A cowboy without a good pair of boots is like…well, a cowboy without a horse or ten-gallon hat.
But did you know there are actually multiple types of cowboy boots?
It’s not a one-style-suits-all boot type. With everything from work-friendly footwear to luxury boots crafted from exotic materials (elephant-skin boots, anyone?), it’s important to know what each style has to offer and what purposes they serve.
11 Different Types of Cowboy Boots
Traditional Western Boots
“Traditional” western boots are the OG. They’re built in the design of the boots that started it all when cowboys first roamed the American Wild West. Traditional Western Boots are all about function before form, built to be a hard-working cowboy’s choice of footwear.
Design features of these boots include:
- 12-inch shaft
- Heels between 1” and 2”, typically angled so your feet stay in the stirrup when riding (called a “riding heel” or “Cuban heel”)
- Pointed toe (for foot protection and easy mounting), though some will have a rounded toe
- Typically crafted using cowhide leather (though some are made from more exotic materials—as you’ll see in the Exotic Boots section below)
- Decorative stitching that both increases durability and adds a bit of flair/style to the boots
Our Recommendation: Tecovas’ The Doc Boots are my top choice for a traditional-looking Western cowboy boot. It combines a dressy look and elegant stitching detail with a rugged construction and mid-height heel. Premium quality at a budget-friendly price.
The Doc combines a dressy look with a rugged construction and a mid-height heel. A down-home dress boot with a classic western profile, the Doc features a broad square toe with signature Tecovas toe stitching. It's a tough yet elegant boot, versatile enough to wear at the ranch or the office.
Western Riding Boots
The “riding boot” style actually originates in England, where equestrianism and horse racing have been practiced for centuries.
However, the Western riding boot adds a classic American Western look to the English shoe style.
Look out for:
- 12-inch shaft
- Heel between 1” and 2” (usually 1½”), typically flat so they can be used for walking as well as riding
- Round or square toe for maximum foot comfort during long hours of riding
- Cushioned insoles to provide padding and support for the feet
- Rubber outsoles for better traction on wet or slippery ground
- Decorative stitching that makes them stand out when in the show ring on some styles
Our Recommendation: After long hours of research and testing, I’ve concluded that the Ariat Rambler Western Boot is the best riding boot on the market due to its sneaker-like feel, the integrated shank to keep your feet more comfortable in the saddle for hours, and the sturdy build. Plus, I’m quite a fan of the reasonable price tag.
the Ariat Rambler Western Boot is the best riding boot on the market due to its sneaker-like feel, the integrated shank to keep your feet more comfortable in the saddle for hours, and the sturdy build. Plus, I'm quite a fan of the reasonable price tag.
Western Work Boots
Western work boots take the standard cowboy boot and adapts the design to be a bit more work-friendly. They’re not just suitable for a long day in the saddle, but they can also be used for just about every other chore or task you’ll find on a ranch, farm, or oilfield.
These boots will typically have:
- Shaft between 10 and 12 inches
- Alloy or steel toes
- Padded insoles for foot support
- Mesh linings to keep your feet cool
- Thick rubber outsoles for grip on muddy/wet ground and protection against electric shock
- Typically crafted from leather and/or nylon, with coatings that protect against water, mud, and even barn chemicals
- Decorative features are fairly minimal—these are for everyday work, not for showy or dressy events
After all, for roping calves, you’ve got to jump down from the saddle to finish off the cow you’ve lassoed and brought down. Thus, they’ve got to be comfortable for walking as well as riding.
These are some common design features of roper boots:
- Shaft between 6 and 10 inches (varying according to the preference of each cowboy), usually stopping below the wearer’s calf
- Lower square heel (1”) with a flat bottom for comfortable walking
- Round toe for easily sliding your feet from stirrups
- Tighter fit around the ankles to offer better ankle support
- Padded insoles
- Tough rubber outsoles with good grip and traction
- A sturdy leather construction with little to no decorative stitching or added details
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Our Recommendation: Our research has led me to conclude the Tecovas Earl Roper Boots are a top-notch choice because of their comfort, versatility, hard-wearing construction, 10-year warranty, and affordable price tag.
For a top-quality but surprisingly affordable pair of roper boots, the Tecovas Earl is my top recommendation. They’ll be comfortable for a long day on your feet as well as in the saddle, and have the look, feel, and durability that makes them a very smart investment for any farm or ranch work.
These boots were made for walking—and yes, I do mean that literally.
Most cowboy boots can be used for walking as well as riding, but walking boots are specifically purpose-built for spending long hours on your feet.
Walking boots will usually have:
- 8” to 12” shaft height
- 1 to 1½” heel, usually flat for more comfortable walking
- Tighter fit around the ankles
- Leather or rubber outsole
- Padded/cushioned insole
- The widest variety of toe shapes (pointed, square, snip, and round)
- Typically crafted from leather with little or no ornamentation
Buckaroo boots are built to be ultra-showy, a chance for cowboys to really play up the stylishness of their footwear at a square dance, rodeo, or county fair.
These boots will usually have:
- 14” to 17” shaft, ideal for protecting your legs against the tall brush and scrub, as well as from rubbing against your horse while riding rodeo
- Typically worn with the jeans tucked into the boot-tops
- Higher heel (2+”)
- “Saddle” (extra piece of leather) stitched across the vamp
- Holes in the scallop to make them easier to pull on in a hurry
- Wide variety of toe shapes (round, pointed, and square)
- Typically crafted from cowhide, though they can be made from other leather types (bison, buffalo, etc.)
