10 Best Firefighter Boots Reviewed & Rated for Performance
Dependable footwear can mean the difference between being the sort of person that run towards the flames, not away from them. If you have a pair of reliable firefighter boots that offer you superior flame protection and great traction, you can be confident that you won’t lose your footing when you can’t see your hands in front of your face down a smoke-filled corridor.
But there are other features that may mean the difference between how capable you can be in a life or death situation, such as resistance to chemical hazards, midsole support to decrease foot fatigue, and whether or not your boots have a steel toe for encountering sudden obstacles.
- Bates Ultra-Lites
- Size Zip
- 5.11 A.T.A.C. Shield
- Shock Mitigation System
- Smith & Wesson Breach 2.0
- Slip Resistant Outsole
Your environment can throw a lot of unforeseen dangers in your path, but with the right firefighter boot, it will be no match for you.
10 Best Firefighter Boots
1. Bates Ultra-Lites Side-Zip
High top work boots have the benefit of providing security and stability to the wearer’s ankle. A lace-up vamp and breathable lining make the Bates Ultra-Lites a high top work boot that is as stabilizing as it is comfortable. Its rubber sole and durable, slip resistant outsole make it perfect for the times when duty calls and every second counts. They are also constructed of ballistic nylon, so they can take a beating.
The Bates Ultra-Lites have a cushioned insert that is removable, making them uniquely modifiable depending on the surrounding temperature. For those that need it, the removable EVA footbed has shock absorbing pads and helps alleviate joint pressure. The rubber outsole is also 30% lighter than previous incarnations of tactical boots in the series, allowing for efficient movement in an environment that often demands a change of direction at a moment’s notice.
Cost and Value
The Bates brand is known for performance, durability, and quality. Their ballistic nylon construction, removable insoles, and light feel all in a classic tactical boot package give them the edge over the competition and make them the most in demand firefighter boots at the station. For the great features you get with their product, they’re definitely worth the expense.
Removable EVA footbed insole
Lightweight and comfortable
Made from ballistic nylon
Slip resistant outsole
Replacing laces is suggested
2. 5.11 A.T.A.C. Shield
Made of full grain leather and nylon, these boots are tough but also breathable, and after a few wears they’ll start to conform to the shape of your feet. They have a moisture wicking lining to keep your feet cool, and its antibacterial properties mean they’ll stay fresh and dry no matter how many hours you wear them. The YKK zipper hardware found on their side zip ensures the best degree of stability, while their stay-tied sausage laces won’t unravel when pressure’s on.
The 5.11 Shock Mitigation system of shock absorbent padding means long lasting joint value, while the hypertext lasting board and cushioned insole provide enduring comfort. Generous open cell foam cushioning that extend the length of the footbed and collar ensure that no matter how long you have to be on your feet and on what surface, they won’t feel fatigued.
Cost and Value
The 5.11 ATAC 8 inch boots are top of the line in the market of tactical boots in terms of performance and quality, and as firefighter boots they can be worn in the station with confidence that their attention to mobility, accuracy, and safety means the best possible reactions for first responders in a crisis. For the same price as anything offered by the Bates brand but with the added benefit of a wide variety of features, including moisture wicking/antibacterial lining, the 5.11 Shock Mitigation system, and heel and toe reinforcement, they provide more bang for your buck.
5.11 Shock Mitigation System
Moisture wicking/antibacterial lining
Heel and toe reinforcement
Lots of extra cushion
Don't hold a polish well
3. Under Armour Stellar Tactical
Waterproof and made from DWR treated leather and 900D nylon, the Under Armour Stellar Tactical boots have toes that can be polished, so that after the beating they take hour after hour, day after day, any scuffs can be easily removed. The hardy material of their construction combined with durable rubber soles make them fit for a wide variety of terrain and environments.
If you’re on concrete floors for 10 hours a day, these boots will save your feet. The dense station floor will no longer leave you needing a long soak after a long shift. They’re lightweight and well padded, the tongue having the cushion of a basketball shoe. The feel of an athletic shoe makes you forget you’re wearing tactical boots at all.
