If you think choosing the right concealed carry gun or ammo is challenging, try picking a holster. While there are a seemingly endless supply of gun makes and models to make the decision process difficult, there are actually probably more holsters. Choosing the right one, particularly where concealed carry is concerned, can be one of the most challenging decisions a shooter faces. But before you get too wrapped up on deciding if an inside-the-waistband (IWB), outside-the-waistband (OWB), shoulder, ankle, paddle or other type of holster fits best, give some thought about what material you want it to be made from. Choosing the right materials can be critical depending on your goals for the holster and there are pros and cons to each type.
Basically, there are three main types of construction materials holsters are made of with leather, being one of the oldest, yet still preferred; plastics, led by a branded material known as Kydex; and hybrid holsters, which may actually feature mixed elements of leather, plastic and even other materials.
Leather is still a favorite choice among many handgun owners, for one big reason, its traditional beauty and ability to be manipulated by the craftsman. It can be cut, shaped and colored to suit the users and the holster maker’s choosing. Over time, leather conforms to the shape of the gun, as well as the shooter, for maximum comfort and utility. They actually become more comfortable over time.
Leather can also be more expensive, and it tends to retain moisture if you sweat a lot while wearing it, potentially conveying rust-inducing moisture to the firearm. Some leather holsters may also collapse at the mouth when the firearm is drawn from it, making it more difficult to reholster the gun. When properly made, however, with reinforcement around the mouth or top of the holster, this is a minimal concern.
Molded plastics, often made from a thermoforming process, are another top material option for holsters. Kydex, the most common thermoplastic used for holsters and knife sheaths, is great because it doesn’t wear out, doesn’t retain moisture, is easy to care for, and won’t squeak like some leathers if not kept polished and clean. While thermoplastic designs made of Kydex have come a long way in quality features, some plastic-based holsters are much cheaper than leather because they don’t require the stitching and forming leather requires. These holsters are also extremely rigid. A hard-to-reholster firearm is not a concern with such a model.
So what are the downsides to plastic holsters? They don’t conform to the wearer like leather will, even after years of use, so ensuring comfort out of the gate is crucial. They also tend to have more rigid edges and by their design, may be bulkier, which can lead to easier imprinting beneath clothing depending on what a person is wearing.
Lastly, hybrid holsters, those that combine materials such as leather and Kydex or in the case of Front Line’s Next Generation holsters, materials such as velvet, protective polyethylene, molded PVC and Cordura have emerged giving shooters the best of both worlds. Sometimes these materials are simply pieced together. In the case of the Next Generation holsters, they are layered to provide an excellent blend of comfort, utility and durability. These tend to be among the most affordable holster designs as well.
As for any downsides to these, some shooters simply don’t like the design of hybrid holsters as they lack the classic visual appeal of leather and depending on the design, may still retain some moisture if leather is still used.