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By Westin D. Floeter, Communications Manager for K Rounds holsters

KYDEX was the brainchild of Rohm and Haas Company, a Philadelphia-based materials manufacturer working in the aircraft interior business. In the late ’60’s, a range of industries realized that KYEDX sheets could be manipulated into almost any shape by applying heat and molding the material around forms. In 1997, KYDEX, LLC was born. Since then, “KYDEX” has become something of a generic name for plastic holsters – and not always by “mistake.” Some holster companies sell “KYDEX holsters” that aren’t made with KYDEX plastics. What’s more, even genuine KYDEX holsters vary in terms of quality. In the interests of consumer education, here’s Everything You Wanted to Know About KYDEX Holsters But Didn’t Think to Ask . . .   

Why KYDEX holsters Instead of Leather?

Leather holsters have been shooting enthusiasts’ first choice for years. Leather is physically and aesthetically appealing; it even smells good. Leather holsters link shooters back to the handgun’s early history. (Little known fact: Hollywood invented the now-famous Western-style leather hip holsters.) An owner can usually holster and unholster their gun in virtual silence.

On the downside, leather holsters are sensitive to temperature, moisture and humidity. Leather doesn’t dry easily; if you leave a reholstered gun in a wet leather holster it can cause pitting. [The same holds true for Nylon holsters. Manufacturers generally use “scuba webbing” or “ballistic fabric” which also hold moisture.] Leather holsters require a break-in period and diligent maintenance. Re-holstering can be difficult. They wear out. They can be dangerous. [Click here to read about a leather holster-related negligent discharge.]

KYDEX holsters are virtually maintenance-free. If a KYDEX holster gets dirty or dusty, you wash it off and wipe it down. KYDEX holsters are ready to use right away; they don’t have a “break in”period. They will maintain the desired shape over a lifetime of use. What you see is what you get and what you get is what you’l see even after years of hard use.

While un-holstering and re-holstering a gun in a KYDEX holster is louder than clearing and returning a gun to a leather holster, KYDEX owners get a more reliable and secure re-holstering experience (some models emit an audible “click” when the handgun is replaced properly). They are not temperature or moisture sensitive. KYDEX holsters take a beating and still perform well.

There’s KYDEX and then there’s KYDEX

Much like there are different grades of leather, there are different grades of thermoplastic. KYDEX manufactures over 40 different lines of thermoplastic sheets, each with its own properties and price point. Their product lines include budget plastics made from re-grind/ recycled grades of sheet: lower-cost products with lower performance standards than higher-cost materials.

The thickness, grain, and ability to withstand temperature determine the sheet’s grade. KYDEX T and KYDEX 100 are the most popular materials used by companies making gun holsters and knife sheaths. KYDEX 100 is known in the business as “The Gold Standard for Thermoforming.” It’s super tough and durable. It arrives at the holster or sheath maker’s shop in a proprietary “alloy sheet.” It offers excellent formability, rigidity, break and chemical resistance. It also withstands high temperatures.

Consumers should ask the holster manufacture what brand name thermoplastic they use (or check the package). If it’s KYDEX, customers should ask which product. Quality manufactures will be happy and proud to discuss their production process, especially if they’re forming high-quality materials. If the manufacturer states that they use a “proprietary blend,” ask for the speciation sheet and material safety data sheet (MSDS). Otherwise the “proprietary blend” may be the scraps swept off the floor of a company using high-grade material.

Plastic holsters are all the same, right? 

The holster-making processes varies considerably. Some companies use injection molding. Each holster mold is filled with molten plastic, then forced into the desired shape with heat and pressure. Injection molding is fast and produces inexpensive parts, usually made from harder plastics (i.e. including stiffening materials). As the computer guys used to say, GIGO. If an injection-molded holster is made from cheaper plastic, the material can cause rapid holster wear and remove the finish from your pistol.

There are no injection-molded holsters made with genuine KYDEX-brand plastic. That’s because KYDEX is engineered from pure polymers; their extruded sheets don’t contain blended stiffeners (such as glass). KYDEX lasts longer than cheaper plastic and it’s far less likely to damage your firearm, no matter how many times you holster and un-holster your gun.

To create a KYDEX holster, makers heat a sheet of plastic, mold it around a form, cut off the excess material and polish the finished holster. It’s a slower, more labor-intensive process that requires considerable expertise and quality control. For example, the KYDEX has to be heated to a precise temperature and cooled properly.  

KYDEX and gun wear

Any holster can wear the finish of your pistol. And it’s certainly true that pistol wear is the primary issue facing owners of KYDEX holsters. To minimize the problem, holsters made of KYDEX must be manufactured to follow the EXACT shape and form of the weapon inside them. They must apply pressure on the proper areas of the firearm – and nothing more. By matching the weapon and shaping the holster correctly, quality KYDEX holsters rarely present finish wear.

