Review: Work boots

Sally Drury tests the latest safety footwear options to help outdoor workers take good care of their feet.

Makita Sprint Trainer
Makita Sprint Trainer

Tested this issue

Makita Sprint Trainer
Makita Super Safety Hiker Boot
V Tech Thunder Waterproof Safety Boot V1215
Dr Martens Izzy St Boot
Dr Martens Rosa St Rigger Boot
JCB Fast Track Safety Boot
Dickies Fury Super Safety Hiker Boot
Steitz Secura Vario

The Reviewer

Sally Drury, technical editor, Horticulture Week

Safety footwear is a must for outdoor work. Just think of the mess your toes could be in without the protection of a steel toecap, or of the pain a nail would have caused had it not been for a steel midsole.

By their nature, safety boots and shoes are strong and can be stiff and restrictive. They can also be heavy, leading to fatigue. Difficult to walk in, some can make driving almost impossible. Ill-fitting safety boots and shoes can be unforgiving. Yet I wear my safety boots to shows and exhibitions.

I can spend all day on my feet, jogging between press meetings and outlying exhibits. Once asked how I manage to stand all day, I replied that it is down to my "perfect" boots. I have worn them for 15 years. Well, not the same pair, obviously. But each time I needed new boots I replaced them like for like - and there is the dilemma.

As an advocate of trying new machinery, I am always preaching that it is good to explore the latest developments rather than just sticking with the same model or brand year after year. So here is the challenge: can I find another pair of safety boots or shoes to match my preferred footwear?

This trial has been conducted over 18 months, with each pair of boots and shoes being subjected to a variety of tasks from walking and driving to digging and general outdoor duties. Each item has been worn in both wet and dry conditions, on grass and concrete as well as sandy and clay soils.

Makita Sprint Trainer

I do sufficient work with colleges to know that youngsters are not keen on wearing safety boots. So, I reckon anything - be it branding or style - that encourages people to take steps to protect their feet must be a good thing. And let's be honest, students love trainers.

Made for Makita by Dickies, the Sprint Trainer has a suede upper, padded collar and tongue. The steel toecap meets EN ISO 20345:2004 - that's 200J. The trainer also has a steel midsole and thermoplastic sole, heat resistant to 150 degsC, as well as a scuff cap on the toe.

Thinking it would be "cool" to be seen wearing trainers rather than boots, I persevered with these and wore them to Saltex in September. But despite having shock absorbency, I could not wear them all day. For me, the lack of ankle support, especially when dealing with what is inevitably a heavy footwear item, makes a trainer impractical. But in all other respects, these trainers are good.

I found the Sprint Trainer one of the most suitable to wear while driving. The steel midsole also serves as an aid to digging, although the low sides mean that the trainers quickly fill with soil.

- Makita is discontinuing its workwear but items can still be found by searching online. Sprint Trainer: expect to pay £40-£45.

Makita Super Safety Hiker Boot

Now the Makita Super Safety Hiker Boot is more my kind of footwear. It is made of full-grain nubuck leather with nylon side inserts and reflective strips. The steel toecap is to EN ISO 20345 (200J) and there is a steel midsole in the anti-static thermoplastic polyurethane sole.

Quick to break in, these boots fitted well and walked some miles. What's more, they did not let me down on slippery surfaces.

Seemingly good for leisure or work, the only drawback was discovered on wading through long rain-soaked grass. Yes, they did let some damp in.

- Makita is discontinuing its workwear but items can still be found by searching online. Super Safety Hiker Boot: expect to pay £45-£50.

V Tech Thunder Waterproof Safety Boot V1215

These hiking-style boots look just the job and have a high specification (EN ISO 20345 S3). I love the one-piece, oiled, full-grain leather uppers with waterproof, breathable Hydro Guard lining. They are finished to a high standard and secured tightly to a triple-density Aquaflex Phylon/rubber sole.

The sole has anti-static properties, is heat resistant to approximately 300 degsC and resistant to weak concentrations of acid, alkali and oil.

Protection is provided by the 200J steel toecap and a pierce-resistant steel midsole. Comfort is afforded by the shock-absorbing heel and full-length, replaceable, energy-return footbed with rebound foam and antibacterial properties. The boots, which weigh 799g, come with a free bottle opener and an extra pair of laces.

Built like a walking boot with full bellows tongue, these boots promise much in the wet and they don't disappoint. In fact, the wetter the better. Initially very stiff, they took a long time to break in, but it was worth the wait.

They give excellent traction on sticky clay soils. Breathability is remarkable - even after lots of intensive activity they smelt more of leather than sweaty feet. Comfort scores highly and the midsole ladder grip is a brilliant feature, as is the speed lacing.

But I do not like driving in them. They are chunky and it is difficult to feel the accelerator - I'm sure petrol consumption was up as a result.

V Tech Thunder Waterproof Safety Boot V1215, offered in sizes 3 to 13, is available from Sorbus International (01373 475540), priced £46.20 + P&P.

Dr Martens Izzy St Boot

There is a lot of difference between men's and women's feet so I was pleased to find these boots based on a women's last for an improved fit. Although I am not a fan of chukka boots, what's not to like about Dr Martens AirWair?

They are engineered for comfort. The fully air-cushioned sole plus Smartmask PU-cushioned footbed provide comfort for day-long use. In short, they've got bounce.

Everything you would expect of a safety boot is here - steel toecap for protection from 200J impact and 15kN compression force, slip-resistant soles and anti-static properties. A wooden shank improves mid-foot rigidity. Goodyear-welted, the upper and sole are heat-sealed and sewn together rather than glued.

