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​Caiman vs. Alligator Cowboy Boots: What are the Differences?

​Caiman vs. Alligator Cowboy Boots: What are the Differences?

Posted by Tim Urling on Aug 9th 2021

With “Western and Cowboy” boot styles growing in popularity once again, even in areas outside of what is considered the traditional market areas and now even becoming popular in urban centers as diverse as New York City and Los Angeles. Many boot companies are experiencing tremendous growth over the last several years and the market forecast is for this trend to continue into the coming years. This means the Alligator Boots are here to stay! We’ve found there is nothing quite as unique as a genuine pair of American made Alligator boots!

When it comes to cowboy (or cowgirl) boots, some of the most luxurious boots you can purchase today are alligator boots. These Exotic leather boots reign supreme over nearly every other type of boots available today!

The question is, how does alligator vs caiman skin differ? It’s important to know what the differences between the available hides are not only in terms of quality, durability, and price!

Read on to learn the differences between the available hides: Alligator, Crocodile and Caiman hides all have their advantages. If you are considering the investment in a quality pair of boots, you’ll want to know what you’re looking at and whether the price is worth what you’ll be paying.

Alligator vs Crocodile Skin: Aesthetic Differences

If you are unfamiliar with the world of crocodilian leathers, you most likely would not be able to recognize the difference between caiman, alligator, and crocodile hides upon first look at the finished leathers. In many ways, they look similar but there are important differences. Most retail salespeople wouldn’t know the differences either.

Relying on the boot experts at Tim’s Boots is your best option, we know and can recognize the difference while guiding you to what your best choice will be. If you’re going to take the plunge and buy alligator boots, you should know the difference, too. Nothing is more embarrassing than claiming your boots are made of alligator skin only to discover that they are caiman or worse yet a print on cowhide!

To help you learn the differences, we’re going to take a look at the key differences between these types of leathers.

Alligator boots are commonly made from three non-endangered species of alligator or crocodile skins. (Crocodilian Species) There are 23 total species in the wild but due to international agreements to protect endangered species there are only three species that are available to make your boots from. Nothing worse than to have your new boots confiscated by fish and wildlife!

The American Alligator (alligator mississippiensis) is native to the Southeast USA. The finest and highest quality alligator boots are made from this type of leather. These skins come from alligators that are mostly farm-raised, however a few are captured or hunted in the wild. The wild hides usually have larger scales because the farm raised animals are harvested at a smaller size to protect the skins from blemishes and scars.

The American Alligator is the least bony of the crocodilian species and therefore it is the softest most supple leather to make cowboy boots from. American alligator skins are softer and have smoother scales than other types of crocodile skins, making them among the most luxurious skins available on the market. Luxury handbags, watch bands, and belts are made from this species as well.

The Nile Crocodile (crocodylus niloticus) is native to Africa and is the second best hide to make alligator boots from. Nile crocodile skins come are bred in captivity and farm raised. The Nile crocodile skin is another one of the less bony species of the crocodilian family and is therefore a good product to make cowboy boots from as well. This species of alligator is not very common, but the belly skins do make a fine pair of gator boots and is a little less expensive compared to American Alligator.

The Caiman Crocodile (Caiman crocodilus) is native to South America. Caiman skins come from caimans that are bred in captivity and farm raised. The caiman crocodile is the boniest of the 3 types of hides available, and as a result, the skin is more structured and has more "blemishes" in the scales. Also due to the bones they tend to not absorb the dyes as readily or uniformly.

Due to their smaller size many times caiman skins must be stitched together to make them large enough to make a pair of boots. Caimans are the least expensive and smallest of the hides and make a good choice for budget conscious buyers, but they are the least desirable of the three commonly available hides.

If budget is the main consideration, then you should pick caiman boots. Caiman boots are the most common boots that you'll find on the shelf since they are less expensive for the retailer to stock.

