You picked up a new pair of western cowboy boots, very exciting!
Now comes the difficult part.
Unlike your old boots, these new kicks feel stiff and you want to break them in quickly so they feel like your own.
You’re in the right place.
Today I’m going to discuss the most effective ways to break in those new cowboy boots.
Some methods will require you to head out and purchase tools or supplies, others just require you to have patience and keep an open mind.
Remember that one of the aspects that makes cowboy boots great is their longevity.
Unlike some modern boots that you throw out within a year, a good pair of cowboy boots could be with you for decades.
This longevity is achieved by using materials and construction styles that are durable and steadfast.
The downside of that, is that they’re slow to break in.
There are some things you can do to speed up the process.
Sometimes I believe it’s helpful just to know what you’re doing will work, it just takes time to see the results.
That way you’re not wondering if you made a mistake buying your boots every time you put them on.
So, let’s get into the discussion about ways to break in your cowboy boots and how long it takes to do it.
Before you continue, you might want to read the article on “how should cowboy boots fit?“.
What to Consider When Stretching Leather
Preparing leather for stretching is very much like a human preparing to exercise.
You warm up before you run so you don’t hurt yourself, leather requires a similar gradual approach.
Whether you’re planning to use steam, water, or pressure, you’ll need to have patience and an understanding you might not get the exact fit on your first try.
Just as you have to learn how to walk in your boots, they have to learn your foot.
It’s not a race, and ideally you could have these boots for a substantial portion of your life!
If it takes a couple sessions to stretch them, that’s still a really good deal in terms of time invested and how long they’ll serve you.
Don’t rush the process or give up on it and then walk around with boots you don’t enjoy wearing.
That defeats the whole point in getting a solid pair of cowboy boots that would last you for years!
Methods on how to Break in Cowboy Boots
If you’re trying to break in your boots without exposing them to water, this is your section.
Don’t worry, there are definitely things you can do short of dunking your leather boots in the tub.
Leather conditioner and boot stretcher
There are also tools you can use to create pressure and stretch your boots.
Grabbing a boot stretcher and leather conditioner will loosen the leather and stretch it out without much effort from you.
Unlike the sock method (scroll down), this is going to require you to spend the time and money required to get these things.
This is unfortunate, but on the plus side, your feet won’t be a million degrees for a whole work day.
Follow the instructions of your leather conditioner and let the product sit for the amount of time it’s manufacturers recommend.
Once you’ve done that, insert the boot stretcher and let it sit overnight.
As noted in the video above, it’s a good idea to get it snug (you’ll be able to feel this from the outside of the boot), and then 2-3 cranks past that.
In the morning, check out how it worked. That simple.
If the boot is tight on the top of the foot, you can get a vamp stretcher that will solve that problem.
I recommend that you not go crazy stretching on your first use.
Get a feel for your new tool and how much effort is needed for your particular boot.
As tempting as it may be, do this in multiple sessions, at least with the first pair you stretch.
- Controlled stretch
- Doesn’t require you to wear them
- Supplies are needed
- Not a molded stretch
The sock method is the quickest, cheapest, and simplest method.
It also might be the method that your feet have to pay for the most.
To use this method, simply wear an extra pair of socks (or thick socks) before you put on your boots for the day.
The idea behind this method is to add a small amount of pressure combined with the extra heat your feet will create from double socks.
This will mold the leather to the shape of your foot.
The downsides of this are definitely the pain and the heat.
My feet sweat a lot when I’m wearing ankle socks with my running shoes, I don’t know about you, but I’d have a bad day wearing double socks in cowboy boots.
Not to mention the pressure and crowding of my toes.
- No supplies needed
- No drying time
- Requires multiple sessions
Just Work It
It sounds silly, but take every spare minute you have and use those minutes to work your boots.
By this I mean, use your foot and ankle to really stretch the limits of your foot’s normal position.
Lean into the edge of the outsoles with the side of your foot.
Bend the vamp so the ball of your foot is the only thing touching the ground.
Punch at the insides of the toe box with your toes.
Think of this as a long, slow, tenderizing that you can do in addition to any of the methods listed in this article.
You could even make this your primary method, it’s just going to take longer.
