I love everything about a new pair of cowboy boots—the smell, the texture, the sturdiness of the thick leather, the pristine soles, and the glossy shine.
Well…everything except the fit.
Right out of the box, most cowboy boots tend to be a bit uncomfortable because of how stiff leather naturally is.
I’ve found that I especially have problems with the shaft.
To put it mildly, I’ve got thick calves, and they don’t fit easily into boots right off the bat. I have to pay particular attention to the shaft to really stretch them out so I can get my (admittedly wide and thick) feet into the boots and be able to walk around without my calves feeling like they’re being swallowed by two pythons.
That’s why I’ve spent so much time and effort researching how to stretch cowboy boots the smart, quick, and effective way that won’t damage the boots.
In this article, I’ll break down the three best methods to stretch out your cowboy boots so they get comfortable as quick as possible.
What You’ll Need to Stretch Your Cowboy Boots
Method #1: The Tried and True (But Pricey) Method
If you took your cowboy boots to a cobbler to get them stretched out, they’d use a tool called a “boot stretcher”.
A boot stretcher is a purpose-built device that uses a screw-powered mechanism to push against the leather of the boots, stretching it out slowly but steadily.
Boot stretchers may be built only to stretch out the instep, but you can find some that are crafted to also stretch the calf.
I’ve been using a dual-purpose boot stretcher for years, and though it’s a bit pricier, I’ve been able to stretch out 10+ pairs of boots very effectively.
And, to make this method even more efficient, you’re going to need stretching spray.
Stretching spray is a specially formulated leather-softening liquid. When sprayed on the leather, it soaks in and relaxes the fibers enough that the leather can stretch.
Using the boot stretcher and stretching spray together is by far the most effective (if priciest) solution.
Method #2: The Heat Method
If you’re not into pricey solutions, you can always try the heat method—a.k.a. steaming your boots.
What you’ll need is a garment steamer or even a boiling kettle, literally anything that lets off steam. You’ll essentially be steaming the inside of the boots.
The heat softens the leather enough that when you slide your feet in, it will flex and expand for a better fit.
To make this method doubly effective, you’ll need two thick pairs of socks (preferably wool) to speed up the stretching process.
The Heavyweight from Camel City Mill is the best work sock you can get for a steel toe boot. The padding is heavy in the heel and toe, but since it's made with Merino wool, this sock is also very breathable and won't make your feet sweaty.
Method #3: The Chill Method
With this method, you’re going to need a plastic freezing bag (preferably on the large size), a bit of water, and some freezer space.
When you fill the boot with water (inside the watertight bag) and set it into the freezer, the freezing water expands enough to stretch out the leather boot. Give it 8-24 hours to sit, and you’re off to the races.
To make sure this works even better, have a bit of boot conditioner standing by for after the boots defrost.
The conditioner will soften up the expanded leather even more so that when you put your feet in the boots, they’ll slide in more easily.
How to Stretch Cowboy Boots: 3 Methods
Method #1: The Boot Stretcher + Stretching Spray Duo
Step 1: Spray Your Boots
Apply a few spritzes of the stretching spray, as directed by the instructions on the bottle or included in the package.
DO NOT OVER-SPRAY!
Too much stretching spray won’t soften the leather any more efficiently. It’ll just soak into the leather, which could ultimately damage it.
You really only need a little bit of the boot spray to get the job done. The liquid is specifically formulated to be absorbed into the leather and relax the fibers.
This is one case where “less really is more”.
Step 2: Use the Boot Stretcher
Once the recommended time has passed for the boot stretching liquid to soak into the leather, insert the boot stretcher and use the screw mechanism to expand it.
Expand it just until it’s pressing up against the leather, then apply just a little more pressure so that it’s pushing outward.
You don’t want to overstretch it, as that’ll tear or damage the leather fibers. You can repeat this process as many times as it takes. Better to go slowly and safely than risk ruining your boots!
Step 3: Rest and Repeat
Leave the boot stretcher inserted in the boots for 12-24 hours.
Test out the boots to see if they fit, and continue stretching when and where needed.
For example, if a single stretching session is all it takes to stretch out the instep sufficiently but you need to pay more attention to the calves (which I always do), repeat the process on the boots’ shaft as many times as necessary.
Simply re-apply the stretching spray, apply pressure on the parts of the boot where it’s most needed, and give it 12-24 hours to rest before stretching it again.
Worried You’ve Over-Stretched It?
If you’ve been testing the boots between each stretch, you’ll find the fit of the over-stretched boot will be only a little too large.
Once you slip them on and wear them for a few hours in the heat, the leather should relax again (but naturally) and conform to the shape of your foot, ankle, and calf.
Method #2: The Steaming + Double Sock Combo
Step 1: Apply Steam
Get your garment steamer or kettle (filled with boiling water) ready.
Hold the garment steamer over your boot or your boot over the kettle and direct the steam into the boot’s interior.
Let the steam fill your boot for 15 to 20 seconds. Test the leather to feel if it’s a bit more pliable and flexible. If still stiff, apply steam for another 15 to 20 seconds.
Step 2: Cool Down and Sock Up
Give the boots a few minutes to cool down—the last thing you want is burned toes from the hot steam.