Cost and Value
Some wearers may feel that for the price of a high top model, they’re not getting as much boot with the Under Armour Stellar Tactical. What they lack in height or bulk they make up for in durable materials, lightweight construction, and comfort that feels more like an athletic shoe than a boot. Some wearers may prefer a low ankle boot as opposed to a high top, and Under Armour is the best choice.
Treated leather and 900D nylon upper
Comfort of an athletic shoe
No side zipper
4. Smith & Wesson Breach 2.0
The rubber outsole is a unique design that prevents loss of traction on a wide variety of surfaces such as concrete, metal, wood, wax, and brick. This makes it perfect for the firefighter that has to quickly ascend a ladder or run through a building interior where smoke may be obscuring their vision. Not having to worry about whether or not your boots will be able to keep your feet firmly planted in a life or death situation means a firefighter can keep their focus on subduing any calamity.
The Breach 2.0’s are made of high quality leather and nylon on the outside, with an interior of board-lasted construction that prevents foot fatigue and helps hold up the structural integrity of the boot. Unlike the Bates’ brand of firefighter boot, they have YKK side zippers, which last much longer.
Cost and Value
It was important for Smith and Wesson to bring a boot to the market that was less expensive than its competition but didn’t sacrifice any features. It also needed to uphold the Smith and Wesson brand standard for excellence and quality. The Breach 2.0, with the familiar features of other firefighter boots (like removable EVA insoles, leather and nylon construction, and non slip outsoles), also contributed new innovations like the introduction of steel shanks for added support and a gusseted tongue to keep dirt and debris out. For a high top boot of superior quality you can’t beat it’s value and price point.
Removable EVA insole
Non slip outsole
Steel shank for added support
5. Rocky Duty Alpha Force
Other boots may claim to be waterproof, but they’re really water resistant. The Rocky Duty Alpha Force boot features a waterproof inner layer along with its waterproof outer layer of leather and nylon. The waterproof layer covers the entire extent of the boot from outsole to collar. This sort of footwear protection is ideal for a firefighter where copious amounts of water are almost as ubiquitous as massive amounts of flames.
The outsole is slip resistant like many tactical boots, but where most of those are resistant against different types of surfaces, these are slip resistant against oil, grease, and other viscous fluids. Inside, the Alpha’s are lined with moisture wicking fabric to keep your feet dry and cool, as well as a removable Black Airport footbed so you can adjust your level of comfort.
Cost and Value
While being slightly more expensive than the average tactical boot, the Alpha’s offer superior waterproof protection and functional comfort for their price point. Their round toe design, smooth lines, and engraved shield crest also give them a smart look. The slip resistant outsoles, especially where viscous fluids are concerned, make them perfect for environments where there are oil and grease fires.
Removable Black Airport insole
Oil resistant outsole
Composite safety toe
Stiff and Heaver Upper
6. Original S.W.A.T. Metro Air Side-Zip
Since they have a double stitched upper of 3-ply bonded nylon thread, they won’t start breaking apart at the seams the way other high top boots can after the first few months of wear. The majority of their construction is made of leather, which can with a little help be polished to a shine, ensuring that they can always be made to look their best even after repeated wear.
The custom molded phylon EVA midsole gives extra support and comfort, so even after being worn for long hours, your feet won’t feel fatigued. Unlike Smith and Wesson boots that have a steel shank inserted into their construction for added support, the nylon shanks inserted into the Original S.W.A.T. Metro Air’s are airport friendly and provide just as much comfort and stability.
Cost and Value
Original S.W.A.T. Metro Air’s are incredibly affordable for all their features, most notably that they are a high top tactical boot that feels like a running shoe. The 3-ply bonded nylon upper and leather construction makes them durable, while the molded EVA midsole and airport friendly nylon shank make them superior performers in comfort and stability. Polished up to a high shine, these boots will make quite the impression.
