- What affects the lifespan of work boots?
- How to make your work boots last longer
- What are some good materials for work boots soles?
- What are signs that your boots need replacing?
- The final word
If you wear work boots, they can be such an essential part of your work life. But they’re probably the most expensive part of work clothing, in terms of maintenance and replacing.
This means that we need to choose wisely in our investment. Because, let’s face it, buying work boots is investing in ourselves.
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Researcher & Editor
So how long do we get out of our boots? How many miles are they good for?
As you’ll see below there are a ton of factors that will influence the mileage you can get out of your work boots but I’ll give you an example.
Adrian’s friend Peter works as a construction site manager. He tested and reviewed the DeWalt Newark and Wolverine Overpass boots. This dude walks a lot. He’s making an average of 17,000 steps per day.
Let’s do the math so we can find out how many miles his boots were good for.
Peter’s stride is about 2 feet. We multiply 17,000 (steps/strides) x 2 (feet) and that gives 34,000 feet. That’s one foot in front of the other.
Then we divided 34,000 feet by 5,280 (which is the number of feet in a mile) and that gives us roughly 6.5 miles per day.
Peter had his Wolverine work boots for about two years and if we do the math again, his boots were good for a total of 3,348 miles. These are rough numbers!!!
The fact is, there are too many variables to put a specific number on it. Things like:
- Brand of the boot
- Type of work
- Work conditions
- Amount of use
- Boot rotation
This article will discuss the points listed above, to give you an idea of how long the boots you wear as individuals might last.
We’ll also give you some things to look for when you’re thinking about replacing your boots, and we’ll advise you on how to make the boots last longer.
What affects the lifespan of work boots?
1. Boot brand
Boots that last for many miles are directly correlated with the brand’s vision of quality in terms of materials used to make the boots, craftsmanship, and quality control!
Some brands make cheaper work boots which of course is ok because not everybody earns a salary good enough to pay for quality boots.
But in exchange, you’ll get boots that rarely last more than 6 months – one year, depending on your work environment.
As with anything in life, you get what you pay for. Premium boots will have much thicker, tougher, and more durable materials than cheaper work boots.
Leather is a popular option among some of the more expensive work boots. Leather is one of the toughest materials to use for the upper of the boot compared to synthetics as we see in most EMS boots and tactical boots also.
The latter last much less than leather boots in general.
The quality of the sole is also very important. A decent tread will take longer to wear thin than a cheaper one.
And things like heat resistance and oil-and-acid resistance need to be taken into account. Some of these are only really available in the more expensive brands.
The better quality brands also focus on:
- Stitching and welting (what holds the boots together)
- Waterproofing (water can deteriorate the boots)
- Eyelet hole and hooks (these can wear the laces away, and the hooks can rip off)
- Shanks (help to stop sole penetration)
- Heel guards (prevent abrasion when taking boots off)
- Toe guards (prevent abrasion on the toe area)
Here is a list of popular work boot brands that are known to last for many miles. Some will last more than others.
2. Type of work you’re doing
If you sit in an office all day, your boots will last a lot longer than if you’re out grafting. Here are a couple of completely contrasting jobs with opposite boot lifespans.
First scenario – Physical work
I used to be a groundworker, where I got through 1-2 pairs of boots a year. This job involved all kinds of physical, rigorous jobs.
Here are only three tasks that affected my boot life as a groundworker:
This took a toll on the soles of the boots. Often wearing holes in them. It also affected the toe-cap area, where I would use the toe-cap as leverage for the digging tools.
Bending, squatting, and kneeling to lay slabs and block paving creased the boots and put stress on the seams and stitching.
I also used to rest slabs on the toe caps while preparing their muck beds. This would wear the leather easily.
Whether it was mixing concrete up in a mixer or wading through dry screed or wet concrete when leveling, it was inevitable that concrete would get on the boots.
Unfortunately, concrete eats away at materials after a while. The best solution would be to wear rubber boots in these situations. This wasn’t always practical or available for me.
Second scenario – More sedentary work
I left my groundworks job to become a tower crane operator. In this current job, I replace my boots every 2-3 years.
