Leather Vs Synthetic Football Boots
The battle of the football boots is underway as we decide which is better: leather or synthetic boots?
With the emergence of synthetic materials that are more durable, lightweight and easy to produce, has the time for leather football boots passed entirely, or is there still something that leather can give us that synthetic material simply can’t?
If you’re of a certain age, then you have probably only experienced one of the two options. Most of us usually fall into one of the two camps: long-term leather wearer or synthetic sympathisers. Many couldn’t imagine switching from a good old-fashioned leather boot, whilst others baulk at the idea of switching from the more modern synthetic designs.
Most younger ballers will only ever have played football in synthetic material boots. This is partly due to the fact that these are the boots their heroes wear nowadays, but they are also more readily available; they come in many various colourways; and in general, they are just more lightweight and those who wear them feel as though they have more control and a greater feel on the ball.
Whilst there are plenty of other football boots to choose from out there, we’re going to take a good look at leather and synthetic since these are the two main types. So, let's see if there is any truth in the rumours that one is better than the other, or if we’re just being spun a yarn in order to buy more boots.
As leather is a natural material it has a few benefits over synthetic. Leather will adapt to the shape of your foot quite quickly, which can be both a positive and a negative. When you first buy a pair of leather boots, they may feel a little uncomfortable until you break them in slightly. You’ve never truly had blisters until you’ve had to wear brand new boots for a full game without having time to wear them in first. Modern boots don’t suffer from this problem as much as they used to, but they still require a little game time before they mould into the perfect fit.
When you’ve had your boots for a long time, the leather can have a tendency to overstretch. You may start noticing that even though the durable leather is holding fast and isn’t splitting anywhere, they just don’t seem to fit as well as they used to. As some leather also has a tendency to absorb water, this can add to the problem.
Probably the biggest positive to wearing leather football boots is the protection they give. Receiving a studded-stamp to the top of your foot is a lot more painful in a thin pair of synthetic boots than a leather pair as leather has a much better cushioning quality, a quality that can also help improve your touch if you’re a player with a springboard for a foot.
A lot of modern leather boot developers have combatted the problem of water absorption by creating a leather hybrid which is hydrophobic and actually reflects water from being absorbed.
Back in the days before synthetic football boots even existed, boot makers like Nike and Adidas would battle it out to find the best leather to construct their boots from. Now with most leathers being pretty similar, it was very difficult for brands to set themselves apart, until they discovered K-leather.
We talked earlier about most leathers being similar, and this is true for pretty much all leathers, except for K-leather. K-leather is made from kangaroo and is used a lot in boot manufacturing these days as it is basically cow leather 2.0. K-leather falls into its own category, with the other category basically containing every other leather lumped in together.
Kangaroo leather fibres are highly uniform, whereas other leather fibres are more mixed and complex. This is what sets kangaroo leather apart: the uniform fibres mean that manufacturers can make the leather thinner whilst still retaining the strength of the leather itself. When you thin out other leathers, they lose nearly all of their strength and will simply fall apart on a football boot, essentially creating a disposable, single-use football boot that would make Richard Attenborough furious.
For all the stats nerds: The Journal of American Leather Chemists (wild bunch) found that when you thin K-leather to 20% of its original thickness it maintains 30-60% of its original strength whilst other leathers only retain 1-4%.
The emergence of synthetic hasn’t happened overnight. Developers have been modifying materials and working on producing better synthetic materials for football boots for years now and they are set to get better.
Big brands love synthetic materials for a number of reasons; firstly, they are cheaper and easier to produce; secondly, synthetic material holds colours, logos and designs much better than leather does. You’ve all seen some of the outrageously imaginative boot designs on show this year; these are all made possible thanks to synthetic materials. With leather, these designs fade as they have to be printed on top. Synthetics can have the designs made into them, so they will degrade much more slowly.
Synthetic materials are completely waterproof, so they won’t absorb any water if you’re playing on a wet pitch and are super easy to clean after the game. One problem synthetic does suffer from however, is that when they do become wet, they become much slicker, making it harder to find that killer touch and to gain good grip when striking the ball. Developers combat this with a bunch of boot tech that will be installed on the boots upper.
Cheap knock-offs are easy to spot when it comes to synthetics. The major boot developers have refined their techniques to create sleek, lightweight boots that are strong yet comfortable. Any cheaper alternatives will be heavier and much less comfortable. Unlike leather, synthetic material is going to take longer to break in but they will hold their shape longer as a result.
As with any tough decision you need to weigh up the pros and cons. Your personal choice will be the major factor in deciding on a new pair of boots, but conditions, playing surfaces, style of play and prices are all going to have an influence.
There is no definitive answer we can give you. We just like to guide you through your options; like Gandalf leading the hobbits to almost certain death in Mordor to destroy some jewellery: except your journey simply ends with you wearing a new pair of killer football boots.
This blog is part of our Boot Battles series. Check out some of the other boots we’ve pitted against each other: