Hip Check! Kydex vs. Leather Holsters for EDC
Selecting a holster isn’t as glamorous as buying guns…but it deserves your full attention anyway!
Going holster shopping is like going to Sears and getting a new pair of shoes…pedestrian at best. What few realize is the importance of a holster or even the new pair of shoes. A good pair of shoes protects your feet and allows you to maneuver through everyday life. Likewise, a good holster should seamlessly become part of your body and everyday dress. A holster is more than just a device to hold a handgun. It must strike the elegant balance of not only safely carrying your pistol, but also being rugged enough to stand up to daily abuse. It must be comfortable enough that it does not become burdensome, and blend into your daily attire. Your life may depend on this one piece of equipment.
I am often asked for recommendations on holsters and which one is the best. My answer is always “it depends.” There is no one right answer. Just like with shoes, there are options for every taste, budget, style and use. Just like you would not wear a pair of stylish Manolo Blahnik heels on a construction job site, a pair of steel toed boots might not be the best choice for a night on the town.
Holsters can basically be broken down into two main categories—leather and Kydex. Each has their pros and cons. We are going to look at each main type and see what each brings to the table. Does the holster your grandpa wore still have life or should it be retired (just like Grandpa)?
Leather is traditional and timeless. Who doesn’t love the smell and warm feel of leather? Unless you are Vegan—then skip this section. There is a reason for the saying “fits like a glove.” Once leather is broken in, it will contour and conform to your body like nothing else. Unlike Kydex, after years of use, leather ages, showing scars and wear that only add to its patina and character. Leather, being softer than the hard, cold plastic of Kydex, will be more gentle on your pistol’s finish—making it looking newer, longer.
While timeless, leather does have drawbacks. New leather can be stiff, but as you wear it, the heat and sweat from your body will break it down and make it more supple. You get to a sweet spot that can last several years, where the holster is comfortable and securely holds the handgun. However, eventually as that stretching continues, your leather will get to the point that it can no longer hold your pistol if you turn it upside down.
There are leather holster companies that have screw tightening systems, but even then the stretching and loosening never stops. Unfortunately once a leather holster is loose it can become dangerous. Once a holster loses its rigidity, there are examples of handguns firing while re-holstering. As you pull your pistol from the holster, the top of the opening can slightly collapse, and if you force it, it can become lodged in the trigger guard. Leather also does not do well with dampness; sweat and rain can absorb into the leather skin and hold that moisture longer and will need to be dried out. Holding onto that heavy moisture longer means that your carry pistol can be susceptible to rust.
Ahh the modern miracle of the 20th century, sleek and elegant Kydex. Kydex, being easier to work with, is in general cheaper when it comes to selection. It can be form fitted, rigid, and adjusted in the amount of hold it has on the pistol. Simply loosening screws or a touch of heat will adjust the amount of hold on the pistol. It will stay in the set fit, unless adjusted by the user.
While rigid, a good Kydex holster can be comfortable with a myriad ways of attaching to your body. Kydex has the advantage that good brands often include multiple mounting points, allowing you to adjust the holster after the fact to fit your body. Once a leather holster is manufactured, you are stuck with the way it was originally made. The rigidity of Kydex means that the holster will not collapse as you remove your handgun making reholstering a breeze.
While Kydex seems like it is perfect, alas, it is not. That rigidity is both its grace and downfall. There is very little give, and while they can be customizable, how do you find what works best for you without trial? With Kydex each new hard point attachment from belt loops to paddles can add more points of pressure on your body. Kydex is hard and if the edges are not chamfered properly they can be uncomfortable.
While Kydex may be impervious to moisture and sweat, the nuts bolts and screws used to assemble Kydex holsters can rust. Speaking of the hardware, even when using lock tight glue, the screws can eventually become loose and be a point of failure. Since Kydex has little give, the pressure can wear the finish on your pistol quickly. I have even have seen tight holsters wear and deform the polymer frame of a handgun. Like a piece of metal sheet that you bend back and forth, Kydex can also develop stress cracks although the best brands warranty their holsters for life.
Enter the realm of the hybrid holster, one of the most ubiquitous being those from Crossbreed Holsters. The hybrid attempts to bring the best attributes from leather and Kydex into one holster. Hybrids usually use a large leather backer that rests against your body, while a Kydex shell is attached on the outside to hold your pistol. Others use a full Kydex body, but use leather wings as a movable clip or belt loop because leather is able to move more than the brittle Kydex.
While hybrids do seem like the way to go, even then it may not always be the best option. The leather acts as the cushion against your body keeping the hard handgun and Kydex away from you … but that leather can be hot and sweaty! Imagine 100 plus degrees and 90% humidity like in the South. (Although a simple trick to keep you from chafing is dusting your leather back with corn starch.)
Hopefully this gives you some tidbits to think about while looking for your next holster. There is NO right answer and not every answer works for everyone. Holsters are just like shoes for a reason. Every person has their own tastes and use cases. While cowboy style boots do not work for me, Crocs are the bomb in fashionable footwear!
The best advice I can give you with whatever choice you decide is: don’t skimp. Good companies often demand premiums, but also offer things like lifetime warranties or great customer support. Remember, a holster will end up being an extension of your body, so treat yourself accordingly!
—James “XDMAN” Nicholas Mr. UNpewFessional himself.
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