How Should Cowboy Boots Fit? Quick Tips to Wrangle Comfort

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William Barton Avatar by  William Barton | Last Updated:  Oct 12, 2020
How Should Cowboy Boots Fit Cartoon Graphic of Cowboy Boots Sitting Next to Cowboy Hat and Rope

Howdy, partner. Looking for a fresh pair of western-style boots, but you’re not sure how they should fit? 

You came to the right place.

In this article, we’ll break down exactly how your new cowboy boots should fit, and how getting an excellent fit for this style differs from any other boot. 

The Best Fit for Cowboy Boots

The short answer: the instep is the most important factor (that’s the top of your foot, between your ankle and toes). If it’s snug enough to keep your foot back in the heel, but not so tight that you lose circulation throughout the day, chances are you have the right fit—provided that your toes have room, too. 

Don’t worry about the heel so much. You’ll probably have a half-inch of slip in the heel at first. As the leather softens (the boots break in) that slip will become less and less until you don’t notice it at all. 

The good news is that cowboy boots don’t really have too harsh of a break-in period. For many brands, western-style boots fit like a glove from the moment you first put them on. 

But you need to get the fit correct first. 

How Should Cowboy Boots Fit Diagram

And—this will sound obvious—the absolute most important thing you can do is choose the right size. Easy to say, harder to do. 

Normally, when you’re buying a pair of sneakers, how do you test the size? I bet you press your thumb down into your toe to make sure there’s about a half-inch to inch of room up front. If it checks out, you’re done.

But most cowboy boots have stiff leather around the toe, or they have a point. This makes it near-impossible to do the “thumb-test.” 

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And unlike other types of shoes and boots, there are no laces, so you can’t tighten or loosen anything. 

If you need a primer on how all boots should fit, check out our in-depth guide now

But if you already have a good sense on how to pick out the right size, here are a few special considerations you need to make for cowboy boots specifically. 

How Should Cowboy Boots Fit on the Calf?

A classic cowboy boot comes up the calf. This can offer extra protection from the elements (not to mention mud, or worse for those working a farm), but the height can be a real pain if you naturally have large calves. 

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Since everyone’s calf-size is a little different, there’s no set recommendation for how your boots should wrap around. It’s much more important to get the fit right in the foot and at the toe. 

You may find a half-inch of room at the calf, or you may find up to two inches. Both are acceptable so long as your ankles aren’t rocking around. 

There’s no easy fix if your boots don’t fit around your calves. But not all hope is lost. 

Ariat workhog boot in workshop

Two of the biggest challenges folks face are: one, the boots don’t fit under jeans, and two, the ankle knocks around inside. 

If your ankle is loose, the boot size is too large. You need to get the correct fit in your instep. Your instep is basically the top of your foot. That should feel snug, which differs from most other types of boots. But because cowboy boots don’t have laces, the instep is what will keep your foot pushed back into the heel. 

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If you’re having trouble fitting your boots under your jeans, try getting a straight-cut, or boot-cut jean. 

But if you’d rather just make the calf smaller, you can do that, too. You’ll need a professional’s help.

Cobblers and boot-repair shops can alter the calf to your preferred size. But once you make the change, it’s done. So make sure you spend some time describing your issue and letting your shoe-repair know exactly what you want.

It’s All About the Instep

Because cowboy boots don’t have laces and most don’t have side-zippers, it’s crucial you get the fight fit in your instep. 

Don’t know what the instep is? No problem. 

Your instep is the top of your foot, between your ankle and toes. When you put your cowboy boots on, you should feel the leather upper resting snug on that part of your foot. This differs from how other types of boots should fit, but with cowboy boots, you need this to keep your heel secure. 

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You may notice some heel slippage at first, which is actually desirable. Over time, as the leather softens up, the slip will go away. You shouldn’t have more than a half-inch of heel slip—if that’s the case, your boots are too big. 

With the right fit in the instep, you may have trouble with your heel at first. We recommend wearing a bandaid or blister pad across your heels for the first few wears until much of that slip disappears. 

But you can get the right “size” and find that the instep is much too tight and cuts off circulation to your foot. You’ll know this is the case if you start feeling a pins-and-needles effect after wearing your boots a few hours. 

If that’s the case, you may need a wider boot. So if you bought a standard D-width boot, see if your favorite brand carries the same boot in an E, EE, or even extra wide EEE. 

Use the pull-tab

Pull-tabs are found on most traditional cowboy boots. Your boots might have pull holes or “mule ears,” which function the same. 

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While pull-tabs help get you started, you shouldn’t have to rely entirely on the pull-tab. If you find that you can’t squeeze your foot into your boot without really yanking on the tabs, your boot is likely too small or not wide enough. 

Too much pressure on the tabs can cause them to rip off (it’s happened to us more than once). Pull holes offer a little more durability on this front, but you still shouldn’t absolutely need them to put your boots on. 

Match the Widest Part of Your Boot to the Widest Part of your Foot

Sounds intuitive, right?

Every brand builds their boots a little differently, so it’s important to find a company that can match up their product with your foot. 

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If the widest part of the boot lines up with the ball of your foot, chances are you’ll have the right “flex points.” What are flex points? 

Your foot naturally bends in two places: the toe and the ankle. If your boot has a steel shank or some other piece of hardware in a spot where your foot bends, that will cause a lot of pain and it’s not something that can be broken in. 

Most boot manufacturers have a good sense of how to make their boots comfortable for most people, but it’s always good to keep that in mind when you’re shopping around. 

Check the Toe Shape

Western boots have many different toe-box shapes. You can find square toes, rounded toes, pointed toes, and some dressier cowboy boots even extend out several inches to a point.

model kneeling on one leg with ariat workhog

Depending on your toe-length, some of these styles might not be an option for you. 

For instance, if you have long toes, a stubby square toe might cramp your foot. Likewise, a pointed toe may rub too much along your pinky and big toes. Make a mental note of this when you’re trying your boots on. If it’s even the slightest bit uncomfortable in the store, it will only get worse when you’re out on the town or on the ranch. 

Most cowboy boots are built with some point to their toe, but they’re also built a little longer to relieve some of that friction on the side. If there’s too much toe rub, ask for the next available width. 

Boots On, Roper

Now that you know how to pick out your next pair of cowboy boots, there’s nothing to do but to do it. 

Always check the store’s return policy before buying, and if you’d like to spend a day wearing your new boots, try them around the house. That way, they’ll stay scuff-free so you can return them if you find they’re too tight or loose. 

Ultimately, your new cowboy boots may take a few weeks to break in, but once they do, you’ll feel you’re working with an old friend every time you slip them on.

FAQs

Do you size up for cowboy boots?

No, you shouldn’t need to size any differently for your cowboy boots. Just make sure they fit in the instep (it’s ok if there’s a little heel slip). If you have the right fit there and at the toes, you’re all good. 

How do you know if your cowboy boots are too big?

If you’re experiencing more than a half-inch of heel slip, or if your ankle is knocking around inside your boot, they’re too big. When you’re putting on your cowboy boots, you should feel a little tightness at the top of the boot, which will cause your foot to “pop” in. If you get that right, your cowboy boots likely won’t be too big.

How long do cowboy boots take to break in?

Cowboy boots can take anywhere from a week to a month to break in, depending on how stiff the leather is and how often you wear them. Most cowboy boots are decently comfortable right away, but wear a bandaid or blister pad on your heel and at the sides of your feet for the first few wears until the leather softens. 

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