Zero Drop Work Boots – The Best Barefoot and Minimalist Safety Shoes on the Market

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Traditional work boots are extremely stiff, heavy, and heeled. While this may protect you in the short term, it can cause real damage to your feet over time. But if you need protection what choice do you have? A few, it turns out. Let’s examine how zero drop barefoot/minimalist work boots offer a better alternative for your feet than the traditional work boot.

Welcome to Episode 2 of Wear This, Not That!

A close up of a pair of feet wearing the men's Keen Utility Boot

Barefoot Vs. Traditional

But first, what do you even look for in a shoe and how do zero drop work boots compare with traditional ones? Below on the right you’ll see an example of an industry standard work boot. Keen is a brand Justin and I wore for years before switching to barefoot shoes. They are extremely durable and very well made (we still have a pair these Keen watershoes that are 12 years old and completely intact). But we’ve had to ditch almost all of their models because the thick, stiff soles and huge heels are just not working for our bodies.

Vivobarefoot Tracker Vs. Keen Utility

On the left is a “barefoot” or minimalist shoe that lets your feet move the way nature intended. Completely flat, flexible, and spacious in the toes, this shoe contains all the vital features that keep your feet healthy and strong.

A barefoot shoe like the one on the left is the goal. But depending on your work requirements, you many need to make some compromises. Shoe brands have yet to step up to the challenge of truly healthy minimalist work boots that are also safety rated (Want to change that? Vote with your dollars for minimalist footwear and share this message!). In the meantime, I’ve scoured the web for the best alternatives.

Here we examine 9 different options that come as close to the ideal as possible, so you can choose what’s best for you. Let’s dig in.

Minimalist Work Boots Comparison Table

 Birkenstock QS 700Vivobarefoot TrackerGaucho Ninja CarpenterCaterpillar BrodeFugu Sa MeLem's Waterproof BoulderMarugo Magic SafetyBelleville Mini MilReebok Soyay
a close up of the birkenstock qs 700 barefoot work boota close up of the vivobarefoot tracker barefoot hiking boota close up of a pair of gaucho ninja minimalist handmade work boots sitting on the tableclose up of the zero drop steel toe safety shoe caterprillar brode in blacka close up of the fugu sa me japanese steel toe minimalist bootsclose up of the lems waterproof minimalist boulder boot in browna close up of the marugo magic safety tabi barefoot bootclose up of the belleville mini mil tactical boot for men in blackclose up of the reebok soyay safety shoe in blue for men
Zero Drop
Wide
Flexible
Reinforced Toe
*Steel

*Fiber

*Steel

*Steel

*Composite

*Steel
Over the ankle
Waterproof*Water
resistant
Vegan
Safety Rated*Military
approved
Shop$1501$240$465$90$95$165$45$145$90

*scroll right for more comparisons

1Price varies by location

1. Birkenstock QS 700

Zero Drop | Wide | Flexible | Steel Toe | Water Resistant | Over the Ankle | Vegan | Safety Rated

The Birkenstock QS 700 work boots are hands down the best barefoot work boots on the market. They have a steel toe, are slip & electrical hazard resistant, and come up over the ankle. And that’s not even to mention the fact that they are zero drop, have a spacious toe box, and can bend and flex. Oh, and vegan too. The Birk QS 700 is a unicorn in the world of natural footwear! And if you don’t need over the ankle, the QS 500 & 400 from Birkenstock has all the same specs.

Note – these work boots come with a supportive footbed that needs to be removed or replaced to meet barefoot shoe requirements – see a list of barefoot friendly insoles here. Justin swapped them out for NorthSole insoles and is now good to go in his Birkenstock QS 700s.

Safety Specs: steel toe (200 joules) with scratch-resistant toe cap; penetration-resistant, metal-free, nonslip, and oil- and petrol-resistant outsole (P, SRC, FO); energy absorption around heel (E); antistatic protection (A). Safety shoe certified in accordance with EN ISO 20345:2011

Sizing: We ordered Justin one size up for toe space, and this turned out to be a good idea. They feel spacious enough and he has some room to spread out, but they still aren’t as wide as his favorite barefoot shoes. Unless you have narrow feet, I would also recommend sizing up.