3-ply nylon double stitched upper
Athletic footwear feel
Airport friendly nylon shank
Custom-molded phylon EVA midsole
Run a little bit bigger than normal
7. 5.11 Company 2.0
Though a small boot, it can still play with the big boots and hold its own. It’s leather and synthetic construction is lightweight yet sturdy, and a “Quick Call” collar and kick plate make it easy to pull on or slip off. It’s outsole is oil resistant and its multi directional tread provides excellent traction on slick surfaces. It has built in climbing lugs which make it extremely good for scaling buildings and climbing ladders.
Like the Smith and Wesson Breach 2.0, it has an injection molded phylon EVA midsole, making it padded for comfort and providing extra cushion. It also has an antibacterial and moisture wicking liner to keep feet dry, cool, and itch free, as well as an OrthoLite sockliner.
Cost and Value
The 5.11 Company 2.0 has a more professional profile than it’s high top tactical boot brethren. The fact that it can be easily removed or slipped on makes it great for first responders that need to change into protective gear in a hurry. It’s design materials make it slightly more expensive, but the added features such as oil resistant multi directional tread, climbing lugs, and the presence of an OrthoLite sockliner set it apart from similar boots of its style.
Oil resistant multi-directional tread
8. Danner Striker II EMS
Water, organic oils, bodily fluids, and blood are no match for the Cross Tech fabric of these boots, engineered to withstand all manner of hazardous waste. Their Gore-Tex leather is not only tough and durable, it can also be easily polished to a high shine, which is preferable when you want your boots cleaned quickly. A Terra Force X Lite provides great traction and transfer of energy, and the nylon shank in the toe cap is non-metallic and thus easily maneuvered through metal based security systems.
Not all high top tactical boots have a padded tongue and collar, but the presence of these features on the Danner Striker II EMS boot certainly makes them more comfortable as a result. Cross Tech fabric designed to provide penetration resistance also provides maximum breathability. The X Lite platform provides lightweight and durable traction, while the TFX Lite outsole gives you protection from foot fatigue . The lightweight non-metallic Pro-Tec toe cap resists the conduction of heat and cold.
Cost and Value
The Danner Striker EMS II boot is easily one of the most expensive tactical boots on the market. With its full grain leather and cross tech construction, engineered for superior penetration protection from hazardous wastes, and its TFX Lite outsoles that provide traction and prevent foot fatigue, it’s not hard to see why. The added benefit of having a protective toe cap that resists the conduction of heat and cold puts it in a league of its own. It is a quality investment in safety, comfort, and durability.
Removable Foam Insert
Cross Tech lining
On the expensive side
9. Thorogood Power EMS
Made from high quality flame and cut resistant leather, these made in the USA boots are tough. The entire boot is encapsulated by the patented Thorotech PTFE waterproof barrier, making them ideal for slogging through wilderness terrain or encountering mud. Last but not least, it has a vibram outsole and is fire and ice slip-resistant, as any quality tactical boot is.
These boots offer good arch support and padding, which is necessary as they are some of the heaviest boots on the market. Their sympatex lining helps to keep the foot cool and dry, while the dual density polyurethane footbed is removable for customizable comfort. It has a rubber shank for added support of the ankle and arch.
Cost and Value
The Thorogood 9” Power EMS/Wildland boot is one of the most expensive tactical boots available to first responders. It has all of the great benefits of a high top tactical boot such as added stability and protection at the ankle, while still being comfortable and durable. It’s a solid, dependable boot with a polished appearance and quality material you can feel.
Goodyear storm welt
10. Viking Footwear Firefighter
The rubber upper of these boots is extremely durable, resistant to chemicals, abrasions, oils, and flame. The chloroprene rubber outsole is heat resistant as well. It has a 14” tall shaft that protects your entire shin area, and a steel midsole that protects against penetration and provides maximum footstep protection.
These are a slip on boot that feels like a lace up. Their vamp and leg are lined with felt to make them more comfortable and to afford thermal insulation. Your heel/tendons are protected by a reinforced backstay, and they have an ergonomic orthotic insole. Though they may at first look like they’d be roomy, they fit quite snug. These boots are ultra flexible, exceeding a 305,000 flex rating. They move with the motions of your feet, all while providing incredible arch and ankle support.
