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11 Types of Boot Heels: Ride, Walk, and Work the Right Way

Andrew is a kayaker, paddleboarder, runner, weightlifter, former martial artist, DIY handyman/home improvement nut, tech geek, headphone-addict, sci-fi and fantasy author, and lover of comic books, movies, and TV shows. He's interested in pretty much everything, and takes becoming an expert very seriously--but nothing more seriously than analyzing every stitch, thread, and seam of what makes his favorite boots so freakin' comfortable. Read full bio.


Last Updated: Mar 15, 2024
11 min read

There’s an old joke that goes, “How can you tell the difference between a pair of riding boots and walking boots?”

Oh, wait, that’s not a joke. That’s a legit question that a lot of people ask when boot-shopping.

So many different styles, shapes, sizes, and looks, how can you possibly know what type of boot is best used for what activity?

I’ll share with you a sneaky secret: more often than not, it comes down to the boot heel.

The construction, shape, height, and even the material of the boot heel will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the boot’s purpose and practicality.

That’s why we’re diving into the many types of boot heels used today so you can know exactly what any pair of boots you’re considering will be useful for.

7 Types of Cowboy Boot Heels

1. Roper Heel

The roper heel is the heel used almost exclusively on roper boots. Modeled after the hessian style of boots favored by the Duke of Wellington, roper boots included a few specific upgrades: a mid-calf shaft, soft calf leather, and a 1-inch flat heel.

Centuries later, that same design has remained and persists in being one of the most popular style of cowboy boots to this day.

Design features of the roper heel include a 1-inch height (no variability in that, unlike many of the other heel types) and a straight, flat shape.

What Is It Good For?

The roper heel is designed for versatility above all else. Roping involves riding, but also jumping down from your saddle and running/walking to finish tying off the calves and steer you’ve brought down with your lariat.

Roper boots, therefore, are crafted with a heel that provides stability and comfort when on foot, but is high enough that it keeps your boots firmly planted in your stirrups while riding.

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2. Fowler Heel

The Fowler heel is a straight-cut, flat heel much like the roper heel. The big difference between them is the height variation. While roper heels are always a fixed 1 inch, but Fowler heels will usually be up to 1 1/8” inches high.

What Is It Good For?

The extra height of the heel not only makes for easier riding, but also provides a bit of extra cushioning for your heel when walking.

The Fowler heel is largely used as both a work and riding boot. It’s also a staple of many walking boots because the flat, wide heel provides excellent stability.

3. Fowler Heel with Pitch

There is a variation on the “traditional” Fowler heel that includes “pitch”, a.k.a. a bit of slant.

While the regular Fowler is flat and straight-cut, the Fowler heel with pitch has a backward slant that gives it a more stylish, formal design.

The Fowler heel with pitch is often used on dress boots, boots with exotic leather, and any boots built as much for form as function. The sleeker, more rounded heel looks classier than the chunky, workmanlike traditional Fowler.

What Is It Good For?

The slant of this particular heel design makes it better-suited to riding than walking. Their extra height (1 1/8”) ensures they hook nicely onto your stirrups and keep your feet solidly in place while riding.

They’re not the ideal choice if you’re navigating treacherous terrain, as their heel is a bit smaller than the traditional Fowler. But if you’re just strutting down Main Street, taking your partner to the saloon, or enjoying a night out on the town, they’re comfortable enough for hours of walking and cutting a rug.  

4. Walking Heel

The walking heel is crafted with all-day comfort and stability in mind. As their name suggests, they’re the go-to option for any boots that you’ll wear when spending all day on your feet.

The heel is flat, wide, and very stable. It will also be thicker—up to 1 3/8”—to offer extra foot support.

Some walking heels will have a slight backward slant (though not as pronounced as the Fowler heel with pitch) to give them a more stylish cut, but the look won’t compromise their comfort when walking.

What Is It Good For?

As their name makes clear, these boot heels are made for walking.

While many of the other boot heel types are made using the more “traditional” wood or leather, walking heels are often made with rubber. Rubber has more bounce and thus are more comfortable for long hours of walking.

The extra-wide base and extra height make for more comfortable hours spent on your feet.

5. Riding Heel

The riding heel is one of the oldest boot heel types. It has been around for as long as equestrianism has been the practice of lords and ladies, and over the thousands of years that riding horses was the primary mode of transportation.

Riding heels tend to be very tall (up to 2 inches high) with a noticeable “pitch” (backward slant) that adds style and flair to riding boots, but also fits better in modern stirrups. The heel is also narrower so as not to rub against the horse’s flanks while riding.

What Is It Good For?

These boot heels are best used by equestrians and horseback riders—and them only. The heel design is specific for riding (extra-tall, slanted, and narrow), but are far from the most comfortable for walking. In fact, the narrow design makes for a smaller “base” on which to plant your body weight. You’re far more likely to lose your balance on rocks, grass, or uneven ground when wearing riding boots.

But if you’re heading out for a day riding herd or an overnight ride, you’ll be happy to have these boots to keep your feet comfortable and secure in your stirrups for hours.  

6. Cowboy Heel

The cowboy heel is considered the “traditional” style for cowboy boots.