The trickiest thing about these barefoot work boots is that they are not available in all countries. See below a few of the places where they are found. If you are unable to find them on your local Birkenstock website, Zami (located in Spain) does ship worldwide. I bought mine from Amazon Germany, but the seller is no longer shipping to the US. So Zami is the only one I know of currently that does!

Birkenstock QO 700

The QO 700 is a work boot with all the features of the Birkenstock QS 700, but no steel toe. These ones are available more readily around the world, and can easily be bought on Amazon.

2. Vivobarefoot Tracker

Zero Drop | Wide | Flexible | Waterproof | Over the Ankle

The Vivobarefoot Tracker is a sturdy boot with padding and a tough leather exterior. It goes up over the ankle, has a puncture resistant outsole, and lugs for traction. This boot also meets all my requirements for healthy footwear and is an excellent choice if you only need a light work boot. It does not have a steel toe and isn’t safety rated, so if that’s a requirement for you consider other options. Here you can find my full review of the Tracker.

Sizing advice: Runs Small, size up 1 size

3. Gaucho Ninja Carpenter

Zero Drop | Wide | Flexible | Reinforced Toe | Over the Ankle

When it comes to quality, Gaucho Ninja are some of the best barefoot shoes around. Lisandro hand makes barefoot carpenter boots with a reinforced fiber toe and can customize them to your requests. He also offers a fully bespoke version that is made to the exact shape and volume of your foot (but costs more). They are 100% barefoot approved and highly functional, but the high cost might be a deterrent for some – let’s be honest, it’s a deterrent for me.

However, it must be said that these are the only boots on this list that can be resoled and repaired at your local cobbler. If you are in work boots all day every day and want healthy feet, investing in something that will not damage you AND can last forever might be worth it. *Note – The images above are of the Gaucho Ninja work boots, used with permission from Lisandro. The boots I tried and reviewed are not reinforced in the toe.*

Sizing advice: True to size

Use code ANYASREVIEWS for 10% your Gaucho Ninja order!

Levi, a reader here, got some of the custom Gaucho Ninja Carpenter boots for work. Here is Levi’s feedback on them:

“Well first off they are beautiful boots. Craftsmanship is superb. I never owned custom boots before. They’re expensive. Which makes it hard working in them. I’m glad to have them! I wish I would have tried the Birkenstock QS 700 first. I might get them for back up. [Lisandro’s] boots work great, they are functional and meet all my work requirements. The fact that the boots can be repaired makes the price easier to digest. I’ll get the soles replaced when they wear out. They are the heavy duty tyre 8m. I seem to wear out the soles on most minimal shoes before the rest of the shoe has gone bad.”
Levi

4. Caterpillar Brode

Zero Drop | Steel Toe | Water Resistant | Safety Rated

The Caterpillar Brode is the first safety-rated shoe we’re looking at. It has a steel toe, anti-slip outsole, and electrical hazard protection. It is completely zero drop (with and without the insole), but the sole is thick and stiffer than is ideal for natural foot function. The toe box is also narrow and feels somewhat restrictive, but if steel toe is what you require it is a good compromise. Unfortunately this model isn’t made in the over-the-ankle style anymore.

Sizing Advice: Get Wide and size up for extra toe space

5. Fugu Sa Me

Zero Drop | Flexible | Steel Toe | Over the Ankle | Water Resistant

The Fugu Sa-Me has a steel toe, is zero drop, and comes up over the ankle. It is lightweight, flexible, and foot-friendly, but the material is thin around the ankles and not very protective. I wish the toe box was wider, but you could easily size up for more space because the velcro can get you a secure fit. This is one of my top picks for a compromise shoe, but isn’t safety rated. Note that sizing is from EU 37-47, so won’t fit all men and women.

Sizing Advice: True to Size, but could size up for toe space

Power Ace Safety – $45-60 depending on size These Power Ace boots look almost exactly the same and have the same specs, but they are half the price and look to be about half the quality as well. I think the Fugu boots are much nicer, but for the price the Power Ace might work great for you.

Power Ace Safety Boot

6. Lem’s Waterproof Boulder

Zero Drop | Wide | Flexible | Over the Ankle | Waterproof

The Lem’s Boulder boot is zero drop, spacious in the toes, and flexible. It has a thick sole to protect you from sharp objects and is padded around the ankle. The toe box is not reinforced, and overall the upper is thinner than in the Vivobarefoot Tracker mentioned above. This is a protective shoe, but not super heavy duty. The best part about it is that it is a true minimalist shoe and will be good for your feet. Watch my video review of them on YouTube here. European readers can purchase Lems from Unterwegs Mit Dir to save on shipping and returns.

