Back in January we hosted a giveaway of Keen work boots, and then gave away a second bonus pair again in March when we posted our review of the Keen Pittsburgh work boots. Shortly thereafter, a reader question came in wondering if Keen offered any steel toe sandals. We reached out to Keen, and sure enough, they had a solution that was about as close as you can get to steel toe beach footwear; the Keen Atlanta. We’re not only providing a review of these warm-weather-friendly Keens, but Keen has also offered to ship out a free pair to one lucky HomeFixated.com subscriber or commenter in this month’s HomeFixated Free Stuff Giveaway!
As essential as work boots are, there are some jobs, tasks and environments that boots can be a bit overkill for. Boots also tend to be heavy, hot and not exactly the most nimble of footwear. If you’re tired of feeling like you need to dangle your bare feet out the window of your truck on the drive home from work, the Keen Atlanta might be just what you need. But non-boot safety footwear isn’t for everyone either. Read on for our detailed review and some points to consider if you’re contemplating a switch to more nimble, breezier work footwear.
I have been wearing a pair of Keen Newport sandals for years and am pretty used to their weight. I weighed the Newport and Atlanta and found the Newport sandal weighed in at 14.8 ounces vs 1 pound 4.6 ounces for the Atlanta (each). As a frame of reference, the Keen Pittsburgh work boots we reviewed earlier in the year weighed in at 1 pound 15.2 ounces per boot. Despite being noticeably heavier than Keen sandals, the Keen Atlanta shoes are still over ten ounces lighter per shoe than most steel toe boots out there. The lighter weight makes for a more comfortable wearing experience, and you’ll likely experience less leg and foot fatigue wearing the Atlanta vs. a traditional steel toe work boot.
If you’re accustomed to other Keen footwear, the speed-lacing system on the Atlanta won’t come as a surprise. The lacing system makes for quick and efficient tightening, and it makes it a breeze to slip these on and off in a hurry. I noticed immediately that the laces on the Atlanta were very long. Normally, I tighten the speed-laces and then tuck the end of the lacing under a row of laces. With the Atlanta, I found the “leftover” lacing after tightening was so long it couldn’t easily be tucked in without looping it, which defeated the ease of use the system is designed for to begin with. As a result, I decided to modify the laces myself. Carefully inserting a very small flathead screwdriver and gently prying up on each side of the lace end-piece provides access to the lace ends. I then cut them to length (don’t get carried away or you’ll wind up with laces too short to get the shoes on easily). Once cut, I used a flame to singe the ends to avoid fraying. Try to avoid burning your shoes or yourself in this process; removing the laces before doing anything involving fire is recommended. The laces can then be re-inserted into the lace end-piece and, voila, laces that were once too long are now just right. If your foot is beefier than mine, you may find the lacing to be a desirable length without any hacks required.
Comfort and Fit
I can unequivocally say, the Keen Atlanta is the most comfortable steel toe footwear I have ever worn. In terms of fit, they are true to size, although I needed to cinch down on the laces pretty hard to get a secure fit on the heel. It didn’t feel like the Atlantas were going to slip off, but the heel is fairly low and only tightens up when the strap that connects from the heel to the top of the laces is well secured. I would have liked a slightly tighter fit at the back of the shoe, with the heel strap located a tiny bit higher. Depending on your foot and heel shape, you may or may not find the back of the shoe a little loose. Other than the additional weight from the steel toe, you can easily feel like you’re wearing regular sandals or light-weight shoes and not steel toe work shoes. The Atlata is a very comfy work shoe!
The Keen Atlanta is also the most breathable work footwear I’ve worn, although I’ve been known to wear my regular Keen sandals for a couple activities OSHA would surely frown upon. Aside from ditching the portion of normal work boots that normally wrap around your ankle and lower leg, Keen also chose a unique, mesh-like liner material for much of the Atalanta’s construction. It’s not a true mesh entirely, as a protective inner layer keeps debris from going directly through the mesh and into the shoe. The downside to the mesh is that if you’re working around sawdust, dirt, filings, etc., they can become trapped in the outer mesh layer. Cleaning the mesh isn’t as easy as a quick wipe-down on smooth leather. Then again, the mesh makes leather seem downright claustrophobic, especially in warm weather environments. You can almost feel the breeze flowing through the Atlanta, making swamp-like foot conditions a thing of the past.
To keep you on your feet rather than on your butt, the Keen Atlanta features oil and slip resistant non-marking rubber outsoles. The tread is aggressive enough to provide a sure-footed experience on most surfaces you are likely to encounter. The non-marking rubber helps you avoid leaving little black streaks all over your clients’ houses, or all over your own house.
An asymmetrical steel toe is stealthily incorporated into the Keen Atlanta’s design. It’s unlikely anyone would guess the Atlanta is steel toe footwear unless you point it out. You may need to give a heads-up to your friendly neighborhood OSHA inspector. Even without the steel toe on other Keens, their signature safety toe provides excellent toe protection. With the steel toe in the Atlanta model, your piggies are safer than the US president tucked away in the White House underground emergency bunker. It’s worth noting that alhtough your piggies are safe, the rest of your foot and ankle are relatively exposed. We advise against dropping large steel ingots (or other heavy objects) on your feet.
Should everyone who wears steel toe footwear rush out and buy a pair of the Keen Atlanta? Definitely not. Traditional work boots offer some features the Atlanta can’t, namely ankle support, more robust protection of the foot and ankle area from abrasion, impacts and punctures, and keeping debris out of the footwear. Most boots are also easier to clean than the Atlanta; smooth leather is easy to brush or wash off. The Atlanta’s mesh has a lot of nooks and crannies that make a quick wash-down much less desirable. On the other hand (or foot), the Keen Atlanta offers warm weather comfort and ventilation that no boot is likely to match, all without sacrificing toe protection. If you work in an environment with muddy, debris-strewn and uneven surfaces, a work boot is likely still your best bet. However, if you work in light assembly / manufacturing, or in a trade that doesn’t require more serious all-around foot protection, the Keen Atlanta may just be the most comfortable safety footwear you have ever worn. They’re also ideal for any DIY enthusiast that wants a comfy work shoe with robust toe protection. The Keen Atlanta excels in many warm or hot weather work environments.
You can find the Keen Utility Men’s Atlanta Cool Steel Toe Work Shoe in Black, Gargoyle or Shitake (which I’ll translate to “greynish” and “light brownish”) on Amazon for just around $130. They are also available in an electro static dissipative (ESD) version, constructed to reduce excess static electricity. If you happen to be reading this in June, 2012, you can also enter to win a pair of these great work shoes in our Free Stuff Giveaway!