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Ariat Bench Made Boots Review: The James in Bison Leather

William Barton
Expertise:

Boots, Leather, Heritage Fashion, Denim, Workwear

William founded BootSpy in 2020 with a simple mission: test and review popular men’s boots and give a real, honest opinion. Since then, we've welcomed over 5 million readers on our boot reviews and boot care guides. Reach out to him for your own personalized boot recommendation at william@bootspy.com. Or join 50,000+ subscribers on the BootSpy YouTube channel, or send him a message on the BootSpy Instagram. Read full bio.


Last Updated: Apr 3, 2024
6 min read

Ariat has spent the last three decades upending everything we know about cowboy boots. So can they make a traditional cowboy boot that competes with the legacy brands?

In this Ariat Bench Made boots review, I share my experience with the Ariat James in Bison leather. By the end, you’ll know whether your next pair of classic cowboy boots will be Ariats or something else.

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Ariat Bench Made James
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Bottom line: Ariat’s new Bench Made collection is outstanding. It has some of the comfort features Ariat is known for, but is a bit more “high end” than what Ariat usually produces. I’m a big fan of the black bison leather for how supple but thick it is.

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Pros:
  • The Bench Made collection offers traditional cowboy boot construction while staying at an affordable price
  • The quality of the leather and components (lemonwood, leather insole, leather outsole) is excellent
  • They’re really comfortable and easy to break in
Cons:
  • While Ariat is still building out their Bench Made collection, the selection is slightly more limited than the rest of their offerings, though they're adding new Bench Made boots regularly.

Cowboy boots are the ultimate American boot. And a traditional cowboy boot has a unique build unlike anything else in the world. 

I’ve known Ariat as a brand that disrupted classic cowboy boots: they’ve usually focused on comfort with modern materials and innovative features. 

But they’ve recently gone back to tradition with the Ariat Bench Made collection. I picked up the James in Cool Black Bison to see if their handmade boots stand up to other legacy brands. 

Ariat Bench Made Overview

Ariat Benchmade James 2

Ariat is getting into traditional cowboy boots. 

Their new Bench Made line is all handmade in Leon, Mexico, the home of cowboy boot-making. 

Right now, the line consists of a roper, a square toe, a snip toe, and an R-toe boot. Between these styles, there’s a mix of caiman, ostrich, and bison leather. 

Ariat Benchmade Collection

I’m reviewing the James R-toe boot in bison leather. 

These are a bit pricier than most Ariat boots, going anywhere between $300 and $550, depending on which leather option you get (bison is least expensive, ostrich is in the middle, and caiman is the most expensive). 

These boots are unlike most Ariat boots: they’re traditionally made with leather soles, calfskin lining, thicker upper leather, and a traditional leather insole with lemonwood pegs and brass clinch nails. 

My Hands-On Review

First Impression

Ariat Benchmade Collection 4

I’ve been thinking about getting a pair of bison leather boots for a while now, so when I saw Ariat’s new Bench Made line with their smooth black bison leather, I jumped at it.

Normally, I don’t think of Ariat as a traditional cowboy boot brand: I like their WorkHog specifically because it’s got a lot of modern features and materials that make it comfortable for long days working. 

Ariat Benchmade James 3

But all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So you ought to have something to put on Friday nights to impress the lady. Well that’s what I was thinking anyway. 

I’m a huge fan of the style of the James. I like my cowboy boots with the angled heel—I think it’s a distinctive look that takes a bit of confidence to pull off. And the R-toe has a nice rounded end to it, so it looks great in a variety of casual scenarios. 

Ariat Benchmade James

Ariat’s new Bench Made collection is outstanding. It has some of the comfort features Ariat is known for, but is a bit more “high end” than what Ariat usually produces. I’m a big fan of the black bison leather for how supple but thick it is.

Check Price

Leather Quality and Care

Ariat Benchmade James

This bison leather is beautiful. It’s not too thick-grained like a lot of bison leather is. It keeps a smooth surface and looks really refined.

One thing I love about bison leather is that it’s generally around 20% thicker than normal bovine (cow) leather, but it’s actually even more supple. So that means this boot breaks in really nice and easy, plus the leather is going to last a long time. 

Ariat Benchmade Collection 6

I do like to condition bison a bit more than I would cow leather because of that thicker grain pattern. More creases are exposed, so it’s important to knock the dirt off and replenish the leather. I’ll condition these around every 3 months if I’m wearing them consistently. 

