Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • About Us

  • How long has Atomic 79 Western Wear & Gear been in business?

    Atomic 79 Boots & Gear has been in business since August, 2013. Schwarz Custom Boots has been in business since 2001. Our partnership began when we saw the interest from customers in the boot making process, and authentic western gear. Schwarz Custom Boots moved their workshop into the store, and we began the curated retail effort together after renovating a120 year old “Eliel Brothers”dry goods store..

  • What makes Atomic 79 Western Wear & Gear different from your competitors?

    At Atomic 79 Boots & Gear we focus on the quality and authenticity of our product line. We make and repair boots and leather goods on our premises. This gives us insight into the products we offer and allows us to show customers what the qualities of a properly made boot. For example, we focus on quality and traditional craftsmanship for boots, clothing and everything else we sell. This may result in higher prices than the modern "sneaker" version of the foreign-made cowboy boot and other products At the same time we offer a line of value-priced goods to equip the working cowboy, who often has lots of heart but fewer dollars.

    Our other calling card is Customer Service. This makes us different from big box stores and big online sellers. We know that more and more commerce will get done in the future through these "high volume" channels. However, the big sellers distance the consumer from the product and its quality, craftsmanship, fit, and artistry. Some consumers miss this intimate experience which provide both in-person and online. We strive to take the customer service of our brick and mortar to our online store where we encourage online customers to call and speak to a real person if they have questions or need any guidance.

  • What makes you different from the big-box ranch and farming equipment suppliers?

    We also carry a carefully selected line of authentic high quality tools, clothing and gear for use one ranches and in the outdoor setting of western Montana. We don’t compete with the low-priced low-quality big box stores. We prefer to select tools that are considered by the customer as a long-term valued item.

  • From where does Atomic 79 Western Wear & Gear operate?

    Our online store is housed within the brick and mortar storefront of Atomic 79 located in Dillon, Montana. Dillon is in the southwest corner of Montana in the northern part of the Rocky Mountains along the Continental Divide. Dillon is located within Beaverhead County, the largest county in Montana. The area is renowned for cow-calf production (well over 150,000 cattle in Beaverhead County, compared to about 9,200 people.) Cow-calf production, and specifically running range cattle up in the surrounding mountains, means there are many working cowboys in the area. The area also has a history of mining and prospecting, and of course it is one of the best areas in the country for hunting, fishing, hiking and camping.

  • Returns & Exchanges

  • Can I exchange my order?

    We do not offer exchanges at this time. If you’d like to make an exchange, simply return the unused goods back to us using our returns page and make a new purchase for the item or items you want through our site.

    Returns are accepted for all items within thirty (30) days of purchase. Items must be in "new" condition or will be subject to restocking fees. We encourage you to determine fit on new boots by walking on carpets or rugs to maintain "new" condition until you are satisfied with fit. Please visit our returns page to initiate the returns process.

  • Can I cancel or change my order?

    We begin processing orders as soon as they are placed, for this reason we are unable to cancel or make changes to orders. The exception to this rule would be if you called the store immediately after the order, before we pack and ship. Returns can be initiated through our returns page.

  • Do you offer refunds?

    We will refund your proceeds if you return goods within thirty (30) days in "new" condition.

  • Cowboy Boots

  • How do I figure out what size cowboy boot I need?

    In-store fitting is, of course, the best course of action. If this is not possible, we can start with an existing pair of boots or good shoes. Boots are best, of course, especially if from a reputable maker or manufacturer. Even better if heel and toe types are similar to what you are trying to order. If this is not possible, we suggest starting with a good pair of leather boots or shoes. We can try to adjust size from there to get you into the right boot. A Brannock Device (the adjustable metal foot measuring device) can also be used - most good shoe stores have one. We have a few and a good set of measurements from this tool will be a good starting point. However, if you are new to cowboy boots, please let us know. They tend to fit and feel tighter than most modern shoes, especially sneakers or shoes with no arch support. Sometimes, a cowboy boot size (may) be smaller than other shoes especially if there is a tall riding heel on the boot- the high heel has the geometrical effect of pulling the toes backward, hence producing what seems to be a “shorter” foot.

  • What are the different styles of cowboy boots?

    Broadly speaking, cowboy boots fall into these categories:

    Buckaroo - a tall, high-heeled, sometimes flashy boot for those who spend lots of time in the stirrup. Usually 16” tall (or more), with a 1.75-2.25” heel undershot with a western profile and probably a spur lip, certainly a steel shank, and usually scalloped tops. The Buckaroo Toe would have historically been pointed or tight round, but nowadays might be more square to fit recent style preferences. Sometimes a variation will have a “stovepipe” top, a top with no scallop and a decorative collar.

