REVIEW: With ExcavatorXL boots, Caterpillar improves footbed, toe box for durable, all-day comfort

CAT Boots

Anyone with an inkling of the sprawling Caterpillar brand knows the company doesn’t just make heavy machinery. The famous “CAT” wordmark can be found on everything from smartphones to bumper stickers. But one of the more successful side businesses for the company is its footwear division, which is celebrating a milestone with the release of a special work boot.

Ten years ago, Cat Footwear launched boots with a design that sought to combine jobsite-tested durability with the comfort of a hiking boot or high top. They called this design SuperDuty iTechnology. Now, with a decade of happy feet under its belt, Cat has updated that design with a new footbed, rugged rubber bumper toe box and new contoured last that provides more room and comfort throughout the day.

The design update, dubbed SuperDutyXL iTechnology with EaseHD footbed, makes its first appearance on the recently introduced ExcavatorXL model boots. The boots are available in 6- and 8-inch lace-ups and a pull-on style and went on sale in stores and online earlier this month.

Cat sent along a pair of the 6-inch lace-ups for me to try on and test. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect from these boots and some impressions of how they wear.

 

Heavy duty comfort

CAT Excavator XL boots

The Excavator XLs make a pretty good first impression. True to the SuperDutyXL iTech mission statement, they offer a feel and flex more akin to hiking boots than the steel-toed shoes of old.

Though many boots run a little big and require you to size down, based on my experience with the Excavator XL, I’d say you’re probably safe ordering or buying true to your normal size. Depending on the brand, I wear everything from an 11.5 to a size 13 when it comes to boots. When I reach for a sneaker though, it’s typically a size 12. Thinking back to my most recent hiking book purchase, I asked Cat to send a size 13 and, upon their arrival at my doorstep, discovered they were way too big. The size 12s that followed are a perfect fit, leaving a little room in the heel as to prevent too much rubbing, but wrapping nicely around the sides of my feet before opening up a bit in the last.

Foot feel is fantastic. The ExcavatorXLs provide a nice snug lace and a fair bit of flex in the upper, allowing a wide range of motion.

Lacing is nice and smooth, something that can be hit or miss when it comes to boot lace hooks. Cat gives you two on each side of the upper for you to figure out a lacing method that best works for you, and I really like the design of these hooks. The way these particular hooks are angled grabs the lace pretty quickly while guiding it in the direction you want and preventing the lace from slipping out.

The Cat ExcavatorXLs feature a great lace hook design.The Cat ExcavatorXLs feature a great lace hook design.

The boots wrap snugly around my ankles while providing enough breathing room in the last for my toes to stretch. In other words, my feet are in these boots, not being choked by them. That’s what you want. And because of the good fit, it’s been my experience that you can hop from an outdoor task to an indoor task without ever really noticing that you’re still wearing steel-toed boots. These are just as comfortable during an afternoon meeting or getting stuck in front of a computer screen as they are trudging through a jobsite.

Cat says the boots are designed to have a similar feel to basketball sneakers, delivering immediate comfort from the first time you slip them on and requiring only a couple of days before they are fully broken in. My experience with these boots confirms that.

Inside Cat ExcavatorXLBut if you do find yourself on your feet all day, I have more good news. The new EaseHD footbed is legit. It’s the first thing I noticed when I first put the boots on and it’s the element of the boot that most stands out while you’re working in them. They’re just damn comfortable to walk in, cradling the heel and providing great support in the arch of your foot with a soft feel under the toe.

Cat says the EaseHD (short for Heavy Duty) design features a blend of polyurethane in the removable footbed and a polyethylene blend in the midsole. Cat says the polyurethane blend is designed to absorb shock throughout the work day and will not collapse and bottom out over time. And the immediate softness you feel in the footbed when putting the boot on is due to an open cell foam top layer.

The footbed also features NXT antimicrobial/antibacterial resistance to foot odor inside the boots.

Toe Tip of CAT ExcavatorXLs

The last note I want to make on how these boots wear is how much the toe box plays into that. Cat has made the toe box a little bit larger on the ExcavatorXLs and the extra room afforded to your toes really stands out. Your feet are still going to get warm, but they’ll be able to breathe a lot easier with the extra space. Plus, as has been demonstrated in recent years with wider toe boxes in hiking boots and running shoes, the extra space allows your toes to splay out when you’re moving. This has been found to reduce the risk of foot injury and overuse while allowing your toes to align in a more natural way.

 

Sole

Though you won’t spend much of your time with these boots looking at it, the new sole on the ExcavatorXLs has some pretty interesting design features.

Since your feet are a full inch off the ground when you slip these boots on, sole design is especially important since the grip of the shoe and the balance of the tread is what allows you to walk as if you weren’t wearing an extra few pounds on your feet.

The sole design on the ExcavatorXLs features a “squegee” tread and a Ladder Grip that sits beneath the arch of your foot. The “CAT” logo sits in the middle of the Ladder Grip portion of the sole.The sole design on the ExcavatorXLs features a “squegee” tread and a Ladder Grip that sits beneath the arch of your foot. The “CAT” logo sits in the middle of the Ladder Grip portion of the sole.

Like the Keen Utility boots we’ve reviewed in the past, Cat has opted for an asymmetrical outsole design for improved arch support, while increasing the flexibility in the sole’s forefoot. Even before they’re fully broken in, hunkering into a squat in the ExcavatorXLs is no issue at all. And walking through loose gravel or up steep inclines wasn’t met with any stiffness in the last of the boot whatsoever.

Cat has also given the tread of these boots what it calls a “squeegee” design, allowing the sole to evacuate liquid away from the center of your foot, to provide better traction in wet conditions.

Another cool feature in the sole of these boots is the Ladder Grip. Just below the arch of the foot, Cat has integrated a ladder-rung-friendly tread bordered by defined ridges between the heel and where the ball of your foot sits in the boot. It sounds like it might be a gimmick, but it does work quite well and, if nothing else provides a bit of extra assurance that your feet are in the right spot when you’re working from height.

 

Built For It

Caterpillar boots on top of Caterpillar boots box

Just like Cat prides itself in making machines that last for decades, its footwear brand wants the ExcavatorXL to be the last boot you buy for a while.

New on the ExcavatorXL is a rubber toe bumper that not only reduces wear and tear to the toe box, but lets you kick through gravel, and give wood and blocks a good nudge or knock without worrying about damaging the boot or feeling as much shock to your feet.

Another durability feature to these boots is the TecTuff material palced around the heel that resists abrasion while upping protection. Cat says while the toe box gets the majority of the wear on a pair of boots, the heel finishes a close second. This TecTuff material should adequately the bumps and scuffs the boots are subjected to throughout the day and also allow you to kick the boots off without worrying about damaging the construction of the heel.

Caterpillar’s ExcavatorXL work boots are available online at the Cat Footwear website for $170.