Leather vs Nylon vs Cotton Lifting Straps: Which Is Best?

Lifting straps are an excellent solution if you find your grip failing in the gym.  

Whether you’re a competitive strength athlete or a recreational lifter, having a set of straps in your gym bag will allow you to lift more weight when the sets get heavy.  However, you might be asking yourself which type of lifting straps you should get (cotton, nylon, leather).

So, what’s the difference between cotton vs nylon vs leather lifting straps?  The type of material depends on the amount of weight lifted. Cotton straps aren’t as durable for heavy lifting as they stretch more under load. Nylon straps don’t stretch as much, making them an ideal fit for most lifters. Leather straps are the most durable, but they are bulky and don’t absorb sweat.

Each type of lifting strap has pros and cons, which we’ll discuss in more detail below.  At the end of the day, you want to have a lifting strap that lasts for your entire lifting career.  It should be a purchase that you only make once.  

In a Hurry?  Here is My Recommendation 

The best lifting strap for your money will be a nylon strap.  

This is because a nylon strap has a good balance between being suitable for heavy lifting (non-stretch), versatile for several different types of movements, and durable enough to handle wear and tear.

A quality nylon strap will be a few dollars more than a cotton strap; however, you’ll most likely need to replace cotton straps as they wear out.  So with nylon straps, the goal is to buy them once and then never have to replace them.  

The absolute best lifting straps that you can buy is the Iron Mind Strong Enough Lifting Straps (click for reviews and today’s price on Amazon).  The Iron Mind brand has been the go-to lifting strap for strength athletes since 1988.  They’re the easiest strap to use and are made from durable nylon material. 


Cotton Lifting Straps

Cotton lifting straps are the most common straps that you’ll see worn in the gym.  

The appeal with cotton straps is that they’re extremely comfortable to wear.  As you lift weights with straps, the loop around your wrist will pull and tug on your skin.  The cotton material will feel softer, especially compared with a nylon strap. 

This may be important to you if you’re concerned about chaffing.  With a cotton strap, you’ll avoid any chafing or skin irritation as the strap rubs against your wrist.

Cotton straps provide a decent level of grip support while lifting.  However, as the weight gets heavier the cotton material will begin to stretch.  Any stretching of the strap will reduce the amount it helps with grip strength.   

So if you’re a beginner lifter, using a low-to-moderate amount of weight, the cotton strap will be suitable.  However, over the course of your lifting career as you get stronger, you’ll likely begin to dislike how the cotton strap stretches. At that point, you’ll prefer a more non-stretch material like nylon or leather. 

One of the major benefits of using a cotton strap is that cotton absorbs sweat really well.  This is key if you plan on wearing your straps throughout the majority of your workout.  The reason why sweat absorption is important is that if your straps don’t absorb sweat well the material might deteriorate quicker.

So yes, cotton absorbs sweat really well, but from my experience, the straps will still deteriorate quicker over nylon and leather straps.  This is because as I said cotton stretches more, and it’s the constant stretching of the material under load that makes them deteriorate. 

It’s without a doubt that cotton straps are the most cost-effective.  If you’re on a budget and want to get started with some type of grip support, then a cotton strap is a good entry point.  

The absolute best cotton strap is the Harbinger Lifting Straps (click to see today’s price on Amazon).  These straps are 21.5 inches long, which is extended for a stronger wrap around the bar.  It also comes with padded material around the wrist in order to maximize comfort. 

Pros

  • Extremely comfortable 
  • Absorbs sweat 
  • Great for novice lifters
  • Reduced chance of chafing or skin irritation 
  • Comes in different lengths (longer is better for grip strength)
  • Budget-friendly

Cons

  • Not as durable / might need to replace 
  • Will stretch under heavy load
  • Won’t maximize gripping strength 
  • Not suitable for intermediate or advanced lifters

Nylon Lifting Straps 

Nylon straps aren’t as common as the cotton straps; however, they’re the type of strap that you’ll see in serious strength training facilities. 

Most powerliters, Olympic weightlifters, and Strongmen athletes wear some version of the nylon lifting strap. 

This is because nylon is a non-stretch material, which is also thicker than cotton.  

This is an important feature in order to maximize grip strength and lift the most weight as possible.  Under heavy weight, you want to lock your hand onto the bar and you don’t want the strap to move once you begin the lift. 

Since the nylon strap is thicker and doesn’t stretch, this means it’s more resistant to wear and tear.  Therefore, nylon lifting straps should last a very long time.  I’ve had my nylon lifting straps for 12 years and haven’t had to replace them. 

