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Leather or Kydex? You’ve probably asked that question during your search for a holster. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses as a holster material. But should you choose one? A hybrid holster is an attempt at providing you with the best of both worlds.
The Importance of Holster Material
When you’re searching for a suitable gun holster for concealed or open carry, choice of material is one of several essential criteria. It can affect everything from your comfort and the pistol’s retention to the long-term durability and the speed of your draw.
Many holsters are manufactured from a single primary material, minus the hardware. Leather and Kydex are two of the most popular materials for gun holsters. However, neither material is perfect.
If you’re going to be carrying a handgun all day, you owe it to yourself to find the holster that achieves the best overall balance.
Single and Hybrid Material Holsters
In the world of leather and Kydex holsters, there are those made from a single material and those made from several.
Tanned animal hide, leather has been the gun belt and holster material of choice for centuries. Aside from the cosmetic or stylistic reasons for choosing an all-leather holster, many gun owners cite comfort. When you include style, more gun owners favor leather than Kydex because of its classic, attractive appearance. Kydex, while not ugly, is more utilitarian.
Leather is generally softer, more flexible, and more compressible than polymer composites. It can mold both to your gun and to you over time. Leather holsters also tend to preserve your gun’s finish more reliably.
A modern high-impact thermoplastic, the chief advantage of a Kydex holster is durability. Leather, even at its toughest, can warp, swell, and lose its shape over time.
Kydex offers the kind of long-wearing stiffness and weather resistance that competition shooters and the tactically minded crave. Many Kydex holsters rely on passive retention to keep the gun secure because the holster is molded to the contours of a particular firearm’s frame and slide.
Some manufacturers offer holsters that incorporate multiple materials in an effort to deliver the advantages of both without the weaknesses of either. This usually consists of a rigid material to hold the gun and a rear piece made from leather or neoprene.
A common example is a pancake holster consisting of a Kydex part screwed and riveted to a leather backing. In this type of hybrid, the holster material that is pressed against your body will be leather.
Leather has the advantage of being softer and more malleable than Kydex, so it’s noticeably more comfortable to feel against your skin or clothing — especially when you wear it for a protracted period.
As leather is more compressible than Kydex, it also tends to have more “give.” If you fall or are forced against a wall or other hard surface, having hard plastic jab you in the hip, abdomen, or ribs can be painful. A leather backing can provide some degree of cushion — even more so if it has a suede or felt surface.
At the same time, the part of the holster that retains the pistol is Kydex, which won’t deform or expand under heavy use. As a result, the retention offered by Kydex is generally considered the superior of the two materials. It mostly relies on friction from a snug, custom-molded fit to keep the gun in place.
Water, cleaning solvents, oils, and other chemicals have no effect on this material. This is important when practicing your draw stroke and reholstering. Some leather holsters, especially those made of a softer material, can collapse. This requires that you reopen it with your support hand. A Kydex holster will remain open.
Many Kydex holsters offer adjustable retention, so you can tighten or loosen screws to increase or decrease the tension on the gun. This kind of passive retention can be a positive or a negative, depending on how you carry your weapon. For the ultimate in security, you may want an active system.
Speed is related to retention. While the saying “smooth is fast” holds true — you need to practice being economical in your movements — that’s also true regarding the holster. Leather can snag or drag on the gun, especially as the holster becomes rough from regular use.
Many leather holsters also rely on a thumb break or other active-retention device, which can slow your draw stroke. Speed is a compromise between security and access.
If you have to reholster your firearm, you probably won’t need to do it quietly, but Kydex is noticeably noisier than leather for general use.
Because Kydex is resistant to water, solvents, and other contaminants, you don’t need to clean or condition it. In other words, maintenance is low. This works well for the part that contacts the gun; however, perspiration may affect the leather backing piece, so you should periodically clean it.
One of the primary disadvantages of hybrid holster designs is that they’re usually not as durable as a holster made from a single material. This is especially true regarding Kydex. Leather, being softer, is more comfortable; however, it’s also more likely to be damaged. The result is that half the holster may wear out prematurely.
Points of particular stress are the holes in the leather where screws and rivets hold it to the Kydex. As the leather flexes over time, these holes are liable to wear out, becoming increasingly loose.
Should You Buy a Hybrid Holster?
Is a hybrid holster the right choice for you? Only you can decide that for yourself. You may decide that a single-material holster is better because you want long-term durability.
Alternatively, perhaps you find leather to be more of a liability than a benefit. Regardless, handle a few and see how they feel. If you can try one on, that’s even better. You can’t always predict how well a holster will fit until you wear one. See how your draw stroke works.
In your search for an appropriate gun holster, you should definitely consider hybrid holster designs. While these don’t offer a perfect solution, they can help balance the characteristics of both leather and Kydex for a comfortable and durable carry option.