Wear This, Not That: Minimalist Work Boots to Save Your Back

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 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 minimalist work boots compare with traditional ones? On the right you’ll see an example of an industry standard work boot. Keen is a brand my husband and I wore for years before switching to minimalist shoes. They are extremely durable and very well made (we still have a pair these Keen watershoes that is 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 8 different options that came 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

 Vivobarefoot TrackerGaucho Ninja CarpenterCaterpillar BrodeFugu Sa MeLem's Waterproof BoulderMarugo Magic SafetyBelleville Mini MilReebok Soyay
a 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
*Fiber

*Steel

*Steel

*Composite

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

*scroll right for more comparisons

1. 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 my top pick for a compromise work boot. It does not have a steel toe and isn’t safety rated, so if that’s a requirement for you keep reading. Here you can fine my full review of the Tracker.

Sizing advice: Runs Small, size up 1 size

2. Gaucho Ninja Carpenter

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

When it comes to quality, Gaucho Ninja are some of the best shoes around. Lisandro hand makes 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. They are 100% barefoot approved and highly functional, but high cost might be a deterrent for some. *Note – The images above are of the GN work boots, used with permission from Lisandro. The boots I tried and reviewed are not reinforced in the toe.*

Sizing advice: True to size

3. 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

4. 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 they might work great for you.

Power Ace Safety Boot

5. 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.

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

6. 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

7. 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.

8. 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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a collage of the best barefoot minimalist hiking boots review: the Xero Xcursion, the Joe Nimble Wandertoes, the Lems waterproof boulder boot, the Freet Mudee, and the Vivobarefoot Tracker, and the text "Not Your Average Hiking Boots" superimposed

The 5 Best Barefoot Hiking Boots – Zero Drop, Flexible

Serious hiking calls for serious shoes. But if you are committed to healthy feet you’re going to want minimalist hiking boots. In this post we cover 5 of the best barefoot hiking boot options, along with barefoot hiking boots for kids.

Comments

6 thoughts on “Wear This, Not That: Minimalist Work Boots to Save Your Back”

      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.

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