Breathable Work Boots | Top 5 Lightweight, Steel Toe & Waterproof Safety Shoes

If you’ve ever worn a pair of work boots that weren’t breathable, you probably recall that uncomfortable sweaty sensation. It’s frustrating to realize that the longer you wear your boots, the wetter your feet–and then your socks–become, until your feet feel like they’re swimming inside your boots. The 5 most breathable work boots prevent that soggy feet scenario from recurring. They’re comfortable and durable. They’re also breathable, come in a range of styles and features.

Updated April 2020 by Tony Bleak

breathable work boots

In a Hurry? The Top Pick:

The Danner Vicious Work Boot, Read the details below to find out why. 

happy safe feet in shoes

Comparison Table

MaterialStyleFeatures
Chippewa Logger
Work Boot
YesSteel
Vibram sole
9 inch boot
EH rated
Insulated
Made in USA
View
Danner Vicious
Work Boot
YesCompositeVibram sole
Oil- & Slip resistant
View
Carhartt Work Boot
ResistantComposite
Rubber sole
EH rated
Oil-, chemical- &
Slip resistant
View
Georgia Work BootYesSoftRubber sole
Steel shank
Goodyear welt
Slip resistant
View
Ariat Workhog BootResistantSoftDuratread sole
Pull on Style
U-turn heel
Slip- & Oil resistant
View

Key Features of Breathable Boots for Work

Breathable work boots allow moisture to escape and prevent a build up of foot odor. 

Leather is the traditional favorite fabric for the uppers of work boots because it is breathable. Leather is porous enough to permit moisture vapor to escape. it is also naturally water resistant.

Treat it with mink oil or several combinations of oils and beeswax, and it becomes very water resistant. If you go a step further and treat it with chemicals, the leather becomes truly waterproof.

Most breathable boots are still made from leather. This is true of nearly all manufacturers of quality men’s and women’s work boots, including the companies that manufacture the 5 favorites, as well as Red Wing’s Irish Setter brand, Skechers, Diehard, Nike, and Carolina.  

A growing number of breathable boots are now made from a combination of synthetic fabric and nylon/polyester mesh, or leather and mesh.  Most synthetic materials are not very breathable. However, nylon or polyester mesh is very breathable, since it’s a woven fabric. Including a mesh fabric in the boot’s upper makes a boot breathable.   

The best breathable work shoes have removable insoles. 

Having a removable insole is a very helpful feature for any boot. We often think of the benefit of being able to replace the insoles when they wear out. Replacing insoles is much less expensive than replacing boots that just aren’t as comfortable as they used to be.

Manufacturers suggest that insoles be replaced about twice a year. This keeps the boot cushion-y and more comfortable. Fresh insoles also lessen the pressure on your feet, especially the balls of your feet and your heels. 

Another benefit of removable insoles is that you can simply remove them to let them air. While the insoles air, your boots also get a dose of fresh air. This makes it easier for any traces of dampness to dissipate. It also slows bacterial growth. 

Breathable boots need to have slip-resistant outsoles. 

All five of these boots have slip-resistant outsoles made of Vibram, rubber or Duratread.  This is an absolutely critical feature. Three of the boots also have oil-resistant soles for extra traction.

The 5 choices enhance the non-slip sole with tread of varying height and width. The Chippewa logger boot has a sculpted heel and a deeply-lugged sole.  The Georgia pull-on is a wedge with a grooved sole.

Breathable boots offer an array of features to match the needs of the men wearing them.

This list of 5 purposefully includes a variety of features. Three boots lace up. Two slip on. One has a distinct square toe. They range in height from 4.5 inches to 11 inches. 

One pair of the 5 best boots are breathable steel toe work boots. Two others have composite safety toes. If you are required to wear a boot that protects your toes, you’ll find 3 options here. Even if you don’t have to wear boots with safety toes, you may want to do so. These 3 are all comfortable boots. Two are also EH rated for added level of safety. 

As a group, the five are lacking only a few features. None of these breathable safety shoes has a met guard to protect the metatarsal bones.  Neither does the group feature a heel that is advertised as puncture resistant or a boot that is heat resistant.

If you’re a welding foreman, a heavy construction worker, or an ironworker, you will want to check the reviews to see what people say about those features. 

The 5 Most Breathable Work Boots

Chippewa 9″ Steel EH Logger Boot

The Chippewa Waterproof Steel EH Logger Boot provides good comfort, excellent protection, and warmth in winter weather. The sturdy rubber lugged outsole and the delineated heel provide traction in the roughest of terrain. 

PROS

  • Chip-a-tex waterproof bootie
  • EH rated
  • Insulated
  • Made in USA

CONS

  • Expensive 
  • Not very flexible
Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

Danner Men’s Vicious 4.5 Inch Non Metallic Toe Work Boot

The Danner Men’s Vicious 4.5 Inch Non Metallic Toe Work Boot is a short waterproof boot with a non-metallic safety toe, a Vibram sole and a well-padded collar.

  • Shock-absorbing EVA midsole
  • Abrasion resistant
  • Gore tex lining

CONS

  • Not EH rated
  • Imported
Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

Carhartt Composite Toe Boot

This Carhartt Composite Toe Boot is a particularly flexible work boot with larger-than-normal eyelets, a rubberized toe cover, and an Ortholite insole. The sole  is oil resistant, slip resistant, and chemical resistant. 

PROS

  • Quite water resistant, though not marketed as waterproof
  • Very flexible construction
  • Less expensive than most

CONS

  • Imported
  • Not as rugged a sole as others 
Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

Georgia Boot Men’s G4432 Work Boot

The Men’s G4432 Work Boot from Georgia Boot is a tall slip-on, waterproof boot with side pull tabs, a wedge heel, and a rubber sole. This pull-on boot features a moisture-wicking fabric lining, and an insole made of Georgia Boots patented Comfort Core material. 

