Types of Leather Boots - Helm

Leather Boots Buying Guide: How to Identify the Different Types of Leather and Its Quality

Understand various leather types: Full-grain, top-grain, corrected grain, genuine, pull-up, and side leather, as well as suede, to determine quality and longevity.

Inquire about leather grain and prioritize full-grain leather boots for superior quality and durability. Be cautious of lower-grade leathers commonly found in local stores and warehouses.

Choose boot manufacturers that source from reputable tanneries, like HELM Boots, which use full-grain side cow leather in our 133-step boot-making process.

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Does your closet need new leather boots? With numerous options available, finding high-quality boots can be daunting. We've prepared a comprehensive guide to help you understand leather types, ensuring you invest in durable and stylish boots. We make Footwear For Life, and HELM Boots are built to last and get better with age.

Different Types of Leather

Leather, made from tanned animal skins, is used globally for various products, including belts, bags, and shoes. While faux leather mimics genuine leather, it lacks durability. However, not all leather is equal, as some types offer better quality than others.

We use leather all over the world but primarily from Texas, USA, for products including belts, bags, and shoes. As a durable, flexible material, leather is especially ideal for footwear. In fact, humans have been making leather footwear for thousands of years -- the oldest leather shoe is 5,500 years old!

Boots often use suede or smooth leather. Your choice depends on the occasion and intended use. Learn about specific types below.

Smooth Leather

Smooth leather is common in boot production and includes natural colors like teak, brown, black, and tan. It may also be embossed or coated split leather. Smooth leather boots are popular for professional or formal settings. Leather quality varies within smooth leather types, such as corrected grain, full-grain, top-grain, genuine, pull-up, and side leather.

Corrected Grain

Corrected grain leather, known for its lower grade, often requires some "fixing up" before it meets the standards for manufacturing. As the name suggests, this leather must undergo a "correction" process to achieve its desired smooth appearance.

So, what does this "correction" entail? To eliminate any imperfections, manufacturers meticulously sand down the hides, ensuring a blemish-free surface.

Following this, they apply chemical treatments to further refine and perfect the leather, giving birth to pigmented leather boots. Due to this corrective process, corrected grain leather boots tend to be more budget-friendly than their higher-quality counterparts. HELM does not use corrected grain leather in any of its footwear or belts.

Full-Grain - what helm predominantly uses

Full-grain leather, renowned as the crème de la crème of leathers, offers wearers unparalleled flexibility and endurance. The majority of our core styles use full-grain leather from Texas, USA hides, predominantly Krumenauer leather.

Setting it apart from corrected grain leather, full-grain leather remains untouched by buffing or sanding processes, retaining its authentic grain appearance to the fullest extent.

Sourcing immaculate animal hides is no small feat, as full-grain leather boot manufacturers must carefully select hides from specific parts of the animal. At HELM, we pride ourselves on using full-grain side cow leather, handpicking only the finest portions of each hide for our premium boots.

Unaltered by chemicals, full-grain leather eagerly welcomes polishes, maintaining its lustrous shine far better than other types of leather. With time, these boots acquire a rich, distinctive patina that is unique to each individual pair. That's why we call it Footwear for Life. Your boots will last, and you can wear them from sunrise to sunset, as long as you take care of them.


Top-grain leather, while not quite reaching the pinnacle of full-grain leather's prestige, still boasts a respectable position in the hierarchy of leather quality. Undergoing less processing than its corrected grain counterpart, top-grain leather retains a certain level of allure.

To achieve its refined appearance, manufacturers meticulously sand and buff the surface, eradicating any imperfections. They may also apply an ingenious finish coat, enhancing breathability while providing stain resistance and amplifying durability.

The tanning process sees the removal of the hide's top layer—a layer that full-grain leather exclusively preserves. This distinction earns top-grain leather the alternative moniker of "split leather."


The term "genuine leather" might evoke thoughts of authenticity and quality; however, this label is quite deceiving. Genuine leather, while still fashioned from real animal hides, actually ranks at the bottom of the leather quality spectrum.

Curiously crafted from residual leather scraps, genuine leather products utilize the lower layers of an animal hide, found beneath the superior top layers preserved in full-grain and top-grain leather.

Despite their humble origins, genuine leather boots can mimic the appearance of genuine leather, particularly when chemically treated to achieve a recognizable sheen. However, they fall short in terms of softness and flexibility when compared to their full-grain counterparts. Moreover, the durability of genuine leather pales in comparison to higher-quality leathers, offering a lifespan of merely a year or two at best. Because HELM leather uppers come from full-grain leather, our footwear can literally last for generations if maintained well.


Pull-up leather is a type of full-grain leather used in boot manufacture. It's simply called "pull-up" because of a general lightening that occurs when you apply pressure to it.

This is not the result of any chemical correcting or artificial coating. It's simply due to waxes and oils in the hide. You may hear pull-up leather also referred to as "waxed" or "oiled" leather as a result.

Side Leather

Side leather comes from an adult cow. It's called "side" leather because the hide is split into two halves directly along the cow's backbone.

In general, side leather is more consistent and thick than leather sourced from other parts of the animal. That's why we use side leather here at HELM Boots in the production of all of our footwear.


Suede, a distinctive and luxurious leather variant, sets itself apart from its smooth leather counterpart through its unique exterior. While smooth leather showcases the grain or outer layer beneath the animal's hair, suede reveals the supple inner layer of the skin.

This inner layer can be manipulated by manufacturers to create a variety of suede textures, known as "nap," which boasts a soft, velvety feel distinct from full-grain leather. Suede products primarily derive from lamb hides, but one can also find suede shoes crafted from goat, deer, or calfskin.

When faced with the choice between suede and smooth leather boots, consider your intended use and personal style. Smooth leather shoes are the go-to option for professional and formal environments, as well as high-end fashion. On the other hand, suede offerings like our waxed, water-resistant suede Finn Sienna boot provide versatility and protection, effortlessly transitioning between casual and formal occasions.

How to Determine Quality

As you embark on your quest to find the perfect leather boots, understanding the various types of leather used in their production is crucial to determining quality.

When shopping for boots, either online or in-store, always inquire about the leather grain. Boots crafted from full-grain leather, sourced from adult cowhides, represent the pinnacle of quality and longevity. In contrast, top-grain, corrected grain, or genuine leather boots offer lower quality and durability. Steer clear of non-cow hides, such as steer hides, which are thinner and less robust than adult cowhides.

Bear in mind that many local stores and warehouses tend to carry lower-grade leathers, which have undergone more processing than full-grain counterparts, due to their affordability.

Keep an eye out for the term "handcrafted," as high-quality boots often originate from artisanal workshops that predominantly utilize top-grain or full-grain leathers.

If you're unable to identify the grain, be cautious! Reputable manufacturers will transparently disclose the leather type and their processes. Moreover, prioritize boot makers that source from esteemed tanneries.

At HELM, we take pride in crafting our boots from full-grain side cow leather, obtained from premier tanneries across the United States. Each pair of HELM is the result of a meticulous 133-step process!

Your Buying Guide

Now that you know the different types of leather used in boot production, it's time to find that pair of boots you'll have for the rest of your life.

At HELM, we offer our customers only the finest full grain leather products. We're confident our footwear won't disappoint. Browse our products below, then click through, find your size, and add to cart when you've landed on a favorite.

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