Soccer: Leather vs. Synthetic Uppers
Eastbay Cleated Copywriter, T. Scharfenberg | Date Updated on: 5-07-12
There's more to leather or synthetic than you think, and for the right price you can play in prized kangaroo leather. Choose carefully- your soccer cleat upper should depend both on playing conditions and your preferences as a player.
Synthetic cleats are identified by their smooth and shiny one-piece surface since they don't require the same stitching that leather does. Because it's man-made material, it can hold more visual elements and is often packed with more technology, compared to the more natural look and feel of leather. They also tend to hold brighter colors than leather does, although leather is catching up. At this point, the advantage for synthetic is partially due to synthetic's ability to be wiped clean easy, keeping it from getting dingy.
Pros: Durable, Light, Water-Resistant
Other than visual elements, the biggest pro of synthetic cleats is that they are made to be incredibly durable. The manufactured materials simply stand up better against the elements and the constant impact of kicks. Another big asset that synthetic cleats hold is their lighter weight. Because the material is stronger, less of it needs to be used. These thinner uppers eliminate some of the extra weight you'll find with leather. It's good to look for additions to the cleat that add support to this extra-thin material if you're concerned about stability. Also consider weather when choosing cleat materials, especially if you're playing in a region with varying conditions throughout the season. Synthetic leather will not absorb any excess moisture from the grass. Not becoming water logged will keep these cleats lightweight, even in rain or mud.
Cons: Break-In Time, Less Feel
There are drawbacks to synthetic as well. Even though they do repel water well, this can cause them to be slick in the rain, and some players find it difficult to get a good touch on the ball. Synthetic cleats will need more break-in time than leather, the trade-off for having an extra-durable upper. For the same reason, the material does not seem to mold to your foot the way leather will. This may leave your cleats feeling slightly less comfortable and you'll get less ball feel than you would with leather. If you're having trouble getting a good first touch or keeping your shots under control, this may be to blame. Finally, make sure to remember that synthetic materials are not porous material. In some instances, this may make no difference. But if you are playing in an especially warm climate, you might want more ventilation and sweat evaporation than synthetic can give.
Synthetic Cleat Recommendations
The common statement among cleat-makers is that synthetic cleats are for speed players, the attackers of the team. Of course, each manufacturer has their own special blend of synthetic materials, designed to combat the drawbacks of synthetic and give these attacking players everything they require. The Nike Mercurial line uses Teijin synthetic leather that is designed to mimic the characteristics of leather. If you want synthetic properties, but are having trouble sacrificing the ball feel, this could be a good choice for you. You can also try the Puma V5.11, which actually uses a quilting style similar to what is used on leather cleats. This not only provides a more traditional look, but is designed to give you a good touch on the ball as well. If you're a player that is looking for the extra stability we mentioned above, try the adidas F50 line. adidas uses a SprintSkin upper with internal TPU support bands to keep your foot locked down.
Full-grain leather cleats are more traditional in both look and construction. You'll see more stitching on the upper, often in patterns that add visual interest and elements of ball control. The material itself has a snugger fit and is great at molding to your foot, following its natural contours. Players who prefer leather often tout it as being more comfortable for this reason. However, leather will stretch over time as it breaks down, so you may notice some changes in fit and feel as time goes on. This breakdown may also result in you feeling the need to replace these cleats more often than you would synthetic ones. On the other hand, if you prefer that broken-in feel, you'll be pleased with how leather wears.
Pros: Support, Protection, Touch
Since leather isn't engineered the way manufactured synthetics are, it does end up creating a thicker upper on your cleat. The good news here is that this small amount of extra thickness can actually make a noticeable difference in the amount of support your foot feels. The thickness and stitching of leather allow for a bit of extra padding on the kicking surface. That extra protection can be a huge plus when you're a serious player who is taking hundreds of strikes on the ball each week.
Don't worry about this extra thickness and padding getting in the way of your game. For professional players, leather's biggest offering is that it gives great feel on the ball. That's why leather is essentially the only choice for American football kickers or punters. It's also strongly preferred among midfielders who need optimal control on the ball. Being able to get that enhanced touch allows them to do everything from sending long passes to making small trick steps in their dribble. With professionals who are constantly practicing, comfort is a requirement. For many, that means leather.
Cons: Water Uptake, Maintenance
There are some cons of leather too. The biggest complaint among players is that their leather cleats take on water much more than a synthetic model would. It's great that the porous nature of the material gives you some extra ventilation, but it also means picking up extra moisture and mud as you play. This adds weight to an upper material that is already slightly heavier than synthetic. Also, if you're playing in these cleats every day, you may find them in the morning still wet from the day before.
Because of leather's lack of defense against the elements, it also requires more care and maintenance than a synthetic would. They should be cleaned after playing and you'll want to get them dry, without putting them in direct heat or sunlight. Over time, the material may crack or pull away from the outsole, due to the repeated wetting and drying of the material.
Leather Cleat Recommendations
Because the material is considered to be of higher quality, leather cleats tend to be a little more expensive than their synthetic counterparts. These cleats may also cost you more because manufacturers often use leather only in their higher-end boots. Nike has worked hard to develop their synthetics over the years, so their only leather cleat is the Tiempo line. It's a traditionalist's boot but a great choice for players focused on feel. adidas uses leather much more often. You can find it in their top-level F50 adiZero, adiPure 11Pro or Predator LZ
Kangaroo leather is by far the best quality and highest priced of these three cleat uppers. It retains all the benefits of leather, but performs at an even better level. It's considered the ultimate in comfort and is super soft to the touch. It keeps the traditional look of leather as well, using stitching for control.
Kangaroo leather will mold to your foot just like leather, but will actually have a little more stretch to it. It's also much thinner than a full-grain leather which has high and low points. Thinness unfortunately results in less durability. But the positive side here is that you get unmatched feel on the ball from kangaroo leather. It's hard to explain the difference, so if you're thinking about buying a kangaroo leather boot for the first time, definitely try it on. Feeling it is the only way to really tell the difference here. The quality is definitely worth the price to elite players, but you'll want to be sure, as you can expect to spend upwards of $200 for these cleats.
Kangaroo Leather Cleat Recommendations
You're in for a bit of a search if you have your heart, or your feet, set on Kangaroo leather. It's simply not very common because of its incredible quality. This is very much an elite choice, reserved for the top models of the top leather cleats. Nike's Tiempo Legend is one of the only choices from the major brands. It uses their synthetic Kanga-Lite material along with kangaroo leather to add moisture-resistance to the leather. Diadora actually offers several excellent kangaroo cleats, including the DD-Eleven GX 14. What's unique about this boot is the addition of an anti-stretch lining to keep you from losing that contoured feel on your foot.
Sometimes your decision to purchase a cleat comes down to personality. Generally, players that consider themselves to be modern and maybe a little flashy tend to gravitate toward the look of synthetic. They want the lightweight speed that's required for making a successful attack on goal. Traditionally-minded players are the ones who value control and feel. That's why they go for the tiny details that only high-quality leather can bring. Think about your game as a total package of internal and external factors to find the material that's right for you.