I encourage you to look closely at your next holster purchase. Leather, plastic or KYDEX plastic – take the time to inspect each fold, each contact point, and the presentation the holster offers. Look at the fine details. If it’s plastic, loook for polished edges, even texture, and rounded corners. Ask the manager of your favorite gun shop if you can try it on. Listen to the gun as it goes in and out of the holster. Does it go in smoothly? Is it secure once it’s inserted? Do you have to change your grip to present your firearm?

In Conclusion

There’s nothing wrong with buying a leather holster or a relatively inexpensive injection-molded plastic holster – provided you know what you’re getting. If you’re willing to spend a little more, you need to ask a little more, starting with the material used. Like a leather holster, a molded KYDEX holster is a hand-crafted product. It’s a difference that’s reflected in both performance and the price. In short, whether it’s leather or KYDEX, you get what you pay for.

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  1. “This can be avoided if the manufacturer applies the proper amount of attention to detail when producing their product.”

    That quote is why I dislike this article.How dare the author decree that finish wear is a sign of substandard construction. I suppose my HK P30 is a pile of crap, since the surface finish wore off after a few hundred practice presentations .

  2. I prefer a crossbreed style. It’s the best of both worlds, especially for carrying IWB SOB. The leather backing makes it comfortable for carrying all day every day, and the KYDEX keeps up the retention and ease of re-holstering.

    • I’ve tried hybrid holsters from a number of manufacturers, and have found them to be generally unsuitable for concealed carry. Either they hold the pistol loosely enough that I’m afraid it would bounce out if I had to run to catch a bus, or they hold it so tightly that when I draw I get the holster too, with the pistol still inside. An all-Kydex holster generally allows the owner to adjust retention with a screwdriver.

      As a result, despite having bought half a dozen fancy hybrid holsters for my XDM, I still carry it in a cheap Bladetech Nano.

      • A good Hybrid will let you adjust tension as well. Old Faithful Holsters and Alien Gear models that I’ve seen have adjustable tension so you can get it just right.

        • I just purchased an Alien Gear holster for my Ruger SR9c with Crimson Trace. It arrived a few weeks ago and I haven’t had time to get out with it much, but it is a leather/Kydex hybrid and holds the pistol nicely. The Kydex portion is adjustable for retention pressure and I am still playing with the proper cant adjustment. So far I like it pretty well and it is comfortable, but not as easy to clip/unclip from my belt as I had hoped.

        • Alien gear are excellent for the money. Very adjustable and the kydex is very nicely formed. There is skill involved in properly molding kydex, so they require more labor than a molded holster.

  3. I prefer both myself. A little leather and kydex to strap on my HK. An Old Faithful holster and a Remora mag holder will tote my gear around. I’ve tried all kydex and they are very uncomfortable!

    • Exactamundo. Just another plastic, there’s 20 others that can be made to produce the same functionalities were one to spend some R&D money.

      All aboard the brainless hype-train!

  4. I have both leather and kydex and use both happily at different times depending on what I need (usually go with leather for OWB and retention strap while kydex is great for a thin iwb holster).

    • I can’t stand plastic or any other man-made material up against my skin. I live in the deep South and leather works best for me as IWB, especially during hot months. I bought a Remora, but hardly use it anymore because it felt like I had a garbage bag in my pants. I love Kydex for conceal carry OWB during cooler months when I can wear a light jacket or pull over. Crossbreed seems to work best for me for IWB. Thank God we have choices. I love the free market; I only wish we had it for other things like health care.

  5. Before my spinal cord injury got too bad, I ran a small business producing kydex gear. If you form a holster to the exact form of the weapon, you will cause wear. To prevent wear, you have to relieve areas of the holster that would drag the weapon during the draw. The biggest culprit of this is the ejection port – you MUST block out the ejection port when forming the kydex, or you’ll cause giant streaks of wear down the slide of the weapon.

    You have to build clearance channels for any protrusions, and block out any areas that sink in to the geometry of the gun, such as slide serrations. It’s actually a lot of work, and if you were just to set up your form to make a single holster, you’d spend more time mocking up the gun than you would on the entire rest of the process.

    Here’s an example: my M&P Shield holster. I’ve been carrying this for about a year, and it has at least one holster/unholster a day, plus dry fire practice every week or so, and maybe a dozen range trips. The only wear on the weapon itself after all of this is some areas on the plastic frame that have gotten a little glossy. There are no streaks on the slide or anything like that that you see out of most kydex holster carried handguns, it’s practically like the day I got it, though a little dusty.

