Metal vs non metal toe caps and midsoles in work boots and shoes

With each having its own set of distinct advantages, disadvantages and place in the market, the choice between metal and non metal footwear can often be a tough one. Ultimately, it depends on the wearer preference and the environment they will be used in, but to help you fully understand the distinct features of each in order to make an informed decision, we have decided to take a look at both types of footwear and break them down.

Strength and protection of non metal safety shoes and boots

Let’s start with the strength of the shoes. It’s a common misconception that non metal footwear isn’t as strong or long lasting as metallic ones. In actuality, this isn’t the case, with non-metal boots even exceeding their counterparts in certain aspects. As opposed to using a steel toe cap or steel midsole for foot protection, non-metal safety boots use materials such as fiberglass, kevlar or carbon fiber (sometimes referred to as a composite toe cap). These composite toe caps and midsoles can withstand falling objects or sharp objects on the ground just as well as any metal toe cap could. They conform to the same European standard levels, including the all important EN 20345 certification. They are the tried and tested steel toe caps and midsoles which have been made for decades, consistently increasing their strength and design as they went. One important consideration for many is that metal boots and shoes are on the cheaper end of the spectrum, while non-metal is more of a newer option and thus more expensive.

Safety features of metal and non metal boots and shoes

Having metal free work footwear has several benefits. For one, it lessens the risk of environmental hazards. Your boots will not absorb heat or cold as easily as metal would, which is great for anyone working in the extreme cold or heat for prolonged amounts of time - for example, cold store and freezer workers at one end of the spectrum - and sheet metal workers at the other. Likewise in countries with extreme climates, composite safety boots can be more forgiving in outdoor work. 

Being non metal also means that your shoes don’t conduct electricity, and thus are anti-static, which is crucial for workers who are subject to electrical charges while on the job like telecoms specialists or electricians. The profession of the wearer is always a crucial part in deciding the correct footwear to purchase. Work at an airport or somewhere with high security? Does that place have metal detectors? If so, a steel toe cap or steel midsole on your feet is clearly going to become a nuisance day in and day out.

However, metal safety footwear is still by far the most prevalent on the market so is definitely not completely outclassed in the safety department. For example, the Blaklader 2315 safety boots use a steel toe cap and have steel penetration protection, yet the upper is made from leather and the boot still has antistatic properties. The breathable insole helps your feet stray cool, which means you don’t have to be concerned with the metal parts of the build absorbing too much heat for your feet. It’s important to understand that the downsides of using metal don’t apply to the entire boot, the toe cap and midsole only make up a small part of the build. This may feature a rubber outsole or a breathable lining that helps negate any issues the metal creates.

Comfort of metal and non metal safety shoes

No matter what type of footwear it is, the comfort factor is always a concern to the wearer. Composite toe cap trainers and boots are far lighter than their metal variants while still being as durable and tough. This will certainly please workers on their feet all day or who cover a large distance walking each day. It’s often true that the lighter the shoe, the better the end result from a comfort perspective. However, that's not to say that metallic footwear is uncomfortable as sometimes people are not walking great distances for their work, and thus the additional weight doesn’t become an issue. In addition, many adaptations can be made to heighten comfort that are actually far more relevant to a particular profession. Whether that comes in the form of mesh lining, a breathable insole, or shock absorbing capabilities in the outsole; just because it has elements of metal doesn’t mean the comfort from these features is negated or void in any way.

In conclusion…

To sum up, metallic boots, that use metal for the toe cap or the midsole for example, are a reliable design that has persisted for so long for a reason. They are the industry standard and have the strength necessary to protect your feet all day. Or, you can pay a bit more and get a metal free shoe which is lighter, less conductive and just as strong. Ultimately, the decision on which type of safety boot or trainer to get is down to you. However, we hope that by laying out the key talking points between the two we have made it easier to make the right decision. Please reach out to the Gurus if ever you want more help and advice - they are always very happy to help.

Here at Workwear Gurus, we stock plenty of footwear items in all sizes and colours available. We specialise in global shipping and deliver our full product range regularly to the US, Canada, Ireland, Australia, Europe and Worldwide.

Take a look at our full work boots, work shoes and work trainers footwear ranges for more information.