Those of us who carry handguns for defense probably have that fabled box of holsters lurking somewhere in a closet. We all know the box—it contains holsters that were bought with high hopes and expectations. Some might have lived up to those hopes, while others may have fallen a bit short.
Today we’re going to delve into the subject a bit more deeply and figure out which holster material is the very best—Kydex or leather?
A Holster’s Job
First, we’ll examine a holster’s job. A good holster will hold a handgun securely and safely. These are two top priorities. It will also hold the handgun at an angle that facilitates a speedy draw.
Finally, it should do all of these things while providing a modicum of comfort to the wearer. Let’s be real here, though—stuffing a metal handgun into our waistband to wear for a few hours up to an entire day, probably is not going to be the very picture of comfort. It’s going to either make your pants tighter (depending on the mode of carry) and/or make your belt exert more pressure upon your waist.
If It Feels Good, Just Do It
Some are going to be more comfortable than others. I’ve carried a handgun daily since the late 1980s. To be honest, I’ve gotten used to the discomfort of carrying a weapon around my waist. However, at times, it gets to be a real pain because I suffer from back problems sometimes.
It seems we’re all in search of that mythical holster (unicorn?) that we slip on and barely realize it’s there. I’m still looking. I have a few in my collection that are sort of close.
A huge factor is the weapon we choose to carry. I have an S&W 642 Airweight in .38 Special that is so light, it’s really not much of a burden at all. It doesn’t weigh my pants down, nor does it exert a lot of pressure on my belt and waistline.
My Glock 19X, no matter what holster I carry it in, does exert uncomfortable pressure on my waist. Yes, I know, if I choose the right belt, I “Won’t even realize I’m carrying it.” Well, I guess I haven’t found that mythical “right belt” just yet. The bottom line is, if we’re carrying a substantial firearm, we’re going to know it and feel it.
That said, if I’m ever unfortunate enough to be in a firefight while only armed with a pistol, I’d want that Glock 19X. Despite that, there are times when I will compromise and take that little S&W .38 with me, depending on where I’m heading.
What is it? It’s a thermoplastic resin that is not affected by sweat, solvents, chemicals, oils, and all that other nasty stuff that attacks leather and firearms. Honestly, it’s wonderful stuff, especially when we’re carrying IWB (Inside The Waistband). Kydex is very stiff, and such a carry mode requires stiffness so we can holster the firearm while the holster is inside our belt. The holster keeps its form, which is a huge selling point here.
A lot can be done to Kydex without having to worry about ruining it. Are you taking an unexpected plunge into the water? Kydex will laugh it off and ask for more. Some other holster materials won’t perform as well. Also, Kydex doesn’t degrade or “dog ear” at the edges like leather can. This is dangerous because one of those edges that fold could compromise the safety of the holster.
Typically, Kydex is inexpensive as far as materials go, which translates into savings when we go to buy a holster. Of course, this depends on the manufacturer, and whether it’s a mass-produced holster or a custom rig. But these days, even some of the custom makers are pricing their wares at very attractive prices.
The Darker Side Of Kydex
If Kydex is so wonderful, why isn’t it used exclusively?
It can be downright uncomfortable. That rigidity that helps it keep its shape can also end up digging into our midsection. As you probably realize, midsections can expand their girth as we age (and consume pizza). The Irish have a humorous country saying for those who have an ample waistline: “He’s very tall around.” And if you find yourself in the position of being very tall around, the Kydex holster might prove to be uncomfortable for carrying IWB.
It’s also a contemporary material, so it may not appeal as much to those who prefer a more classic holster appearance.
Handguns that go into Kydex holsters can sometimes have their finish worn and/or scratched. I’ve noticed that where it contacts the Kydex holster, my S&W Airweight revolver has the bead-blasted finish worn shiny. It’s not the end of the world, for the pistol is meant as a tool and I can live with that. But to some folks, this might be rather off-putting. In fact, I know a few people who refuse to even consider Kydex because of this fact.
Another thing to consider is that Kydex can be “noisy” to draw from. Chances are that it’s going to make a metal-on-plastic noise when you draw and holster that handgun. Is that a big deal? Probably not, but some people don’t care for that. I’d say it’s just a factor to consider.
Next, we have the old Classic—leather! The choice of many traditionalists, it can be made to have a gorgeous finish that looks very classy. I’ve seen many holsters finished so nicely that I drooled over them. A few of them, had I owned them, I couldn’t have brought myself to actually use them because they were so beautiful. I wouldn’t want to risk marring them! In the end, I consider a holster a tool, just like the handgun; if it’s too fancy for me to use, then it’s not for me. All in all, leather often gives pride of ownership.
Leather also exhibits a certain “softness”, even in the models that are hard molded. It allows some “give,” which prevents it from digging into the wearer’s skin. As a result, many people consider leather to be far more comfortable than the Kydex offerings. I’ll confess that I fall into this group of thinkers. Especially if I’m wearing the holster AIWB (Appendix Inside The Waistband) when I bend over. Bending over, the leather will not dig into our skin nearly as much because leather is more pliable. It can conform to our body shape more easily, which further contributes to the comfort factor.
Properly cared for, leather can last for quite a long time
The Darker Side Of Leather
Leather holsters are susceptible to water and chemicals. Exposure to too much of either can destroy the holster.
A leather holster will not be as rigid as the Kydex variety, which is both a blessing and a curse. As mentioned, a holster that’s too rigid can sometimes be uncomfortable. If it’s not rigid enough, then we’ll have difficulty holstering our handgun. Fortunately, though, many leather makers seem to have the balance of rigidity and comfort down pat.
As leather wears, the edges can sometimes soften and become “dog-eared.” These ears can bend, sometimes entering the trigger guard of our handgun and pressing the trigger. Although this is a rare event, some shooters have claimed to have had it happen to them. I’ve never experienced this myself, nor know anyone who has. A simple inspection of the holster every now and then should thwart any such issues. I have holsters that still function well from the late 1980s.
Also, holsters constructed of leather can sometimes be more expensive than Kydex (though not necessarily).
Which Is Better?
It’s going to be up to the end user to decide which material works best for their particular needs.
Personally, I’ve shifted over to using mostly leather holsters for the time being. They’re more comfortable for me to wear and serve my needs well. I enjoy the finish of them and the pride of ownership that they provide. The softer feel that leather gives just appeals to me more.
Having said that, I haven’t gotten rid of my Kydex holsters. I still do use them on occasion, and they do provide some advantages, depending upon how I decide to carry.
In the end, both materials have their good and bad points, so it’s difficult to say one or the other is “better.” However, for certain users, there might be one that’s definitely more comfortable than the other.