Are Leather Backpacks Durable? The Pros and Cons of Leather Backpacks 

 September 11, 2023

By  Keith Terrell

Imagine setting out on an adventure in the wilderness with only a compass, your favorite book, and the bare essentials in your leather backpack slung over your shoulders. Now picture that same backpack bursting at the seams at the start of your journey. Discouraging, isn't it? That's why we're going to delve into the pros and cons of leather backpacks.

Leather backpacks can be very durable. The durability of a leather backpack depends mainly on the type of leather it is made of. Full-grain and top-grain leathers are among the most durable materials for backpacks, while genuine leather can be less durable due to its lower quality. However, it's important to note that leather backpacks are not waterproof and the quality of production can also affect durability. With proper care, a high-quality leather backpack can last for many years, making it a good investment.

We'll look at their durability, assess their value, and help you decide if it's worth chasing the chic, rugged leather look. Are leather backpacks as durable as they look, or are they simply a trendsetter's illusion? Let's unpack the truth together!

What Makes Leather Backpacks Durable?

Leather is a material that has been used for centuries for its durability, strength, and resistance to wear. If you're looking for a backpack that will last for years, choosing a leather backpack is a wise investment. The longevity of leather backpacks is mainly due to the quality of the material and the craftsmanship with which they are made.

Let me give you an example. My friend John has had his leather backpack for over five years now, and despite daily use, it still looks like new! John uses his backpack mainly for work, and it's been subjected to rough handling, overspills from drinks, and has been dropped several times. Despite this, it has minimal damage because leather is a durable material that can withstand rough conditions.

One of the main reasons why leather backpacks are so durable is due to the nature of the material itself. Leather fibers are naturally strong and have unique properties that make them resistant to scratches and tears. In addition, leather is very flexible, meaning it can quickly adapt to changes in temperature or pressure without cracking or breaking.

However, there are different types of leather used to make backpacks, and not all of them offer the same level of durability and wear-resistance. Proper care and maintenance are also necessary to prolong the life of your backpack.

Think of a baseball glove: when properly broken in, it becomes more pliable and stronger than when new. The same is true of leather – through the tanning process after cattle have been humanely raised on green pastures. Techniques such as chrome tanning or vegetable tanning with plant extracts stiffen the structure of the fibers and make them more flexible while they become stronger over time.

In the following section, we will examine different types of leather and their durability.

Types of Leather and Their Durability

There are four main types of leather: full-grain leather, top-grain leather, genuine leather, and bonded leather. The most durable type of leather is full-grain leather, although it is slightly more expensive than the other options.

Full-grain leather is the highest quality and most durable of all leathers. It is typically made from the top layer or surface of the animal's hide and is not sanded down, so the natural texture is preserved. Because full-grain leather has not undergone any treatment that could alter the composition of its fibers, it retains its strength and durability even as it ages.

On the other hand, genuine leather, although cheaper, is not as durable as other types of leather, such as full-grain or top-grained leather due to certain changes in the manufacturing process.

Two years ago, I bought a backpack made of genuine leather from an online retailer. It was considerably cheaper than other offers I had found on the market, but its durability was disappointing. The backpack was only used moderately - mostly for hiking every two months— but after six months, cracks appeared on one strap.

When selecting a backpack for longevity, the type and quality of leather and the precision of the craftsman are two essential factors. The next section looks at the importance of craftsmanship in making a high-quality backpack that is built to last.

Quality of Craftsmanship

When it comes to judging the durability of leather backpacks, the quality of craftsmanship is a crucial factor. Even if you choose the most durable type of leather, inferior workmanship can cause significant damage over time.

The seams of a backpack are particularly vulnerable areas that can weaken with frequent use, especially if they are not made of high-quality materials or by skilled craftsmen. Poorly sewn seams can easily become loose or frayed, which could damage the structural integrity of the backpack.

Moreover, the hardware used on a backpack such as zippers, clasps, and buckles must be properly attached and securely anchored. If these parts are not properly fastened, they can come loose over time and create openings through which objects can fall out.

The straps should also be sturdy and adjustable to ensure maximum comfort during prolonged use. It is important that the straps are sufficiently padded to distribute the weight and not put unnecessary strain on your shoulders.

To judge the craftsmanship of a leather backpack, you should carefully inspect the construction materials and test the strength of the components by gently pulling on them. You should also look for irregularities such as uneven stitching and misaligned hardware that indicate a lack of care in the manufacturing process

It’s also important to research the brand that manufactures your preferred backpack as some brands are known to make substandard products. Look for reviews from users who own similar backpacks from that brand to get an insight into their experiences with different types of leather backpacks.

