|Best Overall||Ariat Men’s Groundbreaker Square Toe Work Boot||Check Price||
Arait are one of the world’s top cowboy work boot brands, and the Groundbreaker is a tough, easy-to-wear, and versatile all-rounder.
|Best Women’s||Ariat Women’s Fatbaby Western Boot||Check Price||
This tremendously popular women’s cowboy work boot proves that you can combine style, and durability without needing to make compromises.
|Best Waterproof||Dan Post Boots Albuquerque Waterproof Work Boot||Check Price||
This might look like a casual boot, but it features hard-wearing leather, waterproof membrane, and clever outsole design for improved traction.
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Cowboy boots (or western boots) are among America’s first work boots. The basic design, probably based on Spanish vaquero boots, has been around since the 1800s, and visually at least has changed very little. It’s a look that never goes out of style, whether for work or casual wear.
However, materials technology has changed. Leather is still used for its strength and durability, but modern synthetic liners and footbeds provide all-day comfort. Steel or composite toes add protection. As a result, while today’s best cowboy work boots are still the top choice on the ranch or farm, they are also popular with everyone from truckers to office workers.
- Best Overall: Ariat Men’s Groundbreaker Square Toe Work Boot
- Best Women’s: Ariat Women’s Fatbaby Western Boot
- Best Waterproof: Dan Post Boots Albuquerque Waterproof Work Boot
- Best Steel Toe: Wolverine Men’s Rancher Work Boot
- Best For Ranch Work: Justin Boots Performance Ropers Equestrian Boot
Best Overall: Ariat Men’s Groundbreaker Square Toe Work Boot
Why It Made The Cut: The Ariat Men’s Groundbreaker cowboy boot is made from tough, full grain leather, has good all-weather traction, and EVA cushioning to stay comfortable all day long.
- Sizes: 7 to 14 (including wides)
- Shaft: 11 inches
- Opening: 14 inches
- High comfort
- Good traction
- Competitive price
- No safety toe
- Not waterproof
Given the huge choice, and the differing needs of those who wear them, picking out a single pair as the best cowboy work boots is an almost impossible task. That said, Ariat’s Groundbreaker is likely to appeal to a huge number of people, and is therefore perhaps the best all-rounder.
The upper is made of full grain leather, generally accepted as the optimum choice for toughness. The whole boot is double or quadruple stitched, underlining Ariat’s reputation for quality and attention to detail.
A square toe gives plenty of foot room, and an EVA foam midsole combines with Ariat’s 4LR (Four Layer Rebound) system to provide excellent cushioning and support. A breathable mesh liner helps prevent moisture build-up and soreness, even when worn all day. The composite rubber Duratread outsole is oil and slip resistant, and very hard wearing. It has a full-width heel rather than the narrower pitched style found on traditional cowboy boots. The combination gives dependable traction on all surfaces, and in all weathers.
The Ariat Groundbreaker is extremely popular, and very affordable. The size range is very good, including many half sizes and wide options. It isn’t fully waterproof, but plenty of low-cost treatments can fix that. Also, it doesn’t have a safety toe, which might be an issue in some work environments.
Best Women’s: Ariat Women’s Fatbaby Western Boot
Why It Made The Cut: The Ariat Women’s Fatbaby is first and foremost a tough but comfortable work boot. The fact that it comes in a range of attractive western styles is a bonus.
- Sizes: 5.5 to 11
- Shaft: 8 inches
- Opening: 13 inches
- Tough and durable
- All day comfort
- Competitive price
- Not fully waterproof
- Box toe not to all tastes
Our favorite women’s cowboy work boot also comes from leading brand Ariat. Unlike many rivals that are primarily designed for casual wear, this is a boot that is focused on providing women with the durability necessary for long days on the farm, ranch or any other tough working environment. The fact that they are also good looking, and can match with a wide variety of clothing styles is a bonus.
The Ariat Fatbaby women’s cowboy work boot is made without compromise. The foot and heel are wrapped in full grain leather to give hard-wearing protection. The upper is suede for more suppleness and freedom of movement. Multiple rows of stitching provide dependable strength.
The soles are Ariat’s own Pro Crepe synthetic rubber, which offers a good balance between minimal weight, and secure grip. The footbed is cushioned, and the boot has the company’s renowned 4LR system for support, and all-day comfort.
As well as a wide choice of boot sizes, there are 9 different options for boot color and decorative stitching. Ariat’s Fatbaby are among the most affordable cowboy work boots for women. There are very few negatives, but they aren’t fully waterproof, and like all strong boots they do take a while to break in.
Best Waterproof: Dan Post Boots Albuquerque Waterproof Work Boot
Why It Made The Cut: Dan Post Boots are another brand known for high quality. The Albuquerque combines classic western style with a host of features for increased protection, and foot comfort.
