This is a common question that we hear a lot from our customers. Much will depend on the environment, the type of work being done, how hard an individual is on their boots and the style and attributes of the footwear. For example, there can be a big difference in longevity from walking on a warehouse floor vs. digging a ditch with a shovel.
Although there isn't a hard fast answer, most footwear when worn every day, will need to be replaced at about a year. This is a very common consensus with most footwear manufactures. The boot or shoe may still look functional on the outside but is most likely worn out on the inside. Generally, after a year, the insole has worn thin and no longer offers much if any support and the lining has absorbed continuous moisture and worn thin. Again, this will depend on individual variables so the footwear could wear out sooner.
However, you can extend the life of work footwear by doing a few things.
Alternate the boots you wear every day. If you have two pair, you will extend the life of both by more than double when you wear each one every other day. Your feet can produce about 2 cups of sweat each day. When not allowed to fully dry, the prolonged moisture in the boots will result in faster breakdown. Allowing the lining, upper, midsole and insole to fully dry out before wearing again will extend the life of boot.
If you don't have two pair of boots to alternate with, get a pair of cedar shoe trees to put in your boots when you take them off. The cedar will absorb the moisture and help make them smell better at the same time. Replace the insole that came with the boot with a new insole. Make sure to get one that is made to the size of your shoe and not any thicker than what it originally had. If the insole is too thick in the forefoot, it can end up making your shoes uncomfortable in the toes.
Regarding protective toe footwear, if an incident has occurred or anything has fallen on the safety shoes, they will probably need replaced. A steel or alloy toe will dent and in most cases be very obvious that it has been damaged. A composite safety toe will not be as obvious. The toe cap can crack and no longer be safe to wear but not be easily seen or felt. The safest rule of thumb is if anything has fallen onto the safety toe or metatarsal, the boots should be replaced to insure safety.
If the safety toe cap or the metatarsal plate is exposed under the leather, like this one here, you need to replace the shoe. Anytime the safety toe or metatarsal is exposed, the feature is no longer 100% safe and needs to be replaced.
We have all heard the stories of the person that has had the same work shoes for years and they are just fine. This is usually the same person that can't believe how comfortable their new work shoes are when they get a pair. Yes, you can make boots or shoes last for years but if you are wearing them every day, they are just not going to be comfortable. The insole is worn out and the outsole is wearing thin. The traction is gone and so is the cushion. There is nothing worse than working 8 to 10 hours a day in a pair of shoes or boots that are not comfortable, not to mention the other ailments that can come from insufficient supportive footwear such as back ache, leg pain, etc. Give your feet the support they deserve and require.
About the author
Dave, now retired, was the Director of Sales & Operations for Lehigh CustomFit.