Weatherproof Properties of Leather Backpacks

A common misconception about leather is that it's not waterproof or durable enough to withstand harsh weather conditions. However, this assumption is false.

While leather cannot withstand extreme rain or snowfall, it's very water resistant and can often keep your belongings dry in a light shower or drizzle. This property is due to the tanning process used to tan the leather, which makes it supple and resistant to water damage.

Remember that the feathers of a duck repel water completely because they have a natural layer of oil on their surface. In the same way, tanned leather forms an impenetrable protective layer that helps repel moisture.

This protective layer does a good job of keeping small amounts of water out, but a heavy downpour could seep through the pores and damage the items in the backpack.

Direct sunlight can also damage your leather backpack over time. UV rays alter the color tint of the leather and cause a yellow discoloration that affects the original appearance.

To counteract this effect, keep your backpack in the shade or under a cover when not in use and avoid prolonged exposure to the sun as much as possible.

In addition, regular use of a care product specially made for leather restores the depleted oils in the material and maintains its suppleness over time.

Water Resistance and Care

When it comes to water resistance, leather backpacks are not as waterproof as other materials such as nylon or polyester, but they are still water resistant to an extent. Water droplets tend to form beads on leather surfaces, which can be easily wiped away before they penetrate the leather. However, if the leather is exposed to excessive water or soaked by heavy rain over a long period of time, the water can seep through the seams or stitching and damage the inside of the backpack.

To prevent this, it's important that you take proper care of your leather backpack. Regularly applying a protective coating can increase its water resistance and durability. There are many leather waterproofing sprays and conditioners available on the market that can protect your backpack from water damage.

Leather backpacks should also be protected from direct sunlight as they can fade and crack with prolonged exposure. When you are not using your leather backpack, you should keep it in a cool and dry place and protect it from direct sunlight.

I once owned a beautiful leather backpack that I loved very much. One day, on my way home from work, I got caught in a heavy downpour and my beloved backpack was completely drenched when I arrived home. I immediately hung it up to dry,  but unfortunately, despite all my efforts, the bag did not fully recover from the soaking and soon had to be replaced.

Leather backpacks also need to be cleaned regularly to maintain their shine and protect them from stains that could affect their durability. It is advisable to clean your leather backpack carefully with a damp cloth and not to use harsh chemicals or soaps as this could cause permanent damage.

Think of your leather backpack as you would your skin - moisturize it, keep it away from too much sunlight, and wash it regularly but gently, without affecting its natural quality.

Now that we have dealt with the aspects of water resistance and care of leather backpacks, we want to test the durability of leather backpacks.

Durability Tests: Wear and Tear

Leather backpacks are known for their robustness and ability to withstand wear and tear. The durability of a leather backpack depends on several factors, such as the quality of the leather used, the type of stitching, and the care of the backpack.

In general, full-grain leather is considered the strongest and most durable type of leather because it has not been treated in a way that can alter its natural fibers. Top-grain leather, on the other hand, is slightly weaker than full-grain leather but still very durable. Genuine leather is less expensive than full-grain and top-grain leathers but are not as durable as most types of real leathers. Bonded leather should be avoided altogether as it is only made by gluing together scraps of leather with a plastic-like material and therefore has little to no durability.

To test the durability of a leather backpack, throw heavy items into it or carry it around for a few weeks or even months with all your daily essentials packed tightly inside. Check for cracks in the seams or if the straps have loosened over time. If you see minimal damage after a while, then your leather backpack has passed the test!

Although some people claim that there are more durable materials such as hard-wearing nylon or polyester, these cannot always match the feel and natural beauty of genuine, high-quality leather. Leather backpacks do require more maintenance than other materials, but they are worth it when you consider their incredible versatility and durability.

In my experience, I bought a genuine leather backpack during my university days, and I have to say that even after four years of filling it with heavy textbooks and lab equipment day in and day out, it has held up pretty well. To this day, it is in good condition and is still used when I need a versatile backpack that will hold up under pressure.

Key Takeaway

Leather backpacks are known for their robustness. The durability depends on various factors, such as the quality of the leather used, the type of stitching used and how well they are cared for. Among the different types of genuine leather, full-grain leather is considered the strongest and most durable. You should avoid bonded leather at all costs, as it has little to no durability. Genuine leather is cheaper than full-grain or fine leather but not very durable.

