Barefoot Workboot Alternatives
Updated: Oct 7
2020 is almost wrapping up, and it's still somewhat perplexing that although the "barefoot industry" has made unparalleled progress regarding the aesthetic or recreational aspects of shoe styles, it still hasn't addressed the issue of "barefoot-friendly" work boots. With over 10 years spent in the construction industry myself, in addition to millions of other men and women across other industries also - it's time to question whether we should address the issue of unhealthy work boots, as we do to high-heels.
As mentioned above, there are still no certified alternatives to conventional work boots; however, we will endeavour to do our best to bring you our favourite alternatives, factoring in width and heel drop - with less emphasis focused on flexibility or stack height, due to the environment.
1. Birkenstock QS 700
"BIRKENSTOCK’s QS700 safety shoe with a removable footbed offers firm grip and takes the strain off your feet, allowing you to stand and move around comfortably at work for many hours, even in demanding environments. The QS700 is presented as a modern ankle sneaker with 7-hole lacing and a heel loop. The nonslip, metal-free, and oil- and petrol-resistant outsole provides for energy absorption around the heel and is penetration-resistant. A 200-joule steel toe with a scratch-resistant toe cap protects the forefoot. The upper is made from water-resistant microfiber (WRU) and offers antistatic protection. The shoe is certified in accordance with EN ISO 20345:2011 and meets the requirements of protection category S3."
The QS700 has a natural foot shape, appears to be zero drop and has a removable footbed - so that if it does have slight heel drop, it may be replaceable with a flat insole. It does give you the benefit of a certified steel-cap, in addition to any slip resistance, however I'm sceptical how the Vegan leather would hold up in a harsh environment. The QS700 only comes in Regular width, however most work boots are naturally wider, available in sizes EU 35-47, and priced at $278 AUD/$202 USD/170 EU/157 GBP. Click here to view.
2. CAT Brode Steel Toe Work Shoe
"The Brode steel toe shoe bucks the work boot trend with a sporty sneaker look that never sacrifices performance and durability. The steel toe is industry rated to protect on the job site. The electrical hazard protection covers open circuits up to 600 volts in dry conditions, as well. This work shoe is comfortable and breathable with a mesh lining, and an EVA molded sock liner for added shock absorption and cushioning. A slip-resistant rubber outsole provides the stability needed to handle low traction surfaces with grip and confidence. Stay authentic with this athletic-inspired style and all the safety features the Brode steel toe shoe has to offer."
The Brode is a Zero-Drop Steel Toe work boot available in Hi and in womens. It's packed with certified safety features such as slip resistant soles and shock protection. Available in sizes US 7-14 and Regular and wide widths, it is priced at $95 USD/$130 AUD/80 EU/74 GBP. Click here to view.
3. Belleville Mini-Mil
"If you consider yourself a warrior athlete, the coyote Belleville Mini-Mil Minimalist Combat Boots (Coyote)was specifically designed for you. Each pair weighs less than 2 pounds, has a 2mm drop, and is highly breathable. Without a lining, this sturdy pair of boots dries quickly.
Authorized for wear with OCP uniforms for Army and USAF members, and multicamuniforms for Army members, this boot is made by Belleville exclusively for US Patriot Tactical. As the exclusive supplier of this boot, US Patriot is proud to provide military members with a boot that is both comfortable and lightweight - while still complying with regulations.
The single density insert is molded for an excellent fit and can be removed as needed. The outsole is especially durable and made with Exclusive Vibram Tarsus rubber that gives superb grip when you need it most. Additionally, the combat boot features a drop of 2 millimeters between the forefoot and heel. If you’re training with minimalistic footwear, these combat boots are your next step!"
The Mini-Mil has a drop of 2mm, has a natural foot shape and features a Vibram sole. I've heard positive feedback from the boot - It has sneaker like flexibility, however it can take some time to break in. The downside is that it doesn't have toe protection, and the sole might not be the best in particular environments. The Mini-Mil is available in sizes 3.5-14 US and available in regular and wide. Its priced at $144.99 USD/$199 AUD/ 122 EU/113 GBP. Click here to view.
4. Keen Utility Destin Mid
"The next generation of safety footwear. The KEEN Utility Destin Mid men's steel toe work boot boasts younger, faster style, but has the full KEEN Utility construction site protection you need on the job. The men's leather steel toe work boot features left and right asymmetrical steel toes, and maximum underfoot surface area with oil- and slip-resistant outsole for sure footing. Available as a gray leather boot and black leather boot, the Destin Mid is ideal as an indoor and outdoor light duty work boot."
The Destin seems to be a Zero-drop workboot with a natural foot shape, and is packed with standard features you'd expect from a safety shoe. Its available in sizes 7-15 US (in regular and wide widths), and is priced at $125 USD/$171 AUD/105 EU/97 GBP. Click here to view.