But this is probably only because the company supplies them, rather than me having to buy them. My boots could easily go for 4 years or more, with no boot conditioning or cleaning.
The difference between this job and the groundwork is that the only physical thing I have to do in them is climbing up and down the crane ladder.
Once in the cab, I take them off and wear slippers.
Sometimes, if on the runaround, rather than being stationed at the same site for a while, I’ll wear the work boots when walking to and from the train station.
Even with that mileage, the boots last a lot longer than in my old job. There’s a clear difference.
3. Work conditions
This kind of ties in with the previous section but is slightly different. There are external elements that can cause harm to your work boots.
Here are only some to give you a rough idea:
This can be in the form of mud, small dirt particles, stones, brick rubble, broken concrete. You get the idea. All of these things cause abrasion on our boots.
Lots of jobs involve working with chemicals that can break down the materials in work boots.
I already mentioned concrete. But there are also things like paints, cleaning agents, bio-chemicals, fuels, pesticides, etc.
– Ground force
Soles will wear out much quicker on surfaces like unpolished concrete and tarmac than they will on grass and mud. This is because rougher surfaces create more friction. (Think of sandpaper).
In the same respect, walking on rocky or uneven terrain, especially when pushing
or carrying heavy loads will significantly reduce the lifespan of your boots.
4. Amount of usage
This relates to three things:
- How regularly do you wear the boots
- How many miles do you walk each day
- The length of your working days
It stands to reason that the greater the figure of these three factors, the less life you’re going to get out of your boots in the long run.
If you think about whatever vehicle you drive. Every time you turn that ignition on and move it, you’re putting wear-and-tear on all the tires and mechanical parts.
To go back to the car analogy, if you replace the fluids regularly, clean the car, change the tires, service it, then you’ll get more life out of it.
Work boots are the same. Poorly maintained boots will give you fewer miles than well-maintained boots. We’ll touch on how to maintain them further down in the article.
I’ve mentioned in some previous blogs about the deterioration that water can cause, not only on boots, but on anything.
Those nasty potholes in roads are partly caused by resting water. Mudslides and the erosion of rocks are down to water.
This shows that working regularly in wet conditions can eventually be very detrimental to boots.
But it’s not only wet that can affect them. Extreme heat can eventually take its toll. Leather, for instance, can crack if gotten wet then dried out too quickly with extreme sunshine.
These elements can cause boot hydrolysis. This is where particles in the boots break down after exposure to high levels of moisture, and sometimes intense sunlight.
If the boots have leather or rubber soles, these can crack and sometimes come apart.
7. Boot rotation
Wearing only one pair of boots all the time gives a high risk of them wearing out quickly. Whereas occasionally wearing other boots can give both longer lifespans.
Boot rotation is done for a few reasons:
- To ease breaking in stubborn boots
- Different boots for different climates
- Replacements during maintenance or repairs
- Make them last longer
Check out this other article to learn more about this topic: How many pair of work boots should you have and why!
How to make your work boots last longer
We might not be able to give you a definite time frame of the lifespans of work boots, but we can certainly advise you on how to make them last longer.
1. Avoid unnecessary damage
This is easier said than done. But if there are ways you can avoid marking, scuffing, or cutting your boots, it’s best to do so.
For example, in my groundwork days, if I hadn’t used the toecaps of my boots for digging leverage and resting slabs on, then I wouldn’t have gotten through so many boots.
Although you need to protect your feet, you also need to protect your investment.
2. Store them correctly
We have a detailed article that covers how to store your work boots. But to summarize, there are things you can do to help prevent bacteria growth, boot hydrolysis, stiffening, and shape change, etc.
3. Take them off when finishing work
This might seem like a small and irrelevant point, but if you wear your work boots to and from work and at home, then you’re putting more miles on them, which creates more wear and tear.
If it’s not practical or safe to carry your boots home and then store them between shifts, you could find out if they can be securely stored at work. A lot of workplaces have locker rooms or drying rooms.
4. Regular maintenance
Cleaning your boots regularly helps to prevent bacteria build up. It also rids all the dirt or chemicals that can cause abrasion and deterioration.