Cost and Value
These boots are perfect for regular, auxiliary, and forest firefighters. Their all rubber construction is flame retardant and chemical and oil resistant. The steel shank midsole offers penetration protection and support, while the boot itself is extremely flexible with a 305,000 flex rating. A big high top boot that fits like a lace up but is actually a slip on guarantees a snug wear that will help your maneuverability, accuracy, and ensure you’re kept safe.
Oil / Chemical Resistant
Slip / Spill Resistant
14” rubber shaft
Ergonomic orthotic insole
Very Firm Upper
Though many firefighter boots may look the same, and have a number of similar features, there are distinct differences that make them useful for specific purposes. Though some may have side zippers and removable footbeds, they may not both have a shank in their midsoles to protect against footbed penetration. One may be water resistant, and another completely waterproof. Some may protect against organic oils and chemical hazards, but may only come in a lace-up model where a slip-on model is preferable. Depending on the sort of environment a first responder finds themselves in, a boots functionality depends greatly on what features set it apart. It is prudent to note the similarities, but more important to note the differences, because they may be the aspect that saves a life.
Criteria Used to Evaluate the Best Firefighter Boots
While it’s true that firefighter boots need to stand up to high temperatures, it helps if they have a certain level of breathability built into their construction. Firefighters and first responders are depending on boots that are made from materials that can withstand high heat but also not retain it. This means that along with leather and other fabric choices that comprise their design, they might also have some sort of mesh weave, or insole technology that makes sure heat doesn’t get trapped inside the boot. According to performance standards, the inside sole surface should never exceed 111F if it truly has conductive heat resistance. A breathable lining make boots stabilized and comfortable.Temperature regulation in firefighter boots allows for more maneuverability and ensures the responder won’t overheat in a time of crisis. This can lead to fainting, loss of vision, loss of equilibrium, and serious injury.
Fighting fires brings first responders in contact with extremely dangerous conditions. Protection against flames is just one aspect of combating them when extreme high heat can melt metal pipes, make trees crack and explode, and warp concrete. Therefore, firefighters often favor a tall boot versus a short boot for extra protection along their calves, made from materials like the Smith & Wesson Breach 2.0’s ballistic nylon, and midsoles that are puncture and penetration resistant. Any metal components to their construction, like steel midsoles or steel toes, need to be resistant to corrosion in high temperatures so that they can remain functional. Wildlife firefighters may even want a gusseted tongue to keep falling debris out of the interior of their boots, and solid traction if their environment is uneven, rocky, or precarious. In extreme conditions with the presence of different types of fluid, slip resistant outsoles protect against oil, grease, pathogens, and other unusual substances that might impair a firefighter’s footing. Boots like the Danner Strike II EMS provides superior penetration protection from the fluids in their environment and any harmful chemicals. They’re designed for maneuverability and safety with Cross Tech fabric that was engineered to withstand hazardous waste.
Due to the fact that firefighters can face a myriad of unknown variables when it comes to their environments, having the reliability of superior traction and grip means that they can spring into action without worrying about their footing being jeopardized. Boots that have rubber outsoles that prevent loss of traction on a wide variety of surfaces, such as concrete, metal, wood, dirt, mud, rock, mean that whatever their environment is comprised of, the only focus the responder needs is on containing the situation. Great traction and grip also means that if a firefighter has to quickly ascend a ladder or run through a building interior, they won’t lose their bearing even if smoke may be obscuring their vision.
