Top 5 Full Grain Leather Bags

One cannot fully appreciate the beauty of full grain leather unless one can use it daily and watch it age with all the character that normal leather simply cannot muster. Best way to enjoy a piece of chewy, thick full grain leather on a daily basis is to use a full grain leather bag. Contrary to what you may believe, despite the high quality of full grain leather, full grain leather bags are usually not excessively expensive. That’s because the brands that use full grain leather are usually leather aficionados, with a true passion for the craft and focused mainly on maximizing the potential of the leather rather than making a profit. Lucky for us! Here are some of my top picks for stylish, amazing quality full grain leather bags that won’t break the bank.

J. W. Hulme Excursion Weekender Tote Bag

J. W. Hulme Excursion Weekender Full Grain Leather Tote

Stunning, isn’t it? This beautiful heritage leather was tanned exclusively for J. W. Hulme, a family business based out of Minnesota that has been handcrafting leather bags since 1905. Their leathers are sourced from small craft tanneries in Minnesota, Maine, Illinois, and Tennessee. Their exclusive leather selections are then tanned using old-school techniques that accentuate the full grain, color variations, and au naturale imperfections of each piece of hide. Each bag is thus unique and full of character. Available in Saddle (cognac), this brown, and black. Get yours here.

J. W. Hulme Continental Backpack

J. W. Hulme Continental Backpack

For those who prefer backpacks over totes, either for the style or because spreading the pressure over two shoulders is more comfortable than one, this continental backpack also from J. W. Hulme is a great choice.

J. W. Hulme Continental Backpack

Also made from a thick piece of full grain leather, this J. W. Hulme backpack is designed with modern lines but also oozes that use-for-a-lifetime vintage vibe. Polished enough for the work week, yet rugged enough for that fun weekend trip, this backpack would be a great addition to any bag rotation. Get yours here.

Saddleback Leather Hobo Crossbody Bag

Saddleback Full Grain Leather Crossbody Hobo Bag

In the leather world, the brand Saddleback is practically synonymous with full grain leather. Measuring 11″x10″x4″, this Saddleback crossbody bag is the perfect little full grain leather fix for your day. It’ll hold all of your essentials and with an adjustable strap, it can even be carried 3 ways: handheld, single shoulder, or across the body. Either of the 3 ways makes carrying all your stuff effortless and easy, while you get to stare and pet this delicious piece of full grain leather all day long. Four colors are available, including Carbon, Chestnut, Dark Coffee Brown, and Tobacco (shown above). Get yours here.

Piel Leather Shopping Tote Bag

Piel Leather Shopping Tote Bag

This shot of the Piel Leather Shopping Tote isn’t glamorous and in fact is downright low budget, but don’t let that deter you from the actual bag itself. Termed the leaders of “naked leather,” Piel makes this simple, classic, absolutely no-fuss shopping tote for anyone who wants a top-quality bag that will last for a lifetime. Given that it’s “naked” full grain leather, the bag will only get more beautiful with age, absorbing the natural oils from your hand to develop a gorgeous patina. Get yours here.

Whipping Post Vintage Tote

Whipping Post Vintage Tote

Coming from practically a one-man show named Ryan Barr, this Vintage Tote from Whipping Post uses only full grain leather and that’s quite obvious even from a cursory glance. The striations, wrinkles, and imperfections on this leather cannot be replicated or faked; they can only come from the most natural, unprocessed full grain leather.

Whipping Post Vintage Tote

If you need a workhorse bag that you can also pet and admire each day, this Whipping Post Vintage Tote is it. No other tote on the market really matches up, whether it comes to the leather, the attention to detail (check out the darker colored handles and golden studs), or the quality. This is one of those totes you’ll use and love for a lifetime, then pass down to your children for them to enjoy in their lifetime. Get yours here.


How To Spot Fake Leather

There’s nothing quite like real leather. The look and feel exudes luxury and quality. Sometimes, however, real leather can be cost-prohibitive hence why there are synthetic leather out on the market to fill the void for those wishing for the look and feel of real leather, but at a severely discounted price. Fake or faux leather are made to resemble real leather and can be found in many different applications, such as fashion handbags, car seats, and furniture. Other terms for faux leather are leatherette and vegan leather.

What’s the difference between bonded leather and faux leather?

Bonded leather, as you may know, is made from leather scraps glued and pressed together with bonding agents to form a leather-like sheet. Faux leather, on the other hand, has no trace of animal hide in them. With that said, no one truly views bonded leather as real leather, so the difference between them isn’t too great when asking about the pros and cons of each. Faux leather has won the hearts of many individuals due to its price and how it doesn’t actually use animal hide. The look and feel are actually remarkably similar to real leather. The texture and pattern are mimicked accurately. Synthetic leather also have reached a maturity point in its manufacturing process, such that the fabric is very durable and resists stretching and fading. Car seats constructed of synthetic leather looks new even after years of service. The same cannot be said for real leather, which needs constant maintenance and upkeep. Synthetic leather is also easy to clean and does not absorb moisture quite as easily.

