A “Cool” Steel-Toed Shoe

June 1, 2012 | By Ted Kade

Looking for the Right Shoe for Swap Meets & Summer Work? This One Offers a Balance of Comfort & Protection.

IT’S TIME TO prepare for the summertime swap meets and no doubt you’ve already done some planning. Over the winter months you may have made a list of parts and accessories you’ll be needing for your projects and you’re going over them one more time to make sure you didn’t forget anything crucial to your progress. You’ve also checked out the various events calendars so you’ll be sure to make it on out to the “can’t miss” meets in your area.

You may even have made up your own sandwich board sign to wear at the meets that was pulled together using parts from an old box, a heavy black marker and some twine. You know, the kind that slips over your head and advertises to all who see you coming or going that you’re “searching for parts for a ’62 Ford Galaxie 500.”You never know when a helpful hobbyist will spot that message and point you right toward the booth you’re seeking.

Make sure you have some bottled water and a cap or straw hat for protection from the sun’s rays and overall, it sounds like you’re just about ready to go…

Well, maybe there is one other important factor to consider. How about your feet?

“My feet?” you ask. “No problem, I have that covered as well. A good swap meet calls for a lot of walking and time spent standing around. So I’ll wear a comfortable pair of tennies. Unless, of course, it turns out to be a really hot day; then I’ll opt for some flip-flops with a good arch support.”

Hmmmm, it’s true that many swap meets call for the endurance of a marathon runner, and tennies or upscale flips may sound like a wise choice for the task at hand. But swaps also call for the handling of heavy parts and moving through crowded booths where metal components are stacked closely together. In other words, there will be numerous opportunities for you or someone standing near you to drop something on your foot or for you to catch your foot on something heavy and/or sharp as you go walking past.

It sounds like the kind of environment where foot protection, including a sturdy steel toe, would be a good idea.

“No way,” you quickly respond. “I’m not wearing my heavy work boots out to a swap meet. Half-way through my feet would start to feel like lead weights and I’d be ready to head on home.” It’s True, the idea of trudging through a swap meet in high-top work boots could be a daunting task—but there are alternatives that can offer you foot protection and take some of the load off of your tired dogs at the same time.

Some of these options come from Keen, Inc., a Portland, Oregon-based company that focuses on the idea of dual-purpose “hybrid” footwear that simultaneously provides comfort and protection. Keen started in 2003 with an open sandal that also offered a toe-protecting front so people could do some serious walking and not be concerned about some major bruising in the process. That sandal beginning grew to a lineup that includes numerous casual shoes and a variety of utility shoes and boots as well.

You may recall that in the March 2011 issue we talked about their Detroit Mid, a cross between a mid-rise work boot and a casual shoe. It offers steel toe protection and non-slip soles for when you’re working in your shop or garage but is comfortable and light enough to wear when you need to leave your project for a while and drive to the hard- ware store or do some yard work around your home.

But I had the feeling that spending hours at a swap meet/car show might call for something with a bit more comfort built in. And that’s when I came across the Atlanta Cool (suggested price, $125).

Keen says the Atlanta Cool “combines industrial-strength stability and steel toe protection with the comfort of a lightweight, breathable hot weather shoe.”

What that means is that the Atlanta has a thick oil- and slip-resistant rubber outsole and left and right asymmetrical steel toes that follow the contours of the front of your feet. But it’s also cut low like a standard athletic shoe (see the photo on this page) and has several mesh openings in the leather upper to provide added breathability. The Atlanta also has something that Keen calls a “secure fit lace capture system,” which holds the lace without your having to tie a bow.  It works with a little spring-loaded clamp. You squeeze the clamp, pull the lace tight, release the clamp and the lace stays tight. So, there’s no more having to stop what you’re doing, bend over and tie your shoes while you’re on the move.

I’ve been wearing a pair of the Atlanta Cools as my everyday shoes, and while they’re heavier than my regular tennies, they’re about the same weight as the chunky-soled Timberland loafers that I’ve been wearing as my office shoes for years. I don’t feel like I’m wearing work boots, and I’d appreciate the added protection at a meet or in the garage for that matter. After all, these shoes would perform just as well while you’re working on your projects this summer as they would while you’re out scouring for the necessary parts.

And if you don’t agree, Keen has a guarantee that says “If, within 90 days from date of purchase, your Keen utility footwear is not the most comfortable you have worn, we’ll take ’em back, no questions asked.”

For more on Keen and its products, you can visit keenfootwear.com for a retailer in your vicinity.

While you’re at the Web site or a retailer, be sure to take note that Keen has introduced Detroit and Atlanta Cool boots/shoes for women as well.

Just think of it, you and your significant other could be the very first in your car club to have matching his and hers utility footwear.