How To Painlessly Break In Cowboy Boots For a Perfect Fit

By Kato Watson, 04 Jul 2020

Phew! So after a lengthy search, you’ve finally found the cowboy boots of your dreams. They are stylish, unique and basically made for your feet - well, almost. The only drawback is that your new boots don’t fit as you expected - they are rigid as heck and nowhere near ready to take whatever you got for them!

Don’t fret. That’s the reality of owning a new pair of leather boots. Leather is one tough, hard material (which is why you’ll be wearing your boots for decades). But it needs to be broken in before your boots can fit like a glove.

How do you do that? The best way to break in your cowboy boots is to wear them regularly and just deal with the tightness for a while- until the leather becomes softer.

However, we live in the digital era. Aren’t there hacks you can use to break in your cowboy boots faster and avoid the discomfort that comes with wearing ill-fitting boots?

The answer: yes and no. I will explain. Yes, because there are a few things you can do to break in your boots and avoid getting blisters. No, because some of these things may end up destroying the beautiful leather we’re trying to preserve.

Think about it for a second - you’ve just spent $200 for a pair of classy cowboy boots. Honestly speaking, $200 is about as cheap as you can get a pair of high quality cowboy boots. You don’t want to destroy them during the first month when their lifespan is over 10 years.

In our post today, we discuss some of the tried and tested methods you can use to safely break in your boots without wrecking them. Try one trick or combine a few that you feel comfortable with, and your boots will conform to your feet in no time!

But first, let’s dispel some misleading internet tricks. Whatever you do, don’t do the following:

Don’t Do This to Break in Your Cowboy Boots

water soaking cowboy boots

While doing my research, I found numerous tricks that claim to instantly break in a pair of cowboy boots. Most of what I read involved subjecting leather to heat or water. Leather is a very sturdy material. A quick blast of heat or bucket of water will not soften it, but may end up ruining it. Don’t be fooled.

Let’s talk about water exposure for a minute.

1. Don’t Use Water to Break in Cowboy Boots

I read somewhere that to break in your cowboy boots, you’d have to submerge them in a bucket full of water, or wear wet socks to allow the leather conform to the shape of your feet.

The logic of this trick isn’t far-fetched. After all, water actually makes leather softer, and in fact, most leather manufacturers rely on water to mold leather into shape.

Moreover, most leather boots have a blue collar heritage which isn’t just for aesthetics, but is used to create a waterproof barrier when walking in wet conditions. Thus even manufacturers recommend using water to break in leather.

The problem is, this method isn’t 100% effective. Water can actually cause the opposite effect. It can shrink leather, instead of expanding it. Plus, water could warp or damage the sole, especially in modern style boots that have cushioned lining and insoles.

While it’s okay to wear cowboy boots in rainy weather, it’s not the same as soaking them in a bucket of water for a long time.

Avoid this trick by all means.

2. Don’t Use Heat to Stretch Your Cowboy Boots

The other trick I saw being peddled around was using heat to break in leather. Again, this idea isn’t too far-fetched because heat actually softens leather. So using a steamer or a hairdryer to heat up your boots should work, right?

Wrong! Heat can quickly destroy leather. Prolonged exposure or sudden extreme temperature rise can crack leather or make it dry out. It can also warp out leather and even change its color.

While you’ll find many articles claiming that low heat is fine, manufacturers recommend not to expose leather to direct heat source of any kind.

The problem with using a hair dryer, for instance, is that you won’t really know how your particular boots will react to heat or at what point the heat becomes too much to an extent of causing damage. Do you know that leather can begin to crack before it’s visible to the naked eye?

Again, avoid this trick by all means.

The Right Ways to Break in Your Cowboy Boots

breaking in leather boots

Before we get to the tips, I think you should know that every boot wears and breaks in differently. Not all boots will break in at the same time. I have Ariat boots that are yet to break in 3 months later, but my Lucchese fit straight out of the box.

Again, keep in mind that new cowboy boots should just be a little uncomfortable (especially after wearing them for long hours), but not painful. If you feel any pain, even the slightest, there’s something wrong with sizing.

That said, the first and most important thing to consider when buying cowboy boots is finding the right size. Sometimes, you’ll see people recommending that you buy half a size smaller or even a full size smaller so that when the boots break in, they will fit perfectly.

Well, in most cases, this is true. But in some cases, this is not applicable. I recommend getting your feet measured so that you can know your correct size, and then buy boots from the store or online with the right measurements in mind.

As a general rule, it’s okay if the boot is narrow in the shaft area, but it’s not okay if the bottom of the boot is short or narrow. The toe and heel areas are usually thicker, and will remain rigid for a long time. Your boots will not expand in these regions for years. Always remember that when buying cowboy boots.

So, without further ado, here are 7 tips to safely break in your favorite pair of cowboy boots.

1. Use Leather Conditioner

Breaking in your new pair of boots too quickly can end up damaging the boots and injuring your feet. Why is this? Well, because when breaking in a pair of boots, the leather expands, and if this is done too quickly, the leather can develop cracks.

