- What is boot insulation in the first place?
- When/Why Would We Need Insulated Boots?
- Types of boot insulation
- What level of boot insulation do you need? (Insulation Thicknesses)
- Other things to consider when buying insulated boots
- Quick FAQs about insulated work boots
- Last notes on this quick guide to insulated boots
There are so many things to think about when buying work boots, depending on what you need them for, which relates to what safety or comfort features the boots need.
One question often asked is whether you need insulated work boots. The answer isn’t a case of a simple yes or no. Insulation is certainly helpful in some cases, but not so much in others.
This article is going to give insight into the variables, as well as explain exactly what boot insulation is, what it’s useful for, how much insulation you need and much more so let’s get into it.
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What is boot insulation in the first place?
Before we get into the nitty gritty stuff, let’s start by explaining what boot insulation is.
Boot insulation is an inner lining that is designed to keep your feet warm in cold conditions.
It’s not to be confused with things like waterproof membranes, Thermaplush, or moisture-wicking. I’ll touch more on those soon.
Additionally, when we’re talking about boot insulation in this article we’re not going to refer to dielectric boots. These boots are also known as insulating boots.
But they offer a different type of insulation. These boots offer you electrical protection to prevent electric current from being grounded. So that’s a different topic.
Back to the main topic. The insulation predominantly comes in variations of two types:
- Shearling insulation
- Synthetic insulation
Shearling is a fleece, just like what is used inside some Trapper hats or winter jackets.
Thinsulate is the most common synthetic brand. But there are many others. Such as Opti-Warm, Primaloft, Heatseeker, and Zylex, to name a few.
The synthetic materials work using microfibers to trap warm air molecules (of which the warmth is generated by the heat of the feet).
The insulation is designed to hinder external cold from entering the boot, and likewise, prevent the warm trapped air from leaving. Thus, keeping a snug blanket of warm air wrapped around the feet.
When/Why Would We Need Insulated Boots?
Some of you might think this is a silly question. You’re probably thinking, ‘Derr, we need them in cold or snowy conditions.’ Obvious, right?
Well, what about those who suffer from sweaty feet? The insulation could be a problem for them.
The thing about sweating is that it’s designed to cool you down. The body gets hot, so creates water particles that rest on the skin, trapped in the fine hair, which cools the skin.
This could cause a catch-22 situation if you’re trying to keep your feet warm in cold conditions.
You wear the correct footwear to warm the feet, then the feet sweat, which cools them, so you eventually end up with cold feet. This could lead to illnesses.
Another potential downfall for sweaty feet sufferers is in deep snow. Although cold, when snow buries the body, it acts as insulation.
In fact, this is used as a survival technique in the wilderness. So, when walking through deep snow with insulated boots, you’re actually getting extra insulation from the snow.
Work boots with waterproof membranes can also cause sweaty feet. Which is why both moisture-wicking technology and moisture-wicking socks can be very important to keeping that out.
But don’t worry, if you do suffer from sweaty feet, we have some useful information to help you here: How to stop your feet from sweating in work boots.
The importance of keeping your feet warm
The parts of our body where most of the body heat escapes are the head and the feet. That’s why, in this instance, it’s important to keep our feet warm when working outside in cold conditions.
The soles of our feet contain more nerve endings per unit area than any other part of the body.
That’s why some medical practitioners, particularly in Chinese medicine, use our feet to heal certain organs and ailments in us, because of direct links between those areas and the pressure points and nerve endings in the feet.
Statistics show that 75% of American adults suffer from foot problems at some point in their lives.
When working in cold conditions without protecting our feet, the best-case scenario is that we’ll get cold feet, which will be uncomfortable, probably make us miserable, and make working difficult.
The worst-case scenario is getting frostbite.
Frostbite can occur in many scenarios. From the simplest of things like skin contact on cold metal, or the same with ice packs. It also occurs when the skin is exposed to cold water or cold temperatures.
Frostbite freezes the water inside your skin, which damages cells and soft tissues. The first place on your feet it will affect is the toes.
Some of the symptoms, but are not exclusive to frostbite, include:
- Pain when rewarming the affected area.