While you’re waiting, slide on both pairs of thick woolen socks.
Step 3: Get Striding
Once the boots are cool, slide your double-socked feet in and start walking around.
Yes, the boots are going to feel overly tight at first. But the combination of the heat and moisture from the steam, the heat from your feet and legs, and the extra thickness of the double socks will work to stretch out the boots, particularly around the instep and forefoot.
To stretch out the shaft, try crouching (to stretch the front) or raising one foot onto a fence post or an elevated platform in front of you (to stretch out the back). Do ankle circle exercises to soften up the leather around your ankles and lower calves.
Method #3: The Freezing + Conditioning Solution
Step 1: Fill ‘Em Up
Fill a large-sized plastic freezer bag with water, seal it tight, and insert it into the boots. You want the bag to completely fill up the inside of the boot, as close to the leather as possible.
If one bag is only enough to fill the instep (because it’s too small or the boot is very large), use a second bag to fill the shaft so the calves will stretch out as well.
Step 2: Freeze ‘Em
Clear some space in your freezer (a deep chest freezer is the best solution, but you can always remove a rack or two from your stand-up freezer) so you can place the boots inside standing up. That way, the water is distributed inside the boots as evenly as possible and will expand outward evenly.
Shut the freezer and leave the boots for 8-12 hours.
As the ice expands, it’ll push against the boots, stretching them. If the water bags are properly filled (80% full with enough air), they’ll expand without tearing and soaking the inside of your boots.
Once the boots have sat for up to 12 hours in the freezer, pull them out and remove the foot-and-leg-shaped bags of ice.
Step 3: Condition ‘Em
Give the leather a few minutes to warm up (you can place them in a warm environment or even under direct sunlight to speed up the process) then apply boot conditioner to the leather.
Boot conditioner will soften up the leather, relax the fibers, and make the boots more pliable. The ice has already stretched them out, but if you want to stretch or soften them even more, work them over with your hands.
The boots should slide onto your feet more easily now and should fit much better.
If not, repeat the process 1-3 more times until the boots are fully stretched.
Bick 4 is an outstanding addition to your leather conditioner collection. It’s inexpensive and perfect for giving your boots a pick-me-up without changing the color at all. It doesn’t penetrate deep into the leather, so you should use a liberal amount, and you may want to do several layers, but the price is right.
Bonus Method For Stretching the Calf of the Cowboy Boot
If you don’t have a boot stretcher and your efforts to steam and/or freeze the boots aren’t quite working to stretch the calf sufficiently, I’ve got a simple trick that can work wonders.
Go to your pantry and look for food cans that are roughly the same diameter as your ankles and your calves (one will definitely be thicker than the others).
Typically, a 14 to 18-ounce can will work for your ankles (unless you’ve got extra-thick ankles, like me), and a Costco-sized can of around 40 to 80 ounces will suffice for the calves.
Use the boot spray or boot conditioner, insert the cans, and let them do the work of stretching out the calves and ankles of the boots.
How Do I Stretch Exotic Leather Boots?
Trying to stretch out exotic leather boots is a bit trickier than working with bovine leather. Each material has its own temperament and should be approached differently.
- Alligator, Caiman, and Crocodile leather boots will not stretch a great deal, so you’re better off getting them custom-fit to your feet rather than trying the stretching methods I shared above.
- Ostrich leather boots are soft but not very stretchy. They should conform to your feet fairly easily without the need for stretching. Using boot stretching spray, steam, and/or the double-sock method should suffice.
- Sharkskin leather boots will not stretch because the material is hard and has limited flexibility. This is another material that you should order custom-fit.
- Snakeskin leather boots will stretch more easily than most exotic materials. A boot stretcher and stretching spray will usually be enough to expand them and make them more comfortable.
- Kangaroo leather boots are supple and will easily flex to conform to your feet, but won’t have a great deal of stretch-ability because of how concentrated, tight, and fine the fiber structures are. The double-sock method is the best solution for breaking them in.
- Elephant leather boots will flex and conform to your feet fairly easily, so you can stretch them using the double-sock method or a boot stretcher.
It’s Worth the Work
Cowboy boots are among the most comfortable types of boots, but only after they’re fully broken in and properly stretched.
It may take a bit of doing, not to mention time invested, but I promise you that it’s worth the effort.
I trust this guide has given you all the tools you need to get the job done yourself. Whatever method you use, you’ll find that the leather of your cowboy boots will conform to your feet over time until they feel like a second skin.
Properly stretched and broken in, cowboy boots are the boots you’ll love most and be glad to wear daily.
Can you stretch cowboy boots a whole size?
Bootmakers, cobblers, and leatherworkers agree that leather can stretch enough that a well-stretched pair of boots can go up one whole size—but no more!
Over-stretching leather will damage it, tearing the fibers and weakening its structure. Over-stretched leather is more likely to collapse, sag, or break down quickly.
What is the best way to stretch boots?
If you take your boots to get stretched by a professional (a.k.a. bootmaker or cobbler), they’ll likely use a combination of a boot stretcher and stretching spray. It’s the priciest method, but the most effective and efficient.