- Sizes: 7 to 16 (including wides and extra wides)
- Shaft: 12 inches
- Opening: 15.75 inches
- 100 percent waterproof
- Removable antimicrobial insole
- Composite safety toe
- No safety toe rating
- Premium price
The Dan Post Boots Albuquerque is our pick as the best waterproof cowboy work boot, with a range of features that offer the wearer excellent protection, great comfort, and improved overall foot health.
A multi-stitched, 100-percent leather upper provides proven durability. Inside, there’s a strong membrane that stops mud and water getting in, and a moisture-wicking Cambrelle fabric liner that draws sweat away. The latter helps prevent pockets of damp and heat that cause blisters. Added to this is a removable padded insole that is both antimicrobial, and anti-bacterial. Few cowboy work boots offer this level of attention to foot care.
The sole is a clever design. At a glance, it appears to be classic western leather construction. But, in fact, it is modern, hard-wearing composite rubber with a mini-lug tread pattern that provides decent traction without being thick and heavy. Although the composite toe undoubtedly gives better protection than an ordinary cowboy work boot, the material isn’t stated, and we were unable to find the expected ASTM or ANSI safety rating.
Size range is exceptional, with both wide and extra-wide options available. The Dan Post Boots Albuquerque is also available in brown, black or tan finishes.
Best Steel Toe: Wolverine Men’s Rancher Work Boot
Why It Made The Cut: Wolverine has a well-established reputation for making tough work boots. These have the added protection of an ASTM-rated steel safety toe, and are very competitively priced.
- Sizes: 7 to 14 (including extra wides)
- Shaft: 11.5 inches
- Opening: 14 inches
- ASTM-rated steel toe
- Moisture-wicking liner
- Excellent value
- Not fully waterproof
- Occasional sole stitching faults
Wolverine has a reputation for making tough work boots, using quality materials at affordable prices. The Wolverine Rancher uses full-grain leather for the upper, with some nice decorative stitching. The toe is steel, meeting the ASTM standard for protective footwear. Thanks to thoughtful design the resulting square toe style leaves plenty of room for the foot without looking cumbersome.
A moisture-wicking liner helps prevent sweat from causing friction and blisters. The supportive removable foam insole comes from specialist supplier Ortholite. There is a steel shank running through the base for added strength, and a sturdy, high-traction composite rubber sole. The size range is good, but somewhat surprisingly, although there are extra-wide options, there are no wides.
The Wolverine Rancher boot uses what is called a Goodyear welt construction to attach the soles. While generally this is seen as a high-quality method, and allows badly worn soles to be replaced relatively easily, we have heard occasional reports of them starting to come apart in months rather than years. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem to be a regular problem, and any good cobbler will be able to repair them.
Best for Ranch Work: Justin Boots Performance Ropers Equestrian Boot
Why It Made The Cut: The Justin Boots Performance Ropers Equestrian boot has been designed for working both on horseback, and on foot. As such, it is one of the very best boots for ranch work.
- Sizes: 6 to 15 (including narrows, wides and extra wides)
- Shaft: 10.75 inches
- Opening: 13.75 inches
- Hand crafted
- Focused on ranch work
- Classic, timeless style
- Not fully waterproof
- Premium price
Justin Boots, another brand widely recognized for quality footwear, claims to be the company that originally developed the roper-boot style. The classic cowboy boot was designed for working on horseback, but the tall, narrow heel lacks the stability of typical work boots on the ground. The roper retains the relatively slender toe shape, making it easy to get into stirrups, but has a lower, broader heel designed for better balance when walking.
On the Justin Boots Performance Roper Equestrian boot, the upper is made from tough full-grain leather. There are 10 color options, and on most the main part of the sole is also leather, with a composite rubber heel attached. This is usually fine for the ranch environment, but for those who prefer greater grip, two styles come with full-length composite rubber soles. Inside the boot there is the company’s J-Flex Flexible Comfort System with a triple-density footboard, and a cushioned insole.
This is a very classy handmade work boot that is equally good for casual wear, and has an enormous range of fitting options. It does come at a premium price, and is neither fully waterproof nor does it have a safety toe.
Things to Consider Before Buying Cowboy Work Boots
At first glance the cowboy work boot might seem a fairly simple construction, yet there can be a lot going on under the skin. Here are the key things to know before you buy cowboy boots.
Square-toed cowboy boots are the current fashion choice, and also allow plenty of foot space. However, they aren’t usually suitable for ranch work. They make using stirrups more awkward, and have a corner that many feel is too aggressive for a horse’s flanks. The round (also called roper), or traditional pointed cowboy boot toe is preferred for equestrian work in particular.
Another thing to consider is whether you want protection in the form of either a steel or composite toe. Steel is less expensive but heavier. Composites, which can be fiberglass, kevlar, or carbon fiber, aren’t quite as strong but often still satisfy the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OHSA). They may also be certified under independent safety standards established by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
Leather soles are the traditional choice. They are best for hot pasture work because they allow the feet to breathe. They have less visual impact so tend to be popular on cowboy boots used for street wear. They don’t have the durability of modern composite rubber, but are easier to re-sole.
