Leather, Nylon or Kydex? How to Choose the Right Holster

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It's one of those age-old questions that has a myriad of conflicting answers: which holster is right for me?

As most gun owners know all too well, there are several different materials on the market that all claim to be the very best for toting your handgun on your person. The truth is, whether you're carrying concealed or openly, it really comes down to two viable options: leather or Kydex.

Why Not Nylon?

Right away, I'm kicking nylon out of this argument, and jumping on my soapbox to let anyone and everyone know that purchasing a nylon holster is a major no-no.

Yes, nylon is the number one material recommended by gun stores to first-time gun buyers. And yes, it's by far the most economical option -- one holster that fits the majority of your firearms will only run you about $20. It seems secure, and it looks like it's getting the job done, so what's wrong?

First and foremost, it's unsafe -- in my opinion, and that of many, many others. Think about this: you draw your weapon, and the holster -- because it's made of a flimsy material -- collapses the minute the firearm is withdrawn. In order to reholster your gun, you'll need two hands -- one to open the holster back up, and the second to actually put the gun into the holster. All it takes is one snag of the trigger against the edge of the holster, and you've got yourself a bullet hole. You may be saying to yourself, "The chances of that happening are so slim." Google it...you'd be surprised how often it happens.

That's the problem with a one-size-fits-all holster: there's no retention. The retention is what keeps your gun locked into place while it's in the holster, thus making it safer and more secure. Using a nylon holster to carry your gun is basically the equivalent of not wearing a seat belt in the car, and expecting to remain in the exact same position when you crash into a tree.

Additionally, the thin clip that attaches the holster to your belt is not affixed tightly in one position; it actually moves around quite a bit when it's in your pants/on your body. This is a drawback because in the event that you need to use your gun, you'll need to grab it one-handed without looking. Kind of hard to do when it's constantly moving around.

Safety aside, let's talk about the function and durability of a nylon holster.

Like I mentioned above, they're typically a very cheap option, and therefore, so is the quality. If you're carrying your firearm everyday (which you definitely should be!), you'll start to see fraying in as little as two or three months. Of course, this depends on a number of variables, including how you're carrying -- you'll see fraying and all-around nastiness on your nylon holster much faster when wearing it inside the waistband. That's because it's a porous material, so it's going to absorb whatever liquid it comes into contact with. It's basically going to smell similar to if you wore the same underwear or socks everyday (not recommended, FYI).

Oh and don't even bother trying to wash it, because that has the potential to stretch or shrink the material, thus compromising the fit. Not to mention it's such a piece of crap that it probably wouldn't even make it through one cycle in the washing machine.

So while a nylon holster may have only cost you $20 initially, chances are, you'll be back to the gun store before you know it to replace the thing.

Leather Vs. Kydex: The Ultimate Showdown

That brings me to our two main contenders: the traditional go-to -- leather, or the newcomer -- Kydex.

There are a lot of ways that I feel Kydex is superior to leather (and no, it's not just because I work for a Kydex company). But let's start with a discussion of what exactly Kydex is, since we're all pretty familiar with where leather comes from.

Kydex is a really awesome material that has recently taken off in the firearms world. It's a thin, yet incredibly durable thermoplastic sheet that can be molded to virtually any shape. Thus, it makes a great material to manufacture holsters out of.

In a nutshell, manufacturers (and more and more often, dudes in their mom's basement/garage) heat a flat sheet of Kydex to a specific temperature and it becomes flexible, allowing for replication of the intricate details of any handgun. What you end up with is a holster molded to fit one firearm perfectly.

Kydex Holster for a Glock 19

Here's an up close look at a Kydex holster for a Glock 19.

So, how do the two materials stack up against each other?

Believe it or not, leather and nylon have a lot in common.

For starters, leather holsters, like nylon, are meant to accommodate the majority of guns -- that's that retention stuff we were talking about earlier. To get any kind of retention, you're going to need to go with a very thick, quality leather, and you'll want to try it out with your firearm before you buy it -- it should fit snugly in the holster, but not so tight that you can't pull it out. Also look for a holster that it slightly formed around the gun (example below) -- it has lines to it, rather than looking like a pouch.

Also, much like a nylon holster, a leather holster will collapse when drawing your handgun. So, that's another drawback. But, if you go with a thicker leather, like I mentioned above, this won't be such an issue because the leather will retain most of its shape. But, you still have that same issue of possibly snagging your trigger on the edge of the holster, which should definitely make you nervous.

Also, most people get it into their minds that leather is always going to be the most comfortable option, simply because it's soft. To that I ask, have you ever worn a leather holster against your skin on a hot summer day? If not, get used to peeling that bad boy away from your skin every time a sweat bead rolls down your side. But, there's always the option of wearing a shirt underneath your holster.

Another thing is the fact that leather, like nylon, is porous. So after time, sweat will start to stink it up. But, it'll take much longer than with a nylon holster. It's also an issue in case you plan on carrying outside the waistband, because now your holster will be exposed to rain, sleet, snow and sun, which will eventually compromise the material.

Another downside about leather is the cost: a high-quality piece will run you well over $100, and anything custom will jack that cost up even higher.

Despite all that, some people swear by leather holsters. So I can't cross it off the list.

BUT, like I said before, there are a number of ways which Kydex outperforms leather:

  • Kydex offers the most retention, keeping your firearm safe and secure at all times
  • Because Kydex is a rigid plastic, the holster will never collapse, even after the handgun is withdrawn. So it's nearly impossible to snag your trigger on the edge of the holster. This also means it won't stretch, shrink or wear down with time, nor can it rip or break -- unless you run it over with your car or leave it on the sidewalk during a record-breaking heat wave
  • Kydex is the lightest material of all three, therefore increasing comfort
  • Kydex is less expensive than leather -- our holsters start at just $55
  • Kydex requires virtually no maintenance to keep it looking great, unlike other materials. Over time, dirt, sweat, sand and grime find their way into the crevices of leather and nylon holsters. But with Kydex, there are no crevices to hide in, and the material is not porous. Just wash it off with soap and water and it looks brand new.
  • BONUS POINTS: Kydex comes in a million different colors and patterns, including Kryptek, Carbon Fiber and different camos

Above (left) is a picture of me carrying openly in a Kydex holster. Above (right) is a picture of me carrying concealed with a Kydex holster.

The most important thing to remember about Kydex is this: not all Kydex holsters are created equal.

Some are more practical than others, some are more comfortable than others, some wear the finish of your firearm and some do not. The price will range greatly from one Kydex company to the next, and price IS NOT indicative of quality. You could pick up a high-quality holster for around $50 that seriously outperforms another that costs $90. 

So if you do nothing else, please do your homework before buying. Everyone claims to be the best, but customer testimonials speak for themselves.

With all those benefits, it’s easy to see why Kydex has become a preferred material for manufacturers, and the favorite of many gun toters. Now go see for yourself what Kydex is all about!

If you're interested in learning more about the Kydex holsters that Alpha Concealment Systems manufactures, go to alphaconceal.com and read more about our companyproduct FAQs and check out some customer reviews and photos.

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