Many companies produce reports and articles of why their steel toe shoes are perfect, so I will give an unbiased opinion of how to select a pair of quality steel toe shoes.
You should consider the following 5 factors when buying steel toe shoes: Fabric, Durability, Sole, Flexibility, and Additional Features. I will go into more detail on each of these categories below.
Fabric: Different fabrics can make or break a shoe in a matter of months. It can also make you feel uncomfortable if it is not the right fabric. There are gortex like rubber, canvas like fabrics, suede, and leather. Leather has one of the best aspects for steel toe safety aspects in my opinion. They are easily broken in after a few days and then they fit your foot like a glove. Leather will not burn and ignite into flames or melt. If they are burnt or scuffed they can be easily polished and masked away. Thick leather is ideal and looks nice.
Durability: Is the shoe made to last a long time or is it just made to OSHA standards with a shelf life of only six months? What I mean by durability, is whether the shoe will last for two years of wear and tear before you have to replace them. Some shoes may look nice and can take a beating but after a few months the stitches come apart, the metal wears through the padding and digs into your foot, there are many things which can occur if the shoe is not engineered just right. Does the shoe have a steel shank? Is the steel toe area padded well and with lasting material? Will the shoe backing hold? And the sole, how long will that last?
Sole: This is very important and is more of a sub category of Durability, but merits its own category. First, there are two types of soles, those made to last a year or more and those that are not. I have seen shoes with holes showing in the sole after only a few weeks as the rubber begins to wear away and the hollow honey comb style sole bears forth. Literally dig your finger into the sole in various areas, if it bends easily and you can feel the air, it wont last very long. Although tougher rubber or thicker may not be as comfortable, it will last. One problem with worn soles is that they have a tendency to wear on one side only based on your walking habits. After a while it is dangerous to walk in shoes that are half worn, it can throw your back out, cramps, and more. One more health issue to avoid caused by cheap products.
Flexibility: Will the product bend. If the sole is so thick it barely moves, how well will the contours of your foot feel after an 8 hour day? Some shoes are so heavily reinforced with different materials that the backs never mold to your foot or the steel toe area just continues to dig into your toes? What ever it may be, bend the shoe, try it on. If you feel too much discomfort in a certain area, take the shoe off and inspect it, you might just find that this shoe just wont work for you. This is another key point, some shoes just don’t work for everyone.