The main drawback with leather soles is that they are slippery when wet, and they soak up water which can go all the way through to the foot. Frequent soaking and drying will often cause the sole to split.
Although rubber soles sometimes appear bulky it is not always the case. Low-profile designs offer good traction and durability while remaining slender. At the other end of the scale, deeply treaded all-weather models provide outstanding grip for those who frequently work in muddy conditions. A steel or plastic shank may run through the sole to give additional stiffness and strength.
Cowboy work boots are often lined with moisture-wicking material. This draws sweat away from the foot, and helps reduce hot spots that cause blisters. A waterproof membrane can also be incorporated, although these are less common. A number of spray- or rub-on treatments are available to provide additional protection for non-waterproof models.
Padded footbeds are common. These provide general comfort, and shock-absorbing ability. They may have antimicrobial properties to keep feet feeling fresh, and are often removable for airing.
Shaft and Opening
The shaft of a boot is usually measured from where the heel meets the sole, to the top of the opening (some manufacturers quote from arch to top). This height gives the amount of leg protection offered. The size of the opening itself is important because narrow cowboy boots can be more difficult to put on, even with the pull straps provided. Measurements given are the circumference of the opening. For easy visualization, take a tape measure and loop it around.
Q: Who makes the toughest cowboy boots?
Who makes the toughest cowboy boots can be the subject of some fierce debate. Lucchese are hand-made boots of outstanding quality, but are expensive. Ariat and Justin are two of the most popular brands for tough cowboy work boots. Dan Post, Twisted X, and Wolverine are also known for their quality.
Q: How much do cowboy work boots cost?
How much cowboy work boots cost does vary considerably. Cheap cowboy boots are usually just fashion footwear. We looked at several pairs from $60 to $90 but they didn’t have the durability to be a good work boot. We would expect to pay between $100 and $200 for the best cowboy work boots, though some can be as much as $500.
Q: What kind of boots do working cowboys wear?
The kind of boots working cowboys wear are invariably leather, typically with a tall shaft to protect the ankles and calves, and a round (roper) or pointed western toe. In dry terrain the heel and sole will often be leather, though rubber is a popular alternative. They may also have a steel or composite safety toe.
Q: How long should cowboy boots last?
How long cowboy boots last depends on the quality of the boot, and the amount of use they get. When properly cared for the best cowboy work boots can last anywhere from five to 10 years.
Q: What should you not wear with cowboy boots?
There is very little you should not wear with cowboy boots because they are so versatile. Some fashion experts suggest avoiding athleisure, sportswear, or overalls. But everyone’s tastes are their own so if you’re comfortable with the look, we say wear it.
Q: What is the difference between a cowboy boot and a work boot?
The difference between a cowboy boot and a work boot can be hard to define. Some cowboy boots are just casual footwear, whereas others are made with the toughness, and protection to make them durable work boots. It’s really a question of checking the materials and description. The examples above are all cowboy boots, but also good work boots.
Q: Can rattlesnakes bite through cowboy boots?
A rattlesnake can bite through cowboy boots at the ankle or calf, which are the most common areas for snake strikes. They won’t penetrate thick soles, or safety toe caps. If snakes are a regular problem, then more protective boots are needed. We have a useful article on what to consider when buying snake boots.
Ariat makes a wide range of high-quality cowboy work boots. With its tough leather upper, and high-traction rubber sole the Groundbreaker is a fine example of their toughness and versatility. Ariat Fatbaby Women’s western boots have a variety of style choices as well as outstanding durability.
While the Wolverine 10-inch Rancher boot comes in just one color, it is comfortable, offers excellent toe protection, and is the most affordable cowboy work boot to meet the standards we set for this article.
I have worn cowboy boots for more than 20 years. I have worn them for work, riding my motorcycle, horseback riding or hiking on the weekend, and when going out for the evening. When I was younger, the same pair got used for everything. To make sure the article wasn’t based solely on my own opinions, however, I also researched all the leading manufacturers, looking at materials, and construction methods. The following were key criteria in my final choice:
- Focus: A work boot obviously has to be tough. The construction and materials also have to be appropriate to the intended function. While leather soles are the classic choice, rubber offers more traction and greater durability. My picks focus on work first. If they are also stylish, that’s a bonus.
- Comfort: It’s easy to claim a boot is comfortable, but will it stay that way all day? I looked for features like moisture-wicking liners, cushioning insoles, and good arch support.
- Protection: Some people need a waterproof work boot. Others want a safety toe. I tried to make sure all requirements were covered.
- Value: Good cowboy work boots are not cheap. My picks are all from brands known for their durability, thus providing lasting value.