Since Tim’s Boots makes most of their boots to order you can get the color, toe shape and heel height and style you prefer. You will have to wait a couple months or so, but it will be well worth the wait for you to get exactly the boots you want! (we do have some boots in stock – give us a call to see if we have what you’re looking for 800.771.4214)

The cut determines the look of Alligator boots

Alligator scales will differ in shape and size depending on which part of the body they came from. Commonly the skins are cut either down the back leaving the belly as the largest undisturbed area or cut down the belly leaving the horns of the back intact. These different cuts create a unique difference when looking or touching the finished product. The Hornback cuts are further divided by either head, tail or back areas of the same hide. Belly cuts are divided by the way the vamp is cut – regular or straight cut and bias or side cut.

Alligators have one defining feature that crocodiles do not: an umbilical scar, almost like a belly button! You’ll find this scar in the middle of an alligator’s belly. The scales of the umbilical scar are much smaller than the rest of its scales and together, they form a triangular shape.

Qualities of Crocodile Skin

Crocodile skin may resemble alligator skin in color and, to some extent, overall appearance. However, crocodile skin is far more uniform than alligator skin. In fact, crocodile scales are almost all the same size and square in shape.

Regardless of price, you’ll never find crocodile boots with that special umbilical scar that alligator boots may feature. As we mentioned earlier, crocodiles simply don’t have this scar!

Why Alligator Boots Generally Cost More than Crocodile or Caiman?

One thing you find is that genuine alligator skin shoes and boots will cost more than their crocodilian brothers. Why is this?

Crocodiles are found in abundance in many areas all over the world. They are abundant and the quality and durability is less. (Although they will last for many years with proper care. I have a pair of caiman boots nearly 20 years old.

The American alligator requires a specific climate to be able to grow healthy. Because of this fact, you only find them in the southeast part of the United States, from North Carolina to southern Texas. Because there are fewer alligators and due to their unique qualities, the demand is greater not only for boots but for luxury handbags and watch bands.

Alligator skin is also considered a quite superior hide compared to caiman skin. It has a softer feel and has a more luxurious feel along with its uniform scale patterns and ability to absorb the dye evenly. Plus, alligator skin is firmer than crocodile skin, which means that alligator skin shoes and boots are durable and may last longer than crocodile shoes.

Where Do Caimans Fit into the Cowboy Boot market?

Caimans are crocodilians, which means that you will encounter caiman crocodile boots. How do they fit into the overall exotic leather boot trend?

Caimans are the one crocodile that is easy to farm, which means that they tend to grow in abundance. In fact, there are many caiman farmers who are raise caimans just for their skin.

Caiman skin can be a good starting point for exotic boot newbies. However, our cowboy boot experts will tell you that caiman skin is not in the same league as American Alligator hides. Caimans are small and so are their scales, which means their skin is less firm, less durable, and less appealing.

Buyer Beware: Some Sellers Are Up to No Good!

Knowing the difference between alligator vs crocodile skin doesn’t just protect your reputation as a boot-wearer. It also protects your wallet.

Because alligator skin is better quality and costs more, you may encounter unethical sellers who will offer caiman boots under the guise of alligator boots. In other words, they’re trying to pass off an inferior boot as its superior counterpart. I’ve seen listings and advertisements for “caiman alligator”, I believe this is to dupe unsuspecting buyers.

Knowing the difference will protect you from overpaying for your boots. Buying from a reputable and high-quality boot seller like Tim’s Boots will save you a potential costly and embarrassing mistake. We’ve been Boot experts for 20+ years and have an A+ rating from the BBB.

Know Your leather choices and trust the Boot experts from Tim’s Boots

As western boots explode across the country, and you find yourself drawn to high-quality exotic cowboy (or cowgirl) boots. If you’re thinking of buying a pair for yourself, or as a gift it’s important to know the difference between alligator vs caiman skin. Knowing the difference helps you make an informed choice (and keeps you from falling for advertising traps).

Look around at all our huge selection!