If one relies on a handgun for self-defense, a good holster is an essential element for safe and effective employment of it. A holster allows one to carry and stow the handgun when it is not immediately needed, and keep it help securely in a consistent position that will help ensure your draw is quick and clean. I do not understate the importance of the holster when I say that no handgun owned for serious purpose is complete without one.
A good holster will be optimized for its purpose, be it open duty carry or concealed carry, but all holsters must be durable and able to withstand the rigors it will be subjected to. A good holster will also provide good security while also allowing for a fast, snag-free draw. No easy feat.
Of all the materials that are used for holster making today and used in the past, there is no other material that provides quite as many benefits as kydex. Kydex is a tough abrasion and impact resistance thermoplastic, and is easily molded with great precision to all kinds of finely detailed shapes.
Originally created for the molding of weight-saving aircraft parts, the superior ruggedness and maintenance-free composition of kydex makes it an is overwhelmingly the choice of armed professionals and armed citizens today.
Kydex has numerous advantages and a few disadvantages you should know about and dozens upon dozens of manufacturers large and small make holsters from this synthetic stuff. In this article, I’ll give you the lowdown on kydex as a material for holster crafting and also offer some recommendations for the very best kydex holsters on the market.
What is Kydex?
The material we know as kydex (properly acrylic-polyvinyl chloride composite) was created way, way back in 1965 for use in the manufacture of strong and weight-saving interior parts for aircraft. The flexible, moldable nature of kydex made for easy shaping, and its strength and lightness lent itself perfectly to aircraft design and improvement where every ounce counts.
The original inventor, Rohm and Haas sold the product line, the whole kit and caboodle, to Kydex, LLC, in 1987 which lent kydex its common name that we still use today.
Kydex is a composite material for many manufacturing applications. As a composite, it inherits various desirable characteristics from its parent materials: its toughness and chemical resistance from PVC and its stiffness and moldability from acrylic.
Kydex is utterly impervious to water. It will not mold, rot, or shrink. It can be deformed only when exposed to very high temperature. It is extremely hard and scratch resistant, and properly finished is a very low friction material.
Aside from common use in the aforementioned aerospace applications kydex is often employed for springs, fenders, trays, boxes, helmets, motor coverings, insulators ad much more.
All of these wonderful qualities make kydex ideal for holsters, and it was not too awfully long after the materially was developed that the very first kydex holster was created in 1972 by the legendary Bill Rogers, formerly of the FBI and an esteemed trainer and owner of the Rogers Shooting School.
Kydex holsters are made from one or two sheets of material which are heated and pressed around the object it is designed to hold, in our case guns and ammunition carriers. Kydex, counter to common belief is not molded in a molten state as is traditional plastic.
Kydex only needs to be pliable enough to form around an object it is intended for. After bending one sheet back on itself or sandwiching two together around a pistol the nascent from will be riveted together or held with bossed screws and then the edges will be trimmed and finally polished before adding whatever attachment system the holster is made to support. A holster is born!
It took a while after that for kydex to really go mainstream, but once it did, there was no stopping its proliferation. Kydex holsters were here to stay, in greater and greater numbers all the time.
Advantages of Kydex Holsters
Compared to other holster materials like our trusty standby leather, nylon fabric and injection-molded plastic, kydex is very easy to handle, mold, shape and finish. Kydex, like leather, can be had in all kinds of weights and varieties to suit any special requirement for holster making, but it is here that the similarities end.
Once molded and assembled, kydex is damn near maintenance free. Aside from blowing the sand or rinsing the mud out of it or wiping the dust off, a shooter never need worry about the material itself. Fasteners must be checked and thread-locked to ensure they stay fastened, but that is a quirk of most holsters.
Kydex cannot be attacked by moisture in the same way that leather can. It is completely non-absorbent, will not host mold, cares not one lick for corrosion and is all around impervious to anything except intense heat or massive shearing force.
Kydex will not shrink, warp or deform under impact within its breaking strength and requires no breaking in, unlike leather. Kydex holsters, unless broken or worn down by monumental use will last essentially forever.
This is seen by heavy-duty shooters of all stripes as a great advantage over the classy and traditional leather, and though gun-toting purists may scorn it an shake their fists, kydex is the clear and undisputed winner for hard core use where prissy care of leather for continuing function is out of the question.
A leather holster may feel and look great, but abuse or even hard use may see it lose its strength and retentive qualities, and all diehards of the old ways are well acquainted with the maintenance regimen that one must lavish on leather to keep it functional.
Compared to other holsters, kydex rigs offer the greatest flexibility by nature of their construction: attachment points can be swapped, cant changed and retention devices cranked way down or loosened precipitously.
Some kydex holsters easily convert from IWB to OWB configuration. Detachable loops could be swapped for a drop and offset, or wide “pancake” struts added to an IWB holster for even greater concealment.
Compared to any other material, kydex offers unbeatable strength to weight ratio, and even when very thin is solidly rigid and quite strong. This rigidity makes for easy reholstering, even with one hand, and the thinness allows one to carry more gun in a smaller overall foot print.
While you may not think tenths of inches add up to much in the grand total of the concealment game, you’d be mistaken. Space on the belt and elsewhere on the gun carrier’s body is always at a premium, and I will take fractions wherever I can get them.
