3 Reasons Every Boot Should Have a Shank

What exactly is a boot shank? Simply put, the shank is a load-bearing piece of steel (or another hard, flexible material) that is sandwiched between the insole and the outsole of your shoe. It usually sits between the ball and heel of your foot, under the arch. You can’t see it, but it’s there to support you: shanks relieve tension by diminishing the load on your arches, calves, and knees, and help you keep your balance on uneven terrain. They also maintain the shape of the boot over time, which means that you’ll get the most out of your investment.

boot shank

What Is a Boot Shank?

  • Improves arch support
  • Improves stability
  • Helps boot keep its shape over time

Shanks are a pretty common boot component, and you’ll find them in all kinds of styles from mountaineering, to heavy work boots, to a streamlined dress boot. The shank itself is a narrow, rectangular piece of metal about the shape of a piece of chewing gum, perhaps a bit bigger. Shanks come in half, ¾, and full lengths, though outside of heavy workwear a half shank is the standard. After the upper and insole are constructed, the shank is cemented and/or laced to the insole, then covered by the outsole, which is stitched to the upper.

[Related: The 10 Best Dress Boots]

A steel shank is entirely different than a steel toe, though both protect your feet in hazardous conditions and help to maintain the shape of the boot. Shanks also serve to protect the foot, specifically the underside of your foot from puncture wounds — but unlike steel toes, they don’t add a lot of bulk to your boot.

These days, not all shanks are made of steel. Fiberglass, nylon, wood, plastic, carbon fiber and even kevlar are commonly used shank materials. The R.M. Williams Comfort Craftsman, for example, uses an “airport-friendly” fiberglass shank to try and reduce the weight while still providing maximum support. Tricker’s, in keeping with their English country theme, uses wooden shanks in all their boots. Basically, it’s up to the manufacturer – do they prioritize weight? Style? Comfort? Each material has its pros and cons. It’s up to you to decide what combination of weight and support feels best on your foot.

Steel is the norm and very unlikely to warp over time. If you fly a lot, though, and you don’t want to take your boots off every time you go through TSA PreCheck, you’ll want a pair without the steel shank, which will set off the metal detector.

thursday vanguards boards
The Thursday Vanguard boot has a steel shank.

The Takeaway

Shanks are something that’s easy to take for granted, because they’re so buried in the construction. But, for me, they’re an indispensable part of the boot — all of my favorite boots feature a shank. The arch support they provide makes the wear that much more comfortable, and the structure they give the boot means that they’ll keep their shape longer and last well into the future.

Featured image via @ostmoboots on Instagram.

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Mel Compo

Mel Compo is a writer, editor, and general word-geek from Brooklyn, New York. When they’re not writing about the finer side of men’s footwear they can be found lurking around the streets, trains, and museums of NYC, ostensibly doing something urgent but actually just looking around for menswear style inspiration.

5 thoughts on “3 Reasons Every Boot Should Have a Shank”

  1. Hi, I didn’t know Allen Edmonds uses shanks in their boots and I am quite a collector of AE boots lol, I guess I need to do my homework. Just for reference I have three pairs of HMs (14 pairs of AE boots in total).

  2. Thanks, Mel, for an enjoyable and informative article. Makes me less grumpy about taking my Lucchese’s off at the airport

  3. The work boot steel shank is a narrow piece of rectangular, thin, flat, and molded steel that a shoemaker tuck inside a boot for an added layer of protection for the wearer. The primary purpose of a steel shank in boots is to protect the wearer’s feet. It helps stabilize the outsoles of a boot so you can walk or run with a good balance while using it during work.


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