When setting out to choose a holster, there are a multitude of factors to consider. It must fit your body and your lifestyle. Seldom mentioned is how different body types (endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph) can affect your decision. The offset of the holster from the body can affect concealment and draw angle. And then there’s the material. When choosing a holster for concealed carry, the material the holster is made of is as important as the design.
The most popular holster materials are Kydex and leather. There are combinations of the two, known as hybrids. Each can be useful, but there are attributes of one that will be superior in certain situations over the other. Why not have both? As with the firearms you choose to shoot and carry, you’ll likely end up with multiple styles of holsters.
When purchasing, keep in mind the job a holster must perform. A good holster will keep the handgun secure and angled properly for a sharp presentation from concealment. A balance between speed and retention is essential.
Kydex: A Thermoplastic Resin
Kydex is impervious to sweat, oil and solvents. However, foreign material in the holster may scratch the handgun’s finish. If you own a Glock or Melonite-coated Guncrafter, the finish will not suffer. If a handgun shows degradation of the finish … well, a handgun is meant to be used. Kydex is very stiff and offers a good, sharp draw. It can be cleaned with soap and water.
Leather: Animal Skin, Tanned and Dyed
A leather holster keeps the pistol secure by a tight, molded fit over the handgun. A Kydex holster, however, primarily contacts the slide and trigger guard. Leather is more supple, although leather may be tanned and waxed quite stiff. Leather may be offered in exotic material that qualifies for a great deal of pride of ownership. Leather is generally more comfortable.
Kydex vs. Leather
A general observation is that Kydex is hard and less comfortable. The tradeoff is that Kydex doesn’t collapse on the draw, and reholstering is easy. Kydex holsters are affordable, even in the better designs. (Very cheap holsters are often just plastic and should be avoided.) Leather holsters must have a sewn-in metal holster mouth or a welt that is tightly molded to keep the holster mouth from collapsing after the draw. There are things, such as screwing on a magazine pouch, that are more difficult with leather.
On the other hand, leather may offer more options for those with back pain. Take, for example, the Bitterroot Gunleather inside-the-waistband (IWB) holster. It features a soft but supportive foot on the base of the holster, curing many complaints concerning back pain with IWB. This would be nigh impossible with Kydex, as a leather holster may be designed to lie flat against the body where Kydex can’t.
The hybrid type — with a Kydex shell holding the holster and leather backing — seems the best of both worlds. When you marry a Kydex holster to a leather backing, the comfort level rises. This is a very good holster — comfortable with a sharp draw. But it also has a wide footprint. Take a look at the Swordslinger leather IWB. This is a compact design but carries a steel-frame .45 comfortably, with good concealment, and spreads the weight of the pistol out on the back.
For those on a budget with several handguns to holster, Versacarry offers a Rapid Slide that solves many problems. I don’t usually like multi-fit holsters, but when you use premium buffalo hide, the equation changes. This holster isn’t possible in Kydex.
A Few Examples
A special consideration is appendix carry. Appendix carry demands a rigid holster without rollout. I would recommend Kydex for this position. Tulster offers a compact and useful appendix-style Kydex rig. It works well due to the smooth design. I have picked up bruising from wearing a hard-shell Kydex holster for a few weeks, but this did not occur in the appendix position with the Tulster.
Galco always has great holster options as well. The recently introduced Triton Kydex IWB upgrade features a strong belt clip that takes a bite out of the belt to keep the holster rigid. There is a sweat guard molded into the design to protect both the shooter and the handgun. The holster offers a good, sharp draw and is easy to reholster for those who practice. I sometimes think the Triton type is best suited to modern SIGs and Glocks with their blocky slides. 1911s and Hi-Powers, however, are best deployed in leather to complement their relatively thin slides.
The JM Custom Kydex Road Dog holster is a good example of what may be done with Kydex. The holster is offset from the body, offering a rapid draw. The holster offers plenty of speed with good retention, and bulk is minimal. The Privateer Leather NOMAD illustrated is among the best of the breed. The Avenger is only viable in leather. The belt loops cinch the handgun up tight against the body, making for good concealment while the draw angle is preserved. (The holster is two-tone to better illustrate this design feature.) Each is an outstanding example of work in its material.
There are tradeoffs in each material. You may find a variety of holsters are needed — multiple even for each handgun. The smallest autos are probably best served with Kydex for its rigidity and retention. Larger handguns are more comfortable in leather holsters. During the summer, perspiration soaks into leather. But how the leather is tanned can also affect this. Kydex attachments have broken. Leather snaps have as well. In the end the choice is yours. Whatever handgun and holster combination you choose, it should be subject to 500 draws before you carry.
Alien Gear: AlienGearHolsters.com
Bitterroot Gunleather: BitterrootGunleather.com
JM Custom Kydex: JMCustomKydex.com
Swordslinger Custom Holsters: SwordslingerHolsters.com
Privateer Leather: PrivateerLeather.com
About Bob Campbell
Bob Campbell is a writer for Concealed Carry Magazine with a degree in criminal justice. Bob has been a firearms writer for decades, writing for Concealed Carry Handguns, Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, SWAT Magazine, Law and Order and Black Belt, among others. He has written 15 books primarily focused on handguns and training, including The Accurate Handgun from Gun Digest. In addition to serving as a peace officer and firearms instructor, he has also written curriculum at the university level.