    Roper - a shorter boot with a lower heel usually ½” to ¾” and flat, with vertical profile (not undershot), very little arch, and typically a top that is 10 or 11”. A Roper Toe is usually round but can be square. This boot would be very much like wearing a good leather work shoe. The reason it is called a “roper” is that when a steer roper or wrestler jumps from the saddle to the ground to wrestle or tie a roped steer, he does not want to break his ankle with a high heel. However, many folks who dress with some degree of western style will have a refined pair of “ropers” to wear with business attire.

    Bronc Boot - a less common boot with a higher (1.5-1.75”) heel- again often with spur lip, shorter top- 11 to 13”, and very deep scallop. This Bronc boot is for the bronc rider who appreciates the shank but needs the boot to release more reliably from his foot if he fouls up in a stirrup or bronc rigging and does not want to get dragged by the runaway bronc, hence the shorter top and deeper scallop.

    Traditional Western - for lack of a better name, the Traditional Western Boot is the more common and somewhat more refined cowboy boot. The heel is somewhat western profile, usually 1.25-1.75”, top usually about 14”, may have pull-ears rather than pull holes, and sometimes has a more refined leather work and stitch pattern. Historically, the Traditional Western Boot would have had a pointed or sharp round toe, but nowadays we see more squared off toes. The Traditional Western Boot is a good work boot no doubt, but also could begin life as the “town boot.” It may or may not have a spur lip.

    PeeWee - this boot usually has a shorter top- 10” or less, with a high western heel and often has more inlay and stitch work perhaps with wingtips, buckstitching, broguing or a fancy counter. The PeeWee is a flashier boot with a firm place in western folklore. This was popular in the 50’s with the Roy Rogers craze and can often be seen in photos from that time. We still make (and have made to our specs) boots like this. People still love them and they also look good if a lady is wearing a skirt or shorts (though men wear them, too).

    Polo Boot - this is a taller boot, usually 16” or more, and often has a lower (sometimes almost Roper) heel that is more like an English Riding Boot, but the top will look Western. Polo players like this boot and will wear it with their polo jeans “shotgunned” (stuffed in the boot top) and the high top will protect their leg from the stirrup leather and the punishment of bumping and sliding against the other polo players and mounts.

  • Do Cowboy Boots need to be broken in?

    Traditional cowboy boots will feel stiff at first and will have some “heel slip” when new. Parts of the boot will stretch with the pressure and perspiration of usage, but only in certain areas. As the arch breaks in, properly fitting boots will quickly lose the “heel slip.” The area around the arch of the foot will relax slightly, perhaps up until the point where the ball of the foot ends. But, the toe box of the boot (about 1.5-1.75” back from the tip of the toe) will NOT relax in good boots. The toe box contains a hard material (usually “celastic” but sometimes hardened leather) that is designed to PREVENT relaxation. This is important. If there is uncomfortable toe pressure in this area, you must choose a different size or to shape or you will be miserable since this area will not relax. The toe box is not the same as a steel toe. A traditional cowboy boot toe box offers some protection. However, a heavy blow will collapse the toe box or break it as it is only designed to help the boot hold its shape.

  • Why do cowboys wear cowboy boots?

    The cowboy boot was designed as a tool for a person working on the range, usually spending lots of time in the saddle, who needed protection from the elements, especially in the area of his feet. Most importantly, good boots have a steel shank which allowed the rider to apply some pressure to the stirrup, sometimes all day long. Often, stirrups were slim pieces of metal (“oxbow stirrups”) that would cut into the lower side of the arch of the foot, the steel shank was crucial to distribute this pressure. The high heel allowed the cowboy to “lock in” to the stirrup and also not slide through. (Unlike “english” style riders, cowboys put their feet deeper into the stirrup.) The high top protected the leg from the pressure of the stirrup leather, and also from brush and hazards on the ground. The absence of laces allowed for quick donning of the boot and also allowed the boot to slip off if the cowboy was partially dismounted and dragged by a runaway horse. A good boot was (and is) a useful tool for a real cowboy or rancher.

  • Why are cowboy boots priced as they are?

    The price is obviously driven by the cost of materials, the manufacturing process of the boot, and the amount and artistry of the ornamentation requested. Traditional boots were made with a heavy leather innersole and one or more leather outsoles, with the welting hand-channeled into the innersole. This is a painstaking process requiring a strong and steady hand. Therefore, modern production processes have mostly dispensed with this method in favor of a glued (and sometimes sewn) cloth welt - or worse, a glued-on rubber sole (the horror…..). (Atomic 79 stills doesit the traditional way in ALL of our custom boots, and many of the boots we have made to our specs.) There are multiple steps involving casing (partially wetting) the leather and forming it to shape around the last. A custom boot made to fit a particular person would first have a custom last built to match the person’s foot shape. A traditional boot would use all lemon-wood pegs and stitching to hold it together (no nails) and stacked leather heels. All the stitchwork, top and bottom, is done by hand with various sewing machines - while modern knock-off boots will use robots for much of this. A high-quality boot will have skived leather edges and the points will be sewn down with detailed and careful stitchwork. The shape of the heel and the angle of the top will be balanced to give a comfortable, blended and balanced look to the boot, which should be a showcase of color and stitchwork, but also have a beautiful, blended and balanced shape with the promise of comfort and functionality. Often a good boot can be quickly determined simply from looking at the profile and shape. Each time a corner is gut in the traditional methods, the price of the boot goes down; hence, the condition of most of the inexpensive boots you see on shelves today.

