Steppin' Out

From heel to toe: the anatomy of a cowboy boot

By Alvie Faulkenbery,
From heel to toe: the anatomy of a cowboy boot - Alvies

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Most people are probably familiar with the general shape of the cowboy boot, which can seem sneakily simple. But there’s a lot going on there. Even seasoned boot wearers may not know all the different parts. Some are the same as regular, less-cool shoes — but others are unique to boots.

Here are some of the most common parts of a cowboy boot. Boot designs and construction vary, so this doesn’t cover everything you might see out there. But these are the terms you should know so you can talk the talk when discussing boots with friends and strangers. Like you do. 

  • Shaft: The boot shaft is the long tube that makes a cowboy boot so recognizable. It starts at the heel and goes up, wrapping around the leg. Boots shafts come in all types of styles and heights, with the design varying widely based on inlays, overlays, stitching, and the length of the shaft.
  • Vamp: The vamp is the part of the boot that covers the top of your foot. It’s the most visible part of the leather when you wear pants over the shaft. So if the legs of your pants cover the shaft of the boots (which is the way most men and many women wear boots) make sure you love how the vamp looks before you buy. 
  • Counter: The counter is the back lower part of the boot where your heel sits. Alvies boots have a heel counter, which is an insert that helps reinforce the heel cup to increase support.
  • Instep: The instep is the sits on the top of your foot inside the boot. It’s an important piece to think about for a boot, because It plays a big part in the boot’s shape and comfort. If the instep is too loose, your foot will slide around too much. If it’s too tight, it can be uncomfortable and make it difficult to get your boot on and off. 
  • Last: The last is a foot-shaped plastic mold used to build boots. It determines the structure of the instep, so It’s largely responsible for the fit of the boot. Alvies’ lasts are how we designed our unique Fast Break-In Fit. Lasts also come in all size and are made specific to the width and size of a boot. You will see a letter for the width and your typical number for the size.
  • Piping: Also called a side seam, the piping is the stitching that runs down the side of the shaft and holds it together. 
  • Toe Box: The toe box covers the toes towards the tip of the boots. It’s a stiff piece of material placed between the boot’s outer leather and liner that helps the boot keep its shape while adding durability. 
  • Pull Strap: The pull strap is located at the top of the shaft to help you put your boots on easily. It’s helpful when you need to get your boots on in a hurry, like if you’re late for a hot date. Or a bail deadline.
  • Heel: The heel is a defining part of the cowboy boot. Usually made of leather, it’s attached to the rear part of the sole. Heels come in a range of heights and designs. 
  • Outsole: The outsole is the very bottom part of the sole, where the boot meets the ground — it’s what most people are talking about when they refer to a boot’s sole. Alvies boot soles are made of leather, much like a dress shoe. The outsole is the part of the boot that’s exposed to the most wear. With our sharp Goodyear welt, you can replace the soles as they wear down over the years. That makes your Alvies a pair of boots you can own forever.
  • Insole: The insole is the material inside a boot that rests between the midsole and your foot. There are many materials that can be used for insoles, but the best boots use leather. A leather insole will mold to your foot, and over time make your boots more comfortable than a padded insole.
  • Midsole: The middle piece of leather in the sole, which sits between the insole and the outsole. The midsole material provides shock absorption. Most traditional bootmakers (including Alvies) use leather because it offers good cushioning, wears well, and forms to the foot. Although it’s also a place where makers of cheaper boots tend to cut corners and use other materials. 
  • Welt: The welt is how the sole is attached to the boot. There are three commonly used types of welts, but the Goodyear welt is really the only one worth talking about. It’s the one we use for all Alvies boots because it’s stronger, more durable, more supportive and water resistant, and is the easiest (and cheapest) to resole.
Alvie Faulkenbery

About Alvie

Alvie is the founder of Alvies (makes sense, right?), a man obsessed with boots and flip-flops. He spent six years designing and selling them out of an Airstream. That time was like his vision quest, where he learned everything he could about traditional bootmaking and leatherworking in order to build the best boots and flip-flops on the planet. In addition to being our Presidente and chief product designer, he’s also our resident boot expert and dropper of knowledge on the blog.