- Painful pins and needles
- Hardened skin in the affected area
- Waxy or pale skin (in more severe cases)
- Scabs or blisters
- Loss of coordination
The sneaky thing about frostbite is that it usually numbs the skin first, so you might not notice the other symptoms until it’s too late.
However, not everywhere in the world is cold enough to cause a high risk of frostbite. Protection might still be needed though. But not necessarily all year round.
Some American states stay cold all year round. Like Vermont, Montana, Wyoming, and Maine. So boot insulation would definitely be on the agenda in these places.
Other states can be still among the coldest, except in summer. States like North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, have some of the coldest winters but don’t fare so badly during the summer.
In this case, two or more pairs of boots might be beneficial. One pair with insulation and one pair without.
There are even different grades of insulation to accommodate the variations of temperature and the level of physical activities you’ll be using them for. I’ll expand on that shortly.
Types of boot insulation
This section should help you decide what type of insulated boots you need, if at all. Based on the climate you’ll be wearing them in and the activities you’ll be doing.
- Thermal insoles
1. Shearling insulation
Shearling is similar to sheepskin. Shearling is where wool is attached to leather, whereas sheepskin is literally sheep’s skin that has wool attached to it.
Shearling is considered to provide the most warmth out of all the different types. If it’s good enough for sheep, it’s got to be good enough for us, right?
But it has its drawbacks. Shearling might be the warmest, but it’s not the most durable, so it’s probably not the best type of insulation for heavy-duty work.
Examples of boots using Shearling Fleece insulation
2. ThermoLite insulation
The name says everything. A combination of the words ‘thermal’ and ‘light’.
Not only is ThermoLite found in boots, but it’s also in things like sleeping bags and duvets, as well as all kinds of clothing, from coats down to underwear.
Basically, anything designed to keep you warm.
It’s a durable fabric made from Polyester fibers, that offers warmth without bulk. Maybe a good choice for people requiring agility and who do a lot of miles.
Examples of boots using ThermoLite:
3. Thinsulate insulation
Another one that does what it says on the tin. This is a clever make-up of the words ‘thin’ and ‘insulate’. A thin and effective layer of insulation made up of synthetic fibers.
As stated earlier in the article, Thinsulate traps pockets of warm air that are created from the heat of our feet.
Not only is it designed to keep cold air from entering the boot, but it also helps prevent this warm air from leaving. This warm air then stays wrapped around the feet.
Thinsulate is very durable. It holds up to excessive friction from our foot movement, and also withstand lots of wash cycles.
This makes Thinsulate one of the leading brands of boot insulation and is the reason why it’s the chosen brand in heavy-duty work boots.
It’s light enough to keep the feet comfortable and tireless during the long days on your feet, but at the same time, versatile enough to endure a wide range of activities.
From light-duty electrical work to heavy construction, to long hours of hiking, etc.
Examples of boots using Thinsulate:
4. Omni-Heat insulation
This insulation, created in Columbia, reflects heat back onto the foot through tiny silver dots on the material.
It is thin and breathable, which helps to keep moisture out of the boot.
Being one of the cheaper materials, Omni-Heat might be a good choice if you have a low budget.
Example of boots using Omni-Heat:
5. Aerogel insulation
Aerogels were first created in the 1930s as a result of a bet but was developed as a lightweight synthetic insulation by NASA.
The porous (allows liquid or air to pass through) material is a result of liquid in a gel being replaced by gas.
This gives it super lightness, making it good for people who are on their feet for lots of hours, as per the examples given. One for outdoor research workers and the other for hunting.
Examples of boots using Aerogel:
6. PrimaLoft insulation
PrimaLoft is another lightweight synthetic material made of polyester, with an extra casing of nylon. It’s often used by big brands like The North Face.
PrimaLoft pride themselves on sustainability. A lot of the fibers used are designed to return to materials found in nature.
So, the wear-and-tear that naturally happens with fabrics when they shed their tiny fragments won’t be damaging to our environment. The design helps to reduce the long-term impact of microplastics.
It isn’t as durable as Thinsulate, but is excellent at protecting against the extreme cold.
Because the microfibers shed, after a while of use, they might stick together and form bumps, which is why these types of boots need to be looked after.
