So you’re interested in a pair of western style boots? We’re not here to tell you which pair or what kind of boots to buy. We’re here to tell you everything you need to know about cowboy boots in order to make an informed decision.
There’s a massive influx of poorly designed and plain terrible western boots out there. How are you supposed to know which cowboy boot is best and which materials are ideal for you? If you want something for a low price, you will likely buy something terrible.
And if you want a pair of great cowboy boots, you will likely buy something terribly expensive. Surely there exists a middle ground of quality and stylish affordable boots.
There are a few trusted brands out there like Justin Boots, Ariat, Tony Lama, and Dingo. But just because it’s not a trusted brand, doesn’t mean a particular pair of country boots are bad. They could be made by anyone, as long as they have a certain set of characteristics. And certain western boots are going to be better suited for different people.
For this reason we have compiled a checklist of things to look for when you begin your own personal cowboy boot research. Once you’ve picked out your boots you can begin to think of outfit combinations. There are great cowboy boot outfits and styles for both women as well as men.
Whether you’re shopping for the perfect pair of casual cowboy boots or cowboy work boots, there’s some things you’ll need to take into consideration. Take a look at the following checklist and try to keep it in mind:
- Comfort - This obviously comes first. Sure, at first these boots were solely designed to provide utility on horseback, but that doesn’t mean you should let certain vendors get away with poor comfort. Chances are you’ll be walking around in your cowboy boots a good bit. You’ll want to make sure that the actual shoe is created in an ergonomic form that provides comfort. Just because it looks like something out of a western film doesn’t mean it’s a good buy.
- Hardness - A good pair of western boots will be very hard leather at the bottom and soft at the top. This is to keep the top of your leg breathable, mobile, and comfortable. The bottom should be much harder as this is what will go through the most wear and tear.
- Durability - If you already know how to wear cowboy boots, then you know that the entire shoe functions as one piece. There aren’t usually laces or straps. This means if there’s a single tear or bend, the entire shoe loses value and purpose.
- Leather Quality - This is almost the entirety of the boot, so make sure it’s good quality. It’s easy to spot poor quality leather. For starters, good leather smells like leather while poor quality leather smells like plastic and chemicals. If something says “genuine leather” or “original leather”, it does not necessarily mean the leather is good quality. Good leather will always come with great stitching and is smooth to the touch. Blotchy patches in leather also signify poor leather construction.
- Heel & Sole - The bottom of the shoe is doing most of the battle against the ground. You need a thick sole. Cheaper boots will use rubber or synthetic soles, whereas nice boots will use a more dense leather sole as well. Depending on what you need the shoe for, keep in mind that the angle and size of the heel can vary drastically. Anything higher than 2 inches (which is already quite long) is a joke.
- Sizing - Leather cowboy boots don’t size the same. The general rule of thumb is to buy a size larger to give yourself room, but nowadays this isn’t always true. Check reviews and try some boots on in your local store. Some have tried to over correct this problem and created a new era of too tight boots. Make sure you are look into wide size adjustments as well. Your boots will be lasting you a while so make sure you get them sized well.
- Breaking Them In - I’ve never owned a pair of western boots that were without the need to be broken in. All boots in general need to be broken in. Cowboy boots follow this rule and then some. It’s leather, and leather takes time to form to your leg. Don’t freak out when you first try on the boots. Some take even longer to break in so keep this into your calculations.
- Price - If your boots aren’t leather, you better not be paying more than dollars. If you are, you may as well make the upgrade to superior materials. When it comes to a good quality leather boot, you can find something in between one and two hundred dollars. The better deals will be closer to one hundred and your more exquisite boots will cost you closer to the other end. Don’t overpay for something that’s synthetic, and don’t buy boots claiming to be leather for under a hundred dollars, because they are lying.
- Your Shoes Purpose - Are you an aspiring equestrian? Or do you just want the ability to add some wild west to your wardrobe? Whether you are making a fashion statement or need something to work in , there’s a western style cowboy boot for you. Maybe you need some dancing cowboy boots or perhaps you need some cowboy work boots. Knowing the different types of western boots will help you find the perfect one for you.
