Work Boots: The Cheap, The Expensive, and The Painful

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I frequent welding forums and a common topic of discussion I see frequently is, “should I spend the money on [insert expensive quality boot manufacturer]?  I’ve been involved in the industrial construction industry since the age of 19 (I’m now 30).  My first construction job was as a temp power installer, making around $12 an hour.  My first pair of boots was a pair of Brahma’s from my local Walmart.  They were light, comfortable (at least in store) and most importantly (at the time) cheap, around $40 I believe.  They were my first pair of steel toe boots and at the time I was unaware that I have wide feet.  My first day in those boots is a day that I can recall almost like it was a few minutes ago.
By about the second hour of my shift, I was ready to call it a day.  Both feet, on both sides of my feet were swollen and getting rubbed raw due to the steel toe being to narrow for my foot.  I sucked it up and made it through my shift, but my feet paid the price.  My feet were seriously blistered by the time I got home.  When I arrived home my Grandfather asked me about my day (I lived with both of my Grandparents at the time), I explained to him the actual work portion of my day wasn’t bad, but my boots made me want to quit a few hours into my shift.  In all his wisdom he was quick to reply, “did you buy regular or wide boots?” I explained to him I didn’t even know wide boots were an option.  He told me to always buy wide boots when purchasing steel toes, even if the normal size feels comfortable when you initially try them on.  After my lecture on proper boot sizing, he ended up loaning me the money to purchase a pair of quality boots.  I went to my local Sears and purchased a pair of tan leather Timberland Pros (and some thick work socks).  They kept my feet warm and dry, a bit heavy, but very comfortable.  Those boots lasted me my entire electrical career, a little over 2 years (I was fired for a brand new spool of 4 ought wire falling from my truck on the freeway, but that’s a different story for a different time).
My next job was as a laborer for a chemical cleaning company that serviced everything from crude refineries to Jelly Belly.  I believe my prized Timberlands lasted me 2-3 months in the refineries, before the toe wore through and the chemicals began to eat at the stitching on the soles.  Being a hard partying 20 year old, I was broke and had to resort back to a pair of Herman Survivors from Wally World (Walmart) and this time, I made sure to purchase them wide.  My original plan was to wear them until my next paycheck then buy another pair of quality boots, but after wearing them for a couple days and feeling how light and comfortable they were, I decided to get creative.  I knew the sole wouldn’t last that long, maybe 4-5 months, but long enough for me to pay my bills and party without having a week off from drinking, definitely long enough to save for a couple hundred dollar pair.  I had to make sure the upper and sole stitching lasted at least as long as the soles.  I went out and purchased a pair of toe protectors to keep the toe from wearing through prematurely and ran a bead of flexible silicone around the perimeter of boot to protect the stitching from chemicals.  This worked amazingly well and I was able to wear those boots until the sole was worn flat, about 5 months.
My first (and only) pair of Red Wings came courtesy of my next employer. The company had (and I believe still have) a deal with Red Wings where they would give you a voucher good for one pair of boots (of any price I believe) at a 15% discount. The money is deducted out of your weekly check in increments (I believe it was $25 a week). I can’t remember the exact model, but they’re 8″ boots and I’ve had them for so long they don’t even make them anymore. I paid around $220, but it was one of the best investments I’ve made in my career. Being on your feet for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, for months at a time is not something you want to do with a cheap pair of boots on your feet. I still have this pair of boots (for over 5 years now) and just had them re-soled early last year because I wore a hole in the sole that allowed my feet to get wet. I don’t wear them much anymore because I spend most of my time welding in a pair of wellington’s (to keep my laces and feet from getting burnt), but should I need them, they are ready for action.
The cheap Walmart boots have greatly improved in fit and comfort, but the soles still only last months (I plan to see if I can get a pair resoled and will let everyone know how it goes) so, you will have to purchase up to a few pair a year, at which point you will have spent just as much for a quality boot, but you if that’s all you can afford, you have to do what you have to do. Having said that, to answer the question of, “should I spend the money on a pair of [expensive boot manufacturer]?” In my opinion, definitely, YES!

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