What Is A Steel Shank In A Boot? (Explained)

Most of us know why steel toe caps are in our boots but many of us are unaware as to what steel shanks are, let alone what they are doing in our boots.

Here we will endeavor to answer all your questions about steel shanks, such as: Why are they used? Who should use them? Do they change the weight of the boot?

showing the steel shank in one of my work boots that I cut in half.

In very basic terms, the shank could be described as being the spine of the boot commonly made out of a thin layer of steel (but other materials are also used) that is fitted inside the boot underfoot to give support and protection.

What is a steel shank?

The steel shank is a narrow, thin, flat, piece of steel which is rectangular in shape. It is placed between the midsole and the outsole of your boot and is an added layer of protection for you.

It usually sits between the ball and the heel of your foot (under the arch).

Don’t be fooled by the word steel and think this will make your boot clunky, similar to that of a steel toe cap boot, it is actually very flexible and barely noticeable when under your foot.

Shanks come in a selection of sizes – half, full and ¾. The full length can not be bent so is the heaviest of all the shanks.

Shanks can be soft or hard depending on the type of footwear it is going inside and the movement that will need to take place.

For example, work boots would require a hard shank for ultimate support, protection, and durability whereas dancing or walking shoes would require a soft shank for comfort and flexibility.

What’s the purpose of a steel shank in a boot?

The main purpose of the shank is for your support and protection. The position of the shank means that it takes some of the load and relieves pressure on your arches, calves, and knees.

It stabilizes your movement which in turn supports your legs and back. Injuries to yourself (and others) may be prevented due to the fact you are better able to keep your balance on uneven terrain.

It is safe to say that if you are getting this amount of support from your boot then comfort is obviously going to be a key benefit and let’s face it if you’re in these boots all day every day you want comfort!

The shank is not just there to support you it is also there to support the structure of the underside of the boot which prevents the boot from collapsing.

The steel shank acts as a protective barrier for the underside of your foot against puncture wounds from sharp objects. Our safety in the workplace is paramount so all and every defense against injury is of importance.

Are boots more durable if they have a steel shank?

Having a steel shank in your boot will help to keep them in shape because they stiffen the outsides to give stability therefore the boot maintains its shape meaning you’ll be getting more out of your investment.

But it’s not something that adds to the durability of a work boot in my experience. It has more to do with supporting your arches than anything else.

Should all boots have a steel shank?

As mentioned above the shank contributes to the longevity of your boot. For that reason along with the support and protection it provides, in my opinion, all boots with a heel would benefit from a shank being fitted.

The reason I mention a heel is because a heel forces the insole to form a bridge across the tread line.

As the insole is the foundation of our boots a bridge is needed for support to prevent it from collapsing. A wedged sole type of work boot would have less need for a shank as the arch does not need the extra support.

If you have purchased a pair of boots with no steel shank you could take it to a shoe repair shop and ask them to fit one for you although it might not be that cheap.

Who needs to wear work boots with steel shank?

Your decision to wear steel shank boots will be influenced by your work environment.

So investing in a pair of sturdy steel shank boots is a good idea when, for instance, you’re working outdoors in the deep forest climbing trees or maybe you’re a lineman that needs to sit on spurs for long hours.

The comfort, support, and minimization of leg fatigue and foot arch ache are a winning combination if your job requires you to be on your feet all day. 

Here I have listed the industries I feel would benefit greatly from wearing steel shank boots.

We must also bear in mind that in some industries there may be safety guidelines that would recommend or even insist such footwear be worn on site.

Does a steel shank make a boot heavier?

When we think of steel we might think heavy and bulky which would lead us to believe our boot to be much heavier with one inside.

Rest assured that this is not the reality, steel shanks are very thin making them flexible with a somewhat springiness to them.

We must not confuse a steel toe cap boot with a steel shank boot.

Although the overall weight of the work boot is not affected too much by the shank you will feel a difference compared to a boot without, hence why people opt to buy them to use as a pair of heavy-duty outdoor boots not just for work purposes.

Are all boots shanks made of steel?

Shanks are traditionally constructed out of steel and provide the ultimate protection against pain and fatigued foot arches but as with most things there are alternative materials that can be used such as:

  • Nylon
  • Wood
  • Plastic
  • Carbon fiber
  • Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU)
  • Fiberglass
  • Leather

Fiberglass, nylon, and plastic are softer and warmer than steel whilst also being very supportive so lend themselves better to certain types of boots or footwear.

These materials are very lightweight which makes them extremely flexible and whilst they give you a great deal of comfort they do not provide the same level of protection.

Therefore in terms of protection, support and durability it is recommended that you buy a boot with a shank made with stronger materials like fiberglass, carbon fiber, or steel.

Regardless of the material used, your boot’s structure and support are preserved thanks to the solid shank.

How do you tell if a boot has a shank or not?

Unfortunately, there’s no good way to find out if your work boots have or not a steel shank.

Check the product description – many online stores provide product descriptions and would list whether the boot has a built-in shank.

Also, check out the section in which we cut work boots in half to find out what’s going on inside a pair of work boots. That’s another way to find out if a work boot has a steel shank or not.

Last words

With the shank hidden deep in our boot, it is easy for it to be taken for granted, but the benefits it provides us make it very much an integral part of our boot.

The support, comfort, protection, and durability that this thin piece of material inside our boot offers should not be underestimated.


Team Members Working On This Page

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!

Jessica Flynn
Jessica Flynn – Writer And Researcher

Love technology, going to the beach, taking care of my body, and writing (amongst other things). You’ll see my face around here a little bit since I’m responsible for part of the research and writing of some of the articles you’re reading on BestForMyFeet.com. I hope you’ll find our content helpful and enjoyable! See you around, thanks for reading!