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Are your heels supposed to lift in cowboy boots?

Cowboy boots are a classic American footwear style that have been around since the late 1800s. Originally worn by cowboys and ranchers working with cattle, cowboy boots are now a fashion staple and cultural icon of the American West. One of the key features of cowboy boots is the elevated heel, which raises the heel of the wearer anywhere from 1-3 inches off the ground. However, a common question many people have when wearing cowboy boots for the first time is: are your heels supposed to come up when you walk in cowboy boots? Let’s take a closer look at why cowboy boots have an elevated heel and whether or not it’s normal for your heels to lift out of cowboy boots when walking.

Why Do Cowboy Boots Have an Elevated Heel?

There are a few reasons why cowboy boots traditionally have a higher, angled heel versus a flat sole:

To Prevent Slipping in Stirrups When Riding

The first and most functional reason for the signature cowboy boot heel has to do with horseback riding. Cowboys and other equestrians that spend long hours riding horses need to keep their foot securely in the stirrup when riding. The angled heel of cowboy boots is designed to prevent the foot from slipping forward and out of the stirrup, which could be dangerous if it causes the rider to lose their balance and fall off the horse. The 1-3 inch heel provides an optimal angle to lock the foot in place.

To Protect Feet When Walking

In addition to horseback riding, cowboys also spend a lot of time walking and standing on their feet while working on ranches and with cattle. The elevated heel helps absorb shock, reduce fatigue, and provide comfort when standing or walking around on hard surfaces all day. The heel takes pressure off the metatarsal bones of the foot so there is less strain on the arch and ball of the foot when standing or walking for prolonged periods.

To Provide Stability on Uneven Ground

The cowboy boot heel also helps provide stability when walking on uneven terrain, as is often encountered on ranches. The angled design and structured heel gives the feet support to prevent slips, twists, and ankle rolls that can happen when stepping on uneven ground or debris. The heel stabilizes every step.

For Fashion and Style

Although the heel originated from functional needs for riding and walking, today cowboy boots are primarily worn as a fashion choice rather than a work necessity. However, the signature heel remains a staple of cowboy boot design for both aesthetic style and maintaining the iconic cowboy boot silhouette.

Is It Normal for the Heels to Lift While Walking in Cowboy Boots?

When wearing cowboy boots, especially for the first time, many people notice that their heel comes up and lifts slightly when taking a step. Is this normal?

The short answer is yes, it’s perfectly normal to have your heels lift slightly when walking in cowboy boots due to the design and heel height. Here’s why:

Momentum Causes the Foot to Lift

As you take a step and shift your weight forward, the momentum naturally causes your foot to lift somewhat inside the boot. With each step, your heel will end up temporarily lifting off the sole of the boot but then comes back down and re-plants when your weight shifts to that foot again. This is simply the normal motion of walking in cowboy boots.

Less Surface Contact Due to the Heel

Cowboy boots have a narrower profile at the heel due to the angled design. This means when your heel is down in a cowboy boot, there is less surface contact between your heel and the sole of the boot. Consequently, it takes less motion for your heel to initiate lifting out of the boot with each step versus a flat shoe where your entire foot is planted firmly on the sole.

Loose Fit Allows the Foot to Lift

Cowboy boots traditionally have a looser, slip-on fit versus very snug fitting shoes or boots. This looser fit around the ankle and heel allows your foot to naturally lift and move inside the boot when walking. So as you walk, your foot is able to lift more freely versus being held tightly in place against the sole.

Heel Height Makes Lifting More Pronounced

The higher the heel on a cowboy boot, the more pronounced the heel lift will be when walking. On a lower 1 inch heel, you may barely notice the heel coming up. But in a 2-3 inch heel, the lift of the heel will be much more obvious with each step. The extra height makes it easier for the heel to lose surface contact inside the boot when walking.

Tips for Managing Heel Lift in Cowboy Boots

While a slight heel lift is normal, some people find the sensation of their heel coming up constantly bothersome or want to minimize how much it lifts. Here are some tips for managing heel lift when walking in cowboy boots:

Wear Boot Socks

Wearing boot socks can help pad your foot and keep it from sliding around in the boot. The extra cushioning and snugger fit around your foot and ankle will limit heel slippage. Look for socks specifically made for boots that come up mid-calf and have reinforced heels and toes.

Use Inserts or Orthotics

Using over-the-counter orthotic inserts or custom orthotics can also help stabilize your foot so your heel doesn’t lift as much inside the boot. Orthotics support the arch and heel to keep your foot securely in place.

Try heel grip liners

Applying silicone heel grip liners inside cowboy boots can help keep your heel locked in place when walking. The grippy texture prevents your heel from coming up while adding cushion.

Snug the Fit

Having a boot that fits too loosely around the ankles and heel can allow too much lift. You can take your boots to a shoe cobbler and have them add interior pads or inserts to snug the fit around your ankle and prevent excess heel slippage. Only size down if the boot still fits comfortably everywhere else.

Break In the Boots

New unworn boots may allow more heel lift until they are broken in. As you wear the boots, they will mold better to your feet, reducing heel slippage. Be patient through the break-in period.

Lower the Heel Height

Choosing a cowboy boot with a lower 1-2 inch heel versus a taller 3 inch heel can help minimize how much the heel will lift when walking. The lower heel will naturally allow less lift.

Practice Your Walking Gait

You may need to adjust your walking gait in cowboy boots versus regular shoes to prevent too much heel lift. Take shorter, lighter steps versus long strides. Keep your weight balanced over the feet as you walk. Let the heel re-plant fully with each step.

When is Heel Lift a Problem?

While a small degree of heel lift when walking in cowboy boots is normal, excessive lift can potentially point to an ill-fitting boot or other issues. Here are some signs that the amount of heel lift may indicate a poor fit or problem with the boots:

– Your entire foot is lifting out of the boot with each step

– You have to grip the boot with your toes while walking to prevent your foot from sliding forward

– You feel unstable, wobbly, or unable to walk normally

– Your foot is slipping from side to side inside the boot as well

– You are getting blisters or rubbing due to the slipping motion

– The heel lift is causing you pain or discomfort

If you are experiencing any of these, it likely means the boots are too big and you need better fitting cowboy boots rather than just adjusting to the heel lift. Extreme heel slip can potentially lead to injury.


Some degree of heel lift when walking in cowboy boots is perfectly normal and expected due to the signature angled heel and looser fitting design. However, there are things you can do minimize heel lift like wearing snug boot socks, using orthotic inserts, and taking shorter steps. Excessive lift that impedes walking normally is a sign the boots may not be the ideal size and fit for your feet. With the right pair of cowboy boots and a little practice walking in the elevated heel, your heels coming up should not be a cause for concern and you can strut comfortably in this stylish Western footwear.