The heel is slanted, narrow enough to prevent friction against your horse’s flanks, but is a bit thicker than the riding heel in order to provide you with more stable footing.

Typically, it’s around 1½” tall—taller than the roper and Fowler heels, but not quite as tall as the riding heel. This makes it one of the more versatile heel types.

What Is It Good For?

You’ll find many dress boots, buckaroo boots, and exotic boots are made using the cowboy heel. After all, the cowboy heel is the “classic” and gives your boots that Western look you know and love.

But don’t think the cowboy heel is all form and no function. The design is very practical for riding and is comfortable enough for wearing over long hours spent on your feet.

Any boots with the cowboy heel will make for a good “everyday” pair.  

7. Fashion Heel

If you see a pair of boots with a fashion heel, gents, just keep on browsing. Fashion heels are used almost exclusively on ladies’ boots (a.k.a., cowboy booties).

That being said, if you happen to come across a pair of men’s boots with a fashion heel, you can expect a taller heel (anywhere from 2 inches up to 6 inches), a “spiked” design with a narrower heel and sharper backward slant, and a solid base of rubber rather than wood or leather.

What Is It Good For?

Fashion heels are exactly what they sound like: a nod to fashion. They’re great for drawing attention to yourself and your choice of boots. They’re also typically used for a night out on the town dancing or dressing to the nines.

However, the heel is far too fashionable to be of any real use for a hard day’s work or long hours spent in the saddle.  

4 Types of Heritage Boot Heels

1. Logger Heel

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The logger heel, also called the “woodsman’s heel”, was created specifically for woodcutters and loggers who needed purpose-built boots suited to their activity.

The standard logger/woodsman’s heel is between 1.5 and 2 inches, while the “low” variation is usually closer to 1 inch tall.

The heel isn’t straight-cut, but features a concave line that tapers inward from the boot’s base toward the ground.

What Is It Good For?

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These heels are crafted specifically for work with and around trees and poles. You’ll find the logger/woodsman heel on linesman boots, woodsman’s boots, logger boots, arborists’ boots, and even some modern engineer boots.

They have a narrower base than other heel types (such as the block heel), but the shape of the base is ideal for climbing trees and traversing terrain that is steep, uneven, or dotted with protruding tree roots.

Be aware that the smaller surface area and greater height of the logger/woodsman heel may take some getting used to for walking. However, once you acclimate, they are very comfortable for long hours spent on your feet.  

2. Dogger Heel

The dogger heel was designed for “bulldoggers”, the nickname for steer wrestlers.

No surprise, then, that it bears a strong resemblance to the cowboy boot heel: slanted back edge, straight sides, narrow shape well-suited to riding. However, it’s not quite as tall as the cowboy heel, just 1¼” rather than the more traditional 1½” of the cowboy heel.

What Is It Good For?

Bulldoggers don’t spend much time in the saddle, but most of their work is done on their feet. They need a heel that is well-suited to walking, running, and steer-wrestling. Dogger heels have enough surface area and height to keep your feet comfortable over long hours on your feet.

However, thanks to the design similarities with the cowboy heel, it’s also suitable for those who plan to spend some time in the saddle.

A lot of Western boots feature the dogger heel, particularly Western-style work boots.  

3. Cuban Heel

The Cuban heel also shares a lot of design similarities with the cowboy heel. In fact, it’s nearly identical: 1½” height, inward taper on the sides and back, and a straight heel breast.

Really, the only thing that separates it from the cowboy heel is its name. The cowboy heel is found exclusively on cowboy boots, and any other boot types featuring the heel (including Chelseas, side-zips, laceless pull-on boots, or dress boots) will call it the “Cuban heel”.

What Is It Good For?

The Cuban heel is far better suited to form than function. Their base is a bit too narrow to provide solid support and stability for work, and the boots on which they feature are always more fashion-forward and stylish than sturdy.

They’re the favored heel of tango and flamenco dancers, as well as tap dancers. They bring plenty of flair to any bespoke dress boot, too.

4. Block Heel

The block heel shares a lot in common with the roper heel and walking heel used on cowboy boots. They’ve got the same blocky shape (it’s right there in the name) and straight cut.  

Unlike roper and walking heels, block heels can be of any height between 1” and 1½”. However, because of their blocky shape, they typically look better at a lower height.

What Is It Good For?

The broad, straight-cut heel offers a very solid base of support that makes them ideal for any boots that you’ll use for work or long hours of walking. They’re often used on service boots, firefighter boots, combat boots, and monkey boots for this very reason.

However, with the right boot style (such as a Chelsea or derby boots), they can be both comfortable and elegant.

Which Heel Is Right For You?

Who knew there were so many boot heels to choose from?

Thankfully, which heel you select is actually fairly simple: it all comes down to the boots’ intended use.

If you’re going to spend any amount of time in the saddle, you’ll likely want one of the heels crafted specifically for riding—the roper heel, riding heel, cowboy heel, or Fowler heel.

For those who plan to spend a lot of time on their feet, heels like the roper heel, walking heel, dogger heel, and block heel are the best choice.

And if you want to really class things up, consider the Cuban heel, fashion heel, or cowboy heel to add some flair to your boots.

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