Full grain leather vs. top grain leather: What's the difference?

Whether shopping for leather boots at Anatom or around the internet, you’ve probably noticed that products are made with different types of leather. Sadly, many consumers aren’t familiar with the terms “full grain” or “top grain,” and instead they look for the words “genuine leather.” But, if a leather product is listed as genuine leather, it’s not actually a good sign. At least, not where the leather’s quality is concerned. “Genuine leather” has essentially become a catch-all phrase for anything that is technically leather of any quality. However, if you’re looking for true leather quality, you’ll want to look for full-grain or top grain leather products.

Here are seven key differences between full-grain leather and top grain leather—and yes, they matter. Learn more about the qualities of these leather types and discover which one is best for you.

1. Origin

Full grain leather comes from the top layer of the hide and includes all of the natural grain, while top grain leather has the outermost layer of the hide removed.

2. Quality & Cost

Full grain leather is the highest quality grade of leather that money can buy. It comes from the top layer of the hide and includes all of the natural grain. It is more expensive to buy and more difficult for boot makers to work with. This is reflected in the price to the end-consumer.

Top grain leather is the second highest grade of leather and has the outermost layer of hide removed. This difference makes the leather thinner and more workable for the manufacturer, which is reflected in the price compared to full grain leather. But don’t be mistaken, top grain leather boots are still very durable and reliable.

3. Appearance

The natural surface of full grain leather is incredibly unique—it tells a story through natural imperfections, marks, and even light brands in the surface, evident in the markings on some of our boots.

Top grain leather is applied with a finishing coat that provides protection against stains that would otherwise stick right into full grain leather. However, the refinishing process of top grain leather greatly reduces the leather’s breathability, and also prevents the leather from developing a natural patina over time.

5. Durability

Full grain leather is incredibly strong and durable, as the natural grain contains the strongest fibres in the hide. It’s also extremely breathable, resulting in less moisture from prolonged contact. Full grain leather can be more susceptible to staining, so ensure to protect your boots with leather conditioner and clean it right away if it develops an unsightly stain.

The downside of top grain leather is the loss of sanding off the strongest fibres in the natural grain hide. Because of this, it’s incredibly important to properly care for delicate top grain leather, as it can be more prone to noticeable scratching than full grain leather.

6. care

Both full grain and top grain leather require ongoing maintenance and upkeep with leather cleaner and conditioner. Although top grain leather can be more susceptible to wear and tear, it’s important to know the three steps you can take to protect both types of leather when it gets wet. And of course, stains here and there are inevitable, as that’s a part of life, so learn how you can easily remove them by reading our guide to stain removal.

Bottom line: don’t fall into the trap of buying “genuine leather” products that are anything but. If you’re looking for real leather products, we’d recommend finding a reliable source for full grain and top grain leather goods. Both are great options when it comes to quality and durability, but choosing between the two depends on what’s important to you. Top grain is typically less expensive than full grain leather and even offers greater stain resistance if the finish remains unbroken. But if you’re looking to invest a little more in a higher-quality leather that can last a lifetime—and look good doing it—then, full-grain leather is the way to go. And remember to give your leather bags, jackets, and accessories the love and care they need with our assortment of easy-to-use leather care products.