Leather has been the primary method of carrying a firearm since the dawn of firearms. From a pirate’s brace of pistols to the holster of the cowboy, leather has dominated. Leather has been utilized throughout the decades as the go to material for holsters.
Leather has been spun into every kind of holster imaginable, from belt to ankle and up to the shoulder holster. Every branch of law enforcement has some form of leather holster from the local Sheriff’s departments to the FBI; leather is everywhere.
The phrase clearing leather, meaning to draw your weapon, is applied universally no matter what material your holster has actually cleared. There is reason for this.
Leather is easy to mold, is extremely tough, while remaining lightweight. Leather can be molded easily to a custom fit for firearms. Leather is tough to break and tear, and is lightweight, hardly adding any weight to the task of carrying a gun.
Like all things though, this has begun to change. Seemingly out of nowhere, this new material has arisen to take the place of leather, and we call it kydex.
Kydex is an extremely tough polymer similar to the polymers used in modern pistols. Kydex, like leather, can be molded into a variety of different sizes and shapes to form a custom fit for any gun. Kydex holsters are tough, but flexible, allowing them to take tons of abuse. Kydex does not rip or tear, and is resistant to water, or any moisture for that matter.
Kydex has quickly become the favorite gun holster material for police and the military. Shortly after it became popular and BlackHawk released their SERPA system, the United States Marine Corps adopted it to replace the old Bianchi M12 holsters. Kydex is the holster of the future if you follow the press.
At the end of the day though, leather holsters are still popular and even though kydex holsters have populated the duty belts of police and become a military norm, they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
So let’s take a look and compare and contrast some of these holsters in a variety of popular carry methods. This will review leather and Kydex holsters in the most popular form of carry.
Kydex Holsters OWB
Outside the waistband also known as OWB, is an extremely popular method of carry. Proponents of outside the waist band point to the relative comfort and ease of carry. OWB holsters tend to be easier and faster to draw from as well as re holster when necessary.
OWB holsters require some form of cover garment though, and this can range from a bagging shirt to a jacket. So leather is prettier and older so it goes first.
The leather holster chosen for this was the Bianchi minimalist. The Minimalist is an excellent holster crafted by experienced tanners. The design is you guessed it minimal. The weight saving design is a belt loop style holster that it held tight to the body. The Minimalist also features an adjustable elastic band which aids in retention, but very simple to defeat and draw the weapon.
Strapping the holster on the wearer will immediately notice how easy it is to conceal. The holster lies flat against the body and a shirt is all that is necessary to conceal the weapon. This may change on a weapon to weapon basis as this test used a Glock 29, a subcompact pistol, but a big subcompact.
The Bianchi’s wide belt loops supported the weapon very well. Unfortunately there is no way to adjust the cant, it is what it is. Many prefer a forward cant, just slightly, this facilitates easier concealment and a more natural draw.
Once the weapon is removed from the holster you see an excellent advantage of leather. It’s so lightweight you could forget the holster was there. So when carrying the weapon the only really weight you feel is the weapon. The fact that leather molds around the gun gives leather a less bulky appearance when conceal carrying a side arm.
The leather looked and felt great, and the smooth nature of it never caught my shirt on any kind of edge. The general shape of the leather also helped break up the press and printing of the gun under my shirt.
The general shape of the gun couldn’t be seen through the shirt. My days with leather were very nice and easy to conceal and I simply wore a t shirt and shorts. The weapon rode comfortably, and I was relieved that it wasn’t a pain to buckle up in a car since the holster was snug to my body.
Another kydex holster I tested out was a Blackhawk SERPA holster. I utilized the belt attachment instead of the paddle.
The SERPA uses an active retention system that places a button where the trigger finger naturally falls when one is keeping their finger off the trigger.
First thing one is going to notice is that this holster prints. It would benefit to be a little snugger to the body that for sure. It did fail the seatbelt test, but that’s not really a worry just an annoyance. I wore a baggier than average short, often a button down that concealed the weapon nicely.
The Blackhawk featured full adjustable cant which I loved and allowed me to pivot and position the weapon in whatever way was comfortable for me.
Drawing and holstering were much easier with this holster, especially holstering. The kydex material doesn’t come in contact with the body so nothing gets in the way of drawing or holstering.
The Blackhawk was comfortable for all day carry, but in the summer months when a light shirt is desired one may choose leather.
Kydex has many long term advantages over leather in terms of durability and resistance to the elements as well. Kydex is also a victim of what’s called most production, meaning it’s much cheaper than leather goods.
The thing I learned the most from this was that this is and always will be a personal choice. Leather was easier to conceal and carry, but kydex was cheaper, lasted longer and easier and faster to draw from. I encourage people to experiment and really learn what kind of holster is best for them.