Composite Toe Vs Steel Toe [An Easy Comparison]

Safety is important. According to OSHA, some workplaces such as those of Linemen and Electricians require the workers to wear protective boots. These boots should meet the ASTM standards that are required by the workplace.

Before any protective boot is launched, it first undergoes lab tests. It is tested on various factors, such as the amount of fall impact damage it can take, and the level of compression impact it can sustain. Various other factors are also taken into consideration, such as its electrical resistance, heat resistance, the level of abrasion-proof, oil and slip resistance. Based on the outcome of these tests, the boots are graded using the ASTM standards. These standard levels determine the quality and protectiveness of the boots. So, before you buy any safety boot, remember to check that they meet the necessary safety standards set according to your workplace.

In your workplace, you may sustain injuries due to various scenarios. In case you are an electrician, you may need to look out for live wires or other sources from which you can get an electrical shock. Also, there is always the chance of slipping on wet or oily surfaces. Moreover, it is possible that something heavy or sharp might fall on your foot and damage it. Safety toes will protect you in such a case. A boot’s responsibility is not only protection, it’s the comfort as well. Since you would be wearing these boots for long durations, it needs to be comfortable, so that you do not tire out while working. An ideal protective boot should be heat-insulated as well. This is to ensure that your feet’s temperature remains normal even in extreme cases.

A safety boot has various features such as breathability, traction, water-proof, abrasion-resistant, slip-resistant, and many others. But the one which we are going to discuss is “Toe Safety”.

If you work in a place that requires you to wear ASTM standard verified boots, then you have chances of getting your foot injured. This may occur due to some heavy objects such as tools or some sharp objects falling on your toe. Also, your toe might get under a heavy object. This may lead to a serious or permanent injury to your toe. To overcome this threat, safety boots are equipped with safety toes. These safety toes are made of steel or composite materials or alloys. These have an ideal level of damage absorption that protects your toe from getting injured. Sometimes, it may not be able to completely protect your toe depending upon the impact of damage, however, it will still protect your toe from getting seriously injured.

Safety toes are graded according to ASTM standards. The amount of damage the boots can sustain depends upon these standards. Also, the build material of the safety toe affects the ASTM standard. Safety toes are generally made from steel, plastic, composite metals, and alloys. There is a difference between the level of protection each material can provide. Steel safety toes are the strongest, however, having a composite safety toe has its own advantages.

Read further to find out the differences between a steel safety toe and a composite one, and which one to buy according to your profession and needs.

Steel Safety Toe:

They are used since the 1930s and there’s a reason why it is still the most popular choice. They are preferred because steel safety toes provide the best level of protection you can have for your toe. Sometimes, steel toe is required by OSHA. It stands for Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It is a federal agency of the United States that regulates workplace safety and health. It is recommended to buy a steel toe safety boot when you have to work around heavy equipment. These conditions have higher chances of something dropping on your feet. They can absorb the maximum damage among all the other kinds of safety toes. They are thinner when compared to composite steel toes. This allows you to buy a stylish boot which is not an option in case of composite toes because they are bulbous. These are also cheaper when compared to the composite ones.

However, there is a negative side to steel toes as well. Steel is a good conductor. So, it easily allows the flow of electricity and heat. So, in extremely cold conditions, these steel toes will let out the inner heat, making your feet cold, if the boots are not insulated. A properly insulated boot will reduce the heat loss up to some extent.

  • Offers the best protection
  • Thinner when compared to composite toe
  • Cheaper
  • Conducts electricity
  • May lead to heat loss from feet under extreme conditions.

Composite safety toe:

This modern technology was made as a replacement for Steel toes. It is better than steel toes in many ways. A composite toe is usually made of Kevlar, fiberglass, or other hard polymer or plastic. Carbon fiber is the latest innovation in the field of the composite toe. Composite toe is lightweight, which is its biggest advantage. Although the weight difference is not more than a few ounces, which might not seem much. However, even a few ounces can make a huge when worn throughout the whole day. Being lightweight, it provides flexibility and protects you from extra fatigue which might be caused in case of a steel toe. It saves your energy. It is an insulator. So you are safe from all kinds of electrical hazards. Also, it won’t let your body heat to escape from your feet, as in the case of a steel toe. Your feet would be comfortable even in extreme conditions.

Composite toe has its own downfalls. For instance, it cannot meet the safety levels of a steel toe. That is the biggest reason not to buy a composite toe if you consider safety as a factor. But do note that everyone’s working conditions are not the same, and thus not require the same level of protection. So if your job does not require a steel toe, you can easily opt for the composite one. Another demerit of the composite toe is that it’s bulbous, i.e., it’s thicker when compared to a steel toe. This is due to the fact that it’s not as tough as a steel toe, and thus requires additional layers to meet the safety levels. This thickness leads to an uneven shape and thus makes the boot being stylish out of option. Also, it’s costlier when compared to steel toe. So choose a composite toe only when a steel toe is not required, and you want better mobility.