PROS

  • Comfort Core insole
  • Waterproof 
  • Steel shank

CONS

  • Imported
  • Expensive
Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

Ariat Men’s Workhog Pull-On Boot

Ariat’s Men’s Workhog Pull-On Boot is a leather square-toe cowboy boot with Ariat’s patented Duratread sole, and an extra-wide shank for stability.

PROS

  • Wide shank for stability
  • Oil resistant
  • U-turn heel

CONS

  • Imported 
  • Water resistant, not waterproof 
Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

Customer Impression

Most customers got a boot that fit as they expected it to fit.

Across the 5 brands, at least 80% of purchasers who responded said the boots fit as they expected them to fit. The Georgia and Danner boots scored the best, with an 87% “fit as expected” percentage. They also received the highest percentage of 5-star ratings–with regard to fit–in the group.

The very best trait of all of these boots–as ranked by purchasers–is comfort.

Satisfied customers who comment say more good things about the comfort of these boots than they do about anything else. The comments come from electricians and loggers, from dairymen and truck drivers.

Many reviewers who leave great feedback explain that they  work very long hours or do miles of walking every day. They’re amazed by the comfort of these boots. Interestingly, while the Chippewa boot gets the highest percentage of negative reviews of the 5 boots, it also gets the highest percentage of customers who say it’s the best boot they have ever owned.  

Price affects the purchasers’ expectations.

This is intuitive. It’s what we’d expect. And, for these 5 boots, it’s accurate. Several customers who purchased the Carhartt boot said that the leather was stiff and hard to break in. Most, though they were frustrated, weren’t really angry. Some said they would just keep wearing an uncomfortable boot until it got better.

However, the customers who disliked the fit of, or found problems with, the other boots, especially the Chippewa, were quite angry. They had high expectations because they paid a high price. 

Difficulties of purchasing boots online crop up across the 5 boots. 

Some customers felt that they did not receive what they ordered, or that they got a defective product someone else had already returned. Often, they faced real difficulties when they tried to return the boot.

The Ariat boot had a comparatively large number of situations like this, as well as some issues with sizing. ”Caveat emptor” seems to be good advice. 

Conclusion

Work boots with excellent airflow and ventilation depend upon great materials that will allow moisture to dissipate while keeping your keep comfortable and protected. These boots all pass that test. The best-of-the-best, because of its flexibility and overall quality compared to the price is the Danner Vicious Boot. The Carhartt CMF6366 Boot gets great reviews for fit, and is a terrific value for the money

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Would you advise me to invest in a good pair of breathable steel toe work boots for my construction job starting in a week?

Definitely! If you’re an employee, rather than self-employed, you probably won’t have the option not to wear a work boot with some type of safety toe.

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires employers to make safety-toe work shoes a job requirement if a worker does his job in “areas where there is a danger of foot injuries due to falling or rolling objects.”

Construction jobs certainly afford lots of opportunities for falling or rolling objects to land on an unsuspecting co-worker’s foot. 

If you’re self-employed, you’ll need to exercise similar caution to protect your from feet from injury. As a construction worker, a dock worker, a logger, a farmer, a mechanic, or anyone else who works on heavy equipment or moves heavy objects, you may owe your livelihood to a good a pair of (breathable) safety boots.

And, as this article proves, you’ll have lots of choices when it comes to the style, weight, price, and color of boot that will work best for you. Wearing breathable steel toe work boots as a precaution is the classic situation of “being safe rather than sorry.”

These type of boots are not only for construction sites, but also oil rigs, factories, railroad, roadwork and many other hazardous jobs.

What should I look for in lightweight breathable work boots?

Like any good work boot, lightweight breathable work boots should be comfortable. You’ll want a boot that fits well and provides the features that your foot needs and your job requires.

Beyond that, you’ll need a work boot made either from 1) breathable good-quality leather, 2) a pairing of synthetic material with breathable nylon or polyester mesh, or 3) a pairing of leather with a breathable nylon or polyester mesh. 

The Danner and Carhartt boots from the 5 favorites are both relatively lightweight and breathable. Here are 4 other options.  

  • Thorogood Men’s American Heritage 6” MAXwear Wedge Non-Safety Moc Toe Boot—A lightweight soft-toe boot with a wedge sole, a cotton vamp lining and a rubber midsole
  • Reebok Work Men’s Sublite Cushion Work Mid EH—Very lightweight work shoes constructed of man-made materials and mesh for breathability. This shoe has an alloy safety toe, a rubber sole and is EH rated for safety.
  • KEEN Utility Men’s Flint Mid Work Boot—This ankle-height lightweight boot features a leather upper with a padded tongue and collar, a rubber sole that is EH rated, and mesh inserts for breathability.
  • Timberland PRO Men’s Expertise Hiker Steel-Toe Work Boot—An  ankle-height boot with a leather and mesh upper, and a breathable lining treated with an anti-microbial agent to prevent stinky feet.

What, exactly, are waterproof breathable work boots?

“Waterproof” AND “breathable” work books may seem like an impossibility, but they are not, if you have the right materials. Leather is porous enough to allow tiny droplets of water vapor to escape through its surface. These pores, especially if the leather is treated with a leather oil or chemical agent, are too small to allow outside water to enter. 

Mesh fabrics are also breathable. They can be chemically treated to be waterproof and still retain their breathability. 

Two of the 5 best and most breathable work boots are waterproof. If you don’t need the insulation of the Chippewa 9” logger, but you need a boot that is taller than the 4 ½’ Danner Men’s Vicious Boot, here are 2 other good waterproof breathable work boots options:

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