Although the debate on which one is better has been going on for ages, the correct answer, probably, has always been the same – it depends. Both leather and rubber soles have their advantages and disadvantages and understanding them will help you make the right choice when buying new pair of shoes or deciding which ones to wear today.
Having said that, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide that, we hope, will shed some light on certain myths and explain lesser-known facts about leather and rubber soles.
Arguably, the most important property of the shoe is comfort. You wouldn’t like to spend all day wearing shoes that are revolting against your feet, would you? At a first glance, it would look like the rubber sole should win here, because the leather is harder, but you must not forget that leather also has the ability to mold and shape to your foot. Combined with cork filling, leather soles can create a very flexible and soft foot bed that is more comfortable than its rubber counterpart.
But great comfort comes only with great quality. For example, if the leather sole is thin, there is no cork filling and the last has no arch support, then those shoes will be uncomfortable as hell. What you should be looking for instead, is Goodyear welted shoe with a double leather sole, cork filling, and arch support, because they will become one of the most comfortable shoes you have ever owned.
The main advantage of rubber soles is they are flexible right from the start. This means that the break-in period is minimal and the feeling of stiffness is much lower compared to leather soles. And, of course, rubber soles have more shock absorption compared to leather ones, which makes your steps softer when walking on the pavement.
The biggest drawback of rubber soles is their inability to mold to your feet like leather soles. What it basically means, is that rubber soles will be quite comfortable at the beginning of the day, but the more you spend in them, the less comfortable they are going to become and your feet will grow tired.
Leather soles 1 – 1 Rubber soles
Although at a first glance you might think that leather soles are less durable than rubber ones, it is true only in some cases. For example, triple leather sole will outlast any rubber sole. A good double leather sole would too if taken care of properly. So, the more layers you have, the stronger the sole gets.
Obviously, this means that the less amount and thinner layers you have, the less durable leather soles will be. In some cases, if you walk a lot, you might chew through your soles in a matter of months. And it does not really matter how much shoes cost – as long as they have thin layers of leather, they won’t last long. Especially, if you walk in all kinds of weather. Leather also absorbs water, so after some time it might start to come through your soles if there’s a crack or a busted seam.
A high-quality rubber sole can last many miles and is almost indestructible. And that’s no surprise because that’s one of the objectives of a rubber sole – to be a long-lasting sole that you can really go hard on. Depending on how often you wear your shoes with rubber soles and how well you care for them it’s quite normal for them to last 5 or more years. Rubber is also water resistant so you don’t have to worry about getting your feet wet.
Cracks are the biggest issue for rubber soles. Sometimes this happens for no apparent reason, sometimes – because of poor care. Especially, if you attempt to dry them on a heat source after they have been wet in the rain. So, if it cracks, it’s game over – the shoe won’t be water resistant anymore and there’s not much you can do unless you change the entire sole.
Leather soles 1 – 1 Rubber soles
If you’ve ever worn new shoes with leather soles on a marble floor you can definitely say that their grip is virtually non-existent. Things do get better after some time as the leather is used and becomes scratched, but the traction and grip are still not going to be great. Especially, on slippery surfaces. So, it’s best to wear the sole in before any big occasions if you want a stronger grip and avoid any accidents.
Rubber soles, on the other hand, have excellent grip and traction. And there are no drawbacks here, they are just better than the leather soles in terms of how stable you are going to be when standing or walking.
Leather soles 0 – 1 Rubber soles
4. Elegance and Formality
It’s time for leather soles to shine now. They are the primary choice for all the special events or occasions, because of their elegance and formality. A thin appearing Goodyear welted leather sole that runs tight to the last shape will almost always be more elegant and formal than its rubber counterpart.
If the sole is not cut tight to the last then it will look chunky and inelegant. On the other hand, if a sole is super thin and tight it’s going to lose its elegance and formality too. Although some might disagree with this, we think that dainty looking soles are not elegant and formal.
In most cases, rubber soles are going to look less formal and elegant compared to leather ones. Of course, it’s no surprise, because rubber soles are chunky and thick and it’s common to see them in more casual shoes like brogues and boots.
Of course, it’s possible to find some models that have thin and elegant rubber soles that run very close to the last shape, but it might take some time and it’s not guaranteed that you are going to find the model that you’re looking for. So, for those formal occasions, it’s best to stay safe and stick to the leather soles.
Leather soles 1 – 0 Rubber soles
It might come as a surprise to some, but there is no clear advantage of leather soles vs rubber soles or vice versa. Both of them have their advantages and disadvantages. And, as we said at the beginning of the article – it all depends on the situation.
For formal events, for example, leather soles are an obvious choice. If you have to walk through mud or spend some time outside during bad weather then rubber is a clear winner. The situation dictates your choice and it should be the main factor when deciding which soles to choose. We hope that by reading this article you will be sufficiently equipped to make the best decision for yourself.