  • Lightweight
  • Does not let heat to pass out from the boots in extreme conditions
  • Not as effective as a steel toe
  • Bulbous
  • Costlier

  Difference Table Between Steel And Composite Toe  


               Composite Toe                        Steel Toe
* Made from non-metal materials such as      fiberglass, carbon fiber or plastics * Made from steel only
* Not as effective as steel toes * Provides the best protection
* Bulbous * Thinner as compared to composite toe
* Costlier * Cheaper
* Does not conduct electricity * Allows the flow of current
* Heat insulated * Will allow body heat to escape through boots


Composite toe vs steel toe: Protection                    

Safety is the only reason someone buys a protective boot. In this case, we will look at the difference between the protection of a steel toe and a safety toe can provide. These boots are developed according to the ASTM standards. The relevant standards with a protective toe cap are ASTM 2412 and ASTM 2413. These standards reflect the amount of impact the toe can undertake and the amount of compression it can sustain.

As it’s commonly known that a steel toe provides the best protection. This is nothing more than a myth now. A composite toe matches the same level of protection, for it is designed according to ASTM standards. With the improvement in technology, new materials are being developed which can sustain higher amounts of damage as compared to the traditional composite ones. Carbon fiber is one such example.

End of the line, steel toes provide the best protection. Composite toes can match the level of protection standards, but not to the extent of steel toes. In the near future, we can expect new materials to be developed that may even surpass the protection level of steel toes.

Composite toe vs steel toe: Comfort

Now that the issue of safety is resolved, let’s move to the next important factor: Comfortability. We know that composite toes are lighter than steel ones. The weight difference may be only a few ounces. But these add up to become extremely discomforting if the boots are worn for longer durations.

Also, safety toe amounts to a very less percentage of the boot weight. It still would be wiser to go for composite toes if steel toes are not mandatory. Comfortability depends on various other factors as well. The cushioning provides comfort to the feet. The boot should be breathable to allow proper airflow and let the sweat evaporate. The soles absorb the shock and protect your feet from damage. So check for a boot that provides comfortability at its best. If you are only looking for a little less weight, then you can opt for the composite safety toes.

The importance of good fit – 

A comfortable boot is more likely to fit you perfectly. The fitting of the boot affects the pressure caused on your feet. Know that you won’t be able to break into protective shoes as you do with the regular ones. It is because these boots are hard and tough to provide protection. So these boots won’t stretch as the normal leather ones. Therefore, it is advised to buy only the pair that fits you perfectly.

To make sure that the boots won’t be too tight and would be able to properly accommodate your feet, ISHN recommends these tips to find the proper fitting boot:

  • Wear the same kind of socks while trying out the boot that you’ll actually wear at the workplace. Since socks also takes up some space, and once you find the comfortable pair of boots with your ideal socks, you are good to go.
  • Our feet tend to swell over the course of the day. You would want your feet to be at its largest when you try out a new pair so that later on you don’t face problems related to the expansion of your foot. It is recommended that you try on these boots in the evening because research shows that feet are at their largest size in the evenings.

So make sure to buy the pair that fits you perfectly or it will prove to be a great discomfort in the future.

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Cold weather conditions: Is composite toe better?

We know that steel is a good conductor. It means that it will easily allow heat to pass through it. So, in extremely cold conditions, the steel toe acts as a conductor which leads out the body heat from your toe into the surroundings. This may result in getting your feet chilled.

Composite safety toes are totally opposite from steel toes in such a scenario. It is an insulator; thus it’ll not allow the body heat to escape. Rather it will keep your feet protected from the outside cold. So composite toes are always preferred in extremely cold conditions.

Remember that not just the toe, but the entire boot is responsible for maintaining heat. These boots are made of leather with many layers of protection. Most of the boots by themselves are insulated, and will not allow the transfer of heat. So the safety toe has very little say in this factor.

However, if you are still in doubt, go for the composite safety toe in case you need to work in extremely cold environments. They’ll provide better warmth and insulation than steel toes.


Both steel toe and composite toe have their own benefits. It is difficult to choose between them unless it’s specified by your employer. If your employer needs you to wear steel safety toe boots, then you have no say in the matter. If it is not specified, you can go for the composite one. The type of safety toe depends on your workplace. One benefit of the composite toe is that it will not buzz off the security alarms in case of metal detection security checks. Also, it’s lightweight. If mobility is your go-to factor, then go with the composite toes. If you prefer safety, go for the steel safety toes.



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