Carrying Capacity and Life Span

If you're looking for a backpack that can carry heavy loads, leather backpacks are a great option. Leather is a versatile, durable material that is perfect for everyday use and travel.

Leather backpacks are deceptively genuine, and the wrinkles and patina that form after prolonged use make them even more attractive. The light weight of leather backpacks may fool some consumers as they look like they can't carry much weight. However, with proper workmanship, leather can carry large loads without cracking or deforming.

Full-grain leather is known to have the highest load-bearing capacity, but top-grain leather, another high-quality type of leather, is also good for carrying heavy loads. Genuine leather is not as sturdy as top-grain, while bonded leather is at the lowest end of the spectrum in terms of strength and carrying capacity. In terms of load-bearing capacity and life span, the quality of production plays an integral role. Let’s say you're looking for a backpack with exceptional strength. In that case, it's best to invest in a backpack made of full-grain or top-grain leather with high-quality hardware such as sturdy zippers and buckles.

Leather backpacks have significant value regarding their load-bearing capacity. But what about downsides?

Downsides of Leather Backpacks

There are some disadvantages to buying a leather backpack that buyers should be aware of. Firstly, leather backpacks are usually more expensive than those made of synthetic fabrics or materials. High- quality leather doesn't come cheap, so prices are a bit high. You may be investing in something that will last longer in the long run than other cheaper options, but it's still a high initial payment.

Maintenance is another issue with leather backpacks. They need special care to keep them looking good and extend their life. Make sure you maintain and clean your leather regularly to keep its appearance and suppleness. You also need to protect your backpack from moisture, rain, and humid temperatures, which can lead to unsightly mildew and even mold.

I remember going out with my friends on a rainy day, carrying my favorite leather backpack. Although it was water-resistant, the rain easily managed to penetrate through the seams of my backpack due to the heavy downpour. The pattern was ruined after this incident and I realized how important it is to take good care of it.

Some may argue that leather backpacks are more expensive than synthetic materials such as polyester or nylon because of their high durability and quality of workmanship. The counter-argument is that for the same money spent on high-quality leather, you can buy several small bags that will last just as long if you take good care of them

Cost and Maintenance Issues

Although leather backpacks offer numerous advantages, there are also some disadvantages that you should consider before buying. One significant disadvantage is the higher cost of leather backpacks compared to bags made of other materials. However, high-quality leather backpacks are an investment that can last for decades, whereas cheaper options may need to be replaced more frequently.

Apart from the initial cost, leather backpacks also need constant care to stay in good condition. Leather is a natural material that can degrade quickly if not properly cared for. This includes regular cleaning with suitable products and care to keep the leather soft and supple. Otherwise, it can dry out, crack or discolor, which can ultimately lead to permanent damage.

To illustrate this point, a client told of his experience with a leather backpack he had bought many years ago. Although they paid a relatively high price at the time, they used it daily for over a decade without any problems. However, they also noted that they took extra care to clean and maintain the backpack regularly, which helped it retain its appearance and quality.

While the cost and maintenance of leather backpacks may seem like a disadvantage compared to other materials, it's important to consider longevity. If you use a backpack every day for work or travel, you'll probably need to replace cheaper backpacks frequently due to wear and tear. Investing in a high-quality leather model will save you money in the long run because you won't have to replace the backpack several times.

Also, well-made leather backpacks age beautifully over time. Rather than looking worn out after several years of use as other materials can, the natural character of full-grain leather offers an aesthetically pleasing patina that tells your story on its surface.

Some people argue that the maintenance required for leather bags is a dealbreaker, but it's important to note that it's not difficult to maintain them. Most leather backpacks only need to be wiped down with a damp cloth and cared for  once or twice a year. It may sound like a lot of work, but the benefits justify the time investment. With little effort, you significantly extend the life of your backpack.

In a way, maintaining leather bags is similar to caring for leather boots. Just as cleaning your boots will protect them from bad weather and scratches for years, regular maintenance of a leather backpack will keep it pristine and ready for use. If you look after it properly, you can even pass it on as a family heirloom.

In conclusion, while leather backpacks are undoubtedly durable, there are some drawbacks in terms of cost and maintenance. However, given the longevity of high-quality leather backpacks compared to backpacks made of other materials and their unique aging process over time, investing in one is a wise decision. Maintaining the backpack isn't particularly difficult either; it just needs regular cleaning and care to ensure that it lasts for years.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I maintain the durability of my leather backpack?