There’s a calfskin lining throughout the entire boot, which is a fantastic feature. Not only does it make the whole boot comfortable and breathable, but it also adds to the durability. 

Sole

Ariat Benchmade James 4

The sole is really where the differences are between Ariat’s Bench Made collection and the rest of their lineup. 

First, this is a Goodyear welted cowboy boot. That’s traditional, and it means your cowboy boots can be resoled

The James features a butyl-treated leather sole with a steel shank, brass clinch nails, and lemonwood pegs. 

Ariat Benchmade Collection 5

Brass and lemonwood are preferable to common steel nails as the rust that can accumulate will actually rot out the leather outsole and insole. So you won’t have that problem here. 

Ariat ships these boots with a classic high density foam footbed, which is really comfortable. It’s worth noting though: if your boots feel a bit too snug, you can remove this footbed and wear your boots without the foam insole. 

Ariat Benchmade James 5

A lot of guys see the top end of the nails in the bottom and assume they shouldn’t stand on the leather insole, but that’s what I do for all my cowboy boots. Even without the high density foam insole, these boots are really comfortable. 

Ariat Benchmade James

Ariat’s new Bench Made collection is outstanding. It has some of the comfort features Ariat is known for, but is a bit more “high end” than what Ariat usually produces. I’m a big fan of the black bison leather for how supple but thick it is.

Check Price

Fit and Sizing

Ariat Benchmade Collection 8

With the slimmer size of this traditional cowboy boot, I stuck with my most common standard size, and I’m really happy with what I got. 

I have a full Ariat sizing guide here, but to summarize the fit: get your normal size. If you’re an 11 in most shoes, get an 11 here. 

If the boots are too snug, you can try removing that foam insole, and that’ll give you more room. If your boots are fitting loose, then exchange for the next half-size down. 

Ariat is offering standard D-width and EE-widths on their whole Bench Made collection. So if you have wide feet, you’re in luck. 

Break-in Period

Ariat Benchmade Collection 2

There was basically no break in period at all with these boots. The bison leather is very supple and easy to work in. 

If you choose to remove the footbed, you can expect a little break in period as your foot impresses on the leather insole. But other than a lack of shock absorption, they’re still quite comfortable. 

The calfskin lining really helps with long term comfort on these boots as well. 

What Do Other Reviewers Say?

One of my favorite YouTubers in the cowboy boot space is Jeremiah Craig. He says in his video review of the Ariat Bench Made collection:

“It’s really impressive. It’s unlike any other Ariat that I’ve tried because the leather is so much different. The American bison—I’ve never tried an Ariat that uses such high quality leather. 

The fact that they’re using calfskin leather…it’s so, so soft.”

My Thoughts Overall

What I Like

  • The Bench Made collection offers traditional cowboy boot construction while staying at an affordable price.

  • The quality of the leather and components (lemonwood, leather insole, leather outsole) is excellent.

  • They’re really comfortable and easy to break in.

What I Don’t Like

  • While I like that Ariat went with all exotic leathers, I’d love to see a few high quality bovine leather options in there as well.

Who is the Ariat Bench Made for?

If you’re looking for an upgraded cowboy boot that’s built traditionally, you’ll love the Ariat Bench Made collection.

The Verdict

I’ve always thought of Ariat as a modern work boot brand, but their new Bench Made collection is changing my mind on what they’re capable of. 

I love the traditional construction on my James boot: Goodyear welt, leather insole, lemonwood pegs, brass clinch nails, butyl leather outsole, leather stacked heel, steel shank—it’s got it all. 

That’s not to mention the beautifully soft bison leather and calfskin leather lining. 

Overall, I’m a big fan of Ariat’s Bench Made collection. I wish they offered a few fine cow-hide leather options though. I love my American bison leather, but I might always prefer bovine. 

Still, I’m going to get years of great wear from these boots.

Ariat Benchmade James

Ariat’s new Bench Made collection is outstanding. It has some of the comfort features Ariat is known for, but is a bit more “high end” than what Ariat usually produces. I’m a big fan of the black bison leather for how supple but thick it is.

Check Price

FAQs

Are Ariat Bench Made boots made by hand?

Yes, Ariat Benchmade boots are handmade in Leon, Mexico.

Are Ariat Bench Made boots any good?

Ariat Bench Made boots are really high quality. I’d put them up against any other traditionally made cowboy boot in the same price-range. The leather is exceptional.

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