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Work Boot Basics: 5 Ways to Avoid Buyer’s Remorse

worn pair of work boots
Written by Nicky H

Work Boots 101: From Stall to Shop Floor

Living on a small farm means there’s always something to worry about underfoot. Whether it’s mud, thorns, snakes, or poop, our feet need protection at all times, which is why I’ve spent the past 15 years living (and riding) in work boots.

To me, a good work boot should be just as comfortable in the saddle as it is hiking a mountain, mucking out a stall, or wandering around the local mall.

That means it needs a decent heel, ideally 1 to 1.5 inches, a safety toe, and some sturdy ankle support. It also needs to be comfortable on the foot and easy on the pocket. It’s a lot to ask, but a few boots do fit the bill, as you’re about to find out.

boot stepping on nail

Source: Canva

Boot Basics: Work Boot Defined

The work boot originated in Germany soon after the Industrial Revolution which saw hundreds of workers moving away from the fields and into the factories. Thankfully, safety footwear has come a long way since the wooden clogs they wore then, and these days, a good pair of work boots can be as comfortable as a pair of slippers.

More importantly, the best work boots protect your feet from numerous threats, including chemicals and electricity, heat and fire, falling objects, water, mud, slips, trips, and clumsy hooves!

Work Boot Considerations


When you’re around horses, their heavy feet are the biggest threat to your tender little toes, but that’s not all work boots protect you from.

They also keep your feet warm in cold weather, protect you against fire hazards and electrical shocks, prevent you slipping or falling, and stop you from stubbing your toes on hard objects.


Not all work boots are particularly comfortable, although most are considerably more comfortable than what they evolved from. Fortunately, new technology is enabling manufacturers to create increasingly comfortable footwear that still provides the protection you need.

Steel toe caps can be bulky and heavy, so if a safety toe is important, you may want to opt for a composite toe for a lighter feel with plenty of protection.


Work boots are often cheaper than boots designed specifically for horse riders and also are more durable and withstand the test of time more effectively. That’s not to say you can’t spend a fortune on a good-quality pair of work boots or leave your toes exposed to potential danger by settling for a cheaper alternative.

Budget for between $85 to $200 and you’ll find a comfortable pair of boots that offer both durability and reliable protection.

Work Boot Fit

Toe (Regular vs. Safety)

Generally speaking, you don’t have to have safety toe protection in your work boots for barn chores, so many people prefer to skip this option as it can cause rubbing and calluses, especially if you’re wearing your work boots all day.

  • Composite safety toes are lighter than steel while offering the same amount of impact resistance.
  • Steel toe caps are heavier but usually more affordable than the composite alternative.

If you want to ride in your work boots, you need ones with a 1 to 1.5-inch heel.

A heel also provides more stability and balance on the ground and will stop you from sinking into squelchy mud or manure.

Uppers/Ankle Support

A lace-up work boot will support your ankles more effectively than a slip-on work boot and allows you to adjust the fit for a secure grip.

freshly cleaned work boots

Source: Canva

Work Boot Care & Cleaning

If my work boots are anything to go by, it only takes an hour or two to get them completely filthy! To keep them in good working condition, you’ll need to clean them regularly, brushing off the excess mud and dirt and using a leather soap and cloth to remove stubborn stains.

You may also want to apply waterproofing spray to increase their life expectancy.

Work Boot Lifespan

My current pair of work boots are just beginning to fall apart after nearly three years of wear. They cost twice the price of any other pair I’ve ever owned, but have lasted three times longer!

On average, a pair of work boots might only last between six months to a year, especially if you’re wearing them daily, and using them to muck out stables, trudge through muddy fields, and ride in the rain!

When to Replace Your Work Boots

Replacing your favorite pair of work boots can be a heart-breaking decision, and I often keep mine going for longer than I really should.

I usually replace mine only once they start leaking, by which point, the outer sole offers little protection, the insole is flat and offers no shock absorption, and the uppers have started “talking.”

Best Work Boots

Category Option Price Point
Best Wedge Work Boot Carhartt 6” Waterproof Wedge Steel Toe Work Boot $$
Best for Barn Work Twisted X Women’s Cowboy Work Boot $$$
Best Safety Toe Ariat Women’s Tracey Composite Toe Work Boot $$$
Best For Working & Riding Dublin Venturer Rs Boots III $
Best Waterproof Work Boot Carhartt Women’s CWP1150 Work Boot $$

Best Wedge Work Boot

Carhartt 6” Waterproof Wedge Steel Toe Work Boot

Like any wedge boot, these Carhartt work boots have a solid sole from toe to heel, making them unsuitable for riding, but they excel around the yard.

