While most holiday souvenirs are bought in the final few days of a trip, if you’re heading to a ranch in the US, a pair of cowboy boots, a hat and a belt buckle are essential first purchases. Why? Because it’s all about playing the part. “When you go to one of these ranches, you’ve got to have the right gear,” says Maudie Tomlinson, Senior Travel Consultant, Americas. “If you’ve got a good pair of boots and a nice check shirt, you feel like you fit in.”
Though most ranches have boots you can borrow that are already worn in, they often have their own stores where you can get sized up for your own pair. Which is not to say that the boot outlets in nearby towns aren’t worth exploring.
“If you’re going to Jackson Hole, there are some amazing stores in the town square, and in Denver there’s a strip of wonderful shops on Larimer Street,” says Maudie. “At the very top end there’s no one better than Kemo Sabe in Aspen, Vail and Las Vegas – they sell beautiful boots for around $600. At the other end of the scale there’s a great outfitter’s near Carbondale outside of Denver, the Roaring Fork Valley Co-op, where you can get a pair for as little as $60.”
Belt buckles were traditionally given out as prizes at rodeos. The buckle a cowboy wore would most likely denote his latest victory, while others would be engraved with everything from family history to the names of favourite tractors. Hats are primarily a practical purchase, so look for one that fits you well and keeps the sun off your face. A real Stetson will cost around $100, and the best ones have a high percentage of beaver, mink and chinchilla fur in the felt. Remember to store your hat upside down on its crown to protect the brim.
And what advice for buying boots? “They’re all handmade and often amazingly ornate, but think about what you want to use them for back home,” suggests Maudie. “The really good ones, for example, have leather soles, but they’re not so hardy. I bought some plain tan leather yard boots, and they’re excellent for riding.” And the ultimate gift for friends back home? “You can buy really dinky kids’ boots,” says Maudie. “I bought some for my two-year-old nephew, and he loves them.”