Best Boots For Railroad Workers: Complete Buying Guide & Reviews

Have you been working on the railroad? All the livelong day? Railroad work has changed a lot since the days when John Henry swung his hammer but some things never do change. Moving vehicles, heavy tools, falling objects and just being on your feet for a long period of time all mean you need protective boots.

And there is one big difference between the days of the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. That would be electricity. What this means is another safety hazard boots have to be able to guard against. But, look at it this way. At least you’re not getting blown up by nitroglycerine. Cold comfort. I know.

One of the big advantages of living in the modern-day is access to new technologies that can make life easier. (After, all you’re reading this, aren’t you?) Modern technology is not limited to communication and transportation but even to little things like making your feet more comfortable. Of course, foot discomfort is one of those little things that can become a big thing if left unchecked.

best boots for railroad workers

What Should You Look for in a Railroad Worker’s Boot?

A little bit of everything is the answer! There are so many hazards on this job that you need a good pair of boots with fairly a dozen of safety features. Because of that, be prepared to read possibly the longest bullet point list ever.

  • Safety Toe Go for metal-free if you can. While protective, it is heavy and gets cold easily. A composite toe would work. it should be able to provide a 200J of impact resistance.
  • Protective Midsole It should be completely punctured proof. A steel one can work, but metal can add to foot fatigue among other problems. Composite fiberglass will do the job.
  • Anti-static Materials Static buildup can be annoying and painful. Especially when you’re working with metal. Touching something rubber helps, but if that’s not an option you can wear natural materials like wool or cotton.
  • Waterproofing You are working outdoors where the weather may not always be dry and conditions may be muddy. Gore-Tex will keep your boots waterproof while still being breathable. (more on that later)
  • Heat Resistance You want your feet to be warm, of course, but not too warm. Feet that are too hot can be as uncomfortable as feet that are too cold. The heat resistance should be up to 300 degrees Celsius (572 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • A Quick Fastening System A side zip works well. This is not just a comfort and convenience thing, though it certainly helps. If a boot gets caught in something, you’d like to be able to take your foot out quickly.
  • Impact Resistance You especially want this around the ankles. See the scenario suggested above. You not only have to think about objects falling on toes but the side of the foot being impacted.
  • Good Traction The soles of your boots should be grippy enough to handle a variety of surfaces including abrasion, water, and oil.
  • A Cushioned Insole This is something everyone needs, particularly those on their feet for long stretches of time. The insole has to above all make your feet comfortable.
  • Shock Absorbency You are not only doing a lot of standing on the job but a lot of walking as well. A midsole that absorbs shock will make every step effortless.
  • Breathability The lining of the interior must be breathable. This will keep your feet from becoming to sweaty and uncomfortable. It can even cut down on foot odor.
  • Durability You, of course, want shoes that work as hard as you do and will last a long time. Goodyear or cement construction methods are the highest quality where durability is concerned.

The Reviews:

Finding a boot that has everything you need can be a tall order. Here are the five best boots for the job. Remember that the boot that is right for one person may not be the one right for you, even if you have a similar work environment.

1. Dr. Martens Men’s Calamus Non-Metallic EH Composite Toe Boot

Dr. Martens Men's Calamus Non-Metallic Electrical Hazard Composite Toe 7-Eye Boot Black Ballistic Mesh 6 D UK

Dr. Marten is in the house! If you work on railroads, this is the perfect shoe for you. Doc Martens have gotten a reputation as a counterculture shoe, but make no mistake! These are shoes that were meant to work and keep working for a good long time. It is a boot that has just a little bit of everything.

Features and Benefits:

The breathable mesh inner lining keeps feet dry all day. The synthetic uppers are very durable and rugged. They are electrical hazard safe featuring insulation against electricity. The rubber outsole is resistant to slips, oil, and heat. The safety toe cap protects the feet from blows, meeting ASTM F2413-11 MI/75 C/75 EH standards.

The smart foam makes for a comfortable footbed. The footbed is also anti-microbial for freshness. The cemented construction is durable yet lightweight. The tongue and collar are padded for comfort.

What We Like:

  • The traction is great.
  • The boots have excellent arch support.
  • There is almost no break-in period.
  • The boots are breathable.

What We Don’t:

  • They run a bit large.