Not all firefighter boots weigh the same, despite many of them having similar properties. Firefighters who combat wildfires usually want heavier, thicker boots because of debris and contact with the elements, whereas those in urban environments or around the station want boots that are lighter and slightly more maneuverable. Boots made by 5.11, Inc, Bates, or Rocky generally weigh in the vicinity of 5 pounds, usually attributed to the addition of steel instead of nylon shanks in the midsole, more rubber along the outsole and sole, and more practical hardware. Original S.W.A.T. and brands that make boots that fit and feel more like athletic shoes tend to be a lot lighter, somewhere in the vicinity of 2-3 pounds, which allows for efficiency of movement when you have to change direction at a moment’s notice. Heavier boots also mean more work for the firefighter, who is already laden down with heavy gear, oxygen tanks, and has to still concern themselves with moving debris in extreme heat.
Shock absorption is an aspect of the firefighter boot that wasn’t always a prominent feature, especially when firefighter boots were simple rubber slip-on boots that looked more like rain gear. It has now become a very important part of the overall design and construction because of its protection of a firefighter’s joints. Shock Mitigation systems of shock absorbent padding means long lasting joint value, while brands like Original S.W.A.T have put “air cells” in the heel of their boots that absorbs impact. Almost all modern firefighter boots have removable EVA footbeds with shock absorbing pads, just like running shoes.
Comfort plays a critical role in the selection of a firefighter boot due to the fact that most firefighters will be working long hours in which they’ll be standing, ducking, and crawling. Features like a hypertext lasting board and cushioned insoles provide enduring comfort, and when they wear out they can be easily replaced. Generous open cell foam cushioning that travel the entire length of the footbed and collar ensure that no matter how long you have to be on your feet and on what surface, they won’t feel fatigued. Padded tongues and collars ensure a glove-like fit around your foot, as well as prevent ankle chafing over time. A lightweight Pro-Tec toe cap that resists the conduction of heat and cold means a firefighter can enjoy a regulated temperature inside their boot. A lightweight boot with less hardware can also mean less foot fatigue and less wear and tear on a firefighter’s joints and muscles.
Having an ill fitting boot almost ensures serious injury, as the propensity for a firefighter to trip while in their gear is high. Not even taking into consideration downed trees, powerlines, rubble, or the blurred vision that a firefighter might be facing at any given call, a clunky, loose boot is just one more thing that they don’t want to have to deal with. That’s why so many brands now offer slip on, bucket boots with stirrups, side zips, front zips, and a combination with laces. This allows a first responder to be able to customize the fit of their boot, by tightening or loosening one of the closure features at their discretion. Some boots even have implemented modern manufacturing standards like double stitched upper of 3-ply bonded nylon thread, that won’t start breaking apart at the seams the way other boots can after only a few months of being worn.
From descending sides of mountains to scurrying up ladders leaned against skyscrapers and apartment units, a firefighter never knows what hazards their terrain will bring. All firefighters will want sturdy boots with great traction, durable tread that is skid and slip resistant, as well as a component in the midsole like a steel or nylon shank that stabilizes the footbed. They should also be waterproof and made from treated leather and nylon, like Under Armour’s Stellar Tactical boots. When the waterproof layer covers the entire boot and not just the fabric portion, it ensures a tight seal against moisture (though some brands have built in moisture wicking lining). This sort of footwear protection is ideal for when a firefighter is surrounded by the several tons of water needed to put out a fire, encounters muddy conditions, or is simply hosing off their boots after their shift.
Common features to expect on wildfire firefighter boots
- Water resistant/waterproof materials
- Flex cracking resistance – puncture resistance construction that ensures no portions of the boot will suffer flex cracking under stress
- Toe impact resistant materials
- Electricity resistance design
- Soles, heels, and uppers designed to be puncture resistant
Common features to expect on station firefighter boots
- It has built in climbing lugs which make it extremely good for scaling buildings
- Ladder shanks for ascending and descending ladders
- Materials, especially along the seams and uppers, designed to be resistant to pathogens
- Materials that prevent liquids from penetrating the fabric
- Materials designed to be flame resistant
- Traction and grip on the soles to be slip and skid resistant
- Thread that is resistant to heat and won’t char or fray
- Materials that are resistant to oils, animal fats, and other oleaginous substances
Since firefighters are often on their feet for long periods of time in varying terrain, it’s important for their boots to be flexible and have a lot of energy return. The degree of flexibility can vary, as some first responders will want a boot that fits tight against the foot and doesn’t leave a lot of room for bending so that the structural integrity won’t be compromised. But if there’s no flexibility at all, and a boot can’t respond with the appropriate celerity the situation calls for, a firefighter might become injured. With a high amount of energy return there’s less of a chance of foot fatigue and joint pain. Rubber boots, like Viking Footwear’s Firefighter WP, are ultra flexible, exceeding a 305,000 flex rating, which allows them to move with the motions of your feet and still provide incredible arch support, ankle support, and energy return.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What’s the difference between wildfire firefighters boots and station firefighter boots?