A good way to prevent this is to apply a layer of leather conditioner on your boot to soften it. This allows the leather to stretch out smoothly, thus quickening the breaking in process. Using leather conditioner also helps keep your new boots waterproof, which means you won’t be dealing with water damage anytime soon.

2. Use Protective Band-Aids

I know you must be wondering how this tip helps you break into your new boots. Well, it’s simple. When you wear ill-fitting shoes, you run the risk of developing blisters. Blisters usually form as a result of friction between your foot and the boot.

To prevent this type of friction from occurring, you need to cover the blister-prone areas with Band-Aids or foot tape. Protecting your usual blister spots is the best way to avoid them altogether. If you’re not sure of your blister-prone areas, wear your boots for an hour, and you’ll be able to know those areas quickly.

Here’s how this trick works: After covering blister-prone areas, you’ll be able to break into your boots quicker because you’ll be wearing them for longer without much discomfort.

3. Wear Your Boots Around the House

An obvious one, but a goodie for sure! One of the best ways to break in your new cowboy boots quickly is to wear them around the house. This will help you breeze through the most uncomfortable parts of breaking in at the comfort of your own home.

This tip is an easy one. And to help you speed up the entire breaking in process, you can wear a pair of socks or two to really stretch out the boot fast.

4. Bend and Twist Repeatedly

Cowboy boots are usually hard and tough because they undergo several chemical treatments which make the fibers in the material extremely rigid. To try and loosen up the stiff fibers, it’s recommended that you gently bend and twist the boot repeatedly in the problematic areas, especially after wearing them for a while.

This trick will soften the leather in areas where your feet have started to break them in. Keep in mind that you have to be really gentle so that you don’t over-bend or over-twist the leather and damage it.

5. Use a Spoon to Mimic Foot Motion

This isn’t the best option out there, but it works great especially if you’re in a pinch. Here’s what you do: pick a spoon and rub the round part against the inside part of the shoe (heel and toe areas).

You can be a little vigorous as long as you do not damage the leather with the sharp ends of the spoon. The rubbing motion is the same as the motion your feet make inside the shoe when walking. It helps smooth and stretch out the leather.

6. Invest in a Boot Stretcher

boot stretchers

If you find yourself trying to break in cowboy boots all the damn time, it might be time to invest in a boot stretcher.  A boot stretcher will help you skip all of the hard work that comes with trying to break in a boot. It mimics the shape of your foot and can be placed inside a boot for prolonged periods of time.

Here’s how it works: Simply slide the boot stretcher inside the front part of the shoe. Press open the bar at the end of the insert. It will expand your shoe just the way your foot does. Place it overnight if you intend to wear the boot the next day.

Keep in mind that boot stretchers are not the same as shoe stretchers. They pretty much do the same job, but you’ll be better off buying a boot stretcher for your cowboy boot.

7. Turn to the Professionals

When you do not feel like doing any of the above, simply take your cowboy boots to a professional cobbler near you. While this will cost you some money, the breaking in process will be faster and definitely safer.  

Cobblers are masters when it comes to breaking in boots. They have that magic touch and special tools to break in boots by stretching the leather in the exact spots where you feel tightness- and nowhere else. They will help you solve any discomfort you may have when wearing your boots. The downside? You may have to leave your boots behind for 3-4 days.

How Should a Cowboy Boot Fit on the Calf?

cowboy boots calf fitting

Start by measuring your calves. Sit on the floor with your feet spread out. Wear the socks or trousers you’d normally wear with your cowboy boots. Now, use a tape measure to record the circumference of the largest part of your calf. Round the figure to the nearest quarter inch. Do the same for the other calf. The larger figure is the correct size of your calves.

New boots are often uncomfortable on the calves. But worry not, they will slowly stretch and fit within no time. However, the leather should feel like it can give way.

How to Tell the Correct Size of Your Cowboy Boot

Here are more tips that will help you find the correct size of your boot:

  • When you try boots on, wear the trousers or socks you’d normally wear them with.
  • If you use insoles or orthotics, wear those as well and see if they fit comfortably into your new boots.
  • Feet usually swell slowly through the day. It’s advisable to try boots on at the end of the day.
  • Sit down and stand up so that you can feel how the boot conforms to your feet as you do this.
  • If you hear a popping sound when your foot settles into the bottom of a boot, it means it fits just right.
  • How much toe space do you have inside the boot? Make sure your toes aren’t cramped in any way. You should be able to at least move them around inside the shoe.
  • Walk a bit in your new boots. You should not feel any pressure. Your feet should be reasonably comfortable.


Well, there you have it: 7 tips to help you break into your new pair of cowboy boots. One of these tricks should cut it for you. As they say, The West wasn’t conquered in a day. Your boots will take some time to break in and fit comfortably. Keep trying until something works out, and it will be HAPPY TRAILS for you for many years to come! Good luck!

Pro Tip: Always remember to use leather conditioner. It will not only make the leather soft and smooth, but it will make it more long-lasting and better-looking.

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