Kydex vs. Leather Holsters

Whether you’re looking to open carry or conceal carry, there’s lots to consider when choosing the holster that’s best for you. One of the main factors should be the material of the holster itself. Two of the most well-known holster materials are Kydex and leather. Both of these materials have their pros and cons and both are suited for different purposes. However, each material has a lot to offer and should be considered equally before choosing one over the other.

Kydex vs. Leather Holsters

Your holster material can affect a lot of things like draw time, reholstering, the option to conceal or open carry, IWB or OWB, and even just plain old comfort. Comfort is actually a bigger deal than you might think for a lot of people, especially when you’re carrying something as sensitive as a firearm. You should consider your personal preference when it comes to what holster design you would feel comfortable wearing.


Holster Styles

First, let’s take a look at the two main styles of holsters for your pistol. Gun holsters for a pistol usually revolve around whether you are open carry or concealed carry. There’s inside the waistband (IWB) holsters and outside the waistband (OWB) holsters. An IWB holster is more suited for concealed carry, while an OWB holster is better for an open carry. Both styles will give you different freedoms and restrictions, so let’s discuss a little of each.

IWB Holster

IWB Holster

An IWB holster is the kind of holster that goes in between the waistband of your pants and your body. This type of carry holster will attach to your gun belt by a couple of clips and will be effectively concealed. If you’re looking for a very well concealed holster, this is the route to go. This type of holster is better suited for when you can’t wear an outer covering to conceal your holster.

This of course, means that there will be some extra stretch to accommodate in the waistband. So, whenever you carry, get a size larger pants than you normally would because the holster adds a decent chunk of bulk.

While smaller weapons are often able to be completely concealed with an IWB holster, that can be affected by the size of your firearm itself. The larger the weapon means a bigger holster, which also means that you’ll be carrying more weight and diameter in the waistband. This carry style is also known to be uncomfortable; a lot of times the holster or the firearm will end up digging into your skin, depending on the type. If you’re in it for comfort, don’t buy an IWB holster. This is where your personal preference and carry style will come into play.

OWB Holster

OWB Holster

An OWB holster is one that rests on the outside of your waistband, typically on the hip. This type of holster will also just clip onto your gun belt. This method is not geared towards concealed carry, but it can be done. Concealing a weapon like this will be significantly harder than with an IWB holster; you should wear a jacket or some sort of outer covering to try and cover the belt and holster.

Typically though, this method is known to be much more comfortable and less bulky, which makes it perfect for casual carry. If you’re not looking for a concealed carry, just be prepared to use this holster as more of an open carry option (though it still can be concealed).

This option will give you more room to carry a bigger pistol and will make it easier to conceal it if that’s your intention. As long as you have the right coat, the concealing options are pretty much endless. This holster will rest comfortably on your hip, or wherever you prefer, and will not dig into your skin like an IWB might. So, if comfort is very important for you, this carry style is perfect.

Why Does Material Matter?

Now that you’re aware of the carry styles, let’s talk about how the material will make a difference in what carry style you end up choosing.

The material of your holster will support different functions depending on the one you choose. Kydex is harder and therefore more durable, and will retain it’s shape for longer. This material will also let you reholster easily with one hand and will not collapse on the attempt. However, Kydex is very rigid and will be uncomfortable for a conceal carry, especially if you have a larger holster.

Leather is an old time favorite for holsters and has been around for decades. It might hold it’s shape less accurately than the Kydex, but it won’t wear down on your gun as much and will prove to be much more comfortable. Leather will mold to the contours of your body over time and will become shaped for you and your pistol. However, leather is softer, which means it’s prone to collapsing when you reholster.

These are just the basics of what the different material of your holster can provide and limit. We’ll talk more on each material in further detail.

Kydex Holster

Kydex Holster

Kydex is a form of polymer plastic that was used in the 1960s, mostly for aircraft purposes. Now that it’s on the modern market, it’s typically used to make holsters and knife sheaths. This material is very durable and makes a great holster for your firearm.

Kydex is usually heated and formed to make a holster that will custom fit your firearm. This style of holster wear is great for users that look for durability and stability when drawing the firearm. The Kydex shell provides a good clean fit that will protect your firearm and remain intact against wear and tear longer than a leather holster. It also won’t collapse or move when you’re trying to reholster your weapon like a leather holster might.

On the other hand, the hardness of the plastic holster definitely isn’t the most comfortable. Having a Kydex IWB holster stuck between your skin and your pants is not comfortable because of how hard the holster is. Having an abrasive Kydex sheet rubbing against your skin with sweat and other dirt is not the most pleasant experience.

