Nylon shank Versus Steel Shank (Differences And Purposes)

When you’re looking to buy new boots, what are the main things you want in them? Toe protection? Waterproofing? Ankle support? Comfort?

There are lots of possibilities. One aspect that is sometimes overlooked is the shank.

This can be forgiven. There are lots of layers and components that make up a fully functioning work boot. But let’s not neglect the trusted shank.

There are many types of shanks. This article is going to explain what shanks are, and talk more specifically about the differences between nylon shanks and steel shanks.

What is a shank?

Shanks are thin rectangular strips of material that help to spread the load of your weight and spread upward pressure from objects on the ground.

This helps to maintain balance on rocky or uneven terrain. They also help to preserve the shape of the boots.

By doing this they offer arch support, much like arch support insoles do, which in turn protects the calves, knees, and you might not think it, but even the back.

As stated previously, work boots comprise many layers of materials. The shank is nicely snuggled between the insole and outsole of the boot. Usually spanning between the ball and heel of the foot.

an example of how a boot shank looks like in my Caterpillar Outline work boots

During boot manufacturing, the upper and insole is made first. They then glue and/or tack the shank into the insole and attach the outsole over it.

Shanks come as half length, three-quarter length, and full length. You’ll find that half shanks come as standard in regular boots, if they have them at all.

Whereas, heavy-duty boots usually need three-quarter or full length shanks, to give optimum support.

If, for example, you tread on large stones or sharp rocks, the shank will help prevent the object from digging into the bottom of your foot when under your full weight.

This makes them very popular with mountaineers and people doing heavy-duty work.

Nylon shank

Nylon shanks are very lightweight. But this has its drawbacks. They’re not as tough or durable as others.

They won’t offer as much support as steel shanks, nor anywhere near as much resistance to puncturing. This might not matter if you’re only doing light-duty work working in a warehouse for example.

However, the flexibility of nylon shanks is much better than steel. So if you do light duty work that involves lots of flexing and bending (mechanics, electricians, etc) they would be a good choice.

They also won’t set off metal detectors. There are many benefits to this. You might find this useful when scanning for underground metal pipes or cables.

Or if you work in, or want to travel through airports with your boots on. You might not want the hassle of taking your boots off before going through screening.

Nylon shanks won’t rust, or get affected by extreme cold like steel might. They probably won’t however be resistant to extreme heat. And unlike steel, they don’t conduct electricity well. 

Electricians might choose boots with nylon shanks. Because they shouldn’t need to go on too much rough terrain.

The flexibility of the shanks would cater to the bending, squatting, kneeling that the electrician would need to do. And peace of mind would come from the fact that the nylon shanks aren’t a great conductor of electricity.

Here are some pros and cons of the nylon shank

On the pros column

  • Flexible
  • Doesn’t conduct electricity easily
  • Doesn’t set off metal detectors
  • Won’t rust

On the cons column

  • Not as durable as others
  • Not as puncture resistant as others
  • Don’t offer as much arch support as others

Steel shank

Steel shanks are the toughest and most traditional of all the shanks. Although they’re the heaviest, they’re still only thin plates that can flex and contour.

Objects from below the feet are less likely to penetrate the sole and cause pain through steel shanks, which makes them ideal for the most heavy-duty tasks.

The arches and heels won’t bruise or ache that easily. So stamping your weight on digging tools, or climbing electricity poles and resting on ladder rungs, or even hiking long distances can be done with relative comfort and little damage to your feet.

This makes them a great tool for construction workers, hikers, farmers, loggers, etc.

However, steel shanks do set off metal detectors, so if you plan on battling your way through airports and wearing those boots on a plane, bear this in mind.

Taking your boots off and putting them in that little tray while being checked might be time-consuming.

They might also set off your scanner when scanning for underground pipes and cables.

Steel gets affected by temperature. It conducts heat. So the shanks could make your feet warmer on really hot days.

Likewise, they could conduct the cold. But it’s most likely not to be a problem because of the heat trapped in the boots from your feet.

If the steel shank gets exposed to water, there is a chance that it would rust over time. This isn’t very likely, because of the measures the manufacturers make these days to keep water out.

Even sweat could be a factor. But most decent work boots brands make boots with enough breathability and moisture-wicking to deal with that moisture.

These drawbacks are a minor cost, considering the benefits steel shanks give.

Here are some pros and cons of the steel shank

On the pros column

  • Very strong
  • Durable
  • Good puncture resistance
  • Great arch support

On the cons column

  • Conducts cold and heat easily
  • Sets off metal detectors
  • Might rust over time

Last notes

I’m sorry to say we’re now at the end of the article. You should now have a good understanding of what boot shanks are, what they’re for, and the differences between nylon shanks and steel shanks.

Hopefully, you can use this information to help you decide what is best for you, depending on what you want to use them for.

Please do your research when buying your boots. Check what materials the shanks are. Check the size. Check the heat and electrical resistance.

showing one boot I cut in half in order to learn more about the shank and what else goes inside.

You can always learn more by reading some of our articles about boots we’ve cut in half where we talk about each one of the components we find in each boot.

We do hope you’ve found the article helpful. If you have any questions or would like to add any information that we’ve missed, or experiences that you’ve found useful, feel free to contact us. We would love your input.


Team Members Working On This Page

Jimmy Webb – Writer And Researcher

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.

Victor Adrian – Editor And Webmaster

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!

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