Water (Wet Boot) Methods
Using water to stretch is a hotly debated topic in the world of boots.
Some claim these are foolproof methods and the best ways to stretch your boots.
Others are shocked that anyone would intentionally soak a new leather boot, outside or in.
I won’t make you wonder:
I’m okay with using water to stretch leather.
Even so, I absolutely agree with the suggestion that you apply leather conditioner to your boots once they have dried.
I’m not making the claim that soaking your boots isn’t bad for the leather, it will make them dry and more brittle, absolutely.
It can cause discoloration, sure.
What I’m saying is that it’s not a ongoing thing you’re doing monthly, and the amount of damage doesn’t exceed the benefits you get from doing it.
I’m not a person that is bothered by some visual age to my boots, so discoloration doesn’t bother me.
As far as I’m concerned, whichever pair of boots fits is the color pair I want.
Each to their own I guess.
Steamed Boots, Please.
This method has you setting up a large pot of water to boil and allowing the steam to rise into the throat of your boot.
It’s very easy to burn yourself with steam.
I suggest getting a long pair of tongs that allow you to hold your boot at a distance.
Ideally, they’d be made of wood, but rounded corn tongs will also give you a good grip without damaging the boot with a sharp edge.
Hold the boot above the steam so that the vapor travels inside your boot from front to back.
Do this for about 20 seconds, then remove and test the structure of the outside of the boot.
Once it’s cool enough, give the leather a poke and see if it feels softer and more malleable than usual.
If it does, let the boot cool enough so you don’t burn your foot, and put it on.
Don’t even wait to get the other boot steamed, put the one on your foot, and then repeat the process with the second boot.
Once both boots are on, wear them as long as you can.
I understand that it’s not very comfortable, and wearing wet boots is something most of us try to avoid.
If you can let them dry while on your feet, this will be the best fit.
This process works by loosening the fibers of the leather and allowing them to stretch further than they would normally.
Once the leather begins drying, it attempts to retain its original shape but the presence of your foot forces it to dry into a “new normal.”
- Cheap (unless you don’t have tongs)
- Form fit
- Mediate discomfort
- Medium drying time
- Slightly damaging to leather
This is similar to the steam method, but more thorough.
You’ll fill a tub with lukewarm water, and dunk the boots.
Don’t allow the water to spill over into the boots’ insides.
Once you feel a little moisture seeping through the insole of the boot, pull the boots out and get your feet inside them.
This process may take 1, 5 or 10 minutes.
It depends on the boot and how long it resists the water.
Then just wear the boots around as long as you can, ideally until they’re dry.
If this sounds extremely uncomfortable, you can put your feet in a plastic bag before putting them inside the boot.
This will keep your sock dry, or at least drier than it would be without the bag.
Working just like the steam method, the water allows the leather to stretch and then dry in the shape of your foot.
Don’t forget, once the boot is dry you need to apply some leather conditioner to it.
The drying process dehydrates the leather and it needs to be moisturized to maintain its strength and flexibility.
Some people suggest submerging the entire boot and then wearing it till dry, but I think this is overkill.
It takes long enough for boots to dry and I don’t want to turn mine into a swamp.
- Great form fit
- Extremely uncomfortable
- Long drying time
- Damaging to leather
What NOT to Do: Bad Ideas for Cowboy Boots
Using a Dryer
Don’t use a hairdryer to speed up the drying time.
Leather dries slowly, but you want it to dry slowly, this is when it is forming to your foot.
If you speed up the drying it’s not able to form fit and you’ll have wasted a lot of time.
Forget to Condition
One of the most important steps is to apply leather conditioner.
With pressure methods, apply before.
With water methods, apply after they’re dry.
This is going to take time, the worst thing you can do is get rushed and frustrated.
If you don’t get a perfect fit after your first try, don’t worry, you can do it again.
That’s part of the beauty of cowboy boots and why they stick around.
You might want to check this article out if you’re interested in how to break into work boots (non cowboy).
Now that you know how to break in Cowboy boots, you’ll be much more comfortable and be able to enjoy your new western boot.
Do remember though, which ever quality boot company you go for, for example Ariat boots, ensure you have the correct shoe size.
This is a key part of the battle when it comes to your safety footwear fitting correctly.