5. Marugo Safety Tabi
"The Magic Safety is a great shoe for those who work in areas where there are a lot of hard edges, when your toes might get hurt. Capped with a heavy duty resin toe, this tabi shoe is able to resist harsh impact. Made with velcro to keep a tight fit, these shoes won't become loose while working!
Tabi have been around for a long time in Japanese culture, making grip easier for those who practice the martial arts, or for those who simply want to use these for a better workout!! These shoes are lightweight and cushioned so you can practice or workout in comfort! More flexible and nicely designed tabi shoes produced by Marugo. Perfectly fit to wear with traditional Japanese attire like kimono and samue (a Japanese garment worn by monks and craftsmen). These tabi shoes will make you look unique and original."
Having reviewed previous Marugo products here, I'm confident in their engineering abilities. The Marugo Safety Tabi have 2 toe caps available - steel and resin. They appear to be Zero-Drop, have a natural foot shape, and range from sizes 6-10 US, and range from $35-$49.99 USD.
6. Power Ace Japanese Tabi Safety Boot
"Power Ace is made with high-quality cotton canvas, and the soles of the shoes are sealed with strong rubber to keep the elements out of your shoes. The boots are fastened with adjustable straps, to keep the boots tight, preventing any fallout or debris from slipping in. The toes of the shoes are capped with a steel cap, making this boot perfect for those who work in fields that require steel-toe shoes. These boots can be used for work and other environments, like survival games or hunting."
The Power Ace appears to be Zero drop, and has a natural foot shape. They are available in US sizes 5.5-11.5 and priced at $44.95 US/$61 AUD/37 EU/35 GBP. Click here to view.
7. Altra Mens Smith Boot
"Introducing the Altra Smith Boot. It's the Altra feel you love on your runs but in an everyday boot option. This boot features a premium leather upper and sophisticated outsole for a professional, stylish look. Altra’s signature FootShape™ toe box that lets your toes relax and spread out for incredible comfort and freedom."
Most people in the barefoot community are familiar with Altra. The Smith has all the qualities of a minimalist boot, except for industry required safety features - however that isn't always necessary. Available in sizes US 7-15, and priced at $130 USD/$178 AUD/109 EU/101 GBP. Click here to view.
8. Gaston Mille Safety Overshoes
The Gaston Mille Safety Cap Overshoe acts as an "overshoe" which you can slip over a shoe. Although i haven't tried this product myself, its worth considering in the right conditions. E.g slower paced/obstacle free environment. Its available in sizes S, M and L which cover sizes 2.5 - 13 UK. They are a slip resistant half sole with a steel cap. They are priced at $74.95 AUD/$54 US/46 EU/42 GBP. Click here to view.
Broadwinger is another brand, most in the barefoot community are familiar with. They're handmade in the US by Chris Layman, and start from $500 USD. They are completely custom made to custom specification - meaning that they're foot shaped. They're zero drop, use durable materials and may even have an option to incorporate a steel cap? Click here to view.
10. Gaucho Ninja
Gaucho Ninja is another familiar brand. Based in the UK, they are another company which specialises in custom made boots and shoes. They incorporate the finest materials, and make functional foot shaped footwear. They may also have the ability to incorporate a steel cap? They range from 225-400 GBP. Click here to view.
11. Lems Boulder
"We here at Lems Shoes believe that you don't need to be some environmentalist who survives on organic granola and berries to know that going natural can have its benefits, which is why we bring you the Boulder Boot - a barefoot boot that has all of the natural features you’ve been searching for all while promoting healthy foot development, better balance, increased mobility in the feet, legs, and back AND helps to alleviate certain foot ailments such as bunions and hammer toes. If you're ready for a 9oz boot (M10) that can pack down into the smallest of daypacks or carry you on the farthest of Sasquatch searches, then it’s time you rock the Boulder."
The Less Boulder needs no introduction - they're one of the most popular boots in the barefoot community. We have an older review available here. Available in Vegan options, Mid cut options, as well as leather and waterproof options - they are notorious for their barefoot qualities while giving the user adequate protection. Unfortunately, they don't have a steel-cap and they don't advertise that their sole is slip-proof, however if your workplace allows it, they are a shoe worth considering.
They're available in sizes US 3.5-15 and priced at $125 USD/$171 AUD/105 EU/97 GBP. Click here to head to the Lems website (affiliate link).
If you require a safety boot, I'd suggest either experimenting with the Birekenstock (if its within budget), otherwise the CAT or Keen boots are reasonable options.
If you don't require a steel cap boot, however you require a non-slip sole - i'd suggest the Belleville Min-Mil. If non-slip soles aren't a requirement, perhaps the Lems or Altra.
The Gaucho Ninja and Broadwinger seem like a large initial investment, however they are completely customisable and would pay off long term.
The Japanese safety boots may not adhere to relevant standards in your country, and may be limited in sizing.