7 Best Leather Trainers in 2024

Jaydee
Jaydee on
7 Best Leather Trainers in 2024
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If you're on the hunt for trainers that offer instant comfort and get even better as you wear them, leather trainers are your best bet. With so many leather trainers available, finding the best one without reading hundreds of reviews is not easy.

Whether you're new to the sneaker world or planning to add another leather kick to your collection, we will help you out. We have spent hours scrutinising over 500 pairs of leather kicks by wearing them daily and testing them in our lab. We concocted several recommendations for your easy reference. 

How we test sneakers

We meticulously tested and assessed more than 100 leather trainers to help you find the best one for you. To give you honest and fair reviews, here is our approach:

  • We buy these kicks using our own money to stay unbiased. 
  • We thoroughly test these trainers to check their comfort, durability, and many other parameters.
  • We send them to our lab and we do a series of tests on them. We even get to a point where we chop up the shoes to reveal all the pieces. 

Best leather trainers overall

What makes it the best?

The overall best leather sneaker is one that: stood the test of time, features a recognizable classic silhouette, and caters to a wide range of individuals throughout the year. Adidas Stan Smith checks all these boxes, solidifying its position as our number-one choice for the best leather sneaker. BONUS: the minimalist leather upper offers sensational durability, has easy upkeep, and provides watertight protection too! 

To evaluate the durability of the Stan Smith, we subjected it to a Dremel test where we vigorously scratch the upper using a wire brush fitted to a power drill. There were almost no signs of scratching on the leather, only a negligible amount of powder residue. 

We further examined its performance by pouring water on the upper. The majority of the water was promptly repelled and flowed down the sides, showcasing Stan Smith’s impressive watertight capabilities. 

Outside our lab, the sneakers’ versatility allowed us to confidently sport them around city streets. We love how easy they are to style and pair with various outfits. However, the revelation came during the hotter days when we experienced how the perforations on the forefoot allowed for ventilation into the sneaker. Our feet remained cool and cozy the entire time.

Nevertheless, we also report that the shoe bends too much at the toe, resulting in minimal arch support. As such, we don’t recommend the Adidas Stan Smith to sneakerheads who are looking for a supportive sneaker. 

Pros

  • Classic silhouette
  • Numerous colorways and collaborations
  • Easy to style
  • Durable
  • Weatherproof

Cons

  • Runs large
  • Lack of support
  • Takes some time to wear in
Full review of Adidas Stan Smith

Best classic leather trainers

Reebok Club C 85
92
Great!

What makes it the best?

Reebok Club C 85 is still unquestionably prominent in the sneaker scene even after almost 40 years. This is why, apart from highlighting a leather upper that can be subjected to daily abuse and be used whether it's sunny or rainy, we chose Club C 85 as the supreme classic leather sneaker out there. 

Reebok Club C 85 is practically a sneaker for all seasons, and we confirmed this through tests done inside and outside our lab. A leather sneaker does not automatically equate to sweaty feet - we found this true for Club C 85 and it didn’t matter if we were sockless or not. In terms of water-tightness, we observed that the leather prevents water from flooding the interior when we spill water all over its upper. 

Even with stains, Reebok Club C 85 is basically unaffected. We discovered this when we rubbed and poured powder and liquid dye on the sneaker’s toebox, and we didn’t even break a sweat cleaning it. Durability-wise, this sneaker has also performed really well on the durability test. In the lab, we press our Dremel with a wire brush attachment against the upper to see how much damage it can cause. Reebok Club C 85 remained almost intact, unlike other sneakers that suffered much more damage in our lab. 

However, we felt that there wasn’t much rigid support under the foot. Hence, we suggest looking for kicks that provide more prominent support if that's what you need in your leather sneakers. 

Pros

  • Ideal price point
  • Comfortable in-shoe feel
  • Durable construction
  • Easy to clean
  • Lightweight
  • Water-resistant
  • Surprisingly breathable
  • OK for sockless wear

Cons

  • Lacks modern inner shanks for support
  • Slightly loose fit
Full review of Reebok Club C 85

Best synthetic leather trainers

Nike Air Max 97
89
Good!