The original purpose for cowboy boots was to have a boot with an angled heel to facilitate riding horses. Since then the product has diversified to suit different needs. Read up on the types of western boots so you can know which style is best for you.
The western cowboy boot is also called the classic western boot. It’s the prototypical type of western boot that you think of. They generally come about mid calf with somewhere around a 12 inch shaft. The angle of the heel points inward and is generally about an inch and a half long. If you want to get a good pair of leather cowboy boots, be prepared to spend a good bit of cash. Due to their leather nature, they necessitate expert materials as well as craftsmanship.
The roper design was created for rodeos. A cowboy would ride his horse out, lasso a calf, then get down and subdue them. This meant the roper had to be easier to move in, easier to get out of the saddle in, and all around lighter. So Ropers will find themselves somewhere in between the ankle and mid calf, usually with a 7 to 10 inch shaft.
The toe end is generally rounded and sometimes squared. The heel is smaller than the cowboys as well. The sole isn’t always leather but often includes some sort of traction or rubber in the sole. These are much cheaper than the classic cowboys as well.
The riding boot is generally an inch or two longer in the shaft than the cowboy boot. These are much more specialized for actual horseback riding. The heel is angled inwards and can even reach 2 inches. The toe is generally pointed and sometimes very slightly rounded. You don’t want to go around walking in these as they are intended for equestrians. Their specific use means they cost a little less than cowboy boots as well.
Western Work Boots
The western work boot is very purpose driven. It almost always has a rounded toe and even sometimes has laces. The heel is generally a little smaller than riding boots but can go up to about an inch and a half. These look the least like your traditional cowboy boots, but offer the most day to day use. The soles will include the most traction, and they are designed to be walked in more than others.
I’m not sure if you still want to classify these western styled fashion boots as cowboy boots or not. These are the ones with extra straps, frills, and flash. These don’t serve any purpose except to look fun. They use the western boot as a model and then create a fashionable shoe.
They are the least authentic, but the most modern. You can find them in almost any combination, and you can even find them made out of exotic leathers and materials. These aren’t the ones actual cowboys wear, but they may be the ones used in a western themed fashion show.
If you’re just looking for some dancing cowboy boots, then pick up some fashion cowboy boots. In most cases, the standard cowboy boot is what you are looking for. Once you find the right style of boots, you’ll have to know if they fit right. Since cowboy boots are all one cohesive piece, fitting is a little more tricky.
Cowboy boots have a few more stringent requirements than traditional shoes do. There aren’t generally laces or straps to help make your boot fit. The cowboy boot really relies on superior leather craftsmanship to ensure a proper fit.
Now if you put them on and feel a little confused as to whether or not they fit, we’re here to help. Go through the following step by step to see if the boot is the right one for you.
The heel of the cowboy boot is one of the hardest to tell. But if everything else on this list works out, there’s a good chance that the heel is a good fit for you. Since most of these western boots have leather soles it take some time to break them in.
The more you wear them, the more the leather gets tighter and formed. This means the heel naturally will get tighter and fix to your foot. So if at first your heel seems to have too much room, don’t worry it’s not a problem as long as the rest of the list works out.
This is the most important fitting aspect in terms of the longevity of your cowboy boot. If your foot is wider than the boot is designed for, then you will seriously damage your shoe. The leather will harden and get formed into an obtuse shape.
This shape will pull on the stitching, and the leather will then get saggy. It’s like when you wear a skinny pair of tennis shoes and the sides start break from the soles.
That’s what will happen with your boots. If the leather on the sides is pushed so far as to cover the stitching, then you know the shoe isn’t wide enough for you. Most cowboy shoes include wide sizes. But don’t get too paranoid, cowboy boot wide sizes are generally wider than your standard wide size. So make sure you do the ‘ball of the foot test’.
The ball of your foot is essentially the palm of your feet. It’s where you’re supposed to put the most of the pressure when you walk, and it’s also the widest part of your foot. When you look down at your potential boot, find the widest part. It should be somewhere around the middle near the toe end. It’s right at the bottom of the curve.
This area is where the ball of your foot is supposed to sit. If it goes too high up, the shoe is too small. If the ball of your foot is before that area, the shoe is too large. The ball of your foot is the widest part, so unless you want to suffer any of the consequences of stretching out your shoe, make sure your foot is lined up correctly.
