Full-Grain, Top Grain, Genuine, Vintage – What’s What In Leather

A great leather bag can be a pricey investment. It can be tempting to grab a bargain when you come across one, but you need to understand leather to know if that bargain is a good one or not. Full-grain crazy horse leather is the motherlode for looks, luster, and durability, but beware of lesser leathers that flood the marketplace. Let’s take a look at the different varieties of leather:


Full-grain leather is the highest quality of leather. It’s the real deal, the absolute best that you can buy. It carries a higher price tag than the other types of leather, but it can not be beat for its richness, buttery softness, and depth of character. Full-grain leather is the full, unadulterated hide in its natural form. To make Crazy horse leather, full-grain leather is buffed to a soft glow with natural wax. This treatment creates a gorgeous, rugged leather with a burnished, vintage look. Crazy horse leather is only created using top-of-the-line full-grain leather. With a minimum of care, this type of leather can last decades, even a lifetime.

There are three full layers in authentic full-grain leather. The top layer is the grain – this is the part that you see. The fibers are dense and tightly woven making this the strongest part of the hide. A good way to check for authenticity is to look for “imperfections” in the grain, as real leather should have a few bumps and scratches. These imperfections add to the character and beauty of the grain.

 On Crazy horse full-grain leather (leather that has been treated to the crazy horse process) the scratches and bumps change color tone, adding a striking depth to the rugged bags. A perfect example is the Yukon Harper backpack.

The next layer is the junction. This is where the fibers start to loosen up and the grain transitions to the split (suede) part of the hide.

The split is the deepest layer of the three. This is the layer that suede is composed of. This layer is made up of softer, looser fibers and is the weakest part of the hide.



Manufacturers alter the top grain of the hide to create less expensive types of leather. Although top grain and genuine sound like high-quality leathers, they are weaker and not as soft, durable, or lustrous as authentic full-grain leather.



To create top grain leather, the manufacturer sands the grain of the hide. This is usually done to hide imperfections. Sanding weakens the leather – a top grain leather backpack will not be as durable as a full-grain leather backpack. Sanding also takes away the character of the leather. The natural imperfections, marbling, texture, and color variations are what make full-grain leather bags so beautifully unique. Every full-grain leather bag has distinct markings. When you purchase a full-grain leather bag you can be assured that your bag is one-of-a-kind.

Top grain leather is separated from the split layer, then sanded. This creates a plastic appearance and weakens the leather. Top grain leather does not age well and will not develop a patina with age as full-grain leather does.



“Soft” leather is a generic term given to any type of leather deemed to be “soft”. Soft leather can be made from calfskin, eels, lamb, deer – any sort of exotic animal.

Soft leather that is created from calfskin is made from the underside of the hide. This is how suede is produced. Suede is soft and beautiful, but it is not a durable leather. This type of leather gets dirty easily, it also absorbs liquids and stains.

Lambskin (also known as sheepskin) is composed of natural lightweight layers and has a soft, velvety texture. Lambskin does a terrific job of keeping the cold out, despite it being thin and lightweight. This is a delicate leather that is likely to stretch over time. It is not as durable as cowhide.

Deerskin is also softer than cowhide and provides natural resistance to the cold. The natural fiber in deerskin traps air inside, which makes the leather feel lighter and softer. It is surprisingly durable but does not stand up to wear and tear as well as cowhide.

To sum it up – soft leather is any leather that is soft, lightweight, wearable, and comfortable. Just do not expect it to hold up for as long or as well as authentic full-grain leather.



Sounds great, right? Genuine leather is made from real leather – however, it is the lowest quality of the leather on the market. Genuine leather does not have the same rich, soft sheen as the higher quality leathers. It also lacks the resilience and durability of the higher quality full-grain leather. Genuine leather is used to produce a wide array of cheaper leather products and is perfect for people whose priority is to save money on a purchase. In the long run, however, a product made from full-grain leather is a much better investment.

Genuine leather is created by bonding together several layers of low-quality leather. The layers are glued together then painted to imitate the look of a higher-quality leather.


“Vintage” leather usually refers to the highest-quality full-grain leather that has aged to a beautiful, burnished patina. Due to the unique imperfections in authentic vintage leather, it is next to impossible to accurately imitate the look. Vintage leather refers to leather that is 20-100 years old. Anything older than 100 years is “antique”.

The process of turning full-grain leather into Crazy horse leather creates an instantly vintage look, as well as a tougher, more durable bag. This process helps the leather gracefully age while retaining its softness and patina.

High-quality leather beautifies as it ages, developing a soft, burnished patina. Scratches and bumps in crazy horse leather change color-tones, creating striking variations in the leather. If you own an authentic vintage full-grain leather item, you own a unique piece of art – and should take care of it accordingly. For tips and D.I.Y. recipes for a leather cleaner, conditioner, and polish, check out our other articles at yukonbags.com. While you are there, take a look at our fine selection of the very best Crazy horse full-grain leather bags, backpacks, and much more.

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