A Holster Primer for the Modern Woman - Part 2
What are holsters made of and why does it matter? Just as you’re accustomed to scrutinize the material and craftsmanship when you pick up that pair of shoes or purse at the store, so will you also examine your holsters. And like purses or shoes, you get what you pay for. With the breakdown below, you’ll see beyond skin deep on the holsters you pick up.
Holster materials fall into four main categories: Kydex, Plastic, Leather, and Nylon. Retention is the key element in all. Your holster’s most important job is to secure your gun, which is why you order your particular make and model when ordering a holster (except all-nylon holsters.) They’re molded to your gun’s contours to ensure a confident retention.
...is a synthetic composite of acrylic and PVC. Invented in 1965 and originally used for aircraft interiors, kydex has a wide variety of uses in from mass transit vehicles to medical products. It is also now used to make holsters and knife sheaths. If you want to nerd out on kydex, here’s a link to tell you more. The best way I can describe kydex is that it feels like organic plastic. It’s a synthetic, rigid material but so much thinner than conventional plastic and even leather that it feels like some kind of synthetic, stiff skin. Its texture reminds me of Saffiano leather.
Kydex comes in sheets and the holsters are fashioned through thermaforming. They heat the sheet to make it pliable and then suck it tight to a gun mold using vacuum and pressure. Ta-da! A customized holster. Also to note, there are different grades of kydex just like there are different grades of leather. That link I referenced above has a table with the different levels of kydex. You can always ask the manufacturer what type of kydex they use.
Here are the pros and cons of kydex in general:
- Affordable because thermaform technology is more cost-effective
- Fairly quick turnaround time
- Thinner than leather which means less bulk on you
- The most minimalist profile of all the holster materials out there
- Excellent retention of your pistol – you hear a “click” when it’s in place and secure
- Incredibly durable - its shape can last a decade if not more
- Clean by wiping off
- It doesn’t breathe
- Gets uncomfortable and stick against your skin if you start sweating
- It loses its shape at over 130 degrees Farenheit
Due to the lower set up costs of thermoforming equipment and production, you'll see tons of smaller cottage industries out there selling kydex holsters.
Plastic holsters ...
...are made through injection molding. Sometimes people interchange the terms kydex and plastic, but the methodology is completely different for both materials. Raw plastic is heated into a liquid form, poured into a mold and then cooled to a desired shape. What you get is a very solid, very temperature stable holster that maintains its shape at well above 300 degrees Farenheit. It’s far more stable than kydex and this method ensures rapid and consistent mass production, but because of the expense of tooling, it’s typically used for those models that are the most common such as Glocks, M&P’s, 1911’s, etc.
You'll only see the larger companies who can afford to make injection molded holsters.
Eyeglass frames are made through injection molding, for example. Also, the clips you find on the holsters themselves are made through injection molding. The website descriptions will usually sayif they’re made through injection molding or if they’re kydex (thermaform.)
Leather made holsters ...
are gorgeous but a bit high maintenance. Like any other custom made leather good, there’s an intrinsic beauty to the craftsmanship. Leather holsters are typically made by hand and also molded to your gun.
- Who doesn’t love handmade leather goods? The color, the feel, the smell….
- It breathes better than Kydex, making it morecomfortable against your skin
- It considerably more expensive than Kydex
- It takes longer to make a custom-molded leather pistol
- It retains dust and moisture which accelerates wear on the pistol
- It’s a fair weather-only holster. If it gets wet, it will get ruined.
- If it gets wet, it gets tacky which means more abrasion against your skin and clothing
unto themselves are the least desirable, unless they’re part of a specialty holster.
- Super cheap, cheaper than kydex
- You can fit any gun, any size into it
- Easy to clean
- Can resist moisture and sweat better than leather
- It’s not molded to your gun (there are a few exceptions to this, which I’ll cover in a later post on highlighted holsters)
- Poor retention of your gun unless there’s a strap that seatbelts it in; otherwise, your gun is falling out the first chance it gets.
- Wears down faster than leather or Kydex which means you’ll have to replace it sooner or more often.
Specialty Holsters with Nylon
Marrying nylon with elastic in a specialty holster brings out its most helpful features. Specialty holsters are built into an accessory like the Belly Band or articles of clothing like a tank top (under the armpit), yoga pants (small of back or behind the hip) or spandex bicycle-like shorts (with several holsters on the waistband for you to choose from) to wear under pants or a skirt.
In those cases, you have a nylon backing but a wide sheath of quality-grade elastic over the gun. The elastic conforms to your gun and your body’s movements. The nylon backing allows breathing in the fabric to make it comfortable so snug against your skin without sacrificing too much retention. It also stretches for the purpose of conforming to your body’s curves.
I’ll give you a more detailed look into these specialty holsters later this week.
Along those lines of the nylon-elastic combo, you also have the Kydex and Leather Hybrids, where you have a Kydex Holster attached to a leather backing. They try to give you the best of both worlds, with the durability and thinness of a Kydex molded holster but the feel and breathability of the leather against your skin. They tend to be bulkier due to the mix of leather and plastic and often more expensive than a purely Kydex holster.
What’s your holster made of? What do you love and not love about it?