The wedge sole gives your foot more support and distributes your body weight evenly, making you more stable and reducing the risk of slips and falls. They are also waterproof, breathable, and have a steel safety toe.


  • Steel toe protection
  • Waterproof
  • The lace-up design offers more ankle support


  • The lack of heels makes them dangerous to ride in
  • Boots may take a while to break in and may cause chafing

Where to buy it: Amazon

Want to read up on more beginner riding boot options? Check out this article.

Best Boot for Barn Work

Twisted X Women’s Cowboy Work Boot

These rubber-soled, leather work boots are built for comfort with a breathable, air-mesh lining, grippy rubber soles, and flexible mid-soles. The shanked insole gives stability and support, while the full-grained leather is both water-resistant and easy to clean. They have a regular toe, making them more comfortable, and a tall enough heel to make them safe in the saddle.


  • Small heels make them suitable for riding
  • Shanked insoles provide superior stability
  • Full-grained leather is durable and water-resistant


  • Boots may run a little narrower than other brands
  • Rubber soles may not provide enough traction on slippery ground

Where to buy it: Amazon

Want to read up on more English riding boot options? Check out this article.

Best Safety Toe Boot

Ariat Women’s Tracey Composite Toe Work Boot

These stylish work boots feature a steel shank for extra stability and Ariat’s proprietary 4LR™ technology. Their women-specific design means fewer pressure points and increased comfort, while the multi-directional grip improves traction in slippery conditions.


  • Comfortable enough for all-day wear
  • Constructed to support and stabilize the foot
  • Slip-resistant sole


  • Not waterproof
  • Sizes may run a little large

Where to buy it: Amazon

Want to read up on more Western riding boot options? Check out this article.

Best Boot for Working & Riding

Dublin Venturer Rs Boots III

A synthetic rubber sole provides traction on the ground, while the heel offers stability and safety in the stirrup. A water-resistant lining keeps your feet dry, while a rubber sole keeps you steady on the ground.

The elasticized ankle makes for a perfect fit but doesn’t offer the same support as a laced boot.


  • Easy to get on and off
  • Water-resistant
  • Arch support


  • Not fully waterproof
  • Can be challenging to find the correct size

Where to buy it: Amazon

Want to read up on the best boots for mucking out horse stalls? Check out this article.

Best Waterproof Work Boot

Carhartt Women’s CWP1150 Work Boot

These work boots don’t have a safety toe to protect you against clumsy hooves, but they will keep your feet dry, even in stormy conditions.

They won’t get sweaty while you’re mucking out, nor will they cause you to slip in the mud, making them ideal for yard work. They also have a sizable enough heel to keep you safe in the saddle.


  • Shock absorbing and cushioning
  • Waterproof and slip-resistant
  • Suitable for riding


  • Boots can take a while to break in
  • These are heavy boots, making them unsuitable for walking long distances

Where to buy it: Amazon

Want to read up on more work boot options? Check out this article.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What work boots are most comfortable?

The most comfortable work boots support the ankle, stabilize the foot, have well-cushioned soles, are waterproof and breathable, and are lightweight.

Q: Should work boots be tight or loose?

Your work boots should fit snugly without putting pressure on your toes—making your feet feel like a couple of babies wrapped in blankets. If your work boots are too loose, you won’t get any support or stability and may get blisters. If they’re too tight, they’ll cause pain and chafing.

Q: Will work boots stretch?

Most work boots are made of leather, which does stretch slightly over time.

Q: What work boots are made in the USA?

Danner and Rocky both manufacture work boots in the USA, as do Chippewa, Keen, and Matterhorn.

Q: What’s the best work boot brand?

With so many leading work boot brands, it’s tough to find one that stands above the rest. Chippewa and Keen both produce good-quality work boots in the USA, while Ariat is internationally recognized for its above-average materials and construction.

Carhartt is also synonymous with rugged, hard-wearing outdoor gear.

Q: How long should work boots last?

Depending on how much you wear them and what tasks you expose them to, most work boots will last between six months to a year. If you only work a couple of hours a day they’ll, not surprisingly, last longer than if you spend all day on your feet and up to your knees in mud.

Parting Thoughts

You can do almost anything in a good pair of work boots, from mucking out a stall to going for a ride. The best work boots support and cushion your feet while protecting them and giving you extra stability, whether that’s in the saddle or around the stables.

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About the author


Nicky H