Holster Basics: Kydex vs. Leather

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Last Updated on April 2, 2021.

Writer for Minuteman Review, handgun aficionado and artisan firearms reviewer. 

Holster Basics Kydex vs. Leather

Kydex or leather? This is a question that you’re sure to ask as you shop for your first holster. There are many holster designs and materials on the market, each with its unique strengths and weaknesses. It’s worth understanding these before buying a holster for your concealed-carry weapon.


Why Does Holster Material Matter?

A holster is one of the most critical firearms accessories you can buy, especially if you intend to carry your weapon. 

When you’re searching for a suitable gun holster, you may be stumped regarding the choice of material. Leather and Kydex seem to be at the forefront of the high-quality holster market. But which is the best? What a holster is made from can significantly impact your comfort and safety. So it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the options. 

If you compromise, you may find you cannot carry your gun as comfortably, and you’re less likely to wear an uncomfortable holster consistently. The material a holster is made from also increases retention and improves other qualities.


Materials and Holster Criteria

Holsters are made from a wide variety of materials, but the most common are variations of leather and Kydex.  

Leather

The quintessential holster material, leather, can be anything from common cowhide to exotic crocodile skin. Leather holsters are softer than Kydex alternatives and are usually more comfortable. Some also prefer the classic look and style of a leather holster. Some models feature ornate needlework and engravings — an excellent accouterment for reenactors and history enthusiasts.

Kydex

A relatively new-age material, Kydex is a thermoplastic that manufacturers mold to firearms for a custom fit. Tough and weather-resistant, Kydex holsters retain their shape and offer increased rigidity. This material excels in the durability department and should outlast its leather counterparts.

Holster Criteria

There are certain essential requirements that a holster must meet to be suitable for concealed or open carry. These include the following:

Safety

You should be able to carry, draw, and reholster your firearm safely. One characteristic that can impede a safe draw and reholster is pliability. Leather is softer than Kydex, which can be a liability. 

If the holster material is collapsible, you may have to open it with your support hand to reholster it with your strong hand. This can complicate training

You should also be careful regarding chamois leather and other soft materials that act more like a cloth. If this material enters your pistol’s trigger guard on a fast reholster, it can cause an unintentional discharge

This may not be a concern if you carry a pistol with a manual safety, but many modern striker-fired handguns, such as the Glock series, don’t have manual safeties. You should be vigilant with these weapons. 

While an unintentional discharge is dangerous regardless of your carry position, it can be fatal with appendix carry. As always, you must observe firearms safety rules at all times. 

Speed

No, you don’t need to be a quick-draw artist to value speed. You’re carrying this gun to defend your life, and you don’t need anything slowing you down. When you acquire a full firing grip on your pistol, you should be able to draw it rapidly.

Retention

Retention is one of the essential criteria for a holster. You’re not only carrying your gun — you’re carrying it securely on your person. Retention means that the gun won’t fall out and also that a criminal assailant can’t simply extract the weapon and use it against you. 

Holsters rely on two kinds of retention to keep your weapon secure — active and passive

Active systems require that you manipulate a button, lever, thumb break, or some other mechanism to free your weapon. This is by far the most secure option, especially for open carry. That’s why those who favor outside-the-waistband (OWB) holsters, such as law enforcement officers, typically use a thumb break or other active system. 

However, for a faster and more reliable draw, you may prefer to opt for passive retention. In a passive-retention system, the holster uses friction to retain the firearm. This is where Kydex stands out from its counterparts. Leather, being a relatively soft material and more prone to wearing out will lose retention over time. Companies that manufacture Kydex holsters thermoform the holster to the firearm, so the part that interfaces with the trigger guard or slide fits like a glove

Many Kydex holsters also feature adjustable retention, allowing you to tighten or loosen the holster’s grip on your gun as you see fit. This way, you can tailor the draw stroke to suit you. 

Comfort

Don’t neglect your comfort. This will either deter or incentivize you to carry your gun, and this is where leather is sometimes a better choice. Kydex is a rigid thermoplastic, so it’s harder and won’t mold to your body in the same way. As it’s harder, it’s not as comfortable to wear for extended periods. Leather is softer and has more give. This can be a blessing if you fall or are pressed against a wall or car door. 

Durability

Kydex is exceptionally durable. Leather can be relatively durable, depending on the type of animal hide and treatment process. Horsehide, for example, is more durable and stiffer than cowhide

However, Kydex can resist moisture, oils and cleaning solvents. It’s also more abrasion-resistant and can retain its shape more effectively. The increased surface hardness also means that Kydex is less forgiving to a gun’s finish. 

Carrying any firearm in a holster for a protracted period can cause holster wear — abrasion that wears away the finish, leaving behind bare metal. You will commonly see this on blued service pistols and revolvers.


​Which Holster to Choose?

Once you know the properties of leather and Kydex and what criteria are essential in a gun holster, you can better decide what material is right for you.

If you carry outside-the-waistband, either material will work. But a leather holster with an active-retention system can increase retention and security. If you’re interested in a holster for deep concealment, Kydex holsters offer an increased range of adjustability options.


Final Thoughts

Kydex or leather — choose the material that’s right for you. Both can serve you well depending on your particular circumstances and carry style. The best thing that you can do is to try them both and see for yourself.