If you’re contemplating purchasing a holster for concealed or open carry, the material is one of the most important decisions you can make. Carry holsters are available in various materials, but the two most popular choices are Kydex and leather. See what each material has to offer and which is the right choice for your needs.
IWB and OWB
It’s important to understand the differences between the two major carry methods and decide which style you want before looking into the material. Waistband holsters for concealed and open carry fall into two general categories:
Inside the waistband (IWB)
In IWB carry, you place the holster between your body and the waistband of your pants, attaching it to your gun belt via clips. This method of carry is suitable for deep concealment and for when wearing a covering garment is not viable due to environmental conditions.
You should be prepared to wear a pants size up, however, to accommodate the increased bulk. It’s also important to bear in mind that the visibility of IWB carry depends on your choice of firearm.
Outside the waistband (OWB)
In OWB carry, you place the holster on the outside of your waistband. Less concealable, OWB carry is more versatile regarding handgun size and is generally more comfortable. However, to effectively conceal an OWB holster, you need to wear a jacket or coat.
If you’re new to holsters, one of your first questions may be, “What is Kydex material?” Kydex is a rigid acrylic-polyvinyl chloride thermoplastic that is used in a variety of industrial and tactical applications. Initially developed in the 1960s for use in aircraft, Kydex has become a common material for gun holsters and knife sheaths.
The holster manufacturer thermoforms Kydex to the exterior dimensions of a specific firearm to provide a custom fit. Some companies also offer custom Kydex holsters for customers whose firearms are not represented in existing inventory.
The process of thermoforming a Kydex holster involves cutting two sheets of the material to size, heating the two sheets to make them pliable, and placing the firearm between the two heated Kydex sheets in a vice. By applying pressure, the manufacturer molds the Kydex to the weapon. When the Kydex cools, the result is a finished holster.
Leather is the result of tanning animal skins and hides to produce a strong, durable material for practical and cosmetic purposes. In the field of firearms, leather is the standard material for holsters and slings.
Tanning is a treatment process that changes the structure of the animal hide, increasing its strength and preventing it from undergoing decay. When molded, stitched, burnished, and oiled, leather provides the shooter with a leather holster that should last for decades, providing a classic look and feel.
Some holsters combine both Kydex and leather to capitalize on the benefits of both materials. In a leather-wrapped Kydex holster, the holster shell is Kydex, and the backing material is leather.
Leather vs. Kydex
Kydex and leather both have their strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll have to decide which is more important for your purposes.
Leather holsters are generally softer than Kydex Holsters. As the material is more compressible, it has more give or cushion in it. It’s important not to ignore the comfort factor — you are less likely to wear an uncomfortable holster.
Leather, even when hard, is generally more forgiving against the skin should you sustain a hard impact, such as a fall. If the holster is pressed against you by another person, whether intentionally or accidentally, you’ll feel it more with Kydex. Leather holsters also tend to mold to the contours of your body over time.
One concern some gun owners have regarding holsters relates to holster wear. When you carry a handgun in a holster for a prolonged period, the internal surfaces can abrade the finish on the frame and slide. You often see this occur in blued or parkerized service weapons carried by law-enforcement officers.
Some materials can accelerate or delay this process. Kydex tends to cause more holster wear to firearms than leather because it’s harder. A leather-lined Kydex holster can provide the external strength and rigidity of plastic without damaging your gun’s finish.
Well-made leather holsters and Kydex holsters can both exhibit a high degree of strength, but Kydex has one important advantage: it’s waterproof and retains its shape under stress. While chemically treated leather can resist moisture, it’s more susceptible than Kydex.
Rigidity allows for reliable one-handed reholstering — the holster mouth remains open when you draw the firearm. Reholstering your weapon with one hand is generally safer with; the risk of covering your support hand with the muzzle of your sidearm is reduced. Kydex holsters offer superior rigidity over leather.
In many softer holster designs, the mouth collapses when you draw the weapon, requiring that you open it with your support hand. Additionally, leather holsters can wear over time, creating a potentially dangerous situation where a the lip of the holster could fold inward and contact the trigger upon reholstering. A rigid Kydex holster will always maintain its shape.
One of the most important holster selection criteria is retention, which describes the ability of the holster to hold your firearm securely in place. Retention serves two primary purposes.
It protects the weapon, ensuring that it will not fall out when you’re running, jumping, kneeling, or sitting. Although many modern defensive/combat handguns are mechanically drop safe, this isn’t a guarantee. The holster protects both you and others from a potential unintentional discharge by preventing the weapon from falling out.
In addition, the retention prevents an unauthorized user from accessing your weapon, disarming you in the process.
Active and Passive Retention
There are two types of holster retention: active and passive. In active retention, the holster may have one or multiple locking mechanisms that you have to manually deactivate to perform the draw stroke. This can be a thumb break, a lever, a rotating hood, or a combination. When you deactivate the locking mechanism, the gun is free. These types of retention systems are highly beneficial for open carry when a potential assailant knows that you’re armed. It, however, complicates the draw stroke.
IWB holsters often use passive retention where possible. Passive retention involves a close-tolerance fit between the firearm and the inside of the holster, relying on friction to retain the weapon and resist upward movement.
Leather holsters molded to the firearm can provide excellent retention; however, as the leather wears, this tight fit may become looser over time.
The noise that a holster makes when you draw or holster your firearm can either be a benefit or a liability, depending on your perspective. When you fully seat a handgun in a Kydex holster that was molded for it, you should hear the gun click into place. This audible feedback will indicate that the gun is secure. However, it also notifies others that you’ve holstered — or reholstered — your weapon.
Leather holsters are generally quieter, neither alerting you nor potential threats to your weapon’s status — i.e., holstered or in your hand.
A good passive-retention holster should be adjustable. Adjustable retention usually takes the form of one or two screws that you can tighten or loosen. By adjusting the retention, you can find the perfect balance between accessibility and security.
General Holster Features
The best leather holsters and the best Kydex holsters should have a fully covered trigger guard. Negligent discharges are preventable. When you acquire a full firing grip, your index finger should not enter the trigger guard until you draw the weapon, fully clearing the holster. Remember Rule 3: “Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.” Trigger discipline is crucial to safe firearms handling.
An optional feature for leather and Kydex holsters is a sweat guard or sweat shield. A holster has a sweat guard when the backing layer extends upward, fully or partially covering the slide. This prevents perspiration from contacting the slide of your handgun, which can promote corrosion.
Browse Our Selection of Holsters
Leather holsters offer a classic, cosmetically attractive appearance, improved comfort, and mold to your body over time. However, although the default holster material, leather can be more susceptible to moisture and wear than some alternatives.
Kydex is a highly durable, waterproof, and rigid option that should last the test of time. At wethepeopleholsters.com, we offer a range of IWB holsters and OWB holsters to fit a wide variety of firearms.