Cowboy boots aren't just a fashion statement. They're really meant to be comfortable, durable, and practical shoes that protect your feet in rough conditions. Since they're usually heavy duty shoes made from thick, tough leather, they can be very uncomfortable when new.

That heavy construction also means that they can take a long time to break in properly. And, since brand new boots can be so uncomfortable, the process can be especially prolonged. You won't want to wear them because they hurt your feet, but because you don't wear them often, it just takes longer to break them in.

Stretching the tough leather of cowboy boots can be difficult, but it is doable.

Here are some of the best ways to make sure that your boots get stretched out and comfortable.

Wear extra socks

This is one of the easiest and most effective ways to stretch out your cowboy boots. The only downside is that it will still take a while.

  • Wear two or three extra pairs of socks. You're stretching out thick leather, so you can't get the job done just by wearing one pair of thick socks. It should be a little difficult to get your foot into the boot because of the extra socks. It won't be the most comfortable thing in the world, but it'll probably feel better than just trying to break in the boots normally.
  • Keep the boots on for a while. Wear them all day like this for a few days. You'll force the leather to expand over time.
  • This might take a long time to work, but it's guaranteed to be effective.

The advantage of this method is that wearing the extra socks will also help make the boots more comfortable to wear while you're breaking them in. You'll have extra padding to prevent the leather from rubbing you uncomfortably, and they'll make everything feel softer.

The downside is that this could make your boots uncomfortably hot while you're stretching them out, and it could also make them feel too tight. While it's sure to work, using something as soft as socks to stretch out tough boot leather is a long process, and you'll have to wear the boots every day and walk in them a lot.

Steam the inside of the boots

Like wearing extra socks, this method takes time and requires patience, but it's also cheap, easy, and effective.

  • Using a garment steamer or a kettle of hot water, apply steam to the interior of the boots for a few minutes.
  • Feel the inside of the boots. The whole interior should feel softer. If it doesn't feel softer, apply more steam until it does.
  • Wear socks and the boots and walk in them until they're dry again.

This method works because it softens the leather before you try to stretch it, making it easier to stretch the leather. It must be done carefully, though, because the steam can affect the dye in the leather. Too much steaming can also ruin the integrity of the boot, so stop steaming as soon as the leather inside the boot has begun to soften.

As long as you're careful with the application of the steam you shouldn't cause any damage. The key is to stop steaming as soon as the leather on the interior begins to feel softer. Note that it shouldn't feel soft, but just softer than it was.

Submerge the boots in water

Water really is a great way to help stretch any leather shoes, because it softens the leather without causing damage when used properly.

  • Fill a bathtub with warm (not hot) water
  • Place the boots inside the tub, standing them up so that water doesn't get on the inside of the boots
  • Place your hands inside the boots
  • As soon as the insole starts to feel a little wet, take the boots out of the water and put them on with socks
  • Walk around in them until the feel dry again

This method will help soften the leather and stretch them out more quickly without as much risk of damage as steaming. You will want to use leather conditioner after using this method to preserve the appearance of the boots.

Be very careful not to let the interior of the boots come into direct contact with the water. It's very difficult to dry out the interior once it gets wet, and that can result in permanent damage. As soon as the insole begins to feel wet, remove the boots from the water and put them on.

Use ice to stretch the boots

This is an old method that's been effective for a long time. It's simple and very safe for the boots.

  • Take a very large (probably a two gallon) plastic freezer bag and place it inside the boot. Be sure that the bag fills the whole interior of the boot.
  • Fill the bag with water. Make sure it completely fills the boot and is touching the inside of the boot all over.
  • Seal the bag and place the entire boot into the freezer.
  • As the water freezes, it will expand. This will force the leather to stretch
  • Leave the boots in the freezer for at least eight hours to be sure that the water freezes completely

This is very gentle but firm way to stretch your boots. The leather will stretch slowly because it will only stretch as the water freezes, but the ice will still force it to stretch out. The only thing to watch for is a leak in the bag. Be very certain that there are no leaks in the bag before putting it in the boot.

Be sure to use freezer bags, too. Plastic can get brittle at below-freezing temperatures, but freezer bags are made of extra thick, strong material that won't break down in the freezer. Using regular freezer bags makes it very likely that you'll experience a leak inside the boot when the water freezes.

Use a boot stretcher

Uncomfortable boots have been a problem for as long as boots have existed, so people have invented tools designed specifically to stretch out your boots without damaging them.

  • Buy a boot stretching kit. This usually consists of a spray and a wedge shaped device.
  • Apply the spray to the inside of the boots, making sure the whole interior is covered. You may need to apply the spray to a cloth and then using the cloth to ensure that the whole interior is well covered by the spray.
  • Next, insert the wedge into the boots. Make sure that it is in direct contact with the tip of the toe box in the boot.
  • Then turn the knob on top of the boot stretcher until you have stretched the boots as much as you want them to stretch.
  • Leave the boots like this for about eight hours.
  • When the eight hours are done, turn the knob on top of the boot stretcher counter-clockwise to loosen it before you remove it from the boots.
  • Your boots should now be properly stretched out.

Boot stretchers are probably the most effective and safe way to stretch your boots, since they're tools that were designed specifically for the job. Unfortunately they do cost money, and many people would rather not spend the money on a tool that they'll probably only use once.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do my boots need to be stretched?

The exact amount will vary depending on the shape of your foot and specific boots you have, but the answer is that it's probably less than you think.

You don't want to stretch the boots so much that they become loose, you really only want to stretch them just enough to give your toes a bit of extra room and soften the leather to make it more flexible.

Will I have to do this again at some point?

A lot of people worry about having to re-stretch their boots eventually. Fortunately, that's unnecessary. Once you've stretched your boots and their comfortable worn in, they'll never need to be stretched again.

How long will it take to stretch my boots?

That depends on the method you use. If you're using bags of ice or a boot stretching tool, it'll take about eight hours. If you're soaking them in the tub, it will take longer and may require more than one soak.

If you're using extra socks, it will probably take several days or even a couple of weeks to finish the process, although they should start feeling more comfortable within a day or two.

What happens if I used too much steam?

If the steaming has caused damage to your boots, you may need to pay a professional to fix them. if you purchased them from a specialty store, they may have someone in-house who can repair the damage.

What happens if I got water inside my boots?

If you accidentally got water inside your boats when soaking them, dump the water out and dry the interior with towels as thoroughly as you can.

Hopefully, between the towel drying and the socks you wear while walking in the boots you'll avoid damage, but you may need to take them to a professional to have them repaired if damage occurs.

Is it possible to stretch the boots too much?

It is, but it would be difficult to do. Boots are tough and the leather is thick, so if you were to stretch the boots too much you would probably have caused so much damage that the boots would be unwearable.

You'll know when you've stretched the boots enough, and the likelihood that you'll go too far is low.


People have been stretching out our cowboy boots for as long as we've worn them. Tight, uncomfortable boots are just a side effect of building such a tough shoe. 

Fortunately, it's been a problem for so long that we know how to fix it. Any of these methods is guaranteed to stretch out your boots and speed up the process of breaking them in.

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