The Right and Wrong Ways to Stretch Calves of Leather Boots

Have you purchased a pair of tall boots that are uncomfortably tight in calf? The last thing you want to do is buy a new pair of $300 boots! The good news is that you can fix a slightly tight pair of boots by stretching them. The bad news is that this takes time, a bit of cash, or both.

There are a lot of DIY guides out there with recommendations about how you get around the time and money problem. In addition, if you’re just looking to soften the leather or speed up the break-in time for a pair of new boots, many of these recommendations are fine.

calf boots tall
Image via nico1959 licensed under CC BY 2.0

How to Stretch Calf Boots At Home

The most effective technique to stretch the leather around the calf muscle is to buy a boot calf leather stretcher. It’s the same method used by professional cobblers to stretch boots. It looks a bit like a big wine opener, except with a crank that you can use to increase the circumference of the shaft that gets inserted into the boot or shoe. Boot stretchers are typically cast aluminum.

Method 1: Boot Calf Stretchers and leather softener

It’s recommended that you apply a leather softener like Fiebing’s Shoe Stretching spray as you stretch your boots.

Calf Stretcher
This is a Calf Stretcher from FootFitter, via Amazon

Boot calf and throat stretcher

Boot calf stretchers look a bit like a big wine opener with a long shaft that expands and contracts by twisting a handle. They can also stretch the throat lower down, right above the instep. If you have a high instep and have trouble getting your foot into the bend and actually inside of the boot, you’ll want a calf stretcher like FootFitter’s or Mallory’s.

Boot Shaper
This is NOT a boot stretcher, this is a boot shaper. Image via Amazon

Which Calf Boot Stretcher Should You Buy?

If you search Amazon for “boot calf stretcher” the top results aren’t actually boot calf stretchers; they are boot shapers, which work like shoe trees for the shaft of a boot. In other words, boot shapers exist to prevent creasing rather than to significantly stretch the leather.

Professional boot stretchers like Mallory’s or the FootFitter Cast Aluminum Combination Instep and Shaft Stretcher start at around $225. Unless you have a few pairs of boots needing stretching, these won’t be a great investment.

[Shop Mallory’s Leather Stretcher]

[Shop FootFitter’s Leather Stretcher]

How to use a calf stretcher

  1. Spray your boot with the leather stretching spray.
  2. Crank the handle and stretch the boot a bit. You don’t want to pop the stitching and destroy the boot.
  3. Leave it overnight and see how much the boot has stretched.
  4. Repeat the process over a few days, adding slightly more pressure to the boot.
Fiebing's Shoe Stretch It
Fiebing’s Shoe Stretch It via Amazon

[Shop Fiebing’s Shoe Stretch-It Spray]

Method 2: Only Use Leather stretching spray

Leather stretching spray is sold for about $10. It relaxes the leather and is used by professional cobblers. It’s basically just water and alcohol with some other solvents and surfactants.

Just follow the instructions on the label to get softer leather. For example, Fiebing’s Shoe Stretching spray recommends spraying the area on the inside and outside of the boot that’s too tight and wearing the shoe until it stretches.

How to stretch out boots calves with leather stretching spray:

  1. Spray the inside of the boots with the spray
  2. Wear the boots. The spray will speed up the natural stretching or break-in time.
  3. Repeat the process as needed

Spray a homemade water/alcohol blend inside the boot

You can make boot spray at home with a rubbing alcohol and water mixture. Unlike soaking the boot in water and then walking around in wet boots, this is more comfortable because you only apply to the area needing stretching. You don’t have to worry about the boot shrinking either, as the water and alcohol spray will evaporate faster than the totally saturated with only water method. The recommended mixture is 1 part water to 1 part alcohol. You can dilute it to 3 parts water to 1 part alcohol if you are worried about damaging your boot.


How to stretch your leather boots without a stretcher at home (Not recommended)

If you don’t have the funds or time to wait for specific tools to arrive, then there are a few methods available to stretch your boots at home. But, to be honest, the effectiveness of these methods is over-exaggerated, may cause discomfort, or may even damage your boots if you do it incorrectly.