  • How do I take care of cowboy boots?

    Brush heavy dirt or mud off at the end of a workday. Try to get the grit out of the welting, as sand will provide the abrasive action to break welting down over time. Let the boots dry slowly overnight, not too near a heat source. If you are lucky enough to have two good pairs of boots, try alternating them to let a wet pair dry out. Once dry and cleaned up on the outside, you can apply some preservative (we like Bick 4 but we have many choices. Be careful about modifying leather stiffness or making it sticky to attract more dirt) from time to time. Applying treatment or preservative should be necessary only infrequently. Good quality leather is very resilient and tough and must be treated with respect. Of course, if you are talking about town boots, you will want to put a good shine on them similar to the way you would treat good work shoes.

  • Will cowboy boots protect you from snakes?

    No guarantee on this point. Some rattlers have long fangs and they strike with startling force. At the right angle they will penetrate or if they strike high then the boots don’t help. However, a good boot with some bracing in the top (should….) turn the glancing and low strikes. Let’s put it this way, you’d rather have your boots on than sandals or sneakers. If you are lucky enough to have good boots they will likely pay for themselves in this situation.

  • Will cowboy boots shrink?

    If boots get very wet and are dried at high heat (NOT a good idea) there may be some shrinkage,- but they will usually relax back into shape as you wear them. The worst problem is that over time your feet will spread out as they age, and old custom boots may feel too small. Dan Schwarz made me a great pair of boots twenty years ago. They are a bit too small for me now for walking around all day, but they are perfect for riding.

  • Will cowboy boots stretch out or loosen up?

    Yes - a little during the break-in process. And if really treated roughly over time and not allowed to dry you may see a little more movement. But when treated as described above, this should not be a problem.

  • Will cowboy boots get ruined in the rain? Can cowboy boots get wet?

    If really soaked and dried too quickly, you may change the shape a bit or degrade the leather by removing too much of the natural moisturizing agents embedded in the leather during the tanning process. If cleaned up and air-dried slowly, with a little treatment applied afterwards, they should recover.

  • Do cowboys still use spurs?

    Working cowboys (and also arena cowboys) absolutely do use spurs. Remember, they may be on the range, alone, in rough country. They need the horse to do the right thing for protection of both horse and rider, and also to get the job at hand done. A good rider never over-uses spurs, but they are a useful and necessary tool when riding. Many boots we make and sell have spur lips on the top of the heel stack to allow the spur a place to rest. Some boots have counter-covers that are sewn where the spur strap goes over the arch of the foot.

  • Why do cowboy boots have heels?

    The heel is there to give the rider a place to “lock in” to the spur, and to prevent the foot from going through the stirrup -- a tragic event that usually means injury or death for the rider.

  • Are cowboy boots waterproof?

    Cowboy boots are not waterproof. If you sand in water it will eventually penetrate where the welt is sewn and anywhere that the needle or awl penetrated the leather. Cowboy boots are water resistant and can serve well for quick dunks while crossing creeks or other water.

  • Are cowboy boots bad for your back?

    Actually, just the opposite. A proper fitting boot is said to cure many back problems and can provide you the support (arch support) needed to work or ride all day.

  • Are cowboy boots good for your feet?

    Proper fitting cowboy boots provide good arch support and are comfortable. People accustomed to sandals or sneakers may sometimes have a hard time making this transition. People accustomed to good leather work shoes with some arch support will quickly make the transition.

  • Are cowboy boots good for hiking?

    Cowboy boots are not the first choice for hiking. Cowboy boots are more a tool primarily for riding, but we walk and work in good boots all day too. We can make a boot with an undershot western heel and wide lateral support at the arch that is very good for walking and still very good for riding. If you are planning a ten mile hike, then hiking boots are better - we sell Nicks and Kenetreks - both excellent hiking boots.

  • Are cowboy boots supposed to be tight?

    Cowboy boots should fit more tightly than sneakers, but they should not be uncomfortably tight. They may feel tight compared to other shoes. You should be able to have good support in the instep area and wiggle room in the ball area. The arch of your foot should be supported and a little heel slip is normal as your boots break in.

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