Nothing beats the ease of pull-on work boots to start or end your day. No arguments there. But finding a quality pair of pull-on work boots isn’t always always a straightforward process. There are a number of different features to consider before honing in on one specific model.
In this article I’ve reviewed the following soft & safety toed pull-on boots:
- Irish Setter Work Men’s 83912 Marshall 11″ Pull-On Steel Toe Waterproof Work Boot | [Safety+Soft Toe]
- Caterpillar Men’s Revolver Pull-On Soft Toe Boot | [Soft+Safety Toe Option]
- Ariat Men’s Workhog Pull-on Waterproof Pro Work Boot | [Soft+Safety Toe Option]
- Wolverine Men’s W04727 Wolverine Boot | [Soft Toe]
- Dr. Martens Men’s Icon 2295 Steel Toe Heavy Industry Boots | [Safety+Soft Toe]
- Justin Original Work Boots Men’s J-Max Pull-On Work Boot | [Soft + Safety Toe]
Pull-On Boots vs. Slip-On Boots:
Pull-on & Slip-on. Too often you’ll hear these two terms used interchangeably even by shoe-store associates. This is a bad practice, as there are key distinctions between the two types:
Shaft Size (Height)
Pull-on work boots are taller than slip-on work boots. The height often ranges from mid-calf to right below the knees. An average pull-on boot may come in at 10”-12″ in height, while a slip-on boot will rarely go above an inch or two above the ankle.
The difference in height dictates the best use environments for each type. Pull-on boots are taller and more suited to guard against hazards in wet environments.
The shorter slip-on boots work well when you’re doing a lot of lifting or need to remain versatile on your feet. They are lighter and less bulky than their counterpart. You’ll also have better ventilation and each step will feel lighter. The reduced weight may not seem like a big deal, but it adds up if you’re working 8-10 hours a day.
Pull-On Boots vs. Cowboy Boots
Many pull-on work boots come with plain or simplistic decor. Cowboy boots, on the other hand, are far from plain. Have you ever seen a naked or decoration-free cowboy boot?
This emphasis on decor has changed the landscape for many cowboy boot manufacturers. People are using them less for actual work; opting to wear them as a fashion accessory or fashion statement instead. For pull-on work boots, functionality is at the forefront not decor. For cowboy boots, it’ll vary by the brand & the specific model.
Advantages of Pull-On Work Boots Over Lace-up Boots:
My absolute favorite feature is the no-hassle factor. Grab your jacket, pull on your boots, and off you go. No need to deal with messy laces. Especially in the truck during freezing temperatures. Half frozen fingers with a numb thumb make them seem impossible to tie.
There’s also a safety angle to the no-lace feature. You’ll never find your laces caught between heavy machinery or soaked in a nasty chemical. Do you carry a lot of heavy materials around? You won’t have to worry about tripping over them either.
Durability & Comfort
A bit more peace of mind comes with pull-on boots. There are no holes or crevices that might allow something to slip through. Instead, you have a tough piece of leather sheathing your entire legs & feet.
You also have a leg up on reliability. No chance of broken laces, defective eyelets, or ripped tongues. Your morning boot-up routine is always simple & efficient. You only need to slip into a soft and moisture wicking lining to be ready to go.
Getting rid of the bulky lace-up contraption does wonders in the aesthetic category. The trademark minimalistic design shines a spotlight on the leather. They look rugged and up for any job. But also sleek enough that you could wear them to Sunday family dinner.
The uniform shell also makes cleaning & maintenance a breeze. No more cumbersome undoing of laces. Or time spent picking out dirt that’s lodged in small crevices. Oiling is much easier too. No bulky tongue to have to work around.
Disadvantages of Pull-on Work Boots over Lace-up Boots:
It’s hard to beat the custom fit and stability that lace-up boots provide. Done right & they’ll hug to your feet better than any pull-on boot ever can. You’ll have more support, giving away to better footing & gait. For those suffering from plantar fasciitis or bad ankles, I’d recommend making the switch to lace-ups. The added support should make your feet feel better.
In general, lace-up boots breathe better. The gaps and vents work with the liner to keep moisture from building up. For pull-on boots you’re dependent almost solely on the lining to keep your feet dry. Leaving you more prone to sweat filled & stinky boots.
Looser Opening (Mouth of Boot)
I’ve known a few welders that have sworn off pull-on boots after finding stray sparks making their way in. If you’re worried about debris or liquid entering through the top, you’ll need to go with the better securing lace-up type.