Kydex isn’t just hard on your skin, it can be hard on your weapon too. Since the material is so abrasive, constant use over time can cause finish wear and other types of minor damages to your pistol. Constant drawing and reholstering is rough on the metal and can end up sanding it down or causing some other issues.

Another thing is that a plastic holster can be easily broken. If a powerful hit is sustained, plastic like that will typically just shatter because of the brittleness of the material.

The Kydex material is shaped with a lower heat than you might expect; that’s how the custom fit is obtained for your firearm. Which is great, meaning that the cost of making and buy a Kydex holster might potentially be cheaper. But, it also means that it’s not great at standing up to heat. If you leave in under the sun in a hot car, it could warp. If you use the Kydex material, make sure that you don’t leave it anywhere where it could get too hot.

If you’re looking for a cheap holster, Kydex holsters come in many different sizes and thicknesses. Just keep in mind, the cheaper the holster, the thinner it will be, and the more prone to breakage the product is. Kydex holsters have many different varieties for any gun owner.

– The material is durable and has good shape retention.– It’s not very comfortable for concealed carry.
– The holsters are made custom to fit your pistol.– It’s brittle and can break with a powerful hit.
– It won’t collapse on reholster.– It doesn’t have good heat resistance and can warp if left in the sun too long.
– Can be thicker or thinner which gives a good price range.– It can cause more wear and tear to your pistol.

Leather Holster

leather holster

A quality leather holster is made from dried animal hides that are stitched together. The hides provide a strong and elegant material, making a good holster with a great appearance. Leather holsters are a centuries old item and are still favorited by the average gun owner for its reliability and smooth finish. It’s the standard material for firearm holsters, knife sheaths, and often gun belts too.

A good leather holster is made from a process called tanning. Tanning alters and preserves the hides so they won’t decay over time and preserves it’s look and feel. This way, the animal hide turns into a stronger product that won’t crumble when it gets too old.

A high quality leather holster is often custom fitted to specific firearms, giving you the perfect fit. A cheap holster is still made with a certain type or size of gun in mind, but not custom fit to the model like a more expensive version. That means there’s a product and a price range out there for every gun owner.

Another advantage of leather is the comfort aspect. Rather than having a hard Kydex sheet shoved in the back of your pants, leather is much softer and will mold a little more to your body, providing a much more comfortable carry. Most gun owners will choose a leather holster for the IWB style solely for the comfort that it provides. Now, just because the material is softer doesn’t mean that there’s a sacrifice for quality. A good leather holster should be the right balance between functionality and comfort.

There is a catch though. In order for a leather holster to have good shape retention while still remaining comfortable and functional, it has to be made right. And nowadays a lot of companies will take shortcuts to make a quick buck and a holster maker is no different. A proper, high quality leather holster can be pretty expensive. It’s unfortunately a necessity for leather though, because a cheap holster won’t work or function properly.

A lot of cheaper models won’t have enough room to stretch and hold your gun tightly in place. You can test for a holster that’s not made right by inserting your firearm and seeing if the holster can hold it in place while it’s upside down. If there’s no chance, then the leather holster is poor quality.

However, a high quality leather holster will come stiff and ready to be broken in. It might take a minute to break it in, but the leather fibers will stretch to accommodate and adjust to your firearm and keep it secure.

The main problem with leather holsters is the collapsing on reholster. Since the material is softer, when you draw and try to reholster your firearm you might be met with a collapse. This will force you to use both hands to reholster, which is a no-go for competitive shooting.

However, the leather won’t wear down the finish or other parts of your weapon like the Kydex will. The material is soft and easy on your firearm, and won’t damage it over constant use.

– It can be custom fit to your firearm.– A lot of leather holsters are poorly made.
– It provides more comfort for concealed carry.– A high quality leather holster is expensive.
– When it’s broken in, it will hold the shape of your firearm and your body to secure it.– It takes a while to break a new holster in.
– The material won’t cause extra wear and tear on your firearm.– It’s prone to collapsing on reholster.

Holster Recommendations

If neither of these sound right for you, consider nylon holsters or a hybrid holster. There’s also some good brands that will help you to get started on your holster search:

  • Concealment Express
  • Alien Gear
  • Milt Sparks

Just remember that all holsters have something to offer. The decision is all yours and should be based on personal preference, budget, and what type of shooting you’re doing. Happy holster hunting!


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