What are Roper Boots? Benefits of Roper Boots Explained

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by  Jon Wadsworth | Last Updated: 

When is a cowboy boot not a cowboy boot

When it’s a roper boot, of course. 

But what makes a roper boot different? And should we even care; after all, cowboy boots are just tall roper boots, right? 

It’s time to clear up what a roper boot is designed for. I think ropers are excellent boots as they offer real versatility; they’re great as work boots, but they’re also smart enough to wear as dress boots

If you’re wondering what roper boots are or how they differ from cowboy boots, today, I’m going to clear it up. Aside from the history of ropers being interesting enough on its own, knowing the benefits of a roper boot could help you choose the right boots.

What are the Differences Between Roper Boots and Regular Cowboy Boots?

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While roper and cowboy boots are basically from the same tree, there are clear differences between the two boot styles. 

Knowing the differences and why they’re relevant can make choosing the right boots easier. You might find that the roper boot suits your needs much better than a traditional cowboy boot.

Heel Shapes

Heel shapes differ between roper boots and cowboy boots, as each boot has a different primary use. 

A cowboy boot usually has a tall heel that’s perfect for keeping feet firmly in a stirrup, whereas ropers are primarily used for walking in, so they have a shorter, squared-off heel.

Roper boots were first introduced in the 1940s and early 1950s as a way for cowboys to rope cattle while on horseback, then quickly jump off the horse to get to the calf and finish roping it. Having a cowboy boot on with tall heels makes a quick dismount more difficult, so ropers were designed to solve both the practical issues and the aesthetics.

Boot Shaft Length

How to Measure the Boot Shaft Diagram

Spending less time on a horse also negates the need for a tall boot shaft. You’re spending less time on a horse, so your calves don’t rub, and thanks to a shorter heel, you won’t find your boots locked into the stirrups. 

A shorter shaft on a roper boot is another big difference between ropers and cowboy boots. Roper boots have a shaft that reaches just over the ankle, whereas a cowboy boot reaches up to your calf. Ropers often have a tighter fit to make rapid movement easier while running to the calf after dismounting.

Toe Shapes

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The need to have a narrower toe box is less critical because roper boots are designed for quick dismounts rather than quicker and easier mounting. You find that while cowboy boots usually have a slightly rounded or pointed toe, roper boots typically have a square or round toe that’s wider. 

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Having a more rounded toe has the added bonus of making ropers a tremendous casual boot; they’re ideal for working in and specifically useful if you’re roping cattle, but as a stylish boot, they’re also fantastic-looking boots that can easily pass muster with smarter office wear.

What Soles do Roper Boots Have?

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Modern roper boots usually have a rubber sole, which offers better grip and water resistance since ropers are primarily used for walking rather than riding. 

Classic cowboy boots typically have a leather sole, which looks great and is perfect for slipping into a stirrup.rubber soleClassic cowboy boots typically have a leather sole, which looks great and is perfect for slipping into a stirrup.

There’s no right or wrong sole to have; cowboy boots have been worn with leather soles for both riding and roping, but a roper boot with a rubber sole does have the advantage of being more hardwearing. 

The leather sole of a cowboy boot can become incredibly comfortable, especially after a lot of wear, as the leather molds itself to the contours of your foot. The problem is that you’ll probably have to replace the sole every few years, which can add to the cost over time. 

There are several ways to resole cowboy boots, and you can find out more in our guide to resoling cowboy boots.

A rubber sole on a roper won’t mold to your foot shape, but the benefits of a sole that won’t need replacing after a few years are clear to see. Ropers are less likely to leak, there’s less chance of a hole appearing in the sole, and they’re comfortable to wear all day.

Laces, Zippers, and Cowboy Boots

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The last significant difference between roper boots and cowboy boots is how you actually put them on.

Cowboy boots must be pulled on like a wellington boot; the longer shaft is pulled up to your calf, and there are no laces to tie or zips to allow easier access.

While the same can be said of many styles of roper boots, there are several on the market that you can either lace up or have a zipper that makes putting them on and taking them off much more manageable. The Heritage IV Zip Paddock boot by Ariat is a beautiful roper boot with a zipper down the arch, making slipping them on and off a breeze.

