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Leather or Kydex on Your Hip?

At a shooting school recently, where I was required to use an OWB holster, I racked the slide during a one-hand-only drill. I hooked the rear sight over the edge of my holster and shoved the gun down hard to eject the chambered round. The layer of leather over the Kydex body of the holster peeled away, leaving me with a failed attempt to get that pistol into battery. I tried again. It worked, but I lost valuable time that I would really want in a fight.

Clearly, the quick fix was to change that holster for another one. I’m not going to mention any brand names here, but the holster was made with leather attached over a Kydex shell. It is good-looking, easy to use and conceals fairly well for an OWB holster. But it failed me in a simulated combat situation, and that started a bigger conversation. During a break, I switched that holster for an all-Kydex model that served very well for the duration of the class. The new holster suffered some scratches from the rear sight during training, but it worked every time during the one-hand racking drills.

The bigger conversation revolves around the material of which a good fighting holster should be made. I have several top-quality leather holsters that I dearly love. For the record, I carry my Glock 19 in a Nate Squared Tactical Professional model IWB holster. Nate Squared does not pay me anything to do so. They are far too ethical to ask me to drop their company name when talking about holsters. I carry this holster because, of the more than 50 holsters I currently own, this one seems to work the best. It has a polymer shell attached to a soft back, and it utilizes a single belt clip that allows me to adjust the cant quickly and easily while wearing the holster. In short, it works for my needs. Other holsters may work for your needs. Every human body is unique, and what works for me may or may not work for you.

I like the hard polymer shell even though I have found some other holsters equally comfortable. Two that I really like are the Sticky Holster and the Elite Survival Systems Mainstay. Both are clipless IWB holsters that also work very well as pocket holsters for backup guns.

If you train to fight one-handed — and you should — you need to figure out how and where you will rack the slide using only one hand. The commonly accepted method is to hook the rear sight over something and drive the pistol down to operate the slide. Maintain muzzle control and keep your finger away from the trigger. This works — but only if you have something firm on which to hook the rear sight. I have tried my belt, my belt buckle, the heel of my boot and even my spare magazine carrier. A good firm holster seems to work the best for me.

That has led me to work with stiff polymer holsters. The downside is that they can be really uncomfortable when shooting from prone or rollover prone. I haven’t had any crack in the cold, but I have broken some belt loops. My friend Dave Young has done some hardcore testing of holsters attached to a telephone pole, and it seems like he can break just about anything polymer.

So here’s the deal: If you are opting for a leather holster, get the thickest, toughest holster you can afford and be ready to replace it when it starts to wear out or get flimsy. If you want a polymer holster, know that you might give up some comfort, quietness or style in exchange for the stiffness needed to rack the slide.

This could turn into a debate with no definitive answers. Differing opinions are welcome, but please be reasonable and rational. What works for you?

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