This is more of an issue for longer riding boots. You don’t want your calves to be skin tight with the boot. You need some breathing room. You should have enough room to tuck your jeans in but still have wiggle room. If it is too tight, it could throw off the angle of the entire boot and really affect your posture.
If your cowboy boot is mid calf, you want to ensure that the top is not in a position that is constantly ‘poking’ your calves. This will only harden the tip and get worse over time. You want the top of the boot to stay soft and comfortable, so make sure it’s not too tight.
You need some wiggle room here. There are several different versions of the toe in cowboy boots, but the ones that most have this problem are the pointed tip cowboy shoe.
The pointed tips are a recent adaptation, and if you have a wide foot I would stay away from them. The square tip and the rounded tip are much more practical. They offer you more too room, which is essential for everyday use.
If your toes are too tight, then the ball of your feet is too tight. If the ball of your foot is too tight you lose serious mobility and risk hurting your heel.
Just like the ball of the foot needing to match the ball of the shoe, the foot arch needs to match the shoe curve. To protect your foot and to prevent cramping, you will want to make sure that the angle of your foot matches the curve of the shoe. If this doesn’t happen, a part of your foot that doesn’t need to be on an incline will be slanted.
Uneven grounding for your feet is sure to cause cramps. And since he sole is leather, you will have the bottom of the shoe warp into a shape that is bad for the shoe.
The top of the foot should not be pressing too hard against the leather. If it does, overtime the boot will bend downwards. You want the leather to smooth over the top of your foot. If you move your foot around and there is a lot of wrinkling at the top of the boot, then the sizing is off.
You want there to only be slight wrinkling when you move your foot around. Any sign of major wrinkling across the shoe is a bad sign. No wrinkles might be a sign your shoe is too large. The perfect scenario is when there is just small wrinkles. The small wrinkles are a sign that the leather is forming to your foot.
There are a lot of places to buy cowboy boots. For starters, I would suggest going to a local store. This gives you a couple of advantages. You can see what the products look like in real life, and since things don’t always look like they do in the pictures, this is a huge advantage.
You also get to try them on. And since trying on cowboy boots is a complicated thing, it helps to be able to try on a wide variety in various sizes.
Convenience comes at a price though. Your stores will usually charge you the upper end spectrum of pricing for all their boots. No one can beat the prices found online. You can check Zappo’s for some good deals, overstock may have some boots, but in the end of the day the best place to buy western boots online is Amazon.
Amazon has all of the big brands, and even smaller ones you’ll never have heard of. Most of the companies have very friendly customer service, and in most cases, if you have problems with sizing, you can get a free exchange.
The best part of Amazon is the ratings section. You have all these different boots, but not enough information on them to make a wise decision if you just look at product listings.
Reading the reviews gives you good insight into fitting, color, longevity, and anything else that you should look out for. Amazon also does this thing with their prices, where for certain sizes on different boot models, you can get a significantly reduced prices.
They base this off of availability and need to restock. So at least check Amazon, because you might be able to get a real good deal that isn’t there tomorrow.
So the ultimate strategy, if you’re really serious about getting a pair of westerns, is to check the stores and find your fit. Once you have established your desired size and style, check the price on Amazon, and your other online stores. Get the best deal, but make sure you test them out before you commit.
Cowboy boots are great. There’s a reason I can comfortably write an entire guide on what to know before you buy them. You’re instantly equipped with some style when you wear a pair of western boots. They go along well with your casual outfits as well your more formal ones. But if you’re getting a pair make sure you do it right.
Make sure you know what style you’re getting. Do you want the traditional cowboy look or do you need something more functional like the western work boot? Or do you want the in between option of the roper?
Check to make sure you got a good quality pair of boots. Unless you’re just looking for some dancing cowboy boots, get some real leather. Synthetic made products are not very charming.
Cowboy boots should be tough and the leather should be smooth. Don’t make the mistake of buying a narrow pointed toe shoe with a 15 inch shaft if you just want a cool pair of boots to wear now and then.
Those boots are for serious riding only and are not comfortable to walk in for long periods. Don’t get fooled into overpaying and don’t get swindled into paying for a cheap product that you thought was good enough.