This is going to sound like one of these moans that things ain't made they way they use to be. It will sound like that because that is exactly what it is. The last time I bought a pair of safety wellies that really lasted was in 1994. They were purchased in a local hardware store, were a great fit, certainly not expensive and lasted me until 2010. I didn't realise it at the time but they were a landmark pair of wellies; durable in a way that modern wellies aren't. Even after a long serviceable life as footwear they fulfilled one more purpose as a gasket for a hot water tank, however that is another story.
Safety Wellington boot with steel toe-cap and steel midsole
I don't think it is just me experiencing wellie longevity problems because when I read reviews on online shops everyone seems to complain about them failing after a fairly short time. For me the most common problem has been the rubber, or it might be PVC or even silicone, splitting across the top of the boot. The photographs, above and below, show where my most recent pair of boots failed, though the previous three purchases also split in very similar locations. At the time the split opened I was cutting wood, you probably guessed, while standing ankle deep in running water. Within a few seconds my boot was filling up with cold water and suddenly it was time to finish work for the day.
Wellington boot with close-up of split
I haven't "splashed out" for really expensive safety wellies although I have purchased some well known brands such as Dunlop Actifort and Dickies. Perhaps the really expensive wellies, costing £100 or more, really do last as you would expect but I can't say that I am tempted by that proposition. Safety wellies, as are all Personal Protective Equipment, are VAT exempt so even £17 should buy a reasonable pair of boots. I don't need a buckles or laces, I don't have to walk in them for miles and thermal insulation down to -30°C isn't a requirement either. I just need something that keeps my feet dry when working near a bog or splashing across a burn. Safety wellies are a requirement as there is always a possibility I will drop a heavy log on my toes when cutting wood.
I can't say for sure, as it was too long ago, but I suspect the 1994 exceptional wellies cost something like £20, which would make them both more expensive in relative and absolute terms. It may be that some wellies are now being produced with slightly less durable materials just so the price can be kept below £20. However, that doesn't explain why wellies costing around £45 also seem to suffer the same short life.
My latest purchase is Amblers' FS100 safety wellies which I hope will last longer than my previous brands. If they don't last, you'll be hearing from me again.