Guide to Quality Work Boots

Quality work boots come in many forms, but what makes the best ones worth the investment?

| March/April 2016

  • Cowboys and cowgirls sitting on wooden fence prove that the western cowboy boot comes in a wide range of styles and colors.
    Photo by
  • Rubber boots have come a long way – they are incredible versatile and comfortable today.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • At least for this article of clothing, don’t shortchange the investment.
    Photo by Lorain Ebbett-Rideout
  • A high-quality pair of work boots are a critical element to a day in the field.
    Photo by Susy Morris
  • Gritty shows off his new pair of manure kickers.
    Illustration by Brad Anderson

After a decade or so of wearing boots about every single day of my life – whether my everyday cowboy boots, multiple pairs of rubber boots that take me to the woods for cutting timbers or chasing whitetail deer, still other rubber pairs I use to stomp through chicken and livestock manure, or finally my trusty pair of older, heavier lace-up hunting boots – I can tell you that a solid pair of soles beneath your feet are akin to a sharp blade in your pocket, a well-worn, protective hat on your head, an old pair of leather work gloves that conform to your hands. Trusted tools make life better, and any regular boot wearer knows it: You find yourself with a pair beneath you hurting your feet, other body parts start hurting soon after.

My dad’s pair of Northerner rubber boots made an impression on me at a young age, but nothing opened my eyes like the first time my parents took my brothers and me down to Jones Boots in Sheldon, Missouri. An entire store of cowboy boots – any style, color or brand you could imagine. We were blown away, and I know all three of us boys walked out with brand-new cowboy boots that day. Pretty sure we all three walked out with Stetson cowboy hats, too – I smile now at the memory of sinking hopes as I watched a different shop owner shape that hat about as different from Garth Brooks’ as possible. Can’t remember what the special occasion was, but other kids would have traded places with us in a heartbeat, and our parents must have sacrificed significantly for it.

Like any other tool investment, when it comes to the leather or other materials under your feet, knowing what you’re looking for and spending a little time thinking about boots will get you closer to what you want for the dollars you want to spend.

Cowboy boots

Our everyday cowboy boots have come a long way since the old days, when in the late 1800s American frontiersmen decided they needed something altogether different than the Wellington-influenced (think modern-day rubber boot) military boots that had served the calvary during the Civil War.

Long cattle drives meant they needed something more dedicated for long days in the saddle. The riding boot that closely resembles the modern-day cowboy boot was born, and soon became popular in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.

In the early half of the 1900s, Hollywood’s influence meant showier boots, and the evolution continues today. But what makes for quality, in an arena where personal taste has such an impact?

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