Not All Workplaces Allow It
Make sure your boss is okay with pull-on boots. I’ve known some workplaces that have strict guidelines and only allow for lace-up boots. There’s no harm in double checking!
Features to Consider in a Pull-On Work Boot:
Length or Shaft Size
Your first consideration is how tall you want your pull-on work to be. Taller boots protect better but it’ll weigh more and bog down your maneuverability.
- Mid-Calf and Taller – This length is perfect for those working in wet or muddy conditions. The added length also binds better to your feet and legs, paving the way for a snugger feeling. You won’t have the usual stability & footing problems associated with a loose boot.
- Ankle to Mid-Calf – This height is better suited for dry or indoor work. You won’t have the extra length to protect your legs, but your feet will feel lighter and less constricted. I’d recommend this height for those needing to do a lot of lifting or having to be quick on you feet. Longer boots not only weigh you down but have a tendency to cut of circulation when bending down.
Overall Comfort and Snugness
No laces means, you’ll need to be more mindful about how it fits on the different parts of your leg/feet.
Pay particular close attention to the fit on your calves (middle of boot). You want to err on the side of snug rather than loose, as the leather will stretch out and loosen in a few days. A loose middle section translates to that “loose boot” feeling. It’s uncomfortable, less stable, and you’re more likely to chance upon an accident.
For stockier legged folks, you’ll need to spend a bit more time finding a wider calved boot. The added comfort from the correct circumference will be well worth the extra effort.
Ease of Use
The whole point of a pull-on boot is the convenience that comes with the pull-on feature! But believe it or not, not all pull-on experiences are well designed. There are some boots that make the shaft to vamp transition anything but smooth. You’ll know right away because it’ll feel like you’re having to fight to get your foot in.
The ankle area tends to take the most wear on pull-on boots. It makes sense then, that a quality boot will reinforce this area. It should have better stitching and extra padding. When done right it’ll keep your boots rigid and tall, not sad & slouching.
This is more of a case-by-case scenario. That said, I’m always a fan of shedding as much unneeded weight as possible. If you need steel-toe or composite toe boots – absolutely get them! But if you can do without them, I’d give your legs a break and opt for less weight.
Pay attention to the quality of the leather used. The closer to full-grain you can get to, the more durable it’ll be. They’ll last longer and protect you better from punctures & deep scratches.
On the inside, be sure to check for signs of a quality lining. Most lining will feel soft and padded. But the main difference between a cheap & quality lining is how well it wicks away moisture. One of the drawbacks of pull-on boots is the subpar ventilation. When your foot heats up you’ll be relying on the lining and your socks to keep your feet dry.
One last point about waterproofing. Leather does a good job of repelling water, but submerged long enough and water will eventually leak in. For those needing a 100% waterproof boot, you’ll need to go with rubber casing. The downside is that rubber is less durable than leather and doesn’t breathe well (if at all).
Pull-on Work Boots & Pull-on Safety Work Boots Reviewed:
I’ve compiled a list of what I consider the best soft-toe pull-on work boots and the best safety toe pull-on work boots. Which one is right for you will depend on your budget & what characteristics are important to you. Some of these boot models come in both toe styles and where applicable I’ve indicated as such [soft+safety toe option].
Irish Setter Work Men’s 83912 Marshall 11″ Pull-On Steel Toe Waterproof Work Boot | [Safety+Soft Toe]
The 11” Marshall boots come encased in a full grain waterproof leather. I’m a fan of the proprietary UltraDry Technology that Irish Setter uses in these boots. Your feet will remain dry come rain, mud, or even oil.
Not only does it keep moisture out but the boot does a good job of preventing moisture (sweat) from building up. This is a difficult feat to achieve. The more waterproof a boot is, the less able it is to breathe. My hat goes off to the quality of the lining and airflow design built into the Marshall series.
For many years this particular model seemed bogged down by the quality of leather. It was either too thin or poorly constructed. This caused the boot to fall apart even under moderate use. In the last few years Irish Setter has rectified this problem. The leather it now comes with is thicker and feels better to the touch. The quality is more in-line with the craftsmanship you’d expect from this brand.
Irish Setter is a part of the Red Wing Shoes family. You can expect the feel and comfort to be on par with other models. The pull-on experience is easy. The square toebox is roomy. And the sole does a good job of absorbing much of the impact.
