Grain Leather vs Buffalo vs Bison vs Memel

My search skills are failing me.

I’m in the process of ordering a new saddle and for the first time in my life have the opprotunity to choose my leather.

I’ve always had second hand tack, and most of my saddles have been older Passier/Stubben/Crosby types. My most recent was a Santa Cruz that was significantly softer but I felt it wore unevenly and I had to be careful with what I wore to ride in so I didn’t end up with seam rubs or such. My preferred single-ply stirrup leathers wore out the stitching at the bottom of the flaps on the Santa Cruz and I had to go with wrapped leathers and had the flaps restitched.

So I’m wanting something that will be durable first and foremost, but maybe a little softer or grippier than plain grain leather? I leased a horse that was in a buffalo County and I loathed cleaning it, but it sure was grippy. I know I do NOT want calfskin because it is too soft and with my physical issues and having seen what happened with the Santa Cruz, calfskin is not a good idea for me.

But I am a little bit confused. Buffalo and bison could technically describe the same thing, as could buffalo and memel apparently. But then some sources say buffalo refers to calfskin or grain that has been stamped with a pattern to simulate buffalo skin. So if a company offers “Plain”, “Buffalo”, “Bison”, and “Memel” all as options, what would be a safe guess as to what each leather is?

I can’t find a lot of info about what Memel actually is aside from being water buffalo hide. But I have had a couple people say that it is both grippy and wears like iron.

The brand I’m looking at specifically is Frank Baines, and my local stockist has not had any bison or memel go through since she has been dealing with them. Mostly plain with some buffalo and a new demo marked as “covered” leather (which I assume is calfskin or similar). I did try emailing Frank Baines themselves to ask but haven’t gotten anything back.

I saw Memel leather on a Smith Worthington saddle and thought it looked and felt like buffalo. It was thicker and more textured than “regular” leather. They told me buffalo is hard to source now and they’ve moved to this as a substitute.

Here’s an overview that may help.

I hoping someone else can answer your question. I am looking at the same options.

I’m going down the same path now. @Ceylon_Star did you ever get any clarification?

Thanks for that link. It explains why both my French saddles left awful skid marks (sorry but that’s what they looked like) on my light-colored breeches. I was told to oil them repeatedly when new to break them in. Big mistake.

No, I didn’t. But I ended up going with full grain leather for my custom Frank Baines, and it’s aging beautifully and wearing like iron. I definitely don’t regret my decision, and it saved me a little under $1k CAD to not choose a luxury leather


Very late for OP but Bison, unique to North America, and the far more numerous and varied types of Buffalo may share a common ancestor back in the ice age but are not the same critter.

Important when saddle shopping. Know exactly what you are paying for.

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