4 Reasons Why You Need Cedar Shoe Trees: Are You Ruining Your Boots?

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by  William Barton | Last Updated: 

It seems like in every boot care video, someone’s talking about cedar shoe trees.

What are cedar shoe trees?

What do they do besides make you look fancy? 

In this guide, I’m going to break down what a cedar shoe tree actually does to your boots, discuss the differences between cedar and plastic, and give you some recommendations on my favorite shoe trees for home and travel. 

3 Types of Shoe Trees

There are three major types of shoe trees—each with their own benefits and drawbacks. 

Cedar Shoe Trees

Red Wing Iron Ranger with cedar shoe trees and leather balm

Cedar shoe trees are the best option for a few key reasons: they smell fantastic, they fill out your boots and keep the toe evenly shaped, they repel pests, and they absorb moisture that can deform leather. 

You may be tempted to steer away from cedar shoe trees as they’re pricier than plastic. They can also be quite heavy, so they’re not ideal to travel with. 

Stratton Cedar Shoe Tree

I highly recommend a quality set of cedar shoe trees for any boot you want to take good care of. These Strattons are the best I've found. The spring is firm, but not overly so, making them easy to take out, and the design means they'll fit a wide range of your boots and shoes.

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Plastic Shoe Trees

Plastic shoe trees are cheap and are worth picking up a pair if you’re traveling with dress shoes or boots. But they don’t offer many of the same benefits of a cedar shoe tree. 

They don’t absorb moisture, repel pests, or make your boots smell fantastic. But they’ll keep the leather in shape and they won’t weigh your bag down.

I don’t recommend decking out all your footwear with plastic shoe trees, but I like to keep a pair around for when I fly for a wedding. 

B&E LIFE Plastic Adjustable Shoe Tree
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Varnished Shoe Trees

Varnished shoe trees are the prettiest in the shoe tree family—they often come packaged with boots and shoes that cost over $1,000 (like a packaging present). They’re either made from pine or cedar, though some dress shoe brands will make them out of more exotic woods.

They’re mainly for show and don’t offer the same moisture absorbing benefits as a regular pair of cedar shoe trees. 

However, some shoemakers will handcraft these shoe trees to perfectly fit the shoe, so in that regard, they’re pretty cool. But they’re by no means necessary. 

4 Reasons You Need Cedar Shoe Trees

So now that you know what shoe trees are and the types, let’s break down why you should load up your boots with these wooden wonders now. 

Shape

The primary function of any shoe tree is to maintain the shape of your shoe or boot. Whether you’re a rugged outdoorsman or a Wall Street trader, your boots and dress shoes will hold their shape better if you use shoe trees. 

Grant Stone Diesel packaging with bag on white background

As you walk, your shoes will take on wear and tear. Small deformations that might not be immediately noticeable will impact the overall appearance of your shoe in the long term if you don’t use shoe trees. Cedar shoe trees come in a variety of styles, so that you can choose one that is the best fit for your shoe.

At the beginning of this BootSpy video (around the one minute mark), I discuss cedar shoe trees and show you an example of what a boot looks like with and without a shoe tree.

Tip: Get into the habit of inserting your shoe trees into your shoes as soon as you take them off.

Absorption

Your feet sweat all day, and this leaves moisture in your shoes which could damage the leather. Cedar shoe trees rate the highest in terms of absorption, and this is vital for leather boots. 

Leather doesn’t like moisture. 

Cedar shoe trees are available at various price points, but if your feet tend to be very sweaty, then the ones with perforations work best for moisture. 

Plastic shoe trees absorb no moisture at all, which is why I only recommend them for travel—not long-term storage.

For the best effect, insert shoe trees immediately after taking your boots off and allow at least 24 hours to pass before wearing your boots again.

Smell

Cedar shoe trees smell fantastic. Unlike varnished and plastic shoe trees, cedar shoe trees help deodorize your boots after a hard day stinking them up in the sun. If you tend to wear the same shoes frequently, then the deodorizing strength of cedar shoe trees is a win. 

Additionally, cedar naturally repels any insects or bugs that may find themselves taking a wrong turn in your shoe closet. 

If there are extended periods between wears, then your boots have sufficient time to dry out. You should always have some conditioner and a rag on hand to keep your leather in tip top shape.  

Tip: If your cedar shoe tree starts to lose its aroma, sand it lightly.

Shoe Care

Cedar shoe trees are an essential aspect of overall shoe and boot care. It’s not enough to polish and condition your boots. You should also use shoe trees and store your footwear in a cool, dry area, away from direct sunlight. 

Leather shoes and boots, in particular, are investment pieces and can last many years if cared for correctly.

Shoe trees will help keep the toe in shape. If you’ve ever seen a pair of boots with a sunken toe, you know how bad it can get. 

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I especially recommend shoe trees with simple uppers like Chelsea boots—because there’s not a ton of structure in the form of stitching or laces, it’s really easy for these types of boots to get bent out of shape. 

And once you lose the shape of your Chelsea boots, it’s nearly impossible to get back. 

So do yourself the favor of picking up a pair of shoe trees right away and skip the sad deformation process. 

