I’m a big fan of Kydex holsters. Don’t get me wrong, I think leather holsters can be great as well, I just generally prefer Kydex. If you haven’t yet discovered a love for thermoplastic gun sleeves as I have, read on and I’ll see what I can do about that.
What is Kydex?
First off, what is Kydex? Well, plastic of course. But that’s not much of a definition, so here’s what Wikipedia has to say.
[blockquote cite="Wikipedia"]KYDEX is a line of thermoplastic acrylic-polyvinyl chloride alloy sheet grades. It is frequently used as an alternative to leather in the production of firearm holsters and sheaths for knives. KYDEX Thermoplastic Sheet is a registered trademark of KYDEX, LLC, who is the only manufacturer of this material.[/blockquote]
Thermoplastics are basically super polymers that can be molded when heated, meaning that Kydex can be molded around your firearm, magazine, flashlight, knife, etc to give you a custom fit.
So why would you choose Kydex over leather for a holster?
Kydex retains its shape when cooled, even when the gun is not holstered. This means that you can reholster your pistol one handed, without having to put your offhand near the muzzle of the pistol. A good leather holster will also retain its shape, but over time will lose this ability.
Kydex is also much more rigid than leather. This means that you sacrifice a little in comfort, but in return you get a holster that gives you the same draw stroke time and time again with very little (if any) deterioration.
For the most part, a quality Kydex holster will cost less than a quality leather holster. But the savings is really more in the long run versus the short term. Leather will stretch and deteriorate much faster than Kydex, meaning that if you’re carrying and training like you should be, you’ll wear out a leather holster faster than a Kydex holster.
Generally speaking, Kydex is lighter and thinner than leather, meaning Kydex holsters are easier to conceal than leather holsters. This isn’t always the case of course, but has been generally true in my experience.
Take It From a Kydex Pro
So those are my reasons for choosing Kydex over leather, but I’m not exactly a Kydex expert. So I decided to ask Jon from PHLster his thoughts on Kydex vs. leather (who is of course completely unbiased haha), and here’s what he said.
It’s important to select a holster based on the capabilities that you want to add to your weapon system. Of course, leather and plastics are going to have different characteristics which will determine your ultimate choice. Choosing between leather and Kydex is like choosing between an armchair and a racing seat. Clearly, you don’t want a lightweight bucket racing seat in your Cadillac. Likewise, you don’t want a soft, plush Captain’s Chair in your rally car.
Your leather holster is like that armchair. It’s going to get softer and conform to you over time. It’s going to slowly break in until it becomes a favorite object that has its own personality. That is, of course, until it wears beyond that point and begins the inevitable process of disintegration. All of the stress, flex, body oils, and sweat that made it nice and comfortable are going to contribute to its slow demise and decay. The characteristics of the draw will change over time, it will trap moisture and dirt, and after years of service, it will no longer be the best home for your gun as it begins to fit increasingly loose and the accumulated salty sweat residue and assorted other grime begins the process of corroding your firearm.
A Kydex holster is like a racing seat. While it’s never going to be as comfortable as an armchair, it will be supremely suited for its intended responsibilities. You can beat it to death, get it dirty, sweat on it, abuse it, and hose it off at the end of the day. And it will continue to take that abuse without any significant change in its characteristics.
Another advantage of Kydex is rapid deployment to the marketplace. A fine, handmade leather holster is truly a work of art and craftsmanship, involving a meticulous and painstaking process. While attention to detail, material familiarity, care, and craftsmanship are all involved in the creation of a premium Kydex holster, the process of its creation is much quicker than that of a leather holster. A skilled craftsman making a crisply defined, polished, and professional Kydex holster can take less than an hour. And this speed is a big advantage in terms of accommodating new guns and accessories. At PHLster, we were cranking out holsters for the new S&W Shield as soon as we got it home, for instance.
I’ve been fortunate to have accidentally positioned myself in kind of a nexus of Kydex DIY and I’ve been able to witness how the flexibility, ease of use, and fast working times are driving an explosion of new and creative solutions as more and more enthusiasts take advantage of Kydex to quickly (and relatively cheaply) give life to their ideas.
Give It a Go
If you haven’t tried a custom Kydex holster, I encourage you to do so. We are currently testing Kydex holsters from many different shops (including the Kaluban Cloak and PHLster holsters above), check back soon for recommendations.
We’re always on the lookout for new Kydex shops, so if you know of someone we should take a look at, let us know in the comments below.