How to spot fake leather?

The most common way to see that leather isn’t real leather is by smelling it. Real leather have a very unique aroma which faux leather does not have. Faux leather generally either have no smell or have a plastic smell to it. Most manufacturers are upfront about the actual material used so you can also look at the tag to see if it says real or genuine leather as the material. If not, they’ll usually say something like, synthetic or man-made. If you suspect the manufacturer or seller isn’t being completely honest about the material used, try the smell method and also feel the leather. Real leather is usually very supple and soft and does not stretch as easily.


Bonded Leather Durability

bonded leather

Nothing beats real leather, but there are times when budgets are concerned and one wonders just how bad bonded leather is when it comes to furniture upholstery. Bonded leather is essentially leftover leather scraps from leather factories and tanneries and when mixed with a bonding agent or polyurethane to form a sheet of material that resembles leather after being embossed and stamped with a leather pattern. The look and feel of bonded leather is just like real leather, except it’s missing the aroma of real leather.

Lets talk about durability of bonded leather

Bonded leather is actually surprisingly durable, although nowhere as durable as real leather. People seem to think bonded leather won’t last, however, todays manufacturing processes have bonded leather made to withstand a lot of common household abuse. However, it should be noted that bonded leather definitely won’t hold up if you have a cat who uses the couch as a scratching post. Bonded leather is easier to puncture and get damaged as compared to real leather, however, bonded leather when properly taken care of and maintained, could last a long time. Bonded leather, however, if not properly taken care of, could eventually crack. There are many products out there that are specially formulated to condition and maintain bonded leather, such as leather honey.

That said, the real downfall of bonded leather is that the material is practically unfixable. If you puncture or scratch bonded leather, there’s no easy way to fix it and unless the damage bothers you, one has to consider if it’s better to throw away the couch and repurchase. Given that bonded leather furniture is a lot cheaper than real leather, roughly 30-40% discount, it won’t break the bank and is often times a real selling point for many consumers and shoppers of leather furniture.

In conclusion, if you have the cash and want quality, get real leather furniture as they are easier to maintain and is less prone to damage. If you’re on a budget and don’t mind bonded leather, bonded leather furniture can be an excellent, economical choice.


What is Full Grain Leather?

The cream of the crop, full grain leather is what every leather product should be made of. Full grain is the very top layer of cow hide and it is by far the toughest and most durable, not to mention the most beautiful. Since full grain is the top layer, the leather surface will show the imperfections of the skin, such as scars if the cow grazed a barbed fence or got bitten by another animal. These markings leave the full grain leather looking very natural and as far from “processed” as you can get. Some people absolutely love full grain leather for this very reason, that each leather piece is unique and has the distinct personality from the original hide. Full grain leather also patinas very nicely, leaving a rich dark brown color over time and the material simply breaks in nicely.


full grain leather bag


Full grain leather does require a bit of maintenance as it’s the top layer of hide. One can use moisturizers and oils to keep the full grain surface looking rich and velvety. Leather goods and pieces made of full grain leather usually is considered to be treasured pieces that are passed down from generation to generation. It also makes sense that full grain leather is also the most expensive leather to produce and purchase for many of these leather goods manufacturers.

Full grain leather’s appearance is easy to spot, however, if the natural look of leather is not for you, top grain or split may be something more up your alley as these leathers are sanded and corrected to remove the imperfections of full grain leather.


Leather Tanning

Leather tanning is one of the steps required for raw hide to be usable in commercial applications, such as furniture or handbags. One of the common ways to tan leather is to use chromium in which the hides are tumbled in a drum with chromium and other ingredients in order to make the leather into a stable material that does not putrefy. The tanned leather is commonly referred to as “wet blue” as the chromium makes the leather hides blue in color.


wet blue leather

“Wet blue leather”

Another alternative to chrome tanning is vegetable tanning, which uses tannin instead of chromium to achieve a similar effect to make the raw hide usable. At this stage, the leather is then tanned in the drum again with the desired color and oils. This is a stage where many leather companies cheapen out, where they would only tan leather for a shorter duration instead of the required time. The result is that only the surface is tanned with the color while the center remains blue from the chrome tanning.


wet blue center


Leather goods manufacturers then purchase these inferior leather at a very cheap price and try to hide the blue from showing by either painting the edges or by rolling and folding the edges over so the end consumer would not realize. The surface of this inferior leather will crack and break in time due to the leather not being tanned long enough for the color and oils to full penetrate and absorb throughout the hide.


painting leather edges


Leather tanning is a crucial step in producing leather that is of high quality that will stand the test of time. Beware of these tricks leather companies use in order to save their own costs.