Why Cedar is Better than Plastic for Shoe Trees

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Plastic shoe trees are better than nothing, but I really don’t recommend you stock your closet with plastic over cedar. 

To give you an example: I have roughly 30 pairs of boots, and probably 16 pairs of cedar shoe trees. I also own one pair of plastic shoe trees. 

Yes, many of my boots don’t have shoe trees in them (usually the more delicate boots get the trees). I’m still trying to keep my shoe tree collection on par with my boot collection, as ideally each pair of boots gets its own set of trees. 

I keep the plastic set around for when I travel. If I’m going to a wedding and I don’t want to ruin the shape of my favorite dress boots, I’ll stow the plastic trees in them. Sure, the plastic doesn’t absorb the moisture that goes into the leather from dancing all night, but it at least keeps the shape.

But in the long run, cedar is a much better material than plastic for shoe trees because of that key moisture absorbing property (while at the same time deodorizing). It’s hard to overstate how much a 24 hour rest with cedar helps aid your leather after a tough day. 

5 Types of Cedar Shoe Trees

There are five different types of shoe trees—some are more expensive, some less. Some offer more support, others are more versatile. 

Spring Shoe Trees

FootFitter Portable American Cedar Boot & Shoe Trees
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Spring shoe trees are often the cheapest, but I don’t get them because they can deform the heel of your boots. Because they don’t evenly distribute the pressure along the heel, they can actually stretch your shoes and boots around a half-size larger, which isn’t never a good idea. 

Full-toe Shoe Trees

The toe of this cedar shoe tree is solid and has the shape of an average shoe, and it will usually have a spring mechanism.

vertical shot red wing iron rangers with cedar shoe trees

These are the shoe trees I go with. They’re not the absolute best, but you can usually find a good deal on them and pick up multiple for relatively inexpensive. 

To me, full toe cedar shoe trees hit the 80/20 rule—they get you the best boot care results with the minimal amount of money invested. Sure, you could get more anatomically correct shoe trees, but the cost is much higher.  

Stratton Cedar Shoe Tree

I highly recommend a quality set of cedar shoe trees for any boot you want to take good care of. These Strattons are the best I've found. The spring is firm, but not overly so, making them easy to take out, and the design means they'll fit a wide range of your boots and shoes.

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Split-toe Shoe Trees

H&H Split Toe Cedar Shoe Trees
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A split-toe shoe tree is a better option than a standard full-toe shoe tree, and it consists of three wooden pieces rather than two with a similar spring mechanism.

The split-toe is a better representation of what feet are actually like. Again, these are more expensive, so you have to balance quality with budget concerns. 

Boot Trees

Stratton Boss Cedar Boot Tree
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Cedar boot trees are cedar shoe trees with an extra piece at the heel to help support the cuff area of the boot at the ankle. 

This extra piece helps prevent the ankle section from leaning over and making creases in your leather.

Because of the extra material, these cost a bit more. I think they’re really cool, though I personally don’t own any (and I have a huge boot collection). If you own a pair of boots that are your most prized possession, it may be worth splurging on one set of these to keep in those boots. 

Lasted Shoe Trees

Lasted shoe trees are the most expensive option. This shoe tree is based on the last manufactured shape of the shoe you purchased. It’ll usually have a full toe, but it’s made specifically to fit a particular shoe.

Tip: If you’re working on a budget, read the reviews and look for wholesale deals. It’s unnecessary to rush out and buy cedar shoe trees for every pair of shoes you own. Start with your most expensive pair of boots and work your way down from there.

Don’t Let Your Boots Go to Waste

I recommend using cedar shoe trees for all shoes, but particularly your boots (and dress shoes if you have them). 

The benefits for your shoes and boots are valuable and help preserve your footwear in the long run. 

By using cedar shoe trees, you help maintain the shape, absorb moisture and deodorize your boots. Cedar shoe trees are the gold standard.

Below are the cedar shoe trees I mainly use—they offer the best balance of cost and quality in my opinion. More importantly, they get the job done. 

Stratton Cedar Shoe Tree

I highly recommend a quality set of cedar shoe trees for any boot you want to take good care of. These Strattons are the best I've found. The spring is firm, but not overly so, making them easy to take out, and the design means they'll fit a wide range of your boots and shoes.

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FAQs

Why is cedar the best for shoe trees?

Cedar is a cost-effective wood option. It’s strong, and the natural oils found in cedar are resistant to fungal and bacterial growth. And it smells good. Shoe trees made from other woods are available, like beechwood, which is even more economical, but cedar ticks all the boxes.

How much do shoe trees cost?

The cost of shoe trees varies greatly, and it depends on the type of material used. Plastic is usually the cheapest option, with natural materials falling in the mid to top-tier expense level.

How long do cedar shoe trees last?

Cedar shoe trees last several years, and even decades. With a light sanding each year to bring back that fantastic cedar smell, they’re an investment when it comes to shoe care and maintenance.

How do I insert shoe trees?

Insert the shoe tree until it touches the tip of your shoe or boot. Compress the back part of your cedar shoe tree and insert; the fit should be snug, not tight. Using the wrong shoe tree may distort your shoes.

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