In my 30-some years as an outdoor writer, I’ve been to many media events for new product launches, but never like the one hosted by KEEN Utility at their Portland, Oregon, headquarters.
So many outdoor brands are swimming in the sea of sameness when it comes to footwear and apparel. But KEEN has recognized that for millions of men and women, “outdoor” means so much more than recreation. It means working every day in every condition imaginable — from rain to sleet and snow to those unbearable hot days roofing, framing, painting houses, and pouring concrete.
At the KEEN event, we got to build our very own “American Built” work boots. I then got to test-wear the KEEN Utility San Jose aluminum toe women’s boots at the Bridgetown Forge in Portland and on some home remodeling projects over a 5-month period. Here’s what I found out.
In short: KEEN Utility’s San Jose aluminum toe boots ($185) are extremely comfortable. They have features required for construction work and everyday wear in multiple conditions. The boots are not only lightweight but durable. After months of hard use, they are not showing any signs of wear other than a few well-earned scuffs. They offer a high level of protection in the upper and sole, making them ideal for hard jobs like roofing, building decks, putting up siding, framing, and remodeling. But you don’t need to be working to appreciate their comfort and style.
KEEN San Jose Work Boot (With Aluminum Toes) Review
These boots are comfortable right out of the box. There was no break-in period required for me. The leather and midsole form around your foot over time, so if you get the right size, the boots will come to fit even better with use.
The KEEN San Jose comes in both men’s and women’s models, available in both wide and narrow widths. The boots, with their 6-inch cuffs, can be bought with a soft toe or aluminum toe cap. I liked the lightweight aluminum toe cap model for its extra protection without the weight (it adds less than 2 ounces per boot).
The full-grain leather uppers are surprisingly soft and flexible. The lace eyelets are well-spaced; there’s no ankle gap that many other calf-height boots suffer from. Also, it’s easy to snug up the laces to get the perfect fit.
KEEN equips the San Jose boots with a lightweight PU (polyurethane) sole that, after several months of hard use, hasn’t lost its cushioning. The wedge sole, however, is really the secret sauce. The aggressive but low-profile tread is perfect for gripping multiple surfaces (concrete, asphalt, rock, dirt, and even roofing materials). But it also provides additional slip resistance in oily and wet situations.
The soles are also EH (Electrical Hazard) and ESR certified (Electric Shock Resistant), providing a secondary source of protection in case you accidentally come in contact with a live electric current.
That is comforting to know on almost any job site.
Testing at the Forge
I tested the boots first at the Bridgetown Forge and then later on a remodel project at home. On both jobs, I worked in comfort all day thanks to the KEEN Luftcell midsole. It’s infused with nearly 100,000 micro air bubbles per cubic centimeter to help reduce foot fatigue over time.
I’d never been in a forge before, and the amount of heavy steel, hot blast furnaces, hammers, and machinery is, to say the least, intimidating. Dangerous things happen, even with all the safety precautions. At one point, the head blacksmith pulled a piece of steel out of a cooling bath, but it wasn’t cool enough. He immediately dropped it, and it brushed close to my foot. It was a relief to know my toes were well-protected.
While you can buy San Jose boots with soft toes, I was glad I had the extra protection of the aluminum safety toes. There’s no extra bulk (the soft-toed and aluminum-toed boots look identical), and the weight difference is negligible. The aluminum safety toes weigh 30% less than comparable steel versions.
You move carefully but quickly in a forge. I appreciated the slip-resistant outsole with its tacky rubber. I stepped on both water spills and oily spots and never once felt the San Joses lose traction.
Testing at Home
Later, I used the boots on bamboo flooring, porch remodeling, and stone wall projects. The San Jose’s Luftcell midsole felt supple yet supportive the whole time. Even though I was climbing ladders and carrying 40-50-pound rocks, my feet didn’t get overly tired.
The midsole is protective as well. On a handful of occasions, I stepped on carpet tacking and deck staples and never had a puncture.
I worked in rain and snow, and the waterproof, breathable membrane kept my feet dry. The breathability of the material (and leather upper) is excellent. Not once did I get sweaty feet.
Inevitably, I knocked a hammer off a ladder while I was working, and it made a direct hit on my right toe. Again I found myself grateful for that aluminum toe box; without it, I almost certainly would have been out of commission.
And in spite of their workplace pedigree, KEEN’s San Jose boots look good. You can wear them with your work clothes or dress them up for a night on the town. I used them for home construction work but also for day hikes, bike rides to our local grocery store, and even a couple of country-swing nights at our local pub.
Sizing the KEEN San Jose Work Boot
The sizing of the KEEN San Jose is similar to other work boots I’ve worn. But in contrast to the fit of Tecovas and Timberlands, KEENs tend to run short and a bit wide in the heel and toe box. I have a wide foot with decent volume in the instep. I was able to wear the regular-width San Jose boots without any pinching or discomfort.
The boots have a rounded but slightly short toe box, which takes some getting used to. And unfortunately, these boots don’t have a lot of arch support. You can easily remove the insoles if you want to install custom ones, though.
KEEN Utility’s She Builds Program
If I learned one thing at the KEEN media event, it’s that there’s a misnomer that work boots are just for men. One big initiative the brand is working on is to empower more women to pursue careers in the trades. KEEN Utility’s She Builds program has pledged $1 million in product and financial support to nonprofit organizations supporting this mission over the next 5 years.
Additionally, KEEN recently launched its Tradeswomen Tested program. The Tradeswomen Tested collection enlists the insights of tradeswomen working in a variety of professions and incorporates their ideas from initial conception all the way through the final product release. Their actual on-the-job feedback is then built into future designs.
Final Thoughts: KEEN San Jose Work Boots
I found the San Jose to be an excellent choice for being on my feet all day, working on hard surfaces for extended periods of time. Its aggressive tread pattern and secure lacing system provided significant versatility when we were on sketchy terrain where traction was critical.
The versatile San Jose boots are ideal for tradeswomen and men, especially for those who want a lightweight boot that has a sleek, modern style that can be worn at work, at home, and out on the town. Over several months, these boots became my daily drivers.
While the San Jose boots cost between $180 and $190, I found them well worth the price tag. You can pay less for other work boots. But in terms of comfort, protection, fit, style, and durability, I found the San Joses to be a great product at a fair price.