An interesting search landed a visitor to my most-visited web page, wearing cowboy boots.
The question was, “what is the most common heel style for everyday wear on cowboy boots?” It was searched by someone in Texas, where cowboy boots are worn often.
Generally, there are three heel heights on cowboy boots — a walking heel, which is about 1″ (2.5cm); a riding heel, which is about 2″ (5cm); and a heel height that splits the difference and is about 1-1/2″ to 1-5/8″ (3.8 to 4.1cm) high.
As far as heel style goes — walking (roper) heels are usually flat and blocky, with little if any slant. Riding heels are usually what’s called “underslung.” That means that the heels are larger at the place where they are attached to the sole and taper to a smaller size at the bottom. However, unlike high heels on women’s shoes, underslung cowboy boot heels usually have a fairly large area at the bottom, rather than taper to a point.
Walking heels are found on boots like ropers which are very commonly worn in the U.S. West and Midwest. Ropers are affordable and easy to wear while walking or working.
Cowboy boots worn for riding (a horse) are usually about 2″ (5cm) high and are usually underslung (tapered). These heels make it easier to hold the boot in stirrups and control a horse. However, heels of this height are harder for men to walk in. Most men are unaccustomed to wearing “high heels.” Also, some men are afraid to wear higher heels because of their fear of ridicule or labeling, but I won’t go there….
The vast majority of traditional cowboy boots split the difference, and have heels that are half-way between a walking heel and a riding heel. Various bootmakers call this heel height by different names — cowboy heel, low riding heel, or walking heel even. Regardless of what it may be called, heels of this height are the most common (to answer this question). These heels also usually taper slightly from the where it meets the sole to the bottom where it meets the floor — but the tapering is minor in comparison with a true underslung heel.
This traditional heel height allows for pants (trousers) or jeans to stack (fold) softly across the foot of the boot and not come down below the place where the back of the leather on the foot is attached to the heel. If pants come lower than that, then they can become worn and frayed at the edges.
It is also easy enough for most men to learn how to walk in boots with a heel of this height. Men who do not wear boots often may at first have some trouble walking in boots with this heel height. Sometimes, men may miss a step (that is, catch the heel on a step because he did not raise his foot high enough to clear the heel on the next step.)
One thing to note as well about the physics of cowboy boot heels, besides how the height affects walking, is how the height affects sound. Generally speaking, the higher the heel and the more mass (size) it has, the more sound the heel will make on the floor, sidewalk, or pavement. Think about it something like a drum — the bigger the size of the drum, the more deep, resounding sound it makes. About the same thing is true for cowboy boot heels. That’s why many men’s dress cowboy boots have rubber sole plates on them — to dampen the sound.
Hearing the sound of a “cowboy boot clunk” is music to some guys’ ears and an annoyance to others. I know some guys who have replaced a rubber sole plate with a wooden one they made themselves, so their boots can be heard! I know other guys who have a cobbler install a double-sole plate made of soft rubber, to dampen the sound. It really varies. (What do I do? I leave my boots the way they come. If they clunk, that’s fine. If they don’t, that’s okay with me, too.)
So now you know — what is the most common cowboy boot heel style? A heel that is slightly slanted, but not deeply underslung, and of a height that is about 1-1/2″ to 1-5/8″ (3.8 to 4.1cm).
Life is short: wear cowboy boots!