Here’s what to look for in a super-durable leather wallet. You’ll be an armchair expert on wallets by the end of this article. You’ll also know how to choose a wallet like a pro from a lineup of cheap imposters.
As many of you know, durability is the theme here at Wellrigged.com. I’m only into the toughest and best here. A wallet is a critical item that’s subjected to tons of wear and tear. It’s with you day in and day out and needs to be reliable and tough.
Cheap wallets just don’t stand up against the wear and tear. I say, go with super-durable.
Choosing a durable wallet may seem daunting, but take heart theirs plenty of ways to weed out the junky ones. First of all, I’ll give you quick wallet buyer’s cheat sheet. Then we’ll go more in depth and at the end I’ll give you a few good “Buy it For Life” wallet suggestions.
How to Identify an Inferior Leather
You’re here because you want to know how to choose a wallet, and a durable one at that! Well, it starts by knowing how to judge leather. Unfortunately most leathers are severely compromised.
Even full grain leathers have fallen victim to compromised quality these days by profiteering tanneries who are selecting inferior hides. This is why you need to weigh a wallet by multiple factors not just what leather its made out of.
As you can see from the illustration and the photo below, the quality of leather depends largely on what layer of the hide it comes from. Full Grain is best then Top Grain then Genuine Leather.
Unfortunately most people who don’t know how to choose a wallet fall prey to the tempting sound of “genuine leather.” In the world of leather, “genuine” does not mean it’s “the real deal.” “Genuine leather” is the lower, more course layer of the hide. “Genuine Leather” is a type of leather not a quality of leather. Its a very deceptive name. (See illustration)
Due to its coarse grain, the fibres are not tight but more linear in arrangement which yields a much weaker leather. It’s the bottom of the barrel. Genuine Schhmenuine! Typically Genuine leather is top coated and than stamped with a fake grain.
This is pure garbage. You won’t even find it on the chart because It’s the factory floor sweepings and leftovers. Its just scrap leather that’s mulched up and glued back together as a kind of leather composite. Bonded leather flakes off quickly to reveal the fabric it was coated onto. Don’t touch it! Now is the time scream and run!
This is the simplest to identify. You know, the high gloss coated leather that many women’s shoes are made with? Higher-end patent leather can be a top grain leather but the high gloss coating is just not durable. It will crack prematurely.
Top Grain Leather(Corrected Grain)
Top grain is a good durable option, but it lacks a few key characteristics that a Full Grain leather can bring. You’ll notice from the chart above that top grain doesn’t include the very surface of the hide. That’s because the top layer of hide is actually sanded down to remove “imperfections” in the hide such as scars or natural creases.
Depending on your preference Top Grain may not be acceptable. Some folks want the natural variance in tones that comes with full grain while others prefer a more uniform look. Top grain leather is treated, coated and then re-stamped with an artificial grain.
An unfortunate drawback of top grain leather is that it doesn’t develop that classic rich patina look over time.
How to Identify a Full Grain Leather Wallet
This a top choice in leather. It lasts forever.
Full Grain Leather wallets are pristine and un-sanded. This means the fibres are not compromised which leads to maximum durability. Full grain is often carefully selected from the mid-back of the animal.
It should be noted that even full-grain leathers are suffering quality issues because tanneries are compromising quality for profits.
The outer layer of the hide is the toughest and most durable. Think about it. It’s what allowed that cow to withstand sub-zero temperatures, lay down on sticks and stones at night and weather 110 degree days in the sun. It’s literally body armor.
Bridle Leather is a sub-type of full grain leather. It goes through a more extensive tanning and treating process to add weatherproofing and more color options. It’s also very durable.
Characteristics of Full Grain Leather:
- Generally flexible (Bridle Leather can be stiff)
- soft and smooth feel
- should have no signs of sanding
- Usually no pebble grain
- does not have a top coat or plasticky feel
- Full Grain leather has visible pores. Since full grain hides are not sanded the only thing removed is the hairs which leave tiny pore holes. Often the finest full grain leather comes from young animals and their pores are very fine and even. They are often still visible to the naked eye. Use a magnifying glass. (Note: even this is not fool proof due to tanneries who actually stamp “pores” into their leather.
- Shade differences, subtle lines in the grain or even minor scars can be visible.
Here’s an excellent close up of full grain leather explained(Credit:HanksClothing)
Characteristics of a Well Built Wallet
The good news is if the wallet maker actually cared enough to pay top dollar for his leather. He is far more likely to also construct it well.
So, besides leather, what does a well made wallet look like?
Look for straight stitching that stays perfectly parallel to edges. Often junky factory wallets are hurriedly stitched with ugly corners. Look for strong threading. Any mention of Polyester threading in the product description is very good. It’s the same thread used in critical components of sailboat sails and parachutes.
Turned Edge Wallets
95% percent of turned edge wallets are made very poorly and will fall apart. In fact, truly durable turned edge wallets are very time consuming to construct. A turned edge wallet is finished by folding the leather edges over on itself and stitched down to create a cleaner look.
If you find a turned edge wallet under $50, I can guarantee its crap. There is no way a wallet maker can pay for full-grain leather, do a proper turned edge and still make money on a $50 wallet.
Mass-produced turned edge wallets are made with very thin leather or synthetics folded back over and stitched. It’s only possible to do it quickly on thin junky leather and synthetics.
A full grain leather is thicker. It can’t just be folded over on itself like paper. Instead, a craftsman must precisely and evenly scrape all the edges before folding it over, pleating the corners and finally stitching it down within very tight tolerances.
That’s one reason why the perfectly finished Ettinger costs a good penny. Its the cost of quality not just luxury.
