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Should Cowboy Boots Slip at the Heel or Fit Tight?

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My neighbor is convinced his new cowboy boots are too big because his heel slips up and down when he walks. Our friend’s daughter sold him the boots and assured him they fit him properly; who’s right?

When boots are new, your heel should slip up about 1/2 inch, but once the cowboy boots are stretched out, your heel shouldn’t move more than 1/8 of an inch. Boots that don’t allow any movement of your heel are too tight and will be uncomfortable.

Cowboy boots slip at the heel, which is in no way a sign that the boots don’t fit properly. After a few days, when boots are worn and the outsole is flexed, the heel slippage shouldn’t happen anymore, and you’ll get a proper snug fit!

Picture of Chisos cowboy boots

Are Cowboy Boots Supposed to Be Loose?

When it comes to cowboy boots, there’s an enduring debate about fit. Should they be snug, or is a bit of room preferred? Let’s dive into the subject and clear up some misconceptions.

Tradition Meets Modern Fashion

Traditionally, cowboy boots were designed for long hours of riding and ranch work. They were meant to be easy to slip on and off, especially in emergencies. This meant that they were often a bit loose, especially in the heel area. This design allowed for quick removal if a cowboy found himself caught in the stirrups.

Why Some People Prefer a Loose Fit

  • Comfort Over Hours: A loose-fitting boot can be more comfortable over extended periods. It prevents tight spots and pinching, which can become especially painful if you’re on your feet all day.
  • Flexibility for Socks: Some people like to wear thick socks with their cowboy boots, especially in colder climates. A slightly looser boot provides flexibility for this.
  • Ease of Removal: Just like the cowboys of yore, some folks prefer their boots easy to take off.

The Drawback of Too Much Room

However, it’s essential to strike a balance. A boot that’s too loose can cause friction, leading to blisters. It can also increase the risk of twisting an ankle. It’s crucial to differentiate between a boot that fits well with a bit of heel slip and one that’s outright oversized.

Finding the Right Fit

When shopping for cowboy boots, here are a few tips:

  1. Heel Slip: A new boot might have about a quarter to a half-inch of heel slip. This is normal. With wear, the boot will conform to your foot, and the slip will decrease.
  2. Toe Room: Your toes should have room to move but shouldn’t be swimming in space.
  3. Arch Support: The boot should provide ample support in the arch area. If it feels like your foot is floating, it might be too loose.
  4. Walk Around: Always walk around the store in new boots. This will give you an idea of where they might rub or pinch.

While cowboy boots can have a bit of a loose fit, especially in the heel, it’s essential not to confuse “a bit loose” with “ill-fitting.” A well-fitting boot will offer comfort without sacrificing safety or causing discomfort. Remember, the key is to find that sweet spot between tradition and modern-day needs.

Picture of a comfortable pair of cowboy boots, Ariat Amos

How Do You Know If The Cowboy Boots Fit?

Cowboy boots can feel very comfortable if the boots fit correctly. Certain factors like heel styles, leather, and toe can affect how the boot fits.

Another important factor is that many brands of cowboy boots are handmade. This means you might feel a subtle difference in size between different cowboy boot brands. Different manufacturers choose different lasts to make the boot on.

Hence, two different manufacturers producing the same size boots may fit differently. The thickness of the socks can also affect the fitting. It is always advisable to try out each pair to make sure the boots fit right.

A long time ago, a profoundly wise horseman told me, “You know your cowboy boots fit when your feet are comfortable with your boots on; it’s that simple.” But how do you choose a comfortable pair of boots?

(Click on the link for our lists of the most comfortable cowboy boots.) Here are a few tips that can help you get a comfortable pair of cowboy boots.

The Ball & Toe of the Boot

The widest part of the boot is called the ball. The ball of the foot should adequately fit over the ball of the boot. For a comfortable fit, it is essential to ensure that the boot’s ball is closest to the end of the steel shank or in line with the foot.

Internally, cowboy boots have a hard shank between the insole and the outsole that holds the foot from the heel to the ball of the boot.

If your boots are too short, the ball of your foot will sit ahead of the shank and jam your toes, which will likely lead to poor arch support. How your foot fits at the ball is an essential factor to consider because this holds your feet while walking or running.

Also, you’ll require adequate toe space. Wearing boots for a long time will relax the leather instep, which will allow your toes to settle forward.

The Instep of The Boot

The instep of the cowboy boot is responsible for securely holding the boot to your foot. Trying on boots for the first time is neither easy nor too difficult. The boot shouldn’t be too snug or too loose, and your instep should fit perfectly.

Picture of socks turned over the top of my cowboy boots.

