Leather sole vs Rubber sole shoes | Which one is better?

December 20, 2022 8 min read

leather sole vs rubber sole shoes

 With so many options for shoe styles, leathers, and shapes, no choice is going to affect your day-to-day wear like the soles.

Between rubber soles vs leather soles, it’s natural to ask:  “Which type of sole is the best choice?”  Of course, the answer comes down to the old familiar - it depends.

That said, we’re here to give you the information you need to know to pick the right option for you. Whether you’re eyeing Vibram sole shoes or double leather soled brogues, tie those laces tight and let’s get right into it.


Reading the following article you will learn: 

  • A brief shoe sole history

  • The key differences between leather and rubber soles 

  • The 3 types of rubber soles 

  • Rubber sole replacement tips

  • What makes a Vibram Sole

  • Vibram Sole Replacement Partners 


A History of Shoe Soles

Leather has been a go to shoe material for thousands of years. Think about it. Ancient artists don’t put Greek gods in leather sandals as a reference to modern fashion.From Greek sandals to French kings to dandy Brits, the leather sole history is massive.

history of leather sole shoe

Entering the 18th century, leather tanning technology and machinery continued to evolve to the point where consistent commercial leathers could finally be produced and sold.

Leather has remained popular today for dress shoes. There’s a lineage of formality and tradition that has an undeniable charm. Hides are available, breathable, and durable, all qualities that make them still a perfectly suited material for soles. 


So, when were rubber sole shoes invented?

These first came into play in the late 1800s by the Continental rubber company as a durable, lightweight alternative. With vulcanized rubber technology, they really became ubiquitous after World War I for all kinds of footwear.

Rubber soles continued to be refined through different chemical compositions for lightness and traction. The performance qualities for outdoor activities and sports are obvious, but they’ve worked their way into formal wear as an alternative to leather.


Leather Sole Shoes vs Rubber Sole Shoes

Leather Sole  Rubber Sole Combined
Durabilty Resilient
Stronger choice
Comfort Inittialy Stiffer *
Extra shock-absorption
Elegance Super Elegant Casual Dress Versatile
Weight Normal
Light / Ultra Light


*Leather soles can give the closest thing to a fully customized foot bed with wear.

Differences between rubber and leather soles

There’s a reason leather and rubber soles have remained extremely popular. They both have a slew of strengths that keep them relevant in the shoemaking world.

Leather soled shoe characteristics

  • Made from a natural, breathable material
  • Formal and undeniably elegant compared to the rubber counterparts
  • Moldable to the wearers feet and gait
  • Sturdy for extra support
  • Sustainable
  • Traditional and classic

Rubber soled shoe characteristics

  • Extremely durable with natural traction
  • Flexible from the get-go for a quick and easy break-in
  • Weather resistant in rain, sleet, and snow
  • Varieties of treading for extra grip and comfort
  • Great cushion and shock-absorption for a comfortable shoe sole
  • Excellent variety of styles to fit your purpose

Let’s break the leather soles vs rubber sole differences into different categories for their pros and cons.

Which type of shoe sole is most durable?

Rubber is the clear winner for a long lasting sole. But let's explain both to better understand each type.

Leather soles durability

People always ask us “are leather soles durable?”. Although they’re resilient, they aren’t nearly as hardy as their rubber counterparts.

Generally, leather soles will be used in formal or office settings. They’re excellent picks for tying together a look with a suit and for that Fred Astaire glide at the wedding reception, but will wear down much more quickly if you’re walking through the city to work everyday or hitting the town in the evenings.

It’s crucial to note that wet weather is not kind to leather soles. Rain, snow, and the salt used on roads for ice can eat away at the hides, so it’s smart to have a rubber-soled option on deck to stay prepared.

Rubber soles durability

Durability might be the absolute greatest benefit of rubber soles. 

People use rubber for work boots, for tennis courts, for long distance running, and everything else where a pair needs to stay together. With rubber, you’ll be set for avery long time.

Rubber soles are also extremely weather resistant. Wear a pair and stomp through the puddles all you want, or pick a rubber sole for ice and you’ll be much better off.


Which type of shoe sole is most comfortable?

Comfort is more subjective between the two. It depends fully on preference.

Leather soles comfortability 

Leather soles are generally a bit stiffer out of the box. However, that doesn’t mean they lack comfort. Leather soles will flex to your gait and conform to your foot with use. With the combination of a layer of cork in Goodyear welted shoes, leather soles can give the closest thing to fully customized foot bed with wear.

Rubber soles comfortability

Rubber soles will almost always feel more flexible on first wear. There’s a natural level of cushion that gives extra shock-absorption, and lighter rubber options can give a shoe a sneaker-like feeling.


Which type of shoe sole is most elegant?

Leather is a classic and the king of elegance in shoe soles.

Leather soles elegance

Leather soles are pure elegance. The aesthetic values might be the top reason leather soles have stuck around as long as they have. The look cannot be replicated by anything else.

leather sole shoe


The soles age gracefully with wear, and there’s something poetic about the personalized scuffs one develops over time.

Leather soles are also low-profile and inconspicuous. They don’t distract from an outfit and have a strong formal message. They’ll always have a place anywhere you want to signal your professionalism or elegance.

Rubber soles elegance

Rubber sole dress shoes don’t instantly make it inelegant, but they are more associated with casual dress.