Cut Edge Wallets
Cut edge wallets are cut and stitched together leaving the raw edge of the leather exposed. Sometimes the edges are dressed and coated with a resin to protect them from exposure or to give a more finished look.
Some argue that cut edges affect longevity. However, there are plenty of super durable leather products using the cut edge method that have been around for a loooong time and handily disprove this.
It comes down to the looks more than durability. I see two pluses to going with cut edge wallets:
- The price is far more affordable with similar durability as turned edge wallets.
- The stitching can be more aggressive and robust than turned edge wallets.
Examine the Corners
If your not sure if a turned edge wallet is decent, take close look at its corners. A good turned edge wallet will have pleated corners with no cuts. Junky wallets are cut at least once at the corner in order to fold the edge over. This results in a weak point that often pulls away, or frays.
Inspect the Hardware
Avoid wallets with any hardware other than stainless steel or brass. Leather does not do well with rust. Inspect all buttons, emblems, clasps, rivets and zippers for this and look closely at the quality of the hardware itself. Its a good indication of the product as a whole.
Check the Pockets and Slots
As mentioned earlier, fabric is not common in the most durable
wallets. This is another oft overlooked detail that is missed by people who don’t know how to choose a wallet. Most often, a fabric liner is a sign of a wallet maker going cheap on materials. The pockets should be full grain leather through and through.
Cheap wallets often just have slices for card slots and certainly no stitching around the card slots themselves.
A good wallet maker pays attention to details- even the pockets. You’re on to a good wallet if you see embossed edging around the rims of pockets and card holders(Photo of Ettinger). This added detail makes adding and removing cards easier as well as giving a much more refined look.
Choose a Reputable Company with a Generous Warranty
It’s simple. Wallet makers that don’t back their products don’t trust their products…neither should you!
Buy a wallet from a company that has an excellent track record of producing quality pieces. For example, one of my favorite leather warranties comes from Saddleback Leather which reads in part:
“Every piece of Saddleback Leather and Canvas is built for you to break in for the next guy. We believe in our craftsmanship, materials and designs so strongly that we warranty them against defects in faulty materials and poor workmanship for 100 years…”
They can offer a warranty like this because they don’t use anything but full grain leather and solid super reinforced construction. Other companies like Popov Leather, Tanner Goods, Mr. Lentz, Baurdi, Filson, and Pad & Quill sell “buy it for life” quality leather goods. Start with them.
Durable Wallet Recommendations
So, I’ve shown you how to choose a wallet, now here’s a few top notch suggestions. You’ll never go wrong with any of these wallets and you’ll never regret buying them. Below is a list of super durable buy it for life calibre wallets and a brief description.
The Saddleback Leather Front Pocket ID: A minimalist favourite, the Front Pocket ID’s rugged and simple functionality makes it a very affordable and durable gift. Its a favourite amongst the BIFL crowd.
This wallet features parachute polyester stitching, cash slot and durable pigskin liner. It holds up to 12 card’s once its fully broken in. Frequent metro or pass card users love using the I.D. window to quickly scan their passes without pulling the card completely out of the wallet.
Here’s a run down of it by Dave at Saddleback:
Saddleback Leather Medium Bifold: Backed with a 100 year warranty Saddleback’s slim profile bifold strikes a really nice balance of form and function. I’m partial to their medium bifold. Full-Grain leather, RFID. The wallet has 6 card slots and 2 hidden slots behind the cards.
Some reviewers complained about a design flaw that caused some credit cards to crack. Saddleback has rectified the problem and even replaced the wallets of affected customers with the updated version. Now that all the kinks are worked out this thing will last a lifetime no problem.
Saddleback’s bifold’s are actually available in 3 sizes, I’d recommend the medium one though it’ got great capacity without becoming too bulky.
Here’s Dave’s quick overview:
Mr. Lentz 015: Another excellent minimalist wallet but bifold this time. It features stitch-less brass riveted design for super durability. The wallet is capable of carrying up to 8 cards with some cash on board. This wallet has been a big hit. Its more rugged than a mountain man and plenty slim too.
Mr Lentz offers a 100+ year warranty on wallets(similar to Saddleback) but I doubt you’ll ever need to use it. Enjoy the simple beauty of a well made cowboy wallet and relish the character your wallet takes on as the classic patina look develops.
You can Price Check it Here.
Classic Journeyman by Pad & Quill:
For the price, this wallet brings way more features to the table. Turned edges, embossed card slot lips, accent stitching, a beautifully embossed logo (inside and out) and it’s available in 4 colours(Chestnut, Whiskey, Chocolate, and Galloper Black).
You can expect the same level of craftsmanship as the wallets above including full grain leather and parachute thread stitching.
Welcome to Italian Leather, and man does it look good! The Admiral brings Baurdi’s “A” game with a supple Leather offset by the cut edge and bold stitching.
So many of you guys loved loved Baurdi’s style I reviewed it bigger brother(now discontinued) full review of the Apex here.
The Admiral is and slim design that with 4 card slots(2-3 cards each) It’s rugged enough for the ranch and swank enough for a black-tie dinner.
You can check it out at Baurdi.com
I hope this guide has been helpful. Hopefully you’ll not only know how to buy a wallet but what to look for in other top quality leather goods too!
If you like this I think you’ll love my article on the best leather hidden money belt by Yoder. It’s an awesome belt!
Shout Out: Special thanks to NstarLeather, a leather worker himself, over on the subreddit: BuyItForLife. He helped debunk a few leather myths and help me with a few important leather facts. Check out his blog for more leather facts.