Once a staple service, shoe cobbling has fallen in demand as modern consumers opt to replace, instead of repair, worn shoes. But a small contingent of footwear enthusiasts keeps the craft alive in Wyoming. At Backcountry Cobblers in Fremont County, craftsmen refurbish cowboy boots, resole climbing shoes and tackle all manner of creative requests. 

Backcountry Cobblers owner Jay Halford hammers treated rubber onto a Blundstone boot for a special order. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

Founder Jay Halford got into shoe repair while searching for a sustainable career path. He had studied business, but disliked the field and ended up bartending to support his climbing passion. He moved to Lander in 2016 and soon identified a need: “It always blew my mind that there was no resoler around since you can climb year round and people come from all over to climb here.” 

Customers of Backcountry Cobblers in Lander have a wide range of product requests — from climbing approach shoes to cowboy boots. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

Halford learned to resole his and his wife’s climbing shoes, then expanded his services to friends and word-of-mouth customers. What started as a climbing-shoe side gig in his garage launched as an LLC in 2018. As new requests for shoe projects came in, Halford said, he learned how to tackle them. “It just kind of snowballed.” 

Though it’s a trade traditionally handed down intergenerationally, Halford is self-taught. That education entailed “a lot of on-the-fly learning, a lot of archaic textbooks that I had printed out and a lot of YouTube,” he said. He learned to grind rubber, temper glue, form toecaps, mold them on a last and replace old components. 

Jay Halford, owner of Backcountry Cobblers in Lander, operates an industrial-strength sewing machine in October 2022. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

Inside the shop on a recent day, the smell of glue sharpens the air and an assortment of shoes — Chaco sandals and fringy black ankle boots, weathered sorrels and well-creased leather Lariat boots — fill racks, hanging trees and cubbies. In the spirit of the operation, much of the industrial equipment is decades old, used and refurbished. 

The work suits Halford; he enjoys nerding out on the technical aspects, figuring out how to preserve the value of well-loved possessions and creating art that has utility. Customers bring him dog-chewed shoes to salvage, ask for bespoke orthopedic adjustments and wonder if he can put climbing rubber on Crocs. 

Lime-green lace-up dress shoes and climbing shoes constitute one customer’s order at Backcountry Cobblers. (Katie Klingsporn/WyoFile)

“I don’t ever foresee it being as prolific as it was in its heyday,” he said of cobbling. “But I do think that it will continue to be a viable industry. And it’s so much fun … Typically I’m very excited to come to work.”

Katie Klingsporn reports on outdoor recreation, public lands, education and general news for WyoFile. She’s been a journalist and editor covering the American West for 20 years. Her freelance work has...

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  1. My Great-Grandfather, Jacob Wagner was an itinerant cobbler in Russia, traveling from village to village making (and presumably repairing) shoes. I’m glad to see this craft lives on. Reduce, Reuse, Repair!

  2. I am so glad to know that we have a cobbler available in Fremont County. I wish you much success and a long lasting business.

    1. Jay has repaired so many items for me (shoes, sandals, boots, clothing, tent, backpack etc…) He will do an amazing job on your boots!

  3. I found a relatively expensive brand of shoe alleviated most of my plantar fasciitis symptoms…the bad news was that their soles only lasted a few months…after learning if Jay’s shop, I took in a pair of shoes with worn soles to him…he suggested a very durable, lightweight sole replacement. The shoe repair cost about 1/4 of the price of new shoes and, so far, the replacement soles have far outlasted the original ones…i has since had Jay repair 2 other pair of hiking boots. All his work is extra ordinarily, neat and it has saved my hundreds of dollars!

  4. Love this! I had to trash a pair of Blunts and Chacos as no one would touch them. It was sad. Disposable clothing is a real problem. Dealing with that right now with zippers in two good winter jackets. Bought a sewing machine so I can do it myself. The last replacement I had done outside lasted a couple of weeks. Same with finding good tack repair. Actually that’s probable easier than boots. Good job!

  5. GREAT TO SEE THIS! We need more Craftsmen/Craftswomen. Lot less attorneys/bean counter run industrials. Less politicians. That originally was service to country not a occupation. Attorneys/Politicians stifle good growth.