A: Wild both the boots used to fight wildfires and those used around the station share many of the same features, where they differ tends to be in those areas that are dictated by the sort of environment they’re most often in. To fight wildfires, heavier boots are often favored because the more weight put into areas like the soles, outsoles, steel toes and midsoles shanks, the more durable they are. As the elements wear them down potentially more than station boots, they have to be able to withstand drastically varying temperatures, wind currents, rock slides, etc. Wildlife firefighter boots will often be taller, with more protection around the calf and shin, and be made from fine quality leather over rubber.
Q: Are there specific standards for all firefighter boots?
A: Specifications of firefighter boot standards fall under the requirements in the NFPA 1977 Protective Footwear for Wildland Fire Fighting 2005 31DR Edition. They must be at least 10 inches high, measuring from the inside of the boot to the highest point of the boot where there technically continues to be liquid protection. There is also a range of heel breast angle allowed, between the heel and the sole. The NFPA requires a wide variety of sizes be made available to first responders to prevent discomfort and injury from ill-fitting boots. They are field tested by firefighters through wear trials, one of the best ways to get an accurate assessment of their durability and functionality. They measure the ease in which a firefighter can get through standard hazards or obstacles, and with what degree of difficulty.
Q: What brand of firefighter boots is the toughest?
A: Because firefighters face a variety of hazards in a plethora of different environments, there is no one boot that can be considered the toughest. Many have specific features for specific types of terrain and conditions, and therefore can’t be measured in the exact same way. However, there are certain features that are found across the vast majority of firefighter boots, such as side zippers for easily getting them on and off, removable EVA foam insoles for maximum comfort and the reduction of foot fatigue, a shank in the midsole for arch support and stability, and many are steel-toed or water resistant. But they do come in a variety of heights, with a variety of closures, and in a variety of aesthetic styles, colors, and weights.
Q: Which is better: a nylon or metal shank in the midsole?
A: A shank in the midsole is helpful for arch support and also the structural integrity of the boot, providing stiffness along the footbed in front of the heel. A non-metallic nylon shank makes it easy for a first responder to get through metallic based security access points, and is generally less prone to corrosion than a steel shank. A steel shank generally has superior being resistance in field tests, however.
Q: How long do firefighter boots last?
A: Due to the fact that firefighter boots take a beating over time, and that various elemental and physical factors cause them to wear down, there are key features put in place to prevent this from happening. They are designed with corrosion and penetration resistant materials, as well as waterproof exteriors and protection against viscous liquids like oils, fats, waxes, and even human-born pathogens. That being said, they will wear down over time, but a quality, durable firefighter boot should last you several years, where the only aspect you have to replace is the insole every few months.
- NFPA Staff, Standard on Protective Clothing and Equipment for Wildland Fire Fighting, NFPA
- Robert Avsec, Station Boots: What to Know Before You Buy, Fire Rescue 1
- Jeffrey O. and Grace G. Stull, How to Choose the Right Firefighting Boot, Globe Turnout Gear
- Emergency Management, Firefighter Foot Protection: Standards and Hazards, EHS Today
- Tim Lynch, Boots on the Fireground: An Analysis of Interagency Wildland Firefighter Boot Standards, Missoula Technology and Development Center
If you need to clean your firefighter boots, visit our complete guide on how to do so.
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For general work boots, see here.
For Combat style military boots, see here.