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A Look into The Rare and Popular Yak Leather

Yak leather is a type of leather you might not come across often. It has, however, been made for thousands of years and does have some great characteristics for use in leather craft.

Yak leather is a type of leather made from the yak, a bovine mammal found primarily in the Himalayan and Tibetan regions of western China. Their natural climate is cold, resulting in a hide that is very thick. Yak leather is primarily used in the production of shoes, clothing, and belts.

The history of yak leather and the unique properties of the hide make it worth considering for your next project. 

What is Yak Leather?

Tibetan Plateau - Yak Leather - Liberty Leather Goods

Tibetan Plateau

Yak leather is thick, heavy leather produced from the hide of the yak. The yak is a bovine mammal that lives at high altitude in the Tibetan Plateau of western China. It used to be a wild animal, and is believed to have been tamed around 10,000 years ago. These domestic yak are the primary source of yak leather. They are herbivores, eating mostly grass and plants.

Domestic yak are often used as “beasts of burden” to carry out physically laborious tasks. When processed, almost all parts of their body are used for some further productive purpose, including the meat, hair, and hides.

Worldwide, there are approximately 11 million yak. Their primary climate is a a harsh one, perched about 14,500 feet above sea level, and encompassing only about 1 million square miles. Permafrost is present throughout the year. The summer months are still cool, with temperatures ranging between 37°F to 63°F. The winter months are harsh and bitter, with temperatures ranging between -13°F to 30°F.

This cold climate requires the yak to have a very thick, heavy skin that keeps it warm. It also has a lot of fatty tissue within the skin to act as an insulator. This high fat content makes processing the yak hides more effort-intensive. However, thick yak leather can make some very useful leather goods and products.

Is Yak Leather Strong?

Wild Yak - Yak Leather - Liberty Leather Goods

Wild Yak

Yak leather has a lot of strength, similar to that of one of the strongest leathers, Kangaroo leather (click here to read an in-depth article I wrote about that). The harsh climates yaks live in require their skins to be very thick. It has great tensile strength, making it suitable for long straps.

This fibers in this type of leather are also very dense, which helps keep the yak stay warm in the colder months. Yaks are extremely hairy animals, another asset that helps keep them warm. Between the thickness of the skin, fatty deposits within it, and the harsh lifestyle in often freezing temperatures, yak leather is often very rough, marked-up, and generally uneven in texture and tone.

Despite it’s appearance, its density and strength make it desired. The yak hides can be split into thinner layers, still retaining effective strength and protection qualities.

Yak Leather Tanning

This material is generally only available in a single region of the world in large volume (the Tibetan Plateau). As such, there are local tanners that serve a major role in the overall production and distribution of tanned yak leather.

The Tibetan tanners will process the hides from local yak farms, then sell the finished leather to manufacturers around the world to use in their leather goods. due to the amount of hair, fats/oils, and the thick skin, the tanning process is much more intensive and costly that for cattle hides.

Tanning yak leather also involves specially-developed knowledge and expertise that is most concentrated in the local region. This is mutually beneficial as it helps the local economy benefit from its unique resource, while also providing a rarer type of leather to global manufacturers and leather crafters.

What is Yak Leather Used For?

Golf Shoes - Yak Leather - Liberty Leather Goods

Golf Shoes

Yak leather is used primarily for leather goods that require a strong, tough leather is lasts long and resists abrasions. These include shoes, boots, straps, bags, and saddlery, tack, belts, and harnesses.

The boots are useful in tougher trekking, or hiking conditions, helping to keep feet warm and protected. Golf shoes are a one of the most common show types made from this leather. They are flexible, breathable, and sturdy, offering golfers comfort as they are on their feet for a significant portion of the day.

One unique quality of this leather is the uneven finish. While some leather products can only use the finest materials and finishes, items made from yak leather are often associated with performance, strength, and durability. The uneven finish is portrayed as an asset, reflecting the traits of a leather that came from tough living conditions and lives of hard, manual work. The implied message is these hides can continue to perform like that in finished goods.

Customers seems to be ok with this. Also when used on items like shoes that flex and develop natural creases and surface variations, the uneven yak leather works well and fits right in.

