Safety Footwear 101

How technology has changed the landscape of safety footwear and what you need to know to find the right pair

The human foot contains 26 relatively small bones, more than 150 ligaments and an intricate network of muscles, nerves and blood vessels. One small misstep or accident from not wearing the appropriate footwear can cause any assortment of injuries resulting in valuable work time missed or worse.

The factors to consider when selecting a workbook are numerous, with new technology, components and materials ever-changing the safety-footwear options.

The conventional wisdom used to be that the heavier and more inflexible a boot was, the better it would protect feet in industrial and other work environments. But today's work boots lay this wisdom to rest by leveraging materials and technologies that are flexible, lightweight and durable – all without sacrificing protection.

Here is what you need to know about safety footwear materials, components and how to choose a boot that's right for you.


As early as 20 years ago, synthetic materials were rarely found in work boots. The recent trend toward work boots that look and feel more like athletic footwear, coupled with the increased performance and value of synthetic materials, has challenged leather's virtual dominance in the work boot market.

Made from an ever-increasing variety of man-made fibers and resins, most synthetic materials (including leather that is synthetically enhanced) are more lightweight than leather, and can be more durable and readily formulated to be waterproof.

Footwear that has synthetic upper materials are usually designed to be lightweight and feel more like a sport shoe, while maintaining the durability of a more traditional work boot.

For the millions of people who grew up wearing sneakers, a work boot that looks and feels more like a sport shoe is a natural choice. Thanks to advances in the development of man-made materials there are now many more affordable options to choose from.


Although synthetics are making a name for themselves in the work footwear market, leather is undoubtedly the tried and true upper material found in many work boots - and for good reason. Leather is breathable and a good choice for people who are on their feet for hours at a time.

Leather provides a customized fit for each individual because leather molds to the foot with wear. Plus, leather is by nature quite durable.

In order to build on the positive natural characteristics of leather, Wolverine developed a synthetically enhanced leather called ArmorTek. By molding a thin layer of polyurethane onto leather it's possible to maintain important properties of the leather, while significantly boosting the durability to help guard against scuffs and scrapes in high wear areas of the boot.

Wolverine also molds thermoplastic polyurethane into boot components (toe guards, heel guards, ankle supports) to enhance their durability and performance without sacrificing the overall benefits of the leather boot upper.

In order to leverage the advantages of both of these materials, boots that combine leather and man-made materials are becoming more common. Uppers with complementing leather and synthetic components can be designed in a more traditional work boot fashion, or more like a sport shoe.

In either fashion, combining leather and synthetic can result in a lightweight, breathable and flexible upper that embodies the best properties of both kinds of materials.


When it comes to outsoles, genuine rubber is still the most common material used. The reason is simple enough: rubber offers excellent performance in terms of abrasion, oil- and slip-resistant qualities that are needed in a work boot where durability and performance are critical.

The main advantage to newer alternative materials like TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane), PU (polyurethane) and EVA (Ethel-Vinyl-Acetate) is that they are all lighter in weight, more flexible and, in the case of PU and EVA, provide greater cushioning. Many modern work boots offer combinations of these synthetic materials as well as rubber.

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