In the cost-to-performance equation, kydex blows leather out of the water. Superb kydex holsters can be had under $100 all day and all night. Equivalent grade leather holsters are scarcer and more expensive, with most starting around $125 and going up from there, fast. Considering how quickly leather wears out and requires replacement, the “operation” costs of kydex are far less.
It isn’t all trained sharks and bear cavalry with kydex; as great as it is, it has some shortcomings, as all things do. The biggest weakness of any kydex holster is its comparatively greater fragility when empty, meaning when no gun is in it.
If a kydex holster is subjected to crushing weight in this state, it is likely to fracture or snap as no gun is giving it support. Even hard, rigid gunleather is highly flexible by comparison and will absorb a similar impact with no ill effects.
Kydex is also less comfortable than similar leather holsters when pressed against your body, though this is contentious. Some users report that the hard shell of kydex keeps the sharp edges of the gun completely off your body while others hate the hot, abrasive feel of the material against their skin. Either way, pressing kydex against your bare skin or through a thin garment will create wicked hotspots.
It may be a small thing but kydex is noisier than leather by a big margin. Going in or coming out, gunmetal on kydex makes loud, distinctive rattling sounds, and seating or unseating the gun in the holster will most often produce a distinctive click as the retention is engaged or disengaged. Kydex does not help a surreptitious draw at all.
All in all, a very small price to pay for all of the advantages it offers, but these are shortcomings you should be aware of all the same.
The Best of the Best Kydex Holsters
Other holster makers had been cranking out good rigs for years prior to RCS showing up, but it was they who brought kydex holster design to its apogee, both in form and quality.
The Phantom was a wide and seemingly bulky design compared to contemporaries, but its body hugging design and superior craftsmanship quickly saw them shoot to superstardom in the kydex world.
The Phantom was ceremoniously retired a few years back to usher in RCS current crop of injection molded plastic holsters, themselves very excellent, but the Phantom design and lineage lives on at RCS in current production as the Vickers and Hackathorn signature series holsters.
A long-runner in the kydex-bending business, Blade-Tech has for decades made reliable, no-frills kydex holsters, though until a few years back you could have accuse them of letting their designs go stale compared to innovators like RCS above. That all changed with the introduction of their Total Eclipse holster. If their classic belt holster was a sports sedan, this one is a certified hot rod.
The Total Eclipse sought to be a one-size fits-all solution for a kydex holster without the marginal performance always inherent to such designs. In that pursuit Blade-Tech largely succeeded, with the Total Eclipse being completely ambidextrous and convertible for IWB or OWB carry, a sorely missed gap left by the departure of the Phantom. All that adaptability and still durable and concealable. A winner.
#3. PHLSTER Classic
PHLSTER holsters are known among a small sector of hardcore and professional shooters for their excellent quality and unrivaled human engineering. It was PHLSTER who started making major refinements in kydex design to optimize carry of pistols in the AIWB position. Their Classic is a purpose made AIWB holster that circumvents some significant anatomical hindrances to carry of firearms in that position.
A largish, tear-shaped bulb on the body side of the holster improves comfort dramatically while an extended strut reduces printing of the gun by camming the grip of the pistol into, not away from the shooter.
Muzzle openings, standard relief cuts for mini-red dot sights and generous tracks for tall irons are telltales of this maker’s forward thinking toward enhancement of the everyday carry pistol.
#4. Dark Star Gear Clip-On
Revolvers don’t get as much love from kydex holster makers, especially snubbies, but Dark Star Gear stepped up to fill the cold, bleak and unforgiving void in the market with their excellent Clip-On. A simple kydex shell for your favorite snubbie supported by an offset attachment point (clip or loop) of your choice.
Rugged, simple, ambidextrous and a joy to carry. You need not confine your snubbie to riding in a dank and wrinkled leather rig from your Box ‘o Holsters’. If you are smart you’ll carry it with Dark Star.
5. JM Custom Kydex OWB1
You might not have guessed from the name, but JM Custom Kydex makes kydex holsters. Lame jokes aside, in an era where some Old Guard kydex benders are moving to making injection molded plastic holsters, JM Custom is sticking to their guns so you can stick yours in quality kydex. JM Custom makes excellent holsters with a modest amount of user selectable options for a host of pistol makes.
JM Custom’s excellent over-the-belt loops, shirt guard and cant options, and selectable ride height will ensure that you get just the right rig for you favorite pistol.
Their obsessive attention to even the most insignificant detail and dogged adherence to use of only best-quality components has set them apart from the bulk of kydex holster makers for some time. I for one am thrilled to see them carrying on the tradition.
Kydex holsters are one of the most popular types on the market today and available in all kinds of variations for all kinds of carry positions. Their strength and worry-free maintenance regimens make them attractive for all kinds of shooters, but knowing who is who in the holster game will mean the difference between saddling up with a top-shelf holster or a disappointing gun bucket.
Brush up on your kydex knowledge and take a gander and who’s who on the list before committing to a purchase.
Charles Yor is an advocate of low-profile preparation, readiness as a virtue and avoiding trouble before it starts. He has enjoyed a long career in personal security implementation throughout the lower 48 of the United States.