Examples of boots using PrimaLoft:
7. Zylex insulation
Zylex is a removable boot liner designed by a company called Kamik. Not only does it help to keep the cold out, but it also helps to keep moisture out of the boot.
It has layers and is available in at least four levels of thickness. Each one is designed for different levels of climate and activities.
One downfall is that Zylex doesn’t block as much cold as built-in insulation, so probably wouldn’t be the best choice for extreme cold.
However, the beauty of these is the ability to remove them. This is useful for a few reasons.
To allow for cooler feet in warmer temperatures, for easy washing, and to allow both the inner boot and Zylex liner to dry easier when wet.
Examples of Zylex Boot Liners:
8. Thermal insoles
We’ve just touched on thermal removable liners. We can’t forget to mention thermal insoles. These add extra insulation from below, as well, in most cases, adding much more cushioning and comfort.
As with the lining, these come in different materials and thicknesses depending on your needs.
Examples of thermal boot insoles:
Felt & aluminum insoles
What level of boot insulation do you need? (Insulation Thicknesses)
As previously mentioned, certain insulation comes in various thicknesses to accommodate the many different climates and activities we need them for.
You might need them in just chilly areas, or in ice, snow, water, or very windy climates. The thickness of your socks also needs to be taken into consideration.
The thickness of insulation is measured in grams. The higher the gram number, or ‘G’, the colder the conditions they’re designed for. The gram measurement isn’t what is in each boot.
It’s grams per square meter. For example, our first weight given, 100g, means the material is 100g per m². Below is a guide to all the thicknesses.
As much as I would have liked to have given you the actual temperature ranges for each weight, there has been such a vast difference while researching, I wouldn’t want to risk giving inaccuracies, due to the extreme level of conflicting versions.
For short periods around town in mild to chilly environments and urban winters.
Good for cool weather at lower activity levels, like short early winter hikes. But also effective for continuous low-level activities.
This boot shouldn’t cause your feet to get too hot, so the season use can overlap slightly.
There isn’t a massive jump from 200g to 400g, so if you feel that 200g isn’t quite warm enough, then opt for these.
They’re suitable for fairly cold conditions, as long as you’re quite active. For example, longer hikes or winter backpacking, with maybe some seated breaks.
Now we’re in the realms of proper winter. They should keep you warm in cold weather while doing low-to-moderate levels of activity.
But if the weather gets very cold, you shouldn’t have any problems if doing higher levels of activity.
These are suitable for extreme cold while doing low-to-moderate-level activities.
You won’t really want any heavier than this while moving non-stop or doing excessive heavy-duty work unless moving through snow or freezing water.
These are for extreme cold while doing low-to-moderate activities. They’re also suitable for having your feet submerged in cold water or long periods in snow.
If you’re in the coldest of environments while doing high activity, these are the boots for you. People who climb Mount Everest might want to invest in boots like these.
Low-to-moderate activity in the absolute coldest environments you can think of would be extremely dangerous. But not if you’re wearing 1400g insulated boots.
They’re the real deal. But bear in mind, boots like these will need a big budget.
Other things to consider when buying insulated boots
- Boot height
- Insulated socks
- Moisture wicking
1. Boot height
You might not think so, but the height of your boots can affect the warmth of your feet. Cold weather boots tend to come in two heights. Over the ankle and mid-calf.
High ankle boots are generally warmer, because more of the skin is protected, and they’re more likely to have greater insulation.
These boots will also decrease the amount of dirt, water, snow, or any other cold substance to get over the top of the boot and inside.
With this in mind, mid-calf boots are the best option to keep your feet warm in cold and wet conditions like wading through snowdrifts, deep undergrowth, or marshy ground, etc.
2. Insulated socks
Someone who prefers super mobility might prefer low-cut boots. In this instance, you might want to consider insulated socks or removable liners.
A good thermal sock will be a cheaper option than buying insulated boots. And you can adjust the thickness of the socks to suit the climate you’re in.
This saves on multiple pairs of boots for both hot and cold weather.
3. Moisture-wicking socks or lining
Moisture wicking is especially important if the boots are fully waterproof because these tend to make feet sweat.