Many low-profile rubber soles are available that are perfectly suited for formal dress. Many other rubber soles will make it look like you left your hiking boots on. We feel we can trust you to know the difference between these extremes.

elegant rubber sole shoe

Is rubber sole material good for shoes? Why?

Rubber sole material for shoes comes in many different forms: tread varieties, composition, thickness, weight. One thing that remains consistent with rubber soles is their traction, durability, and flexibility. All these qualities make a rubber sole boot or shoe an excellent pick.

Here are a few of the most common rubber sole options you’ll find for Goodyear welted shoes and boots.

High-density rubber soles

The most durable option, the composition of rubber is very high relative to other options, providing an extremely durable, grippy surface to work with. Note they’re a touch heavier than the rest.

high density rubber sole shoe

Gumlite Commando Soles

Gumlite is one of Vibram’s performance rubber sole lines. They’re soft, lightweight, and built with larger treads for improved grip.

Gumlite soles use a rubber and EVA compound to create a lighter material. They’re an excellent type of sole for boots, but have crossed over into formal shoes for a unique look.

vibram rubber sole shoe

Blown air rubber soles

Blown, or injected, air rubber soles are some of the lightest rubber sole options available. They’re made by injecting air into the rubber during processing and are exceptionally light, flexible, and cushiony. The feel is almost sneaker-like.

The Vibram Christy wedge sole is the most popular blown air sole available in Goodyear welted shoemaking.

blown air vibram sole

Types of rubber sole shoes and boots

In our collection, we have several options for rubber soles to fit the occasion.

Full rubber sole shoes 

Full rubber soles offer full coverage of the bottom of the shoe. We use combinations of high-density rubber for the best durability and grip, and more low-profile rubber and EVA combination options for a sleek, formal look.

vibram rubber sole shoe

Combined leather sole and rubber sole shoes

If you can’t pick one or the other, why not take both?

Hybrid leather and rubber soles have the same elegant benefits of a leather sole, but are substantiated with rubber where your foot hits the ground on the ball to the toe and heel.

combined leather and rubber sole shoe

Ultralight rubber sole shoes

Ultralight rubber soles are generally considered performance soles. They’re extra light, extra comfortable, but still very durable. These cushiony soles are the closest you can get to a sneaker feel with a stitched on sole.

Although they’re typically associated with work and performance footwear, they’ve worked their way into formal shoemaking. For us, that’s worth celebrating.

ultra light rubber sole shoe

Can rubber soles be replaced on shoes?

Absolutely! Whether it’s a rubber or leather sole, as long as the pairs are Goodyear welted the soles can be replaced time and time again to extend the life of a pair.

For your replacement options, you’re at the mercy of what’s available at your local cobbler. Fortunately, trusted brands like Vibram and Dainite have found massive popularity and are carried by a majority of shops.


Rubber Sole Replacement Tips & Recommendations

Although you can always find somebody that’s willing to replace a sole for you, that doesn’t mean you should alwayslet them do it.

When considering using a local repair service, we always recommend three quick checks.

  1. Read their reviews online. You’ll be able to get some quick insight into their turnaround times, their pricing, and their customer service and see if they match your expectations.
  2. Take a look at photos of their work. If they’re fixing shoes like yours and they look like something you would wear, then they’re likely people you can trust.
  3. Look at the materials and brands they offer. Some people will use the cheapest rubber and leather soles they can find that could quickly wear out again. Look for trusted providers like Vibram and Dainite for rubber soles and JR Rendenbach for leather soles.

We always recommend checking your local options first to support a small business. However, if one’s not available for your Vibram sole replacement, here are a few popular and trusted options that take on sole repair services through mail.

Vibram Sole Replacement

Ansley Shoe Repair - Atlanta, GA

Bedo’s Leatherworks - Falls Church, VA

Potter & Sons - Nashville, TN

Cobblers Plus - Denver, CO

What is a Vibram sole?

Vibram is a world-renowned Italian rubber sole manufacturer that has been crafting some of the highest quality products since 1935. At Cobbler Union, we couldn’t be prouder to be official partners with them in the journey to build the best footwear out there.

Vibram was founded by the Italian mountaineer Vitale Bramani in the 1930s. After several of his companions passed away after slipping during a difficult climb, he patented his pair of treaded rubber soles to conquer the mountain and the rest is history. Vibram sole boots are famous as the boots that conquered Everest.

Since then, they’ve continued developing rubber sole technology and have branched out from mountain climbing to formal wear and everything in between. These days, the yellow octagonal Vibram logo is seen as a sure sign of high quality.

What’s so special about Vibram soles?

Vibram is trusted for a reason:

  • Lightweight: Patented combinations of EVA, air injection, and rubber have resulted in some of the lightest soles available.
  • Grip: With well-tested tread patterns and a rubber tackiness, Vibram soles always provide a steady step.
  • Shock-absorption: Composite rubber soles give an easy cushion to hours on your feet.
  • Durability: The average person takes 15,000 steps a day. Vibram rubber soles are built to take them.
  • Comfort: Flexible, lightweight, and a level of “squish” keep the ride easy all day.
  • Availability: Vibram has fortunately become ubiquitous, so when you’re due for a resole you’ll nearly always have an option on hand.

Cobbler Union Goodyear Lite Collection

Give the Cobbler Union rubber sole collection a peek and see what our partnership with Vibram has to offer.


ultralight cobbler union collecion


The final say

Between leather and rubber soles, the most important thing is to know your options and your purpose.

The best option is to have a pair of both. Trust us, with both options you’ll always have a reason to bring them out.