There’s many people recommending that you put the boots in ice baths, using a hairdryer, stuffing the inside of the boot with paper, and wearing boots while wet. Most of these aren’t recommended by cobblers as they may damage your boots or just don’t work. 

rider boots wet

[Shop Cobbler’s Choice Leather Conditioner]

Use water and conditioner to stretch leather boots

Wearing a pair of wet leather boots can also loosen the leather around your calves, it is certainly more cost-effective, but the downside is that your feet will be uncomfortable and you won’t get much stretch. This technique might work if you’re in a hurry, but there are some downsides.

If you soak your boots in a bucket of water for about five minutes, completely saturating the leather boots, then walk in them for half an hour the leather fibers will stretch. As the water dries, rub in a bit of leather conditioner like Cobbler’s Choice or Venetian Shoe Cream. The actual stretching won’t be much, and it won’t be comfortable while you do it. Also, if you don’t exert force on the leather by walking or stretching your boots while they are wet, they might shrink if they dry quickly. 

How to stretch boots using water and conditioner:

  1. Fill a bucket with water and submerge the entire boot into the water. It is important that you immerse the entire boot to avoid any uneven discoloration.
  2. Let the boots soak in water for about 5-10 minutes. Make sure the water gets into the leather.
  3. Take them out of the water and shake out the excess.
  4. Put the wet boots on your feet.
  5. While the boots dry, rub the conditioner and wear the boots to stretch the leather boots.

[Related: The 5 Best Leather Conditioners for Men’s Boots]

Use a blow dryer and moisturizer to stretch your boots

I’ve seen this mentioned several times on the internet but I don’t know anyone who has tried it. It just seems a bit crazy to me because if you apply too much heat to leather, you can damage your boots. This is also listed as a method to shrink your boots.

Most of the articles out there don’t provide an exact temperature, usually just a vague statement like “apply skin lotion to the inside of your new boots, heat the inside of the boot for 1-2 minutes, and stretch them with a good pair of cedar trees or walk around in them.”

Adding moisturizer or leather conditioning to counter the negative effects of the heat. But there are just too many variables here that are unaccounted for, like the type of leather, the type of moisturizer, and the optimum temperature. So this just seems like a really complicated way to speed up the break-in time and not the safest way to stretch leather boots.

How much can you stretch the Calf of a boot?

Keep in mind that leather won’t stretch very much. So if your problem is really tight boots around the calf, like inches too small, be prepared that no amount of stretching will fix your problem. You’ll either need to have the boot rebuilt, returned, or resold. You might get a 1/4 inch stretch out of the leather if it’s thick, or you could get an inch or more if it’s a more pliable leather.

How long does it take to stretch boot calf leather?

It’s difficult to say exactly how long it will take for a boot to stretch. It depends on the type of leather you’ve got, but “the key here is practice and going slow. Too much too fast will damage the upper or pop stitches. I normally do a little each day for 4-5 days.“, says Trenton Potter, a cobbler and YouTuber at Potter and Sons.

What are the safest ways to stretch calf boots?

The safest way to stretch your boots is to bring them to a cobbler. If you can’t find one near you, you can order calf stretchers online and do it yourself, just take your time and be patient.

“The thing to remember is to not hurry,” says Potter. “Too much too fast will damage the upper or pop stitches. I normally do a little each day for 4-5 days.”

What’s not safe for the boot?

Good boots are an investment. While you may be tempted to try anything to get your favorite boots to fit, there are definitely methods to avoid. Potter urges us to avoid any method using saturation and heat.

Also, don’t spray the leather stretcher on the outside of the boot. This can cause discoloration and removes the waxes and oils that protect the leather.

Can a cobbler stretch the calf of a boot?

This is the safest and easiest way to stretch your boots. They have the tools and knowledge to tell you if your boot can be stretched or if you’ll just need to sell them.

Wrapping Up

The most effective way to stretch leather boots is to take them to a professional cobbler, they have the tools and experience to stretch boots properly. While some of us don’t have access to expert help like this, going to a cobbler is typically the least expensive and most effective route; they’ll charge between 20 and 40 USD to stretch a boot safely.

Featured image via nico1959 licensed under CC BY 2.0

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Karl Wasson

Karl is an IT product manager living in South East Asia who gets a kick out of durability and dependability. He believes form and function are not mutually exclusive. When he's not working, he's searching for the best bespoke menswear in South East Asia and beyond.

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