The body sweats to cool itself down, so when the feet get wet from sweat, they will eventually get cold. This isn’t even taking into account any external moisture that will get into the boots.
If you’re wearing cold weather boots, this external moisture is likely to be cold, so it’s best to be regulated.
Most premium boots have moisture-wicking technology, but if not, a decent pair of moisture-wicking socks would be a good investment.
Another thing that will help prevent the sweating is the breathability of the boots. Again, boots with waterproof lining tend to make the feet sweat, which in turn makes them cold.
So good breathable work boots are very important to keep your feet warm.
- Boot height
- Insulated socks
- Moisture wicking
Quick FAQs about insulated work boots
Below I’ll share with you some of the most common questions related to insulated work boots that people ask us on Reddit and other forums.
Are all work boots insulated, or do I need to look for specific features?
No, not all work boots are insulated so make sure you check the product’s description and look for specific mentions of the insulation feature.
If you require insulation in your work boots, it’s important to look for specific features or labels indicating that they are insulated.
This information is typically provided by the manufacturer or specified in the product description. Insulated work boots are often labeled with the amount of insulation they offer, measured in grams.
So look in the product’s description for the type of insulation the boots come with and the amount of insulation they come with. For example, Thinsulate (type of insulation) 1000g (the amount of insulation).
Can I use additional insoles or socks with insulated work boots for added warmth?
If you already have a pair of boots that’s coming with some kind of insulation but you think it’s not enough you can definitely get an extra pair of insoles in there.
I’ve mentioned a few insulated insoles in the sections above so check out and see if they’re good for you. Keep in mind that wearing thicker thermal socks can also increase warmth inside your insulated work boots.
Look for socks made from insulating materials like wool or synthetic blends that offer good moisture-wicking properties to keep your feet dry and comfortable.
It’s important to note that when adding extra layers, you should ensure that your work boots still fit properly and allow for adequate circulation.
Wearing excessively thick socks or insoles that make your boots too tight can reduce blood flow and potentially lead to discomfort or other foot-related issues.
Are all insulated work boots waterproof too?
No, not all insulated work boots are automatically waterproof. Insulation and waterproofing are separate features that can be present individually or combined in work boot designs.
So if you want insulated work boots that are also waterproof make sure to check out the product description and look for specific mentions about the waterproof feature.
Can insulated work boots be worn in warm or hot environments without discomfort?
I know what you’re thinking when asking this question but in my experience wearing insulated boots in summer or hot environments is going to be quite uncomfortable.
That’s because the insulation in work boots is intended to trap heat and keep your feet warm.
In warm conditions or hot environments wearing insulated boots will lead to excessive sweat. This is not just uncomfortable but it’s increasing the risk of blisters and fungal infections as the famous Athlete’s foot fungus and other foot-related issues.
Personally, I don’t recommend wearing insulated work boots in summer. Get something with breathable panels like these KEEN Lansing work boots.
Last notes on this quick guide to insulated boots
I have to say, with such a simple question for a title, ‘Do You Need Insulated Work Boots’, I went into this having no idea how many variables there would be. I’m sure you probably didn’t either.
Hopefully, this information hasn’t confused you more. You should now have a clear insight into when and why you would need boot insulation, what types and thicknesses there are, and what other options you have.
As always, please research before you buy the boots.
Feel free to contact us if you have any questions, or would like to share your own experiences or insights.
For now, stay warm and take care.
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Hey, Jimmy here. I’m one of the researchers and writers here at BestForMyFeet.com. I’ve been wearing work boots all my life working as a forklift driver, landscaper, groundworker, and now as a tower crane operator so I know a few things about footwear and footcare in general. I’m also working on my first novel. So writing IS my passion. When I’m not writing I love to spend time with my wife, two children, and furball.
Construction Professional, driver, crane operator, cleaner, head chef … these are just some of the jobs I did in the past. Working in all these different environments taught me that having good footwear to protect your feet from different dangers at work IS PARAMOUNT for any worker! On this website, I aim to share all my knowledge and personal experience in dealing with different footwear and foot care issues, and hopefully, you can get something out of it. Enjoy!