Sizing Advice: Runs Small, size up 1/2 size

7. Marugo Magic Safety

Zero Drop | Wide | Flexible | Composite Toe | Over the Ankle | Vegan

This shoe might look very different from what you’re used to seeing in a work zone, but it checks the boxes. Zero drop, thin, flexible, space for your toes AND a composite toe (Note that the Amazon listing states steel toe, but after research I am fairly certain it is a composite and not steel). Not to mention that it is less than $50. The biggest drawback is that the sizing is limited and won’t fit all men and women, and that the material is thin and not protective around the ankles. Oh, and you’ll need to wear toe or tabi socks.

Sizing Advice: True to Size

8. Belleville Mini Mil

Wide | Flexible | Over the Ankle | Military Approved

The Mini-Mil is a military approved tactical boot that also has a nice wide toe box, flexible sole, and is aaaalmost flat. A 2 mm heel rise makes these not zero drop, but if a tactical boot is what you need these are the best option. They are high above the ankle so would also work for hunting/farming/swampy conditions. Downside: Does not come in women’s.

Sizing Advice: True to size, choose Wide for more space.

9. Reebok Soyay

Steel Toe | Safety Rated | Zero Drop

This is my least favorite of the ones I tested. The toe box is very tapered and pointy and the sole is super thick. It does have a safety toe and is zero drop with the insole removed, so might meet the requirements of some people. Sure looks cool for a safety shoe! We tried my husband’s normal size in a wide width and he was pretty uncomfortable in them.

Sizing Advice: Choose Wide and size up for toe space

Conclusion

While my searches yielded some viable options (unexpected good finds from Japan) we need more. Shoe brands, it’s time to step up and make work shoes with long-term foot health in mind. Safety-rated work boots for the foot-conscious individual are the next step in the barefoot movement. Let’s raise our voices and let shoe brands know that we are here, and we are ready to buy better shoes from whomever can deliver!

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Comments

25 thoughts on “Zero Drop Work Boots – The Best Barefoot and Minimalist Safety Shoes on the Market”

      1. It would be very helpful if this article included whether or not the shoes are ASTM rated. In the U.S. OSHA requires certain types of workers to wear ASTM rated shoes, so anyone needing a steel toed shoe for a professional environment would have to know whether the shoes are ASTM rated first and foremost. Home Depot has a very good, brief article explaining ASTM ratings, here: https://www.homedepot.com/c/osha_approved_shoes

        Unfortunately few of these are.
        The Brode has these, as pulled from one eBay seller:
        ASTM F2413-11 I/75 C/75 F2413-05 1/75 EH

        Anything custom can’t have a ASTM rating, since they would have to make a bunch of extras to test.

    1. I’ve been in contact with xero shoe in boulder, CO. They are working on developing a shoe that would meet the needs of the service industry. In the mean time I’ve been using this shoes for crews without their foot bed. Which seems to make them zero rise. Go with the wide option as well. They don’t really hold up for more than 6mo. They are cheap though. Compared to most shoes. Shoes for crews have the best non slip tread. At least that’s what I have concluded. I’ve tried a bunch of non slip shoes. Their shoes won’t slip even on greasy floors in the kitchen.

      https://www.shoesforcrews.com/sfc3/index.cfm?changeWebsite=US_en&route=c_store.viewDetailsOfProduct&partnumber=34257

      1. I would love to transition my husband from his incredibly heavy, stiff, heeled work boots. I’m sure they contribute to his aching back and general body malaise. Hard to find barefoot combat boots with a safety toe though! I’ll keep looking and hoping!

        1. It sure is hard! I just reached out to Keen and Birkenstock imploring them to bring back some of their older models that were completely flat but over the ankle and safety rated. For people who need to wear them all day it would make a big difference.

  1. Anya, thanks for a great post! I’ve been wearing Lem’s for awhile (off and on) and have beat a pair of Birkenstock Arran sneakers to death…but they’re one of the most comfortable things I can find. I recently learned that an Amazon seller is now shipping the (your not reviewed) QO and QS Birkenstock shoes to the states. Not cheap, but I’m VERY happy with the purchase of the QO 700 shoes I received from Germany (3 days after I ordered!). They are stiffer than the Arran sneakers as one would expect, but otherwise fit the same and appear to be the same quality Birks are known for.