With that said, nylon doesn’t absorb sweat very well. 

 This can cause some deterioration of the strap over time; however, I’ve only found this to be the case if you leave your lifting straps in your gym bag after your training session.  If you take your straps out of your gym bag to ‘air-dry’ after your workout, then you’ll maintain the integrity of the nylon just fine. 

The nylon material isn’t as soft as cotton.  Therefore, under heavier weight when the strap pulls on your wrist, you might get some chafing and skin irritation.  Unfortunately, this is just part of the sacrifice you have to make in order to maximize your grip. 

In terms of cost, nylon straps are more expensive than other types of straps you can buy.  However, this should not dissuade you from spending a few extra bucks now in order for you not to replace them in 6 months.  And trust me: you will have to replace other types of straps.  

If I had to recommend any type of lifting strap, it would be nylon over any other material.  

The best nylon lifting straps that you can buy is the Iron Mind Strong Enough Lifting Straps (click for today’s price on Amazon). They’re made from thick, durable nylon material, and are used by the top strength athletes in the World.

Pros 

  • Extremely durable 
  • Don’t stretch under heavy load
  • Used by the strongest lifters in the world 
  • Designed for maximum grip strength 
  • Should last your entire lifting career 
  • Suitable for beginner, intermediate, and advanced lifters

Cons

  • Not as soft and can lead to skin irritation 
  • Doesn’t absorb sweat well 
  • Slightly more expensive 

Leather Lifting Straps 

Leather lifting straps are for lifters who appreciate the craftsmanship and design of their lifting gear.  

Leather straps have a premium look and feel, and a lot of lifters who use these types of straps have them custom made.  Although, you don’t have to go the custom route — it’s just an option.

I wouldn’t say that the leather strap performs any better than the nylon strap in terms of performance.  It’s merely a matter of personal preference on whether you like leather vs nylon.

The leather strap feels soft and comfortable on the wrist while lifting. You won’t experience any chafing or skin irritation.  

They are also extremely durable and won’t stretch under heavy load.  This will maximize your grip strength. 

However, one particular drawback of the leather strap is that they are almost TOO durable.  What I mean is that leather doesn’t bend or flex as much as cotton or nylon.  Therefore, when you first buy leather straps, you might have a hard time wrapping them around the barbell.  

As such, you’ll have to spend a few months ‘breaking in’ the leather.  Just like you would if buying a brand new leather weightlifting belt.  

Out of cotton, nylon, and leather, the leather straps are the least sweat resistant.  You’ll need to make sure you take out your leather straps from your gym bag every night, and from time to time, treat them with special leather cleaner.  

So as long as you’re willing to keep up with proper leather care treatment, these straps should last you a long time.  

One final consideration is that leather straps come in different ‘thicknesses’, typically 2mm or 3mm.  

I would opt for the 2mm thickness since it will feel more comfortable in your hand.  Sometimes if the material is too thick there will be too much ‘bulk’ between your hand and the barbell, which won’t feel as natural.

In terms of cost, you can expect to pay just as much as a leather strap.  Obviously, if you go the custom route it will be more expensive. You can justify the cost because you won’t be having to replace the leather straps like you would a cotton strap.

The best leather lifting straps that you can buy is the Dark Iron Leather Fitness Straps (click for today’s price on Amazon).  They come in slightly softer leather, which doesn’t take as long to ‘break-in’, and has a 2mm leather option for a more natural gripping feel. 

Pros 

  • Premium look and feel
  • Option to get custom made
  • Optimized for maximum gripping capability
  • Non-stretch material 
  • Feels comfortable on the wrist 
  • No chafing or skin irritation

Cons

  • Lacks sweat absorption 
  • Requires slightly more upkeep to treat the leather 
  • Slightly more expensive
  • Might take some time to ‘break-in’ the strap

Final Thoughts

When you compare cotton vs nylon vs leather lifting straps, the nylon straps seem to have the best bang for your buck.  

While the nylon strap isn’t as cheap as a cotton strap, it will be a strap that will continue to perform well as you get stronger, and should be durable enough to last your entire lifting career.  

If you prefer a more premium look and feel, you could consider a leather strap; however, I don’t believe it performs any better than a nylon lifting strap.  

If cost is your main consideration then go for the cotton strap.  Just know that you’ll likely have to replace it either because you’ve gotten stronger or the strap has deteriorated from too much wear and tear.

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