If I had one complaint, I’d say that the stock insoles are mediocre at best. They don’t last long and when they wear down you can feel the hardness of the ground pounding through. To remedy this, I’d recommend upgrading to a quality aftermarket insole instead.
- Built waterproof – foot is dry even in wet, muddy, or oil conditions
- Comfortable out of the box – little break in period
- Square toebox is roomy – even wider footed individuals should have enough room
- Quality design & construction – pulls on easily, comfortable to wear, and absorb shock well
- Had leather quality issues in past – the problem looks to be corrected with new batches built with thick quality leather
- Stock insole is mediocre – I’d recommend you upgrade to a better aftermarket insole
These boots also come in a soft toe option. Click here to see more details about these Soft-Toe Irish Setter Men’s Marshall 11″ Pull-on Square Toe Waterproof Work Boot.
These 11” soft toe boots are a steal for the value you’re getting. The stylish uppers are crafted with thick quality full-grain leather, making for a sturdy boot with a long-lived life span. It’s mounted on dense outsoles finished with aggressive treads. You’ll have plenty of grip even on oily or wet surfaces. Embedded in the sole is a steel shank that’ll give added support and safety. Above all, I love how light these feel on your feet. Usually the sturdier a boot the heavier it tends to be. Not in this case.
For the pull-on experience, you’ll find that the Revolver’s come with two pull on straps for better leverage. These boots have a narrow boot shaft and footbed making it a tough sell for wide feet or stockier legged folks. They do offer a wide size, but even that size feels a bit skinny. For all other foot types, you’ll find that footbed feels snug, but not too tight. The lining is mediocre and so is the insole. For a more comfortable experience I’d wear thicker socks and replace the insoles for an aftermarket pair.
- Made of thick full-grain quality leather – durability built construction
- Lightweight without compromising on durability
- Thick outsoles with aggressive treads – get good grip on slick or oily surfaces
- Comes with a steel shank – feels more supportive
- Narrower boot shaft & footbed – not for wide feet or for stockier legged folks
- Takes a while to break in
- Lining is mediocre
- Mediocre insole – would recommend putting in aftermarket insole
The 10” semi-western inspired Workhog Pro feels comfortable straight out of the box. The EVA midsole works well to add to the comfort, but it’s the extra wide composite shank that shines through. Your foot will feel more supported and in control when moving around.
This soft toe boot comes with a full-grain quality leather encasing. Despite how thick the leather is, it feels surprisingly lightweight. Brand new, the whole boot does feel a bit tight. Fortunately over the next week or so they’ll stretch and loosen up a bit. I’ve also noticed that the boot profile is of a narrower fashion too. It does come in a wide option, but even in this width it keeps the narrower profile. Those with truly extra wide feet may need to look elsewhere.
My favorite feature is the U-turn entry system that’s built into these boots. The addition of a hidden flexible back panel makes for one of the easiest & most comfortable pull on experiences you can find. Each boot comes with the obligatory dual pull-on loops but you probably won’t be using them much.
No issues on the durability, but I am a bit disappointed with the waterproofing feature. Even though these come with a goodyear welt stitching, they have a bad tendency to leak through the seams. I also wish Ariat would design a better ventilating lining. The lining is comfortable but does a poor job of keeping these boots breathing.
- Comfortable out of the box – minimal break in period
- Extra wide composite shank – more stability and control when moving around
- Thick full-grain leather casing – sign of quality craftsmanship
- Waterproofing is disappointing – tendency to leak through seams
- Narrower profile, even in wide sizing – won’t fit very wide footed individuals
- Doesn’t breath well – runs risk of puddle filled boots on hotter days.
These 10” Wolverine pull-on boots are not only stylish but well built too. It comes with a nylon shank encased in a soft but durable nubuck sueded leather. No issues with the bottom of the boot. It comes with superb treads that grip even on slick surfaces .
The removable EVA (type of cushioning) built insole is decent, and works well with the thick & quality sole. Unlike other boots, the well functioning sole makes walking quieter. I know this sounds strange. But because of the way its built, it doesn’t come down hard. It’s a softer landing which also means no annoying skid marks on finished floors. All of this makes for a boot that’s unsurprisingly comfortable straight out of the box.