What makes it the best?

Out of all the leather sneakers in our database, the most marvelous with synthetic leather is none other than Nike Air Max 97. We say this because its material could literally bear up against abrasion. Although the sneaker is tough on the outside, we found the interior like a haven in which the level of comfort doesn’t vary even when we were sockless. The clincher? The synthetic upper also makes the sneaker a brilliant choice during rainy and wintry seasons.

In our lab, we subjected the Nike Air Max 97’s upper to friction caused by our Dremel with a wire brush attachment. The synthetic, together with the tightly woven mesh, remained intact without any significant damage. We realized that this sneaker is not only great for wear and tear but serious use.

On our walks, our feet felt sheltered from the cold and moisture. When we tested the sneaker’s waterproof ability, we learned that the synthetic-mesh combo perfectly shielded the interior from the water we poured over the upper. 

The downside is that the materials are not stainproof, as evident in the test where we applied powdered and liquid dye to its toebox. We discovered that removing the markings is grueling. We do not recommend Nike Air Max 97 to sneakerheads who prefer kicks that are not challenging to clean.

Pros

  • Good all-season sneaker
  • Good for sockless wear
  • An identifiable piece of fashion history
  • Fits true to size
  • Near indestructible
  • Lightweight
  • Feels as athletic as it looks
  • Great even for winter

Cons

  • Takes some time to wear in
  • Attaches to stains easily
Full review of Nike Air Max 97

Best retro leather trainers

Adidas Busenitz
92
Great!

What makes it the best?

The Adidas Busenitz stands out as the ultimate retro sneaker, surpassing its competitors with its distinctive features and timeless appeal. After subjecting these kicks to rigorous walking sessions in the city and conducting meticulous tests in the lab, we discovered that this retro sneaker is more than just style — it has substance too. In fact, the Busenitz's almost indestructible leather upper brings the 90s retro fever back to life.

Initially introduced as a skating-inspired sneaker, the Busenitz sits on the middle ground between street and sports style, thanks to its nineties-themed premium-grade leather. To test if the leather panels were as gritty as they looked, we went at it with a wire brush attached to a Dremel drill. Despite our vigorous efforts, the leather was virtually unscathed, proving its almost indestructible nature.

Outside the lab, we took the sneaker for a walk around the city. We discovered the comfort that the Busenitz offers, especially around the collar. Despite the low-top profile, the kicks were very gentle to the ankles and the back of the foot. 

We further tested the sneaker’s stain resistance potential by pouring color dyes onto the toebox. The material absorbed a small amount of dye but scrubbing them with a bit of soap was enough to make them sparkly clean.

But to those who want a breathable leather sneaker, look elsewhere. Based on all of our tests, the Busenitz is not very breathable. 

Pros

  • Incredibly durable
  • Fits true to size
  • Grippy as anything
  • Technical shoe for responsive skating
  • Surprisingly weatherproof
  • Classic silhouette
  • Easy to clean

Cons

  • Takes a long time to break it
  • Narrow in the toe box
  • The big tongue isn't for everyone
  • Not very breathable
Full review of Adidas Busenitz

Leather trainers with the best durability

What makes it the best?

We've spent a lot of time testing various shoes in the laboratory and around town in search of leather sneakers with exceptional durability. Among the options we examined, the Nike Air Trainer 3 stood out prominently. Its mid-cut training-inspired silhouette features a distinctive midfoot strap and a meticulously constructed leather upper fortified with plastic overlays. Moreover, the leather used in this sneaker is remarkably resilient and highly resistant to abrasions.

At first glance, the mid-top profile of the Air Trainer 3 exudes a nostalgic retro appeal. The arrangement and construction of the materials strike a sense of luxury typically associated with premium sneakers. Upon conducting a tactile examination, we noticed that the tumbled leather felt tough and rigid. To evaluate its durability, we subjected the sneaker to an abrasion test. In our lab, we used a power drill equipped with a metallic brush to scratch the panels. The Air Trainer 3 demonstrated its resilience by withstanding the test admirably, showing no signs of wear and tear on the leather—a testament to the invincibility of this sneaker.