2. Carhartt Men’s 6 Work Safety-Toe NWP Work Boot

Carhartt Men's 6 Work Safety Toe NWP-M, Crazy Horse Brown Oil Tanned, 15 W US

Carhartt got famous for providing fashionable hoodies and jackets. Their line of shoes goes beyond simple fashion and delivers something reliable, dependable, comfortable and other words that end in “able”. These high-quality work boots have all the safety features you need to get the job done.

Features and Benefits:

The steel toe meets or exceeds the ASTM 2413-11, EH safety standards. The tried but true lace-up system has metal eyelets to ensure a secure fit. The padded collar and tongue add to the comfort. FastDry® technology in the lining wicks away sweat for dry comfort that will help you stay focused on your work.

The lightly cushioned textile footbed underfoot adds further comfort and support. The flexible rubber outsole is not only durable but oil and slip-resistant. The polyurethane cushioning in the midsole provides superior shock absorption.

What We Like:

  • It is safe to use around electrical hazards.
  • The steel toe is protective
  • The traction is good.
  • The boots are comfortable.

What We Don’t:

  • The leather is not genuine.
  • The boots are not waterproof.

3. Thorogood Men’s GEN-FLEX 6-Inch Lace-Toe Composite Work Boot

Thorogood Gen-Flex 6-Inch Lace-Toe Composite Work Boot, Black Leather, 10.5 W US

This boot is not only safe and supportive but offers freedom of movement seldom seen in work boots. This is a boot for people who are always on the go and up for any sort of challenge. It is a lightweight yet durable boot crafted with the sort of care consumers have come to expect from Thorogood.

Features and Benefits:

The rubber sole is flexible and allows for traction on any surface. The single-density polyurethane footbed is removable for convenience. The Goodyear storm welt construction makes for a solidly built boot. The composite safety toe protects the foot.

The boot is crafted from superior rugged oiled full-grain leather on the uppers and features an abrasion-resistant toe plus side bumpers to protect the foot and keep the boots looking good for a long time to come. The anti-roll heel prevents ankle injury.

What We Like:

  • The traction is excellent.
  • The toes are protected very well in these boots.
  • The side bumpers protect the foot from impact.
  • The anti-roll heel makes walking safer.
  • The midsole technology absorbs shock.

What We Don’t:

  • The boots are not waterproof.

4. Timberland PRO Men’s Hyperion Waterproof XL ST Work Boot

Timberland PRO Men's Hyperion Waterproof XL Steel Toe Work Boot,Brown,15 W US

Timberland had the desire to make a boot better than anything they had ever constructed before. So, the built this and named it Hyperion after the Titan from mythology whose name means “The High One”. They are tough yet flexible and ready for action. It is rugged yet protective with a score of safety features.

Features and Benefits:

The shoes are fabricated with premium leather with a waterproof membrane for total abrasion resistance and dry feet. The alloy safety toe delivers lightweight protection plus a generous fit. The lightweight molded EVA midsole brings supreme comfort and impressive performance.

The contoured insole offers optimal support at important pressure points and impact areas such as the heel and ball of the foot. The Vibram outsole is durable and slip-resistant.

What We Like:

  • The upper is waterproof.
  • It is made of premium full grade leather.
  • The antifatigue technology will keep you up and going for a long time.
  • The Vibram outsole provides slip resistance.
  • The fiberglass shank adds to the support.

What We Don’t:

  • The shoes peel easily.
  • The soles crack easily.

5. Caterpillar Men’s 2nd Shift 6″ Plain Soft-Toe Work Boot

Caterpillar Men's 2nd Shift 6" Plain Soft Toe Boot,Black,9 W US

Caterpillar is known for making quality machinery, equipment and engines. Their clothing company started out as just a licensing tool but it has become something Cat has decided to hold up to as high a quality standard as their mechanics. This boot, in particular, is durable and made to last.

Features and Benefits:

The upper is fabricated from oiled full-grain leather or nubuck leather. The pull tab on the heel makes the boots easy to put on and take off. The padded collar adds to the comfort. The nylon mesh lining provides a great step-in feel.

The patented Climasphere™ sockliner aids in wicking away moisture in order to create a cooler, drier in-shoe environment. The rubber midsole is flexible and absorbs shock. The steel shank delivers additional much-needed support.

