In the world of boxing and MMA, real leather has always been regarded as the best material that you can have on your hands. But are the modern synthetic materials quickly catching up when it comes to their overall quality and durability? And can they claim to be as comfortable as a cowhide leather glove? Well, in this article we will put real leather vs synthetic leather properties for boxing and MMA gloves to the test and discuss the various advantages and disadvantages of all the materials used in gloves today.
When talking about materials, I will mostly talk about boxing gloves since MMA gloves are inherently the same when it comes to material options. On top of that, boxing gloves are much older and have been the testing grounds for most of the leather types and synthetic materials we see today on modern MMA gloves.
Before we continue, make sure you check my guide on some of the best MMA gloves for this year. There, I’ve reviewed gloves with both real and synthetic leather, making sure to point out their strong and weak sides compared to their main competitor models. Now, let’s jump straight into this!
Types of Boxing Gloves Materials
Currently, there are six main types of leather used in different fighting gear such as gloves, shin guards, helmets, and others. Those are:
- Cowhide leather
- Buffalo leather
- Goatskin leather
- Polyurethane (PU)
Let’s take a closer look at each of those now and see what their pros and cons are…
Cowhide leather is a top-grain type of leather that is used in more than half of all leather boxing and MMA gloves. It is the go-to material choice for people that look for something long-lasting and durable. Gloves made out of 100% cowhide leather are very comfortable on your hand, don’t build up odors after excessive training, and have a decent stretch, allowing it to withstand heavy bag training at different temperatures. Most professionals opt for these gloves mainly for their comfort and longevity. Still, pay attention to the leather thickness as that will play a vital role in how durable it is. The downsides here are that it does require cleaning and maintaining from time to time and that leather is also quite expensive.
- Very soft and comfortable
- Ideal for sparring and training
- Good odor-controlling properties
- Very expensive
- Some thinner cowhide leathers can get damaged from heavy-bag work
- Has to be maintained from time to time
Despite being a higher-class leather than 100% cowhide, buffalo leather is often regarded as the second-best leather material. The main reason for that is because it is more coarse and it doesn’t look as smooth as cowhide. Still, it is full-grain leather that has superb longevity and durability compared to all other materials. It is also more expensive and more maintenance-intensive than other glove materials. If you want to learn how to clean and take care of your gloves, click here!
- Most long-lasting material
- Extremely durable
- Doesn’t degrade even after years of training
- Excellent for heavy bag work
- Requires maintenance
- Very expensive
- Coarse look
The third type of leather that is commonly used in gloves is goatskin leather. It is thinner than cowhide and buffalo leather but is arguably softer and more durable than both of them thanks to the presence of a special protein in it. It is also waterproof, making it great for sparring. Thanks to that waterproofing, these gloves are also easier to maintain. The downside, however, is that they are quite expensive even for a leather pair of gloves.
- Very soft
- Thinner than other real leathers
- Very easy to keep clean and maintain
- Fairly durable
- Very expensive
- Goatskin leather gloves are harder to find
- Not great for heavy bag work
The first synthetic material that I want to talk about is Vinyl. It was one of the breakthrough synthetic materials that started being widely used in boxing and MMA gloves mainly because it is easy to produce, relatively cheap, and quite easy to maintain in a good condition. Gloves made out of vinyl, however, are more prone to cracks as time progresses, and are also less durable. They also have a different feel when sparring with them and won’t handle frequent heavy bag workouts well. As with most other synthetic materials, vinyl gloves tend to build up odors over time.
- Cheap compared to real leather
- Easy to maintain
- Good for beginners
- Lighter than traditional leather gloves
- Odor build-up can be an issue
- Tend to crack if used frequently
- Some vinyl gloves can rip apart when used on a heavy bag
Polyurethane is the most common synthetic material for modern MMA and boxing gloves. Just like Vinyl, it is a low-cost alternative to leather. Unlike Vynil, though, it handles constant workouts slightly better and is a bit more flexible. It feels and looks good as well, making it one of the best alternatives to leather you can get nowadays. PU gloves are also very light and are good for sparring and bag work, depending on their price and quality. That is another good thing with these models, they range a lot in terms of their exact material composition, meaning you can get a PU glove at a bargain price but can also pay quite the penny for a premium PU pair.
- Mostly cheap
- Lightweight material
- Easy to maintain
- Better than Vinyl for sparring and training
- More durable than Vinyl
- Some premium PU models can last some time
- Not as durable as real leather
- Some expensive models aren’t worth their money
- Can build up bad odors when used frequently
Last but definitely not least is Microfiber. It is the newest synthetic material used in more and more training gear thanks to its amazing properties. One of the best properties of microfiber is that it is much more breathable than Vinyl and PU, making it less prone to odor build-ups and much better ventilated. It is also more durable than the rest of the synthetic alternatives.
- Excellent at handling moisture and heat
- More durable than other synthetic materials
- Relatively cheap
- Looks great
- Great for all sorts of workouts
- A bit more expensive than PU and Vinyl
- Some models can get really expensive
- Needs more maintenance than other synthetic gloves
Leather vs PU Gloves
One of the most common debates in the MMA and Boxing worlds is whether to use Leather or Polyurethane gloves. This debate has slightly shifted towards microfiber gloves on the synthetic side nowadays but it still remains as a general leather vs synthetic discussion.
As we already saw, both types of materials have their own sets of pros and cons. As a whole, this can be all boiled down to your personal preferences. If you don’t want to spend a small fortune on your gloves and want a decent alternative to a leather pair of gloves, then modern synthetics will provide you with a ton of benefits. They are becoming more and more durable and long-lasting with material advancements and are also much better at controlling odors and moisture than they were 10 years ago. That being said, synthetic PU and microfiber gloves still struggle to fully replicate the feeling of a leather glove not to mention they are nowhere near close to bringing you that authentic leather feel and scent that we’re all grown to love in the gym.
What is the best material for MMA gloves?
MMA gloves are different than boxing gloves and handle materials in different ways. They are also smaller, making them harder to work on when manufacturers are wrapping them in leather. Their padding is also broken into smaller sections that guard your knuckles, fingers, and the top of your wrist. Some MMA gloves even have complex thumb protectors. MMA gloves are also used in grappling, sparring, and bag work, making them far more prone to wear and tear.
That is the reason why most companies relly on real leather for their gloves. Cowhide is the most common material of choice for the premium MMA gloves, even though some are also made out of newer synthetic materials such as microfiber.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the different types of leather used in gloves?
Leather can be classified into three groups – Full-grain, Top-grain, and genuine. Full-grain leather is the best option you can get but is also the priciest. A good example of full-grain leather is buffalo leather. Top-grain leather such as cowhide is a level below full-grain but most people prefer it instead since it is smoother and just as durable. Despite its name, genuine leather is the lowest type of leather out there.
Can you use synthetic gloves on a punching bag?
Some synthetic gloves use thicker synthetic materials (mostly PU) that are specifically designed for heavy bag usage and sparring. Those will not break or rip over time and are much better to use on a bag than other synthetic options such as Vinyl.
Knowing the main differences between real leather vs synthetic leather for boxing and MMA gloves is going to prove useful when you are shopping for a new pair. Ultimately, it all boils down to your budget. If you can afford a cowhide MMA glove, then it will last you far longer than any other synthetic glove material. It will also handle pads and bag work better and you won’t have to deal with odor building up inside your gloves. Still, synthetic gloves are a great budget alternative for a beginner and some models are surprisingly durable and flexible.