After some time, the boots break in, and the leather stretches, which will loosen up the boot. So don’t buy cowboy boots that are a little loose as, later on, you’ll have boots that are too loose after they break in.

Take the instep between the forefinger and thumb and pass your thumb over the leather. For a perfect instep fit, the thumb should glide across the leather with only a slight wave. The fit is too loose if the leather bunches. Whereas it is too tight if the leather doesn’t move under the thumb.

Insteps can be adjusted by fixing a narrow width to secure a loose instep and a fuller width to loosen a tight instep.

Should Boots Slip at the Heels

In cowboy boots, heels of an inch or half an inch are mandatory. I know this may sound strange, but let’s not forget that the boot is new. A new cowboy boot has a quite stiff sole. The sole will loosen up once you break in the boot, making the slippage go away.

If the heel doesn’t slip when you walk, the cowboy boot is too tight for you. Your toes will get squished, causing blisters and sores. The heel will slip when the boots are too wide on the instep or heel, newly purchased cowboy boots, or the boot’s tip is too long for the foot.

An insole might be used to get a proper fit. To get an idea of the heel slippage, you should walk on a soft surface like a carpet.

Do Cowboy Boots Stretch Out?

Cowboy boots will stretch out if you wear them on for a while. After a few days, the leather will expand and stretch out. However, if you want to stretch them out immediately, here are some tips that can help you.

  • Wear 2-3 extra socks and keep the boots on for the whole day. It’ll force the leather to stretch-out and give you extra padding, which prevents the leather from rubbing you.
  • Apply steam to the interior of the boots for a couple of minutes to make it soft. This process must be done carefully as the steam can impact the dye of the leather. You should stop steaming as soon as you feel the interior getting softer.
  • Place the boots in water with your hands in the boots. The insole should get a little wet, and water shouldn’t go inside the boots as it is challenging to dry out the interior. Water softens the leather and is an easy way to stretch out any type of leather shoes.
  • Place a water bag inside the boot. Keep the boots in the freezer for a minimum of 8 hours. As the water starts freezing, it will expand the leather.
  • Use a boot stretching kit. The kit consists of a wedge-shaped device and a spray. Boot stretchers are specially designed tools to stretch your boots effectively.
Picture of my Ariat Workhog cowboy boots. These slip at the heel.

Do You Size Up for Cowboy Boots?

If you have wide feet, don’t struggle to fit into a boot that is too narrow. It would be best if you did not size up in regular boot sizes because even if the width of your foot fits larger boots, the cowboy boot will be too long and cause chafing and blisters.

However, if your feet fall between two sizes, buy a ½ size larger. To have a perfect fit, you can fix cushioned insoles or wear 2-3 thick boot socks.

The width for women’s cowboy boots is denoted by ‘A’ for Narrow, ‘B’ for Medium, and ‘C’ for Wide. In contrast, the width for men’s cowboy boots is ‘B’ for Narrow, ‘D’ for Medium, and ‘EE’ for Wide.

The size and length of the boot will change as our feet tend to grow wide with weight and age. So, if you have a cowboy boot that you bought ten years ago, it might not fit properly today.


Cowboy boots aren’t merely a fashion statement. They’re designed to protect your feet in rough conditions and can be worn in place of shoes for many purposes. Because some boots are made of stiff and thick leather, you might find them very uncomfortable when new, but they will soon break in and become comfortable.

With a tradition of 200 years, cowboy shoes are durable and comfortable. New designs with different patterns are now available to make boots look more appealing and attractive. It is a classy addition to your wardrobe collection and will never go out of style.

Cowboy boots are popular for a reason; they look good, and are practical, versatile, and comfortable. Just follow some basic rules when choosing boots, and you’ll quickly become a boot lover too.


What’s the quickest way to break-in cowboy boots?

The easiest way to break-in a new pair of boots that fit properly is to wear them often, but the quickest way to break them is to steam the boots. Hold your boots over a pot of boiling water and let the steam rise into the shaft.
After the steam has a chance to penetrate the leather, usually just one minute or two, remove them from the heat and let them cool enough for you to put them on, then wear them for an entire day. The steam and wear should quickly break-in your boots. To read about some other methods to break-in cowboy boots, check out this article: How to Break In Cowboy Boots to Ride and Walk-in Comfort?

Are there cowboy boots that fit high arch feet?

Yes, you can find cowboy boots to fit feet with high arches. I recommend going with either lace-up cowboy boots or ones with zippers. There are a lot of good styles on the market today. Here are two articles you may find helpful if you’re looking for cowboy boots and have high insteps: Best Cowboy Boots with Zippers on the Side & Why You Need Them and The 5 Very Best Cowboy Boots for Women With High Insteps