During our walks around the city, we were also pleased to discover that the perforated leather not only adds to the retro aesthetic but also enhances breathability. As the perforations facilitate airflow into the sneaker, our feet remain cool and comfortable throughout. However, this sneaker is rigid, and we do not recommend it to sneakerheads who prioritize flexibility. 

Pros

  • Fits true to size
  • Durable leather construction
  • Retro styling
  • Surprisingly breathable
  • Could make a winter sneaker

Cons

  • Limited colorways
  • Not very flexible
  • Has hotspots where the shoe rubs on the toe
Full review of Nike Air Trainer 3

Best leather trainers for winter

What makes it the best?

Nike Air Max Goadome has exquisite leather that prevails over freezing climate, moisture, and daily wear and tear. So, there is no argument that it ranks first as the best leather sneaker for winter.

In the face of rainy and frosty weather, waterlogged areas, and snowy terrains, we found the Nike Air Max Goadome unassailable. Our feet are cradled in warmth and comfort in this sneaker, kudos to the combination of the superior-grade leather and the incredibly soft interior. And even though we exposed the sneaker’s upper to outdoor use and wet settings, we never noticed any faltering in its quality.

The upper is not the only thing that is remarkable in this Nike Air Max Goadome but also its outsole, which has a firm grip even on slippery grounds. As we expected, this kick carries a luxury price tag. It is £180, which is 44.8% higher than the average cost of sneakers. If this is beyond your budget, we recommend looking into less costly leather pairs.

Pros

  • Super plush
  • Precise fit
  • Cosy
  • Waterproof
  • Highly wear-resistant
  • Grippy
  • Lightweight
  • Noise-free sole

Cons

  • Pricey
  • Too elevated
Full review of Nike Air Max Goadome

There’s nothing quite like a quality pair of leather sneakers, and rightly so - if you know, you know. Famously popular for their combination of comfort, style, and retro good looks, the fact that a good pair of leather sneakers makes for the perfect match with so many outfits is just the cherry on top.

In this article, we're going to put the hype and marketing jargon to one side and explore what truly makes leather sneakers a top choice for fashion-conscious individuals and practical wearers alike. We’ll also take a look at the behind-the-scenes factors that manufacturers consider, and focus on what really makes the best leather sneakers.

How we define leather sneakers

At the core, leather sneakers are characterised by their primary construction material, which is genuine leather. However, be aware that not all leather sneakers are created equal. Quality varies based on the type of leather used, its treatment, and the manufacturing arm behind each pair. Additionally, not all leather sneakers are 100% full leather; often there is a blend with some synthetics.

Nike-Air-Max-90-Lace.jpg

Sneakers that are not made of real leather, for example, those that are made from ‘synthetic leather’, are noted accordingly.

Types of leather used for sneakers

Most leather used in sneakers originates from cowhides, and the quality of the end material depends on these three factors:

  1. The part of the hide that is used - with the butt and back considered the finest quality, and
  2. The layer of leather - with the top layer being the best for shoes, and
  3. Any treatment or tanning modifications that the leather has been subjected to.

Broadly these are then categorised as follows:

Full-grain leather

Full-grain leather is considered the highest quality. It’s derived from the top layer of the hide and retains the grain pattern, making it incredibly durable. It also looks brilliant both from a distance and up close.

For the sake of clarity it’s important to remember that all full-grain leathers are ‘Genuine Leathers’, but not all ‘Genuine Leathers’ are full-grain (or even top-grain).

Top-grain leather

Top-grain leather is slightly thinner than full-grain and has a smoother surface. Its sleek and polished look is often associated with dressy sneakers.

Nubuck

Nubuck is a type of full-grain leather that has been sanded down to create a soft, almost velvet-like surface.  A favourite amongst those looking for a laid-back, stylish but casual look. Nubuck is made from the tougher, exterior layer of the hide and is therefore stronger than suede.