- Decorative details that include bright colors and intricate stitching
Packer boots are some of the oldest cowboy-style work boots, invented way back in the 1700s. Designed for “packers” (cowboys who ride pack horses/mules through the mountain), they’re crafted as a blend of riding boot and work boot, suitable for all the daily tasks you’ll get up to both on and off horseback.
With packer boots, you can expect:
- 6” to 10” shaft height
- 1” to 2” heel
- Tighter fit around the ankles
- Laces (which no other cowboy boots have)
- Sturdy rubber outsole for better traction when walking
- Tapered toe
- Padded insole for cushioning
Our Recommendation: The Nick’s Classic Packer Boot is our favorite packer boot because of its premium-quality leather, uniform appearance, tough Vibram sole, excellent ankle support, and all-day comfort.
Stockman boots are built for work on your feet as well as in the saddle, intended to maximize comfort and stability. They’re just a beautifully versatile style, suitable for walking, riding, and even hiking.
Stockman boots will typically feature:
- 8” to 12” shaft height with a deeper scallop (dip at the top of the shaft)
- Flat, wide, and low (1” usually) heel
- Integrated arch support and cushioning
- Rubber outsole
- Wider-than-average rounded toe box
- Detailed stitching and colorful materials
Dress boots are ideal for those days you want to look fancy for a night out on the town or a hot date, but still want to stick with cowboy boots you know and love.
They’re rarely (or never) used for actual work. Instead, they’re the pair of boots you keep tucked away in your closet until it’s time to dress to the nines. Form over function, rather than the reverse.
When looking for dress boots, you can expect:
- 8” to 12” shaft height (though some in the Buckaroo boot style may have an even taller shaft)
- 1 ½” to 2” heel, usually angled to make them stylish but still comfortable enough to dance in
- Decorative stitching and bright, bold colors that make them stand out
- Typically constructed from rich, glossy leather or exotic materials
Our Recommendation: For a truly gorgeous pair of dress boots, our research led us to pick the Tecovas Cartwright because of their quality construction, classy leather sole, eye-catching stitching, and timeless Western style.
“Exotic” boots refer to any type of boots made using exotic materials. They may be crafted in any of the styles we listed above, but rather than leather, use:
Many of these exotic materials cost more than standard leather, and thus will drive up the price of exotic boots. You’ll typically keep them as dress boots, though some work boots may be made using exotic materials, too.
Short Cowboy Boots
Short cowboy boots (or, when they’re crafted for women, “cowboy booties”) are more fashion-forward than practical. They give you the comfort and look of your favorite boots, but their lower shaft height makes them easier to slip on and off but far from suitable for a hard day’s work.
Expect the features of short boots to include:
- 4” to 7” shaft height
- Heel ranging from 1½” to 6” (for high-heeled women’s boots)
- Typically crafted from more stylish leathers, such as aniline leather
- Decorative stitching and bright colors are common
Want to find out more about cowboy boots—specifically which are the top brands to shop from? We’ve done a complete round-up of the best cowboy boot brands with in-depth detail on why we believe brands like Tecovas, Chisos, Ariat, and Lucchese are your best choice for cowboy boots in all the styles we listed above.
7 Different Cowboy Boot Toes
Cowboy boots not only feature different shaft and heel heights, but also a variety of toe shapes. The shape of the toe isn’t just a matter of look (though it does contribute to the style), but also of practicality.
There are seven different toe shapes used for cowboy boots:
- Round toe. The rounded toe shape gives your feet more room to move around. This toe shape is typically incorporated into boots crafted for wider feet, as well as more “casual” boots. Many roper boots and work boots will also use the round toe.
- Regular toe. The “regular” toe is the classic shape you see used for cowboy boots: oval-shaped, narrow, and ending in a point. This toe shape makes it easy to slide your forefeet in and out of your stirrups without your boots getting stuck.
- Square toe. The square toe, like the round toe, is ideal for people with wide feet or who will spend all day walking around. The extra width in the toe box allows for greater freedom of movement. Typically, walking boots, riding boots, packer boots, and buckaroo boots will feature a square toe.
- Snip toe. The “snip” shape is sharply pointed, almost to an exaggerated degree (more than is necessary for the “regular” toe). This toe is typically used for exotic and dress boots to really highlight the “cowboy boot” look without worrying too much about practicality.
- Cutter toe. The “cutter” shape is a mid-point between the width of a square toe and the narrowness of a “regular” toe. The toe shape makes the boot look a great deal like the standard cowboy boots, but with enough space for your feet to move around comfortably inside.
- Wide square toe. For anyone with extra-wide feet, the wide square toe adds even more room to the already-broad square toe to give you plenty of space to prevent the boots from pinching or squeezing.
- Almond toe. The “almond” toe looks a great deal like the end of an almond: sort of an oval shape, neither too rounded nor too pointed. The point is gentler and more tapered.
Which Is Your Favorite, Partner?
Whew! Who knew cowboy boots came in such a broad range of shapes and sizes?
It makes sense that there’s so much variety, given the array of tasks cowboys carry out: from roping cattle to breaking in horses to caring for their ranch to hoofing it across open fields.
Hopefully, the information I shared above will help you figure out what the best types of cowboy boots will be for your specific daily chores and style preferences.