      1. Jennifer Scheibling

        I don’t understand why most safety shoes are so heavy, thick, and inflexible!? For some industries I understand why those features might be beneficial, for many they are not. I work in a plant, concrete floors, we need safety toe shoes that are leather or waterproof! Inflexible soles are not a plus and prevent the feet from flexing as they are supposed to on the hard concrete. Over the ankle boots are not an asset, I’m not worried about twisting an ankle while walking around on flat, dry concrete. Why does the safety shoe industry not recognize this huge segment of the market???? Everyone who works in a warehouse, plant, factory, etc. would benefit from zero drop, flexible safety shoes! The industry needs to wake up! There are so many people who probably have serious foot, leg, hip, back, neck issues from wearing heavy, inflexible work shoes and they’re all probably thinking that it is because they are on their feet all day. For many I’m certain that is not the problem! So frustrating! Is there an appropriate place/organization to write and express this frustration that will somehow reach the entire industry? ~ Thanks

        1. The barefoot shoe brands definitely know the need and are working on finding solutions, but you can reach out to the big brands that are already making safety shoes(just not barefoot ones) – like Keen. Keen used to make a good zero drop boot with a wide toe box and stopped in both a high and low cut. Let them know we want them back again!

  2. Just thought I’d throw this out there. Some industries require a heel on a safety shoe sicne it acts as a safety feature. If a foot slips while climbing a ladder, the heel can help catch the foot, or keep it from slipping in the first place. I work in the chemical industry and occasionally have to climb up ladders on the sides of towers or tanks to get to a roof, having a slight heel really helps in those situations.

    1. Wouldn’t a flexible shoe negate that benefit though? If I’m climbing anything I don’t want any encumbrances whatsoever, a heel on my shoe can’t do anything better than the heel on my foot.

  3. Are the Birkenstock QS 700 Micro Fiber fairly light weight? I’m eyeing the Birkenstock QS 500 Micro Fiber. They look to be the same except for low top. You can’t get the Birkenstock QS 700 on Amazon.de anymore, but they do have the QS. 500.

    I’ve been wearing the Reebok Soyay since October and they are killing me. They are zero drop, but after months they remain stiff, heavy and squish your toes like a pair of Chuck Taylors. They are a cruel, cruel shoe.

    1. Rory,
      Thanks for the heads up on the Amazon seller. Bummer that they’ve stopped shipping to the US. I did some research and found another seller that ships to the US:
      https://www.zapatillas-minimalistas.com/es/trabajo-y-seguridad/1461-botas-de-seguridad-birkenstock-qs700-microfibra.html#/52-talla-39/157-color-black

      They also carry the QS 500, which has all the same specs but is just a low top model. So whether you get it from Amazon Germany or Zami in Spain, it should be a good option too.

  4. I saw someplace that the DeWalt Plasma is zero drop work boot if you take out the insole. How do you check if shoe or boot is zero drop?

    1. Good find! I will check those out. You can determine if they’re zero drop with a pair of calipers, or by contacting the manufacturer (sometimes they don’t know though).

  5. Hola Anya… Love what you are doing! Been my ‘go to’ learning for my natural foot journey… Thank you for your guidance and sharing your knowledge.. love it! Quick question though, I am trying to buy the Birkenstock QO 700 through your Amazon link. But when it goes to Amazon website, it doesn’t allow to enter in a size for the shoe. Any help with this is much appreciated… Cheers!

    1. Hey there! You are right, I tried it myself and wasn’t able to figure it out. My only advice is to reach out to the store (European Brands-US) and see if they can help. I might need to do some research and find a replacement link.

  6. Love your article. I love wearing zero drop shoes. My employer, a railroad, requires shoes with a defined heel. A safety requirement for climbing on ladder rungs on and off trains. I wish could find a zero drop boot with a defined heel. I am forced to make a choice of wearing legal boots and being in pain, or be in comfort and risk being sent home by a supervisor.

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Hi. I'm Anya.

Hi. I'm Anya.

I first discovered barefoot shoes after a long history of foot issues. By changing my footwear and strengthening my body I was able to completely transform my life. Anya’s Reviews is my way of sharing with the world that healthy feet are happy feet!

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