The pull on experience needs some work though. The boot comes with a skinny neck (where shaft & actual boot meet) making it difficult to pull on and off. Perhaps related, but I also felt that the ankle region fits a bit too tight. With time it does stretch, but you’ll have to deal with rubbed off ankles for a while. Those with wide feet and/or thick legs will have a hard time in this boot. Wolverine does offer a x-wide option, but even then I found the toebox to run tight.
- Comfortable out of box – stock insoles are decent and are removable.
- Leather is soft but durable – tough but easy to break in boots
- Soles designed better – Quieter to walk in and doesn’t mark up finished floors
- Treads give good grip
- Skinny boot neck – Hard to get foot in and out of easily
- Ankle region run a bit tight
- Not for wide feet or thicker legged folks – toebox runs tight on wide sizing
These 12” steel-toe boots are true to the Dr. Martens brand and built tough. They come with a 100% full grain leather shell that feels thick and strong to the touch. The treads are aggressive giving you plenty of gripping power. There is a short break-in period, after which they’ll feel as comfortable as any other Dr. Martens shoes.
The one characteristic that stand outs is the redesigned ankle region. It’s reinforced with extra padding. Your foot is better protected and the enhance ankle support gives more stability. Keep in mind that this modification adds weight, making the boot run on the heavier side.
These Dr. Martens are easy slip into and come with dual pull-on straps for added leverage. Unfortunately the calf region is a bit on the tighter side. Those with thicker calves may need to look elsewhere. I also felt that the toebox runs small. If you have wide feet I’d consider looking elsewhere.
- 100% full grain leather – thick and strong build
- Padded ankle protection – more comfort, stability, and protection
- Aggressive treads – better traction even on slippery surfaces
- Comfortable with short break in period – like most Dr. Martens
- Toebox is narrow – not for wide feet
- Fits tight around calves – need to have normal to narrow width calves
- Weighs on heavier side
Everything about these American made 11” work boots scream quality craftsmanship. The stitching is solid. The leather used is of top quality. And the overall design is nothing short of elegant. They’re built tough so you’ll have no problems getting through any type of work day. The distressed look also makes them stylish enough to wear to most non-work functions.
The stock insoles they come with are decent. They’re made from gel and work well with PU foot bedding to absorb much of the load. I’m also a fan of the propriety Dri-Lex lining technology. It does a good job of wicking away moisture while continuing to keep the air flowing. This means your feet stay cooler and drier for longer, allowing you to keep working comfortably. The pull-on experience feels good. Butknow that, like most Justin boots, they do take a while to break-in. Don’t expect them to feel comfortable straight out of the box
The part of this boot that I do not like is how the heel feels. For some reason it feels loose to me and I find my heel repeatedly slipping around. It’s hard to say what’s causing this. It might be the slightly looser ankle or a footbed design flaw. In either case, I’d recommend sizing down, wearing a thicker socks, or replacing the insole for a tighter fitting one.
- Once broken in very comfortable – well crafted & designed shock absorption
- Quality craftsmanship using top notch material – makes for a durable and long-lasting boot
- Distressed look makes for an elegant design – stylish enough to wear to non-work functions
- Good pull-on experience with quality stock insoles – feels good to walk around in
- Loose heel – need to size down, wear thicker socks, or replace the insole
- Break in period is long – not comfortable out of the box, still for weeks.
These boots also come in a steel toe option. Click here to see more details about the Justin Original Work Boots Men’s J-max Steel Toe Pull-On Steel Toed Work Shoe.
Before You Go
It’s tough to pick a winner among the ranks. I’d be happy to rely on any one of these pull-on work boots to get me through the day. Forced to choose one, I’d go with the Irish Setter Pull-On Waterproof Work Boot in either Steel-Toe or Soft-Toe.
This is a well designed and constructed boot. It’s comfortable out of the box with little, if any, break-in period. The toebox is roomy. But if that isn’t spacious enough, Irish Setter offers a wide size too. It’s easy to pull on and off and the minimalistic design makes it look rugged & good looking.
My favorite part is the waterproofing. It’s difficult to design a well functioning waterproofing feature. It’s even harder to create one that also breathes well. Waterproofing and breathability usually lie on opposite ends of the spectrum. I don’t know how they did it but Irish Setter’s managed to create a breathable and waterproof pull on work boot. My hat off to the engineers.
The only suggestion I have, has to do with the insole. The stock insole it comes with is mediocre and wears down quick. I’d recommend putting in your own aftermarket insoles for a better experience.