Nubuck sneakers have somewhat of a working-man appeal and are for those with an outdoorsy personality.

Suede

Suede is a high-quality form of leather, made from the underside of the animal hide. It's characterised by a soft smooth surface that looks similar to nubuck but is cheaper to make. Suede is often used in skate shoes, where their excellent grip, maximum comfort, and exceptional durability is highly regarded.

Adidas-Busenitz-Stain-Testing-Clean.jpg

10 reasons why leather matters

1. Breathability: Leather may not "breathe" in the same way humans do, but it does allow air to pass through. This inherent quality keeps your feet cool and prevents unpleasant odours, making leather shoes an excellent choice for foot comfort.

2. Durability: Genuine leather shoes are known for their outstanding durability. They outlast synthetic options, making them a smart investment. You may pay more upfront, but in the long run, you'll likely save by not having to replace them as frequently.

3. Water resistance: Treated or waxed leather becomes resistant to water and other liquids. This is particularly valuable when working in wet environments or kitchens, as it keeps your feet dry and protects your shoes from external damage.

Nike-Air-Max-90-water-testing.jpg

4. Extra protection: While not at the same level as steel-toe cap shoes, leather sneakers do offer a natural strength that can provide additional protection from situations such as hot liquid spills or small falling objects, making them a clever but practical choice for many different work environments.

5. Better fit: Leather shoes mould to the shape of your feet over time, offering a customised fit. Unlike synthetic shoes that can feel rigid, leather adapts to your foot shape, enhancing long-term comfort and support.

6. Comfort: Leather is not only durable but also naturally comfortable. And while comfort is an obviously positive trait, it also provides the support your feet need, which is crucial for avoiding sore feet and even back problems.

Nike-Air-Max-90-outdoor-metal.jpg

7. Easy to clean: Leather is easy to clean with a damp cloth, and its breathability facilitates quick drying. Proper care ensures your leather products last, making maintenance hassle-free.

8. Simply stylish: Genuine leather sneakers are almost always of a classic, stylish appearance. Unlike regular sneakers, they add a touch of class to your outfit giving you a sleek, yet trendy, look.

9. Eco-friendly (in a way): Leather is a natural material and therefore eco-friendly. Unlike its synthetic siblings, leather doesn’t involve the use of harmful chemicals during manufacturing.

10. Pleasant scent: Genuine leather has an addictive natural smell to it, one which draws your nose in followed by the mandatory “ahhhh” exhale of satisfaction. You don’t get that on synthetics, often quite the opposite.

Leather vs. synthetic

Let’s take a look at the real-world differences between the two:

 

Leather Sneakers

Synthetic Sneakers

Durability

Renowned for durability and longevity.

May wear out faster, requiring more frequent replacements

Breathability

Natural breathability which keeps feet cool and mostly odour-free.

Often less breathable, potentially less comfortable on long days.

Fit

Tends to adapt to your foot shape over time, creating a personalised custom fit.

Feels more rigid and doesn’t adapt as well.

Style

Can be worn to compliment a large variety of outfits in a range of different settings and situations.

Appears less sophisticated and is generally suited for casual settings only.

Sustainability

Can be eco-friendly but only when produced responsibly and avoiding harmful chemical additives.

Less environmentally friendly as it can use toxic chemicals and release harmful gases during the manufacturing process, as well as being more likely to be replaced more frequently.

Price

Tend to be more expensive up front.

More budget-friendly initially, but may be less cost effective in the long term due to frequent replacements.

3 iconic leather sneaker brands

Nike

When Nike releases a new pair of leather sneakers, heads turn. From athletic fields to urban streets, Nike’s huge contribution to sneaker culture cannot be ignored.

Nike Air Trainer 3 Upper Review

Adidas

With its iconic three stripes, there’s no question that Adidas is a leader of quality leather athletic footwear. From the retro Stan Smiths of yesteryear to today’s symbols of style, Adidas leather sneakers are a classic.

Adidas Stan Smith Grass Court

Reebok

With a commitment to quality and designs that last the test of time, Reebok has a strong following in the world of leather sneakers - and for good reason: sneakerheads and casual wearers appreciate the attention to detail found in Reebok products.

