If there is one thing the gun culture loves almost as much as guns and ammunition, its holsters. It might actually be sexier than ammo…unless you’re talking sub $9 for a box 9mm. We all love a good holster and belt, but sometimes we don’t engage our minds before we engage that wallet. We’ll ask hundreds of questions and do volumes of research before we pull the trigger on a gun purchase, but holsters? Nah, sometimes we’re happy if we can just find one that fits our gun when we want it. However, it’s not a good strategy to just take what we can get.
LEATHER –VS- KYDEX
This is not the argument that 9mm VS 45 ACP is, or was over the last couple of years. However, there is substantial difference between the two, and both have a place. The two materials could not be more different. Kydex is a manmade thermo-plastic that is delivered as sheets in the dimensions of a piece of paper. Thru heat, molding, folding, and pressing, or vacuum pressing, the material is transformed from this sheet to an object that we call a holster. Bending and building holsters in this method requires a skill that is developed over time, by people that have an eye for detail. These people do sweat the small stuff, and it’s often the small stuff that determines whether a holster falls apart at the wrong time, or not. These holsters can be purchased customized to your favorite colors, prints, patterns, retention features, down to the how it attaches to the belt, body, or car.
Leather on the hand was out grazing in a pasture, swimming in the ocean, or fighting off lions on the Savannah a year or two ago. Mother Nature’s all-purpose product – used as early body armor, water bags, and footballs, this material is still considered the luxury model in most cars. It too can be found in several colors, some patterns, but man it has a smell that ranks in my top 10 of favorite smells (yes I have one on my desk and just took a big sniff). Leather is classical, and like Kydex, the skilled folks that know what they’re doing when using leather are dedicated to their craft. They’ve learned from the best and developed the latest machines, and techniques for working with their medium of choice.
I acknowledge there are companies and people that build these products out of each of these materials that really just shouldn’t anymore. On any gun page on Facebook you are presented with a myriad of choices. Many of these choices are good, some are not as good. I don’t want to really get into that part, but let’s keep our focus on quality products. Quality is something you will pay more for. You might think it’s the same product, but it’s not….that’s a different blog article for a different day.
Regardless of the material, the thickness of the material is going to make a big difference in how well the product stands up over time. Leather used for holsters and belts found in most small town farmer’s markets is not the same as the leather found on a good Galco brand holster. The thicker leather will maintain its shape, look better, last longer, and most importantly function better than it’s cheaper counterpart.
Same with Kydex, generally speaking. The thicker Kydex will last longer, look better, take more abuse, and function better than the thinner versions. Not to say that a .080” thickness Kydex holster for IWB won’t hold up…it will. However, for an OWB holster, give me the thicker stuff; .090” – .100”.
Now that we’ve covered material choices, let start asking the good questions. Like my gun purchase, my first question should be: 1] How do I intend to use this holster (duty, range, competition, hunting, CCW, CCW in a non-permissive environment). Only you can answer that question. 2] How do I intend to carry – IWB, OWB, AIWB, strong-side, cross-draw, shoulder, ankle, purse, etc. 3] What kind of holsters are typically worn at training events that I intend to take? Strong-side is almost universally accepted (with the exception of one MFG, and if you don’t know who that is you’ll need to ask). However, some instructors will encourage you to use the gear you plan to use in your everyday life. It is a good proving ground for your equipment. 4] Is the holster specifically made for my model of gun (including WML or aftermarket sighting system). 5] Mechanical retention or friction retention? Only you can answer this question. 6] Do reviews of this manufacturer or model of holster online lean toward the good? I hope so. 7] Is the warranty on this holster Limited Lifetime?
Some secondary questions might include;
Does this holster keep my fingers, or other objects out of the trigger guard? (so basic I didn’t mention it above)
Can this holster be converted to a totally different configuration, like a tactical drop-leg holster?
Would this holster sound like a thunder clap if I crashed into the door jam on my way to the kitchen?
Can my holster be converted from IWB to OWB, or vice-versa?
Will the holster retain my weapon if I find myself in a compromised position, or in a struggle with an assailant on the ground?
Please avoid small of the back holsters for CCW – looks good on TV, but you don’t want to be knocked to the ground and have to retrieve it, or fall to your back and risk injury. Secondly, you’ll flag everyone nearby with your muzzle as you present. Be wary of IWB or AIWB holsters that have a single open clip. Inspect these clips and how well they’ll stay engaged to the belt, I give preferences to soft loops.. I had a bad experience with a single clip design made by a reputable holster maker, it did come unclipped from the belt and after a couple of ins and outs of my vehicle, dumped it all to the parking lot. Be wary of strong side holsters that have to be unlocked with the trigger finger, there are too many better options now. Your primary gun should not be carried in an ankle holster, and if you’re over 50, neither should your secondary. If you purchase a paddle holster, make sure the paddle is significant enough to support the weight of your gun, especially if your gun is loaded down with accessories. I’m sure this list can be expanded by others,with other experiences.
DON’T BE CHEAP
I usually tell students that they should expect their most prized holster to cover 75% of their daily carry activities for a CCW application. That it will require a second holster to meet the next 15% of their needs, and a third to cover the last 10% of their needs. Further, they’ll pay as much for the last holster as they do for the first. Just the way it is. Good gear is expensive. Good gear is expensive and that’s why I don’t mention the $20 universal nylon holsters in this article, or the many varieties of tacky pocket holsters. I mentioned quality above, and nylon….ya, no!
Lights and red dot sights on guns create another hurdle that will cost you extra dollars when purchasing a holster. However, when we get to adding these options the Kydex makers hold a decided advantage. They hit these options running, choose leather and your choices for lights and optics get limited in a hurry.
In summary, I’d like to say that trendy things come and go, and manufactures also come and go as their products are vetted by a large, demanding population of firearms enthusiasts, look for meaningful reviews, not “I got this yesterday and I like it” reviews. If you are using your gear in a rough environment and it breaks, as bad as that is, how the manufacturer responds is equally telling, consider a second holster. The longer the brand has been in business the more they’ll value your repeat business and positive words or reviews. You can’t go wrong with leather, or Kydex, but be prepared to pay for a quality holster, after all you paid for a quality firearm, don’t skimp on a cheap holster.