To some, choosing EMS shoes may seem like a simple-enough decision. Just go online and pick out a pair of shoes or boots that are within your budget and that look nice. But not so fast my friend. Those with any kind of experience know that the right pair of footwear is essential to not only your comfort on the job, but your safety as well. Which is why we’ve created this buyer’s guide to help you know what to look for in an EMS shoe or boot.
During the course of your career, you’re likely to average a new pair of EMS shoes roughly every two years or so, depending on your location and how active it is. Departments vary in how they address providing footwear to their employees. Some provide a complete uniform, including footwear, while many give employees an allowance to spend on their uniform, including shoes or boots. This is the best-case scenario because it allows you to select what’s right for you.
So the question remains, what should you look for when purchasing a pair of EMS shoes or boots? Let’s take a look at eight key factors that will help you make a proper, informed decision, and hopefully set you on the right path for success.
The very first step you want to take when selecting EMS footwear is to check your department’s regulations. Many departments focus more on what you’re not allowed to wear, rather than set criteria of what you do have to wear. Black is a pretty standard color, while many state that sneakers or tennis shoes are not allowed.
Check with your department first, because you don’t want to spend the time and money on making a purchase, only to find out the pair you select doesn’t meet code.
Comfort and Fit
This job can be extremely demanding, both mentally and physically, so it’s imperative that you do everything you can to ensure comfort, especially for your feet. Boots, in general, aren’t nearly as comfortable as your everyday sneakers. If the EMS shoes or boots you select are uncomfortable, it can make your day-to-day life on the job miserable.
Plus, wearing boots that don’t fit properly or aren’t comfortable can lead to long-term foot problems and injuries, especially if you overcompensate to avoid pain, potentially straining another area of your foot.
Look for a boot that fits snug, but not too tight. When it comes to comfort, you often get what you pay for. In other words, the higher the quality of the boot, the more comfortable it’s likely to be. We’ll talk more about price/cost later on, but keep this point in mind when making your choice.
Protection and Safety
Comfort and protection are really your two most critical elements when selecting EMS shoes. A lot of nasty things can happen to your feet in the course of your shift, from a stretcher accidentally rolling over your foot to heavy objects falling on them to sharp objects falling on them as well.
Most employers ban open-toe and soft-top shoes like sneakers, because, although they’re comfortable, they provide very little, if any, protection.
Some employers even require employees to wear steel-toed boots for an added layer of defense.
Another factor to consider is bloodborne pathogens. Many boots designed especially for EMS will feature a bloodborne pathogen resistance to help further protect your feet from danger.
When we talk about breathability, we’re talking about whether the boot is waterproof or water-resistant. It may seem like a no-brainer that waterproof is a good thing. Sure, you’re likely to work in rainy, wet conditions, but there are disadvantages to waterproof as well.
Waterproof footwear not only helps keep water and moisture out, but by the same token, it also keeps moisture inside the shoe. That means sweat and odors can’t escape, and your shoes can take on terrible odors and can cause foot problems like fungus and other issues.
Think about the normal conditions you face each day. If you work in a drier climate, for instance the southwest, then you’ll want a shoe with maximum breathability in order to let moisture escape. Conversely, if you work in an area where wet conditions dominate, then finding a waterproof shoe or boot is a must.
Grip and Traction
You’re not working in an office building with smooth carpeted floors each day. No, you’re working in unpredictable locations, conditions, and terrain, so you need an EMS shoe with good traction, one that is slip resistant.
Hazardous conditions include slippery surfaces, wet conditions, icy sidewalks, and uneven terrain. Wearing a shoe with good traction inspires confidence in you so that you can perform your duties without fear. This is another area in which we see higher quality, more expensive footwear as the preferred option, as they often have better traction, so that you’re getting more value for your buck. Look for a boot with a slip-resistant, rubber outsole for superior grip.
The standard for EMS boots is a boot height of either 6” or 8”. Which you choose depends on how much ankle support you need and want. Many EMTs prefer an 8” boot because it provides more ankle support and reduces the chance for rolling an ankle and incurring a sprain.
Front and Side Zippers
Many EMTs prefer a boot with a front or side zipper because it allows you to pre-tie the boots, and then simply put them on and zip them up when it’s time to go. And with the laces covered up, it helps prevent an untied lace becoming a potential hazard, as you can trip over an untied lace with ease.
The disadvantage is that a zipper is often the first part of the boot to fail and require repair. However, for most this isn’t enough to outweigh the advantages.
Cost and Budget
When choosing a pair of EMS shoes or boots, you’ll likely have a budget to keep in mind, whether that’s the employer’s allowance or you’re footing the bill. It can be tempting to opt for a less expensive boot to save costs, and that’s understandable. However, it’s wise to think in terms of long-term investment.
This is something you’ll wear each and every day, on every call for at least a year, and hopefully even more. There are high-level, mid-level, and entry-level boots. If your budget is tight, entry-level is a good option. But if you can afford to spend a little more, you’ll definitely find that mid- and high-level provide a higher quality, longer lasting, and more comfortable option.
When deciding on a pair of EMS shoes or boots, it’s wise to ask your fellow colleagues and see what they like or dislike, what brands they prefer, and what features are must-haves.
Talking with fellow EMTs is often the best method to figure out what may be best for you, and can save you a lot of trial and error, as well as time.