You’ll often hear men’s style enthusiasts talk about ‘investment pieces’. These are the big-ticket items that justify their hefty price tags with a mix of history, quality and longevity. They’re those rare garments that’ll see regular action for the next 20, 30 or 40 years. Perhaps even for life. Things like a proper wool overcoat, a pair of 14oz Japanese-denim jeans, a mechanical watch, or, where footwear is concerned, a pair of pedigree work boots.
You don’t need to spend your days stomping around a workshop or a building site to reap the rewards of a good pair of boots. The best work boots are designed to be tough, long-lasting, easily repaired and (with time) comfortable. Look after them and they’ll serve you well for years – even decades – to come.
Thinking of taking the plunge and investing in a proper pair of work boots? We’ve put together some helpful buying advice along with a carefully selected list of names making the very best versions to help you make an informed decision.
What Are Work Boots?
It pretty much does what it says on the tin. Work boots are boots built to cope with the demands of manual labour. They usually feature thick leather uppers, a sturdy sole with plenty of grip and might be made using traditional techniques that allow them to be repaired with ease.
Outside of that, it’s a pretty broad spectrum. Lots of boots fit the bill, but there’s not necessarily any one style that is definitively a ‘work boot;. They can be lace-up, slip-on, moc toe, round toe, high-top, mid-top and feature round eyelets or hiking-style D-rings. As long as they’re built to take a beating, that’s the main thing that matters.
What Makes A Good Work Boot?
Work boot soles should be sturdy, grippy and hard wearing. Lugged commando soles are popular, as are wedge soles, which are more flexible, foamy and often white or off-white in colour.
Vibram is the name to look out for. The company has a long history of making the best work boot and hiking boot soles in the game, and is a marker of quality in the majority of cases.
The upper of a good work boot should be made of quality leather. Suede can work too but it’s generally less durable and more prone to stains. High-grade leather will age gracefully, taking on character and developing a unique patina over time.
Every wear will make the boot more moulded to the wearer, much like a pair of selvedge jeans.
The best work boots are often handmade and feature traditional construction techniques like Goodyear welting. The latter in particular is worth looking out for as it means the boots will be strong while also easy to resole, ensuring the longest possible lifespan.
Work boots don’t necessarily have to be waterproof, but if you live somewhere where it rains a lot, or plan to use your boots mostly in the winter, it’s something worth considering.
Gore-Tex is the brand name to look for. This is the best waterproof textile around, and boots containing a membrane made from it will stop water from entering while also allowing vapour to escape. Even so, any type of waterproofing will impact a boot’s breathability to some extent.
The Best Work Boot Brands
The word ‘workwear’ tends to conjure images of America: jeans, chore coats and thick flannel shirts. But we’d argue that some of the most stylish workwear comes from France. A three-pocket bleu de travail workshirt in bugatti blue is nothing short of a menswear icon, and some of the best work boots around come from France too, courtesy of Kleman.
The brand’s stompers are made on home soil and priced competitively. The Sapeur is a favourite at Ape. It’s a mid-top, piped-seam boot with a sturdy lugged sole, offering a distinctly Parisian take on the work boot concept.
Direct-to-consumer brand Velasca prides itself on making the best possible footwear with the lowest possible price tags. All of the label’s shoes are handcrafted by highly skilled artisans in Italy’s shoemaking capital, Marche, and the range includes some excellent work boots.
The Pastissee boot, for example, is a classic moc-toe work boot with American looks and Italian DNA. It features a para rubber sole, smooth calfskin uppers and square leather laces for a timeless look.
You can’t talk about work boots without mentioning Red Wing. The American brand is perhaps the best-known work boot brand on the face of the earth, with a number of instantly recognisable, iconic styles in its lineup.
Its bestselling design is the 6” Moc boot, which boasts oily leather uppers, a Goodyear-welted wedge sole and classic looks that’ll keep it in your rotation for many years to come.
Danner is another American brand famous for its high-quality boots. It was the first company to put a Gore-Tex liner in a hiking boot, setting the standard for decades to come.
Danner still produces many of its classic styles in its Portland factory, including the Mountain Light, which is a traditional leather hiking boot that’s beloved by everyone from mountaineers and manual workers to James Bond, who famously wore a pair in Spectre.
Austrailia’s Blundstone has been making durable slip-on boots for daily working life in Tasmania and beyond since the 1850s. They’re simple, long lasting, easy to wear and don’t cost the earth. What more would you want?
Wisconsin’s Chippewa has been making work boots for well over a century. The brand is known for its extreme, rugged designs that have made it a go-to option for everyone from loggers to construction workers.
The range includes everything from snake boots to steel-toe rigger boots, but there are some more casual styles that’ll appeal to those looking for a solid daily driver. The Edge Walker, for example, is a classic moc-toe work boot that’ll look great with a pair of jeans.
Thorogood is another American shoemaker that specialises in high-quality work boots. The brand’s American Heritage moc-toe boot is a great alternative to Red Wing, with a slightly more streamlined silhouette and the same overall arrangement of features.
It’s available in either 6” or 8” length and made in the USA using local parts and materials.
Timberland’s iconic 6″ yellow boot might just be one of the most recognisable pieces of footwear there is. Its fanbase runs the gamut from builders to rappers, all of whom hold it in high regard for its striking aesthetics, sturdy build and versatility.
If you’re looking for a classic work boot with a round-toe design and simple good looks, this is the pinnacle.