Ecco and Yak Leather

One of the most well-known companies that uses yak leather in their leather goods is Ecco. Ecco is a Danish shoe manufacturer. They produce a variety of shoes from casual, to formal, to sporty, including golf shoes.

Ecco yak leather golf shoes have become quite popular because of their breathability and durability. They are perceived as stylish. Ecco has also developed a supply chain that often utilizes production facilities near the tanneries from where they purchase their leather. This keeps them close to the source of the materials, as well as the local knowledge of how to best work and craft with it.

Is Yak Leather Waterproof?

Leather Shoe in Water - Liberty Leather Goods

Leather Shoe in Water

Yak leather is not, on its own, waterproof. While it is a very strong and durable leather, it would need a type of protectant added to make it more water-resistant when used in wet conditions.

Like other leathers, applying a proper shoe polish and wax can help make it more water resistant. Further, water repelling leather conditioner with wax, or specialty wax dressings can be applied to the leather to make it more water resistant.

Depending on the type of substance used, some can be used to help make the yak leather waterproof. However, the stronger the layer of water proofing (often a type of wax), the more difficult it is to later reach, clean, and condition the leather underneath. If the leather product will be used in harsh conditions, a water proofer might be key to making the item as useful as possible.

Yak Leather Care & Maintenance

Proper maintenance and care will help extend the useful and functional life of any type of leather, yak leather included. A good-quality leather will perform very well, and last for years.

For any step in leather care, generally test on a small area to ensure the cleaner or finish you’re applying will perform properly, and not react poorly with the material. Once you know it’s safe, clean the leather piece.

How to Clean Yak Leather

Microfiber Towels - Liberty Leather Goods

Microfiber Towels

Yak leather can be cleaned by first moistening a lint-free cloth and gently rubbing it over the soiled area. Microfiber cloths work well for this. If the dirt is deeper or you want to thoroughly clean the leather, try using a dedicated leather cleaner.

They are formulated to be gentle on leather while removing dirt, dust, and grime. In general, they usually also prepare the surface well for receiving a conditioner and later if necessary, a finish. Since yak leather is a heavier leather, it might require some deeper cleaning from time to time.

How to Condition Yak Leather

Leather Working Tools - Leather Cleaner and Conditioner - Liberty Leather Goods

Leather Cleaner and Conditioner

Yak can be conditioned like most other leathers. Once the surface has been thoroughly cleaned, the conditioner can be applied using an applicator or soft cloth. Conditioner is generally applied in small circles, allowed to soak in, then the excess wiped off with a clean cloth.

Yak leather conditioners can be specialized blends, leather dressings, creams, or oils. Once conditioned, the leather is ready for a finish or protective coat, if desired. This typeof thicker leather will benefit from a quality conditioner.

How to Make Yak Leather Water Resistant

A wax protectant can be added to yak leather to help make it water resistant. Once cleaned and conditioned, the wax can be applied to the leather thoroughly. After a few minutes, the wax is generally buffed out and leaves the leather with a surface that is smooth and has a pleasant shine. It also provides a barrier that helps repel water.

How to Store Yak Leather

Yak leather should be stored in a cool, dry, dust-free location. Generally, leather products benefit from low-average humidity environments. Air flow is also beneficial, as it allows the natural fibers of the leather to “breathe”.

If kept in a sealed environment, the humidity might rise and the leather start to deteriorate, and mold. In an environment with too-low humidity, the leather can start to dry and that could lead to cracking and weakening of the fibers.

A good place to store yak leather is a dressing room or closet that have an average livable temperature, humidity level, and frequent airflow.

Yak leather has a unique blend of strength, durability, and surface textures. It can surely be a consideration when thinking about what type of leather to use for your next leather working project.

If you’re looking for another strong, unique material, click here to read my article on buffalo leather.

Related Questions

Does yak leather stretch?

Yak leather does not significantly stretch. Since it is comprised of natural fibers, it will become more flexible with use. It will also conform to the wearer. However, due to the density and of it’s fibers, the stretch over time will be minimal.

Is yak leather strong?

Yes, yak leather is a very strong leather. Due to the density and strength of its fibers, it is one one of the strongest leathers available, similar to kangaroo leather. It can be split thin and still retain much of its strength.

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