Ariat Heritage IV Zip Paddock Boot
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You can find many roper boots that have a zip down the side of the boot, making them easy to get on and off quickly and without fuss. Many boot styles can be a pain to pull off, and a boot jack is often the most reliable way to remove them. If you struggle with pulling your boots off as I do (an old frisbee accident, shamefully), then my boot jack guide could really help you out.

What are Roper Boots Used For?

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Historically, roper boots were created literally for roping animals. During the 40s and 50s, rodeo ropers wore tennis shoes rather than cowboy boots to dismount and sprint to the roped quadruped, but the look wasn’t too appealing to the Rodeo Cowboy Association.  

Having organized rodeos where the rodeo cowboy looks like a cross between Pete Sampras and John Wayne meant finding a stylish, western-themed alternative was needed. And so a shorter, tighter boot was created that could also give the roper better grip once dismounting.

The roper boot was the perfect design, fine for periods in the saddle but equally perfect for those who also spend a lot of time on their feet. While roping cattle was the main reason for their design, a roper can also be worn as a casual boot or even to the office. 

One of the most significant benefits of a roper boot is its versatility; to use the Tecovas Stockton boot as an example, the Stockton is a handsome boot that’s equally at home on a night on the town as it is for working all day. With Vibram soles and weatherproof seams, you could be roping calves or line-dancing and not look out of place.

Tecovas Stockton Boot
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Should I Get a Roper Boot or a Cowboy Boot?

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Choosing a western or roper boot doesn’t have to be tricky, though deciding beforehand where you’re going to wear them can mean picking the right boots. My favorite pair of roper boots are the Heritage Roper Western Boot by Ariat; they’re a really smart-looking boot that’s great for casual wear but also robust enough for me to work in them.

Ariat Heritage Roper Western Boot
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Riding in Cowboy Boots or Ropers

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I rarely ride, so the need for a cowboy boot with a taller heel or longer shaft isn’t a requirement for me, but if your boots are going to be worn on horseback for long periods, then cowboy boots could be what you need.

If you’re in and out of the saddle a lot, roper boots tick every box; you can ride perfectly well in them, but they’re ideal for stomping around while at work. If you have zero intention of riding but still like the overall look of cowboy boots but aren’t quite ready to take that leap, roper boots are the perfect middle ground.

Dress Boot or Work Boot?

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A great pair of roper boots or a stylish pair of cowboy boots can work in any environment; you can wear both whether you work in an office or on a ranch. For me, the roper boot is a little more understated than the cowboy boot, so it’s a perfect choice for slightly more formal wear.

If you’re a Texan, I’m talking rubbish; cowboy boots can be worn to any occasion, and they can, but a smart pair of ropers such as the Tecovas Jake looks good on a farm or in the office. Being water-resistant and having a rubber sole, the Jake can be wiped down, and you’ve got a dress boot ready to go.

Tecovas Jake Boot
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Cowboy boots are a great-looking statement, but not everyone can pull off the look; if that’s you, then roper boots are a superb alternative. As well as being functional and incredibly hardwearing, they look great and can be worn in multiple environments.

Whether you’re roping cattle or off to an office meeting, ropers such as the Heritage Roper Western Boot will mean you look smart, feel comfortable, and won’t look out of place in any situation. A roper boot won’t let you down on foot or horseback and, thanks to its rubber sole, can last for years.

Ariat Heritage Roper Western Boot
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Are roper boots suitable for walking in?

Roper boots are incredibly comfortable to wear; the heels are noticeably lower profile than cowboy boots, so they are a more comfortable boot to walk around in for extended periods. The toe box is more expansive, which allows for more freedom of movement, and the rubber soles that most ropers have is an excellent shock absorber for your feet.

Can you ride in roper boots?

You can do everything in a pair of roper boots that you can do in a pair of cowboy boots, including riding horses. The heel is smaller than on a cowboy boot but is still more adequate for long rides. The shorter shaft isn’t ideal for longer rides, but a roper boot is still a great alternative to a cowboy boot.

How do roper boots fit?

Roper boots often fit more like a shoe than a boot, and there are several styles of roper boots that are either lace-up or have a zipper on the side, allowing for a tighter fit. The zipper also makes it easier to get a roper boot on and off, something you’d probably need a boot jack for if they didn’t have a zip.