Conditioning and polishing your boots keep the leather supple and less likely to crack or peel. It also adds a protective layer. My colleague Adrian wrote a few great articles related to the topic:
- How to apply mink oil to work boots
- Conditioning your work boots: Bick 4 VS Mink oil
- Mink oil vs boots oil
- Will mink oil destroy your Nubuck leather boots?
Waterproofing helps to prevent that boot-eating water from getting inside and feeding on the boots. By the way, this is a good post on how to waterproof your work boots if you need more info.
Replacing the soles means you get more life out of your boots without having to throw them away if the soles get too worn or damaged.
5. Having more than one pair
As previously mentioned, swapping and changing between at least two pairs of boots will give you much longer-lasting boots.
What are some good materials for work boots soles?
If you want your work boots to last, it’s best to choose boots with tough materials that will suit your job.
Here are some materials to look out for. However, these materials might not necessarily be best suited for the job you do.
Good old-fashioned leather uppers have been around since boots were invented by the dinosaurs millions of years ago.
There’s a reason for this. Leather is tough, it looks good, and it’s maintainable. But here’s the thing. If you want your leather to last, you need to maintain it.
Leather isn’t only used for the uppers. Layers of it can be compacted in the soles.
Particularly the heels. This makes resoling boots very easy. Also, leather can withstand heat well. Which is why it’s often used by wildland firefighters.
However, leather might not be suitable for everyone, because it can sometimes be quite stiff, and can scuff. For example, hikers might prefer other materials for the flexibility.
2. Thermo-polyurethane (TPU)
TPU is a very durable material that’s used in a lot of premium quality outsoles.
It provides a high resistance against abrasion, cuts, splitting and cracking, and most oils and chemicals. It’s also heat resistant up to around 266°F/130°C.
Nitrile is more badass than TPU. It’s a synthetic rubber highly resistant to oil, mild acids, and alkalis. It also has superb resistance to abrasion, cuts, and tears.
Not only that, it can withstand temperatures up to a whopping 572°F/300°C.
Let’s not get confused. Vibram isn’t a material. It’s a company that makes some of the best, most durable rubber outsoles on the market.
Definitely ones to look out for if you want boots that will give you loads of miles.
What are signs that your boots need replacing?
No matter what lengths you go through to make your work boots last, no matter how much you spend on them, they won’t last forever. They will eventually need replacing.
Let’s have a look at some things to look for that’ll tell you the time has come to let them go.
Because, at the end of the day, work boots are not like regular shoes. It’s not a good idea to wear them regularly once they’re faulty or past their prime.
1. Outward signs (wear and tear)
Wear and tear is probably the first sign you’ll notice.
Things like cracked or peeling uppers, cracked or split soles, sole delamination, seams coming apart, holes caused from cuts or abrasion, chemical burns, fire burns, uneven wear of the soles etc, etc.
These problems might appear small at first, but they can grow or accumulate. It’s best to address issues early when you see them so that they don’t build up or worsen.
2. Foot problems
This can quite easily become a result of wear and tear. Holes, splits, and creases can rub on your foot, causing blisters.
Poorly ventilated boots can cause excessive sweating, which can lead to Athlete’s foot fungus.
Other problems can also occur, like calluses, bunions, and corns, as a result of ill-fitting or damaged boots.
3. Water getting in
You might not notice holes or cracks at first, but if they’re there, then your feet will be getting wet when exposed to water.
This might also be a result of waterproofing failing.
4. Losing grip
If you find that you haven’t got quite as much grip anymore, or you’re slipping over more than usual, this is a sure sign that the lugs on your soles have worn too thin. It’s time for a resole or boot replacement.
The final word
As you have seen, it’s near impossible to give a definite time on how long work boots last or how many miles you can wear them for. But hopefully, we’ve given you enough variables and circumstances that affect the mileage you’ll get out of them.
You should now be able to make your own judgements. You should also have more of an idea of how to make your work boots last longer and what signs to look for when they do eventually need replacing.
Let’s be honest. We need all the help and advice we can get. Boots are not cheap. We don’t want to have to replace them if we can avoid it.
Good luck with your boot journey. Be prosperous. Stay safe.
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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!