Tools for your feet
Keen Utility Kenton shoes

Keen’s new Utility Kenton shoes are styled after retro sneakers, but they have carbon fiber safety toes for protection in the shop.

We talk a lot about tools for the shop, mostly about tools for making things out of wood. Sometimes we talk about safety equipment. But we talk very little about one of the most important tools for anyone working in the shop: your footwear.

I’ve worn a lot of boots for working in the shop, thinking that’s the best way to protect my feet from fatigue and dropping items in the course of woodworking. Lately, I’ve been questioning if the extra weight of boots is worth it. Some new utility shoes from Keen may have weaned me off the boots.

Keen Utility Kenton shoes sole
With proprietary padding inside and a non-skid sole design, the Keen Utility Kenton shoes are light, comfortable, and up to a long day in the shop.

Light but safe
Keen describes their new Utility Kenton shoes as a retro-inspired work sneaker with lightweight protection for all-day workflow. They have a wide toe and snug heel, with what Keen calls ReGEN cushioning designed to provide up to 50% energy return. On the safety side, they boast carbon-fiber safety toes that are 15% lighter than steel, and a slip-resistant rubber outsole. They come in multiple colors, but I opted for basic black. Like many Keen boots and shoes, they feature a rubber-reinforced toe covering.

No break in
Some of the boots I’ve used in the past eventually became plenty comfortable, but they had a significant break-in period. Not so with these sneaker-style shoes. They were comfortable from the get go. But would they stand up to extended use on my feet in the shop and elsewhere?

Working on the concrete floor in my shop, these shoes were plenty comfortable, but I had the chance to really put them to the test at the KBIS and IBS events in Las Vegas at the end of February. According to the step-counter in my phone, I walked 34,083 steps in two days at the sprawling combined shows. The shoes and my feet held up great.

With the safety toes, I was worried about pinching or discomfort where the safety toe crosses over my feet, but there was none of that. And I have dropped a few minor things on my feet in the shop with no untoward results. Outside, in rain, snow, and ice, the shoes have had good traction. My only complaint is the really fine ribbing in the soles does pick up tiny pebbles on a regular basis. 

These aren’t cheap shoes — online prices seem to run about $115 — but they aren’t the most expensive work shoes, and your feet are worth it. Learn more at


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About the author
William Sampson

William Sampson is a lifelong woodworker, and he has been an advocate for small-scale entrepreneurs and lean manufacturing since the 1980s. He was the editor of Fine Woodworking magazine in the early 1990s and founded WoodshopBusiness magazine, which he eventually sold and merged with CabinetMaker magazine. He helped found the Cabinet Makers Association in 1998 and was its first executive director. Today, as editorial director of Woodworking Network and FDMC magazine he has more than 20 years experience covering the professional woodworking industry. His popular "In the Shop" tool reviews and videos appear monthly in FDMC.