From a hygiene point of view, these boots have Agion scent protection to help combat foot odour as well as restricting fungal, mould and mildew growth.

There is no denying that these boots look stunning - well, at least until you have done a few months work in them.

The nubuck leather is soft and has Cambrelle water-resistant treatment. Driving is easy, walking comfortable. For a moment I was tempted to swap these for my old boots, but I want more protection and support around my ankles.

Dr Martens Izzy St Boot, in sizes 3 to 9, is available online ( - 0845 437 3141), priced £65 (free delivery).

Dr Martens Rosa St Rigger Boot

I asked for more protection and support around my ankles and I got it. But I am not a fan of rigger boots either, although I have to admit the Rosa St has attractions. Just feel the luxurious faux-fur lining. Shame the sensation is lost on my thick socks, which, combined with the lining, caused overheating in the early autumn months. January was different, however. That is when the lining is really appreciated.

Again built on a women's last, this boot is just the right shape. The Rosa St shares all the features of the Izzy St in terms of toecap, anti-static and slip-resistant sole, Goodyear welting, air cushioning and Smartmask footbed, Cambrelle lining, water-resistant treatment and Agion scent protection.

Rigger boots are not the easiest in which to walk. I reckon it takes some practise and I certainly tired quickly. I also found driving difficult - the car more so than the tractor. But with their comfort and warmth, I think they might work well for anyone standing on a concrete floor in a packing shed.

Dr Martens Rosa St Rigger Boot, in sizes 3 to 9, is available online ( - 0845 437 3141), priced £90 (free delivery).

JCB Fast Track Safety Boot

With global fame for construction equipment, you would like to think that JCB would only put its name to well made boots that are truly fit for purpose. Well, it has.

Honey-coloured nubuck with W-Tex breathable and waterproof lining, plus dual-density Phylon and rubber oiland slip-resistant anti-static soles, the boots are both stylish and practical. With steel toecap and pierce-resistant midsole, the Fast Track meets EN ISO 20345 and has double stitching for added strength.

Being JCB-branded there has to be some engineering involved - a dual forked safety chassis with anti-twist technology. Sounds more like a utility vehicle but in essence it means comfort on uneven ground.

I liked how quick they were to break in. They had a degree of suppleness from the start. The padded collar, removable moulded insert and thermoplastic heel supports provide an excellent degree of comfort, especially when walking. Driving is easy too. When new, they are smart enough to wear to the shops. But they do scuff in time.

JCB Fast Track Safety Boot, also available in black, is supplied under licence (UK and Ireland) by Progressive Safety Footwear & Clothing (0114 273 8349), available in sizes 4 to 13. Ecpect to pay £54-£57.

Dickies Fury Super Safety Hiker Boot

My preferred boots cost £90. Not everyone wants to spend that much on work boots so it is refreshing to find that protection and comfort can be bought for much less.

Dickies Fury has all the required features - steel toecap (200J), steel midsole, dual-density polyurethane sole resistant to petrol and oil and anti-static plus shock-absorbent heel. It has a Cambrelle breathable lining to absorb perspiration and keep feet fresh, plus padded collar and tongue for comfort.

On inspection, this boot does not feel like the toughest of those tested. But being supple from the start it takes no breaking in, gets better with wear and is remarkably comfortable throughout the day - although a minor slip on a wet pavement dented my confidence somewhat.

There is no need to change footwear before jumping into the car. The Fury is lightweight and caused me no hindrance.

For the price, this boot is generously comfortable while affording the protection needed at work. It is a boot I might even consider for hill walking, but I will not be hanging up my old favourites.

A couple of months down the line and Fury began letting in water. Then after five months of not continuous use, the sole began detaching from the upper.

Dickies Fury Super Safety Hiker Boot is available in black or oiled black (matt), sizes 4 to 12, priced around £30 + P&P (

Steitz Secura Vario

German manufacturer Steitz has footwear tested and approved by AGR - the Campaign for Healthy Backs in Germany. That is one of the reasons why I will not be replacing my safety boots just yet. Another is the wide range of sizes and four width fittings. I have no trouble finding the perfect fit. But the thing that really makes the difference for me is the Steitz Secura Vario system.

This system of heel inserts means the load peaks and pressure of walking can be "switched off". It is like having shock absorbers in your feet. But it is not overly soft - a factor that can cause instability and do as much harm as it does good.

Vario is a weight-dependant system of heel cushioning with different replaceable weight modules worn according to your weight. Insert the yellow one if you weigh up to 57kg, green for up to 79kg, red for up to 91kg and black for those weighing more than 91kg. The system makes these boots by far my favourite for trekking around shows and exhibitions.

The boots are fairly lightweight, having aluminium toe protection (200J). I can easily drive in them and the soles are thermoplastic for lightness, flexibility, abrasion resistance and balance. The boots have a thermoplastic sole with Flexion zone and pivot point, allowing them to follow the natural biodynamics of the foot.

If there is a downside it is that the boots are not suitable for wading through puddles. While the air holes prevent heat build-up and keep feet sweet, water at the right level will just flood in.

Steitz Secura safety footwear is available in the UK from Severnside Safety of Cheltenham (01242 525811). Other items in the brand include the Steitz Woman collection - safety boots, shoes and trainers in ladies styles. Most ranges go down to size 5 but some are offered in a 3. At the other end of the scale, footwear is available up to size 12. Narrow and extra wide are available to special order. Price: £89.11 + P&P.

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