Concealed Carry Holsters, Kydex Holsters and Belts

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At the risk of revealing too much of myself, let me just say that I am old enough to remember watching television shows with Cowboys and Indians or War movies with American GI’s fighting across Europe.

Both westerns and war movies forever fixed an iconic image in my mind of what a holster should look like.

Be it a belt and holster carrying a six-shooter or an army-issue brown leather holster on a webbed belt cradling a 45, this was what a holster should look like.

But things changed and today’s holsters have evolved even as the firearms they carry have. Today’s shooting enthusiast has a bewildering array of choices in holsters, but before entering into the process of choosing it may be helpful to look at holsters in general.

Contextualizing your Options

As in most other things, your choices will depend a lot on your needs and how you are going to use your weapon. The choice of someone in LE may be different from the private concealed-carry person. In general, holsters can be categorized by the material used to make them and by their level of retention.

Basic Types of Holsters: Three Different Materials

Nylon - The holsters made today can be made of one of three basic materials:

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Each one has advantages and disadvantages. Nylon holsters have the advantage of being the cheapest. One can pick up a nylon holster at Wal-Mart for less than $30.00 so they are easy to buy.

Problems with Nylon Holsters 

However they are not made for durability or lasting. 

Also they tend to collapse – that is lose their shape – when the gun is removed. This can make re-holstering difficult, often necessitating the operator to use both hands. For many, these factors make the nylon holster a poor choice.

Leather Holsters

Leather - Leather holsters are considered to be classic; the smell, the feel, the appearance of leather, these all speak of quality. Handmade leather holsters can be extremely durable and long-lasting.

If properly taken care of they can easily out-last their owner.

It should be no surprise, then, to find that they are pricey, often exceeding $100.00. And you may have to wait a while after ordering while it is made. Daily use of a leather holster will require maintenance as well. Leather will get soiled, absorb sweat, and absorb moisture. It must be cleaned properly and lightly oiled on a regular basis to stay in good condition.

Plastic Holsters

Plastic - Probably the most popular material nowadays for holsters is Kydex (or some similar thermoplastic), or injection-molded plastics.

These holsters have the advantages of being moderately priced, easy to clean and maintain, and able to retain shape when empty. In addition they can be relatively easily custom-molded to fit virtually any model handgun.

Concerning the Kydex Holster

Kydex, the original material, was developed in the 1960’s, and is a moldable thermoplastic first developed for use in the interiors of aircraft.

Kydex Holster Example

Example of a Kydex holster mold. Flickr Commons Image via Robert Nelson (View Larger Image)

It comes in sheets which, when heated properly, can be shaped and molded. There are different grades of Kydex, varying in thickness and ability to withstand high temperature, and some manufacturers have developed additives to improve its characteristics. Kydex is extremely durable and, according to the manufacturers, causes minimal wear to the gun.

There is no “break-in” period with a kydex holster, as there can be with leather.

Kydex Holster Example (2)

Another Kydex holster example. (View Larger Image)

Some makers use materials other than genuine kydex, and some will use a liquid plastic which is then injection-molded into the holster.

These tend to be slightly less cost and perhaps less durable, but they are a viable alternative.


Mention should be made here regarding holster retention. This refers to the ability of a holster to retain the gun, either actively or passively, and guard against the weapon either dropping out or being removed by an unwanted person. Retention in a holster can be engineered in several different ways, and there are basically four levels of retention in holsters.

  • Passive friction
  • Mechanical (hook, strap, etc.)
  • Active retention device
  • Fourth retention elemtn

The first level is passive friction, the tendency to hold the gun tightly due to the fit of the holster to the gun. Most concealed carry holsters are only level one. Level two holsters have passive friction and have added an active mechanical element, such as a hood, back strap, or thumb-operated strap secured over the hammer of the gun.

Level three holsters have an additional active retention device such as a trigger-guard lock. These have a button or tab which must be pressed in order to release the gun. This type of holster is commonly worn by those in LE, but may be purchased by the public. The Blackhawk CQC SERPA, and the Safariland GLS Holster are examples of this type. Level fourholster have a fourth retention mechanism, but these holsters are not for armed citizens.

A Word About Belts

Belts are an integral part of many holster systems and the proper choice is important, especially with an outside-the-waistband holster . Everyday dress belts lack the stiffness necessary to carry most firearms and can twist and sag, causing the holster to hang loosely. Gun belts are made specifically with enough stiffness and structure to prevent this.

Leather gunbelts are made to be thicker than dress belts, and many are also wider; 1.75 inches and up to 2 inches. They will be stitched with high-quality polyester stitching, as opposed to nylon, which can weaken over a period of time. In addition many have a steel band sandwiched between the leather to give support.

Nylon webbed gunbelts are also popular, made of thick reinforced webbing. When using a belt of this type it important to make sure it has a good quality buckle, one that is sufficiently sturdy enough to hold the weight.  

You can expect to pay $30-40 for a good gunbelt but, after being careful to buy a quality holster, it only makes sense to invest in a good belt as well.

 A good belt and holster is well worth the time and money which you put into it, and careful consideration, taking into account what your needs are and what you are looking for, will help you pick out the right rig for your concealed carry.

Flickr Commons Image via Darth Downey