe boots have a steel protective covering over the toe box that protects the wearer from injury from impact and compression by heavy objects. Steel toe work boots are required by many industries on the job.

  3. What is a composite toe?
    A composite toe is essentially the same as a steel toe; it is a non-metallic and non-magnetic safety toe cap that is lighter in weight than a steel toe cap. The composite toe meets the same ANSI/ASTM safety requirements as a steel toe.

  4. Which is better, a steel toe or a composite toe?
    Both styles of safety toe caps offer the wearer a measure of protection because each meets ANSI/ASTM safety requirements. Steel toe boots tend to be a little heavier than composite toe boots, but many people feel that a steel toe cap affords them more protection than a composite toe. In the end, your personal preferences will be instrumental in making the decision as to which one you choose.

  5. What type of work is a composite toe boot best suited for?
    Steel toe boots, because of their weight, can be uncomfortable for workers who must walk long distances (meter readers and mail carriers) or who must pass through metal detectors (nuclear workers and security personnel) during the course of their work day. Composite toe safety boots are more suited for these types of jobs.

  6. Are add-on protective devices sufficient?
    According to both ANSI and ASTM standards, protective toe caps must be an integral and permanent part of the footwear, so add-on devices do not meet those requirements. While those two standards exclude add-ons, however, it does not mean that such devices are not acceptable to OSHA. Those standards state that if the device has independent testing data to show that it provides protection equivalent to the ANSI requirements, the add-on protective devices are acceptable to OSHA.

Choosing a Boot

  1. How do I determine the proper boot for my needs?
    The first thing you should do is determine what you will use the boots for (work, recreation, or both). Then, you should decide what type of environment you will wear them in (indoor or outdoor, wet or dry, cold weather or warm temperatures). By examining these two considerations, you will have a good idea about what type of boot you should purchase.

  2. How do I get a proper fit when purchasing boots?
    Your boots should generally be the same size as your shoes; however, the toe box shape and heel height may affect how they feel on your feet. The type of activity you will be engaged in while wearing them should also be considered, as well as the season, especially if you will be wearing heavier socks or multiple pairs of lighter socks.

  3. What should I do if I can't find my half-size boot?
    If you wear a half-size boot, say a 9.5, but the boots you want to purchase only come in whole sizes, you should purchase the size 10 rather than the size 9. As a general rule, it's better to have your boots a half-size too big than a half-size too small.

  4. What is a D or EE width?
    A "D" width is the same as a regular width; if you do not normally order a wide width shoe or boot, you should order a regular or "D" width shoe or boot. An "EE" is generally the same as a wide width; if you usually order a wide shoe or boot, then you should order a wide or EE width shoe or boot.

  5. What's the difference between men's and women's sizes?
    A general rule of thumb is that a woman's shoe or boot size is two sizes smaller in a man's size; that is, a woman's size 9 would be a men's size 7. Some shoe or boot manufacturers, however, recommend that a woman go down only one size with their products. Check out our shoe size conversion chart.

Footwear Construction

  1. What are the various elements of a boot sole?
    The outsole is the bottom of the boot and comes in direct contact with the ground; it provides a measure of protection, depending upon the material it is constructed out of, and is made out of a variety of materials with different tread designs. The midsole is the middle layer or layers that go on top of the outside; it helps provide strength, durability and comfort to the boot. The insole is the comfort layer that goes on top of the midsole and comes in direct contact with the wearer's foot.

  2. What is the strongest outsole construction?
    Cement, where the outsole is bonded to the leather upper with an adhesive, is the strongest type of outsole construction.
    Goodyear Welt, where the outsole is sewn on to the leather upper and the boot can be resoled, is the next strongest type of outsole construction.
    Direct attach, where the sole in injected into the leather upper in a liquid state and dried onto the boot, is the weakest type of outsole construction.

  3. What outsole type is the most durable?
    The Goodyear Welt is the most durable type of outsole construction; Cement is the next most durable type, while Direct Attach is the least durable type.

  4. What is the most comfortable outsole construction?
    Direct Attach is the most comfortable type of outsole construction, Cement is the next, while Goodyear Welt construction is the least comfortable.

  5. What types of materials are used in midsole construction?
    The types of materials used in midsole construction include dual density foam (the most durable but provides only average comfort), polyurethane, rubber, ethyl vinyl acetate or EVA (the least durable but most comfortable).

  6. What are the materials used in insole construction?
    Polyurethane and ethyl vinyl acetate or EVA are two of the most common types of materials used to construct the insole of a boot or shoe.

  7. What is the shank?
    The shank is a metal or heavy composite plastic strip in the midsole for reinforcement of the wearer's arch, providing support to the bottom of the boot. A full shank goes from heel to toe, while a 3/4-shank goes to the ball of the foot. The shank is glued, whipstitched or tacked in place.


