KEEN Utility Men’s Atlanta Cool II ESD Soft Toe Work Shoe
The older I get the more I prioritize comfort. The work’s hard enough as it is without enduring uncomfortable tools…including uncomfortable shoes or boots. I can put up with a jacket that binds a little, or with a tool that doesn’t quite fit my hand perfectly. But if the boots or shoes I’m wearing are uncomfortable, then the whole day is usually starting out bad and goes downhill from there.
Shoes rather than boots inside
If I’m outside (rather than inside) there are several reasons that boots, such as the excellent KEEN Utility Dover that I reviewed last spring, are usually my choice. They provide extra support on rough surfaces; they provide traction in dirt, gravel and mud well; they prevent debris from falling into them better than shoes do, they’re waterproof, and they provide protection from the puncture and falling hazards that are more prevalent outside.
But if I’m working on an interior space—particularly a finished interior space—then low-cut shoes are the way for me to go. They’re more comfortable and there are fewer hazards indoors. But perhaps the biggest reason I prefer them is that on jobs where I’m kneeling a lot—shower or baseboard installs, for example—boots can chafe or bind my ankles, and are just plain uncomfortable when I’m in that position. Also, the reduced weight of shoes compared to boots is refreshing. So in the spirit of “right tool for the job” I like to have a good-quality, comfortable pair of low-cut work shoes in rotation. (Sneakers aren’t “enough shoe” for construction work, in my opinion: they don’t provide support or stability and can downright be injurious to your feet when you’re on ladder rungs.)
I also usually prefer a shoe rather than a boot if I’m on a roof. Some boots, by bracing the ankles, can mask some of the kinesthetic feedback I rely on to let me know the position and angle of my feet. This may seem odd, but it’s a thing…at least with me.
With their background in hiking boots—which have usually led the way in footwear technological innovation—KEEN Utility work boots and shoes meld leading-edge materials and design to the safety and functional requirements of the job site. I’ve always found them comfortable, highly functional, and with their wide toe box, healthy for my feet.
KEEN Utility Atlanta Cool II ESD
So I was delighted to be able to review the new KEEN Utility Men’s Atlanta Cool II ESD Soft Toe work shoe. The Atlanta Cool II ESD, new to 2020, is the next generation of the very well-received Atlanta Cool ESD. It incorporates a new “ReGEN” midsole that returns more energy with each step, and a new slip-resistant sole. Given how impressed I was with the KEEN Utility Dover, I had high hopes for them. Spoiler alert: they lived up to them. First, the specs:
- Non-mutilating upper that reduces the chance of marking or scratching surfaces
- Left and right asymmetrical KEEN.PROTECT soft toes
- Meets ASTM F2892-17 SD 100 Standards
- Leather and mesh upper with reflective webbing
- Fit lace capture system
- Front and heel pull loops
- Plush tongue and collar
- Moisture-wicking textile lining
- Removable metatomical dual-density EVA footbed
- External Stability Shank (ESS)
- ReGEN midsole is lightweight and compression-resistant for superior stability and shock absorption. This midsole provides 50% more energy return than standard EVA foam.
- Non-marking rubber outsole is oil and slip-resistant. Sole features siped tread design that disperses liquids quickly for reliable traction.
- Sole meets ASTM F1677-96 MARK II and ASTM F2913-17 SATRA Non-Slip Testing Standards.
- Electro static dissipative (ESD) construction to reduce excess static electricity (that’s what the “ESD” in the name stands for). This is a serious issue in environments with volatile gases.
Right tool for the job
While this shoe comes in a steel-toe and soft-toe model, I requested the soft-toe version because I don’t usually need toe protection on my interior re-modeling jobs, and I wanted the extra measure of comfort that they can provide. These are breathable shoes with a partially mesh upper, so they aren’t completely waterproof. I find that even “waterproof” shoes (as opposed to boots) tend to get my feet damp if I’m in a wet environment anyway since the water just goes in over the top of the low-cut shoes. So with shoes, I’ll take the comfort of breathability any day, especially in the hot weather.
The Atlanta Cool II ESD is a very comfortable shoe, just as expected. KEEN footwear, including KEEN Utility work shoes and boots, is famous for its comfort, and these shoes are no exception. The wide toe box is a welcome change from boots and shoes that cramp the toes and is actually anatomically correct. Despite the great comfort, they feel sturdy. Your foot is securely directed to the ground with each step—you don’t get that unstable feeling that sneakers often give you. They feel like work shoes.
The slip resistance is real; in the course of using them, I certainly noticed it on all surfaces. I also tried an experiment: I tried to get them to slip on a slick epoxy-finished concrete floor with predictable zero slippage, and then tried the same thing after pouring water on the floor—again no slippage. Since I’d slipped on this same floor a few times before with other shoes, that was impressive. Also, the shoe is ridged enough that standing on ladder rungs is comfortable.
Comfort and function
During kneeling, I didn’t even notice that the shoes were present. The bumper-covered toe box provided a secure anchor point for my toes and supported them against unnecessary upward flexion (which gets uncomfortable, if not painful, after a while). At the same time, there was no restriction or discomfort at all at my ankles.
I don’t know much about the composition of the proprietary ReGEN midsole, but I’m glad to see that it’s not EVA. EVA is what running shoe midsoles were traditionally composed of, and it simply didn’t last long. After a year or so it got hard, and serious runners replaced their shoes every six weeks because it broke down. The ReGEN midsole seems, to me, to be a perfect balance between too much cushioning (which feels unstable), and too little, which gets uncomfortable real fast.
The partial mesh upper does indeed provide airflow into the shoe. I like this because inside it’s seldom cold enough for that to be a problem, and outside on very hot days, anything that helps keep your feet ventilated is welcome. Finally, the pull-on loops on both the rear and the tongue are nicely executed—they’re big enough to get a finger through, and all work boots need them.
Bottom line: I’m very happy with these shoes. To me, they’re another winner from KEEN Utility. They’re keepers. Is there anything I don’t like about them? Actually, no…but there is one thing that didn’t work for me, and that’s the locking lace system. This is not a bungee lace system—it consists of regular laces with a cord lock.
Looking at the online reviews for this shoe and its predecessor, there are no neutral opinions about this; people either loved this lacing system or hated it. I don’t hate it—I actually kinda like the idea. But it didn’t work for me because I couldn’t cinch the laces tight enough with it. I believe this might be due to the fact that I have slightly narrow feet—not a “C” width, but on the narrow side of “D”, with the corresponding slightly narrow heel, which requires that I tie my laces quite tight. I simply put in some regular laces and the problem was solved.
Wisdom from the Beach Boys
While the Beach Boys’ songs were really vehicles for Brian Wilson’s harmonies, with the often silly lyrics very much an afterthought, they got the lyrics right with this song:
Take good care of your feet, Pete
Better watch out what you eat, Pete
Although I wouldn’t recommend eating these shoes, you’ll definitely be taking good care of your feet with them. Highly recommended.