The classic Goodyear® welt construction makes a solid, well put together boot. the T3 rubber outsole is resistant to slips, oil, heat, and abrasion and provides dependable traction over all surfaces whether wet, dry or oily.

What We Like:

  • The nylon mesh lining aids in the wicking away of both moisture and perspiration.
  • The ergonomically shaped polyurethane insoles are removable for convenience.
  • The softly lined insoles aid in the delivery of cushioning to your steps
  • The two-speed hook lacing system makes for a secure and adjustable fit.

What We Don’t:

  • The boots are neither waterproof nor water-resistant
  • They do not offer much in the way of insulation or toe safety.

How Can Railroad Ballast Affect You?

Once upon a time, prisoners doing hard labor would spend their days crushing large rocks. It wasn’t solely for punishment. (Though it certainly did the job.) The crushed rocks would be used for construction projects including railroad ballast. With chain gangs becoming less popular and machinery being a more efficient way to crush rocks, this is a thing of the past.

So, what is the purpose of the ballast? They are called “ballast” after stones once used to stabilize a ship at sea. This is a bed for the ties to rest on. It bears the weight of the iron ties, drains the rainwater and keeps vegetation from overgrowing the track.

It keeps the whole thing well supported and stable. Dolomite isn’t just a character from a bad blaxploitation movie! It’s a type of mineral used to make ballast. Traprock, granite, quartzite, and limestone are also used. Burnt clay is sometimes used but stones are preferred.

If you walk around the railroad ballast enough, you might have the problem of rocks getting in your shoes. There are ways to deal with this problem. You can wear your trouser legs over your boots, but that can get too warm on hot days.

Tying the shoelaces in a certain way could work, but that can get complicated and it’s not always effective. Walking where there are no stones is not always an option. Changing the way you walk is difficult and takes up concentration better placed elsewhere.

The best thing you could get is gaiters. You wear these over your shoes and lower pants legs. They’re a great way to provide further protection for your feet and legs.

If you are a railroad worker it might be advised for you to use the type of garters recommended for hikers. They should be breathable and lightweight. They will protect you from not only rocks and grit but light rain if a sudden shower pops up.

Some gaiters are as tall as knee-high, but you may not need anything that long. Something just over the ankle could work. Something mid-calf can work in extreme conditions. If insects or arachnids are a problem where you work, some gaiters have repellent built-in. Waterproofing is another great feature you might want to look for.

Choosing and using garters can be exacting but it need not be difficult. Here are the six main things you have to remember about gaiters:

  • Get the Right Size This as important as getting shoes in the right size. You need to get a close seal around your boots.
  • Adjust Until You Get the Right Fit This all depends on the size of your calves. About half an inch of overlap is typically acceptable.
  • The Buckles Go on the Outside When you put the gaiters on the buckles of the instep straps need to be on the outside of your feet. This is so you do not kick them on accident.
  • The Top Closures Should be Snug They should be snug but not tight to the point of being uncomfortable.
  • Remember to Use the Hooks Try to hook the laces as far down as they will go.
  • The Gaiters Go Under the Rain Pants If you wear rain pants, the gaiters go under them so rainwater does not drip into your boots.

Conclusion

Mike and the Bots had a good time riffing on the Union Pacific safety film The Days of our Years. The short was so depressing, it needed some laughs. The film was made in the ’50s, so some things may have changed since then.

For example, men are no longer encouraged to literally work themselves to death and machines now are designed to be safer. Remember that “safer” does not mean “foolproof”. Some of the safety protocol that was standard then is standard now.

Being mindful of the situation is always a good way to keep safe. One of the most important things you can do to be not only safe but comfortable at the end of the day is to get a good set of boots. If you have that, you have everything! Including a better way to pass the time away.

The Evolution of the Railroad Industry
 

From Visually.

References:

  • https://workbootsreview.com/best-work-boots-rail-road-workers
  • https://www.myworkwear.org
  • https://www.vulcanmaterials.com/construction-materials/products-and-services/railroad-ballast-and-other-track-materials
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Track_ballast
  • https://outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/13738/how-to-keep-small-rocks-and-stones-out-of-hiking-boots
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaiters
  • https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/gaiters.html