Reebok Club C85 Logo Details

Make comfort normal again

It’s long been said that leather is more comfortable, but why is that? The unique ability of leather to adapt and conform to your foot's shape creates a customised fit that reduces the need for "breaking-in" periods. So, whether you're dressing up or keeping it casual, leather sneakers are in many respects the epitome of comfort, making it the new normal in your daily routine.

The role of the outsole

The outsole of leather sneakers is in many respects the foundation of the shoe - responsible for providing traction and grip across a variety of surfaces. It needs to be durable and withstand the elements, while remaining comfortable and looking good. The outsoles of leather sneakers tend to be made of rubber.

Is leather sustainable

As the world pursues a more eco-conscious attitude, there are several quite reasonable concerns consumers have when it comes to using leather for materials for not just sneakers but also bags, watchbands, sports equipment and furniture. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons for each argument:

Pros of using leather

  1. Natural: Leather is sourced from animal hides, which means it is a renewable and fully biodegradable resource. Farms over factories.
  2. Biodegradability: Leather sneakers are biodegradable. When discarded, they break down naturally over time, reducing long-term environmental impact compared to non-biodegradable synthetic materials.
  3. Responsible sourcing and production methods: The leather used in sneakers by the big brands is sourced responsibly from suppliers committed to sustainable and ethical practises, which can help protect ecosystems and animal welfare. Advances in tanning technology are exploring more eco-friendly and less chemical-intensive methods, which can decrease the environmental impact of leather production.
  4. Durability: Leather sneakers are known to last, and their longevity will almost always beat their synthetic rivals. In other words, people will dispose of leather sneakers many years after they dispose of their regular synthetic sneakers. With less ‘fast fashion’ comes less waste, therefore trickling up to a more sustainable world.

Cons for using leather

  1. Environmental impact: Leather production comes from the livestock industry, and it is this cattle farming that is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions which are known to drive climate change.
  2. Chemical usage: Traditional tanning processes involve the use of chemicals, some of which can be harmful to the environment if not properly managed, posing potential pollution risks.
  3. Water usage: Leather production often involves substantial water consumption, contributing to water scarcity issues in some regions. Large-scale tanneries can be water-intensive.
  4. Animal welfare: Environmental concerns overlap with ethical considerations, particularly related to animal welfare, as leather production involves raising and slaughtering animals for their hides. There’s a reason why vegans will refuse to wear leather sneakers.

Nike-Air-Max-90-outdoor-stairs.jpg

How to care for your leather sneakers

It’s important to look after your investment, so getting in the habit of a regular maintenance routine will pay dividends in the long run. Here’s a guide to help you get this sorted, and if you’re already wearing leather sneakers today is the best day to get started.

For a quick clean

Begin by using a damp cloth or magic eraser to loosen off and remove any dirt and dust. Special efforts should be focused on stains or at significant spots. Be careful not to use too much water or to use chemicals, as they may damage the leather. Likewise, there is no need to be rough - be gentle, your leather will thank you for it.

This is a simple task that will take less than 3 minutes each time, so it can be done frequently, and it makes a big difference.

For a deeper clean

For deeper cleaning, use a mild soap or leather cleaner specifically designed for sneakers. Apply a small amount to a damp cloth and gently clean the leather surface in a circular motion. Wipe away any excess soap with a clean, damp cloth.

This takes a bit more effort so can be done less frequently, about every 3 months is reasonable for most people.

Author
Jaydee
Jaydee
Jaydee dispels the myth that women can't be experts when it comes to sneakers. With hundreds of sneaker articles under her belt, she gained a surefire edge over others claiming to be experts. Since joining RunRepeat in 2017, she’s published formidable arrays of sneaker write-ups - some covered in lifestyle magazines. Interested in scrutinising a pair of sneakers? Jaydee is the best person to talk to as she can intuitively chew it over with you even while doing her laundry. When she’s not writing, you can catch Jaydee playing with her two kids, online shopping, and spending far too much time on Instagram.