  1. What are the different types of boot outsoles?
    The outsole is that part of the boot that comes in direct contact with the ground. Depending upon the activity the boot is designed for, the tread pattern can range from very aggressive (with hard and sharp-edged cleats) to somewhat smooth (with shallow and wavy ridges), with just about everything in between. Most outsoles, however, can be classified in one of four categories: Vibram lugs, air bobs, shallow tread and hiking/athletic.

  2. What are Vibram lug outsoles?
    A lug is a hard rubber cleat with a sharp outside edge for digging or wedging into hard surfaces such as rocks, dry dirt or clay. They are workhorses that are used when conditions are demanding and grades are steep; lugs are dependable in rugged terrain.

  3. What is an air bob outsole?
    Air bob outsoles are dotted with rounded knobs that have hollow cores and provide solid traction in a broad range of terrain, such as rocks or dry dirt. The bobs flex when contacting hard surfaces; each one acts as an independent claw that grips where it contacts the ground.

  4. What is a shallow tread outsole?
    This type of outsole has a tread with a thin, wavy pattern for use in mud, grass and other slick walking surfaces but usually not steep terrain. The primary purpose of this outsole is to provide traction on slippery surfaces while not picking up mud.

  5. What are hiking or athletic outsoles?
    Athletic outsoles have shallow lugs that are omni-directional and have a wide array of use applications. This outsole provides decent traction with a shallow grip and are lightweight, making them a good choice for all-purpose use.

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Work Boots

  1. What are the different heights of work boots?
    Leather work boots come in several different heights, ranging from 5-inch hikers to 12-inch Wellingtons. The most common heights for work boots are 6- and 8-inch, usually with some type of lace-up system.

  2. What are the benefits of leather boots of different heights?
    A 5-inch hiker will rise to roughly the wearer's ankle and allow for maximum flexibility at the ankle. A 6-inch boot will rise to about the top of the ankle and provide some support for the joint, while an 8-inch boot will rise above the ankle and give even more support, and a 9-inch boot will rise to the bottom of the shin and provide even greater ankle support. A 10- or 12-inch Wellington or Western-styled boot will rise to mid-shin with some flexibility at the ankle.

  3. What types of lacing systems are there for work boots?
    There are numerous types of lacing systems, which are designed to help keep the boot properly and snugly fit to your foot. The common types of work boot lacing systems include the traditional eyelets (a grommet-like ring punched out of the leather upper), D-ring eyelet for quick lacing, metal hooks for speed lacing or a combination of these types.

  4. What is the best type?
    All of the lacing systems have their strengths but which one is the best will be largely a matter of personal preference of the wearer.

  5. How do I take care of my leather boots?
    Clean them after each wearing; wipe them down with a damp – not wet – cloth and allow them to air dry thoroughly between wearings. Dry your boots carefully when wet and avoid abrupt temperature changes. Regularly condition your leather boots to help them maintain the original look and feel. Leather boots can be polished with a matching boot cream polish and also treated with water repellant.

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  1. Why is it important for socks to wick away moisture?
    Socks that wick moisture keep your feet dry and comfortable. It is moisture against the foot that causes the friction that creates blisters on your foot; so a good way to prevent blisters is to wear socks that wick moisture away from your foot.

  2. Are cotton socks the best socks to wear in hot weather?
    While a cotton shirt feels cool against your skin in hot weather, cotton is one of the worst fibers to have against your feet in hot weather. Cotton is extremely moisture absorbent, and once your foot starts to sweat, cotton socks will absorb that sweat and hold it against your foot.

  3. What kinds of socks are best to wear in the summer?
    Any kind of sock that wicks away moisture. Socks with an inner layer of synthetic fiber tight against the skin will transfer moisture away from the foot to keep it dry. Merino wool – an often overlooked fiber for summer use but very comfortable – also does an excellent job of wicking moisture away from the foot.

  4. Which socks are best to wear in the winter?
    The basic concept you look for in cold weather clothing also applies to socks. The best fabrics offer insulation from the cold and allow the body to release perspiration. Thicker socks are generally warmer because their large loop knit construction traps more air which provides warmth and insulation from the cold. Socks that wick moisture also help keep feet warm and dry.

  5. Are there socks specifically for women?
    Yes. Women have different foot needs than men; most women have smaller feet, more rounded "toe boxes" and narrower heels.

  6. Why is sock fit important?
    Simple: if your socks don't fit your feet, you will not be comfortable, and it will interfere with your enjoyment of any activity, regardless of whether it's work related and or recreationally driven. Socks that rub against your feet, no matter if it's at the heel, toe or sole, can cause blisters. Those issues can be avoided by wearing great fitting socks.

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