Maintaining the durability of your leather backpack is important if you want to use it for years. Here are some tips you can follow to make sure your leather backpack lasts a long time:

  1. Keep it clean: Dirt and grime can damage the surface of your leather backpack, so you should wipe it down regularly with a damp cloth.
  2. Condition the leather: Leather needs regular maintenance to keep it supple and not cracked. Use a good quality leather conditioner every few months to keep your backpack in top shape.
  3. Avoid extreme temperatures: Leather can be sensitive to temperature changes, so avoid exposing your backpack to extreme heat or cold.
  4. Store it properly: When you are not using the backpack, keep it in a cool, dry place and protect it from direct sunlight. Use a dust bag or cover to protect it from dust and other particles.

By following these steps, you can ensure that your leather backpack lasts for many years to come. 

Are there any brands or manufacturers that are known for producing particularly durable leather backpacks?

Yes, there are several brands and manufacturers that are known for producing particularly durable leather backpacks. The best known include Tumi, Filson, and Saddleback Leather.

Tumi is a renowned brand known for its high-quality travel bags and backpacks. Their leather backpacks are characterized by high-quality leather and sturdy hardware that can withstand any rough treatment. Moreover, the products have a five-year warranty, which underlines the confidence in the durability of the leather backpacks.

Filson is another trusted brand in the market that has been producing tough gear since 1897. The company uses Bridle Leather —a thick and sturdy leather that lasts a long time—for all their leather backpacks. They also use brass hardware to keep everything secure. INo wonder their backpacks get better with time and don't break down from wear and tear.

Finally, Saddleback Leather is known for making products that are both durable and stylish. Their leather backpacks are made of high-quality vegetable-tanned leather that will last a lifetime. In addition, all Saddleback Leather backpacks have a design that ensures we can fit everything we want to pack in them.

Customers who have had experience with these brands' leather backpacks usually praise their remarkable durability, with some even describing them as "indestructible" If you're looking for a high-quality leather backpack that can effortlessly handle all of life's challenges, Tumi, Filson, and Saddleback Leather are worth considering.

Are there any specific types of leather that are more durable than others for backpacks?

Yes, there are certain types of leather that are more durable for backpacks than others. Full-grain leather is considered the most durable type of leather due to its strong fiber structure and resistance to wear. Top grain leather, where the top layer of full-grain leather is removed, is also a strong and durable option. Corrected grain leather and bonded leather, on the other hand, are less durable because they are made by combining leather scraps with chemicals and synthetic materials.

If you value durability when choosing your backpack, you should opt for a backpack made of full-grain or top-grain leather.

What factors affect the durability of a leather backpack?

The quality of the leather used is essential, with full-grain leather being the most durable due to its high density and the natural oils that help make it resistant to wear. Top-grain leather is also durable, but it is more susceptible to scratching and fading.

Another factor is the construction of the backpack. A well-constructed backpack has reinforced stitching, sturdy zippers, and strong hardware, all of which can contribute to its longevity. A poorly constructed backpack with weak stitching or cheap materials, on the other hand, will not last as long.

Care and maintenance of the backpack are also important factors for its longevity. Regular cleaning, care and protection from moisture can significantly extend its life. If you neglect these aspects, the leather can dry out and become cracked or discolored.Overall, leather backpacks can be very durable if they're made of high- quality materials, are well-made, and regularly maintained. It's worth investing in a higher quality product rather than opting for a cheaper alternative that may need frequent replacement.

How long can a leather backpack last with proper care?

If you take proper care of your leather backpack, it can last for many years—perhaps even decades. In fact, a high-quality leather backpack can last up to 20 years or more if properly cared for.

The most important thing to keep your leather backpack in good condition is to regularly clean and condition the leather, especially if it has been exposed to dirt, sweat, and sunlight for a long time. You should also avoid exposing your backpack to extreme temperatures or harsh chemicals, as this can damage the leather.

Compared to other materials commonly used for backpacks such as nylon or polyester, which often have a shorter lifespan because they wear out and cannot withstand environmental factors such as humidity and sunlight, buying a high-quality leather backpack is an excellent investment that can pay off in the long run. If you are looking for a durable and stylish option for your daily needs or for travel, a leather backpack is a great choice—as long as you take good care of it.

About the author

Keith is a one bag traveler and the owner of Backpacks Global. His go to backpack is the Osprey FarPoint 40.

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