    • Doug.i wanted to thank you for solving a months long mystery.i had a kydex holster made for my Colt Governments Model several months ago.after very little holstering/un-holstering an idiot mark developed on the slide near the breach.i spent hours looking for the culprit area of the holster assuming it was a rough spot near the area of damage.after reading your comment about blocking the ejection port I took another look and it’s pretty obvious that is the problem.for the record i drawer edc this holster as soon as I noticed the damage but great info for future holsters.thanks again

  6. @ st-

    This is Wes, and I am the author of this piece. I am the Communications Manager for K Rounds LLC, and as several others have pointed out, I was referring to the Holster manufacturer, not the weapons manufacturer. Attention to detail is exactly what causes finish loss when it is not applied in holster construction.


    I would suggest that you try out our OWB pancake. We focus on the following- the body, the weapon, and the quality control. Our holsters are designed around both the shooter and the weapon, with comfort at the forefront. IWB holsters, ours or the competitions, will cause some discomfort. Foreign objects in the waistband always do.

    • Egads propaganda man. I know the properties of “kydex” it’s merely an acrylic polyvinyl-chloride product. It was originally used for aircraft interiors in the mid frakkin’ 1960s.

      Ain’t no magic about the product, IMCO and Interstate make the same thing, they just don’t make holsters and BS hype about it.

  7. Excellent article!

    Because I’m old school, even though I use Kydex holsters, I prefer leather. I know this sounds odd, but Kydex has no soul.

    • No, but they probably have a touch of sole, azodicarbonamide, which would probably make any Kydex holster good good for Subway carry.

    • I either just did a quick pair or double tap, and ‘requesting delete’ is too uncertain, so this.

      Nope, wasn’t thinking about Wrigley twins.

  8. My Bianchi leather OWB holster can fit and secure both my Glock 27 and 23, which is a plus. Still, a good Kydex hosted could potentially be pretty sweet. It’ll have to be in order to steer my away from Aker, Safariland, and Bianchi.

  9. I bought a Fobus Kydex paddle holster for my Sig P226, and didn’t care for it at all. It wouldn’t release correctly, and was rough on the finish. I only put the pistol in it twice, and then sold it to an optimist on Craigslist.

    I’m a 3 slot cowhide guy. If you put your handgun in a wet holster you deserve what you get.

  10. No one will ever accuse a kydex holster of being beautiful. A kydex holster is to a well-made leather holster what an old VW bug is to a Ferrari. They both get the job done, but which would you rather drive? No kydex holster will ever make my heart sing like a hand carved Purdy (that I lust after but do not own). My current carry holster is a OWB pancake Kirkpatrick: solid, well crafted hand boned leather, quiet and comfortable, and very affordable. I’ll pass on the utilitarian, TYVM.

  11. It has been my experience that most holster manufacturers DO NOT WANT to divulge a whole lot of detail of their manufacturing process and materials. Reason: To prevent competition from stealing the process. I can’t blame them either. After all, if you come up with an idea how to improve a product and take it to market, would you want to train your competition? (usually someone who has just decided to make a similar product, but wants to take the easy way and use someone else’s methods instead of coming up with some on their own.)

    • The process is guarded closely. But materials aren’t a guarded secret. If you are using high grade sheets, it’s a good thing to share with your consumers. It’s the proprietary blends to be mindful of.

      • sounds like 16V is just a whiney little bitch, probably making kydex holsters in his basement and wanting to pass them off as top quality.

    • Thanks! We’re here for education as well as product. All of us are shooters at heart, and we all want to share knowledge. Especially when there is so much misdirection within our industry. The purpose of this article was not to advertise our holsters on particular, but to answer questions that we often hear about the differences there in. Options are everywhere, and IMHO, there are a lot of companies out there selling holsters that HARM your weapons, claiming that they use KYDEX brand sheets, with tooling work that will destroy your finish. Unfortunately, for those of us still aiming to create quality goods, the old fashioned way, we are all demonized by the actions of these companies. I’m glad the article was a good read for you!


      • Couldja blow any more smoke up his ass? Seriously?

        You pimp a molded plastic product, one that has a dozen equal competitors on the material side. Get a grip, push your molding accuracy, don’t try to pretend you have a special plastic because all with an IQ above room temp will laugh at you…

  12. Mr.Floeter: one suggestion, optimize your website for mobile devices. It’s virtually impossible to navigate and view your products, let alone order anything from a mobile device utilized by so many of us [semi] tech-savvy folk….other than that..interesting article! Thank you!

  13. I wonder what kind of plastic FOBUS holsters are made out of. They work well but seem to be hard on the finish of Glocks.

    • I suppose it’s possible that my Fobus paddle holster is abrading the finish on my Glock 26, but who could tell?

      • The black coating that Glock applies to the Tenifer starts to come off, leaving the silvery gray Tenifer underneath showing. I can tell because it looks like typical scratches where the holster contacts. Doesnt affect the Tenifer one bit, purely cosmetic.

  14. I believe Blackhawk kydex style holsters have a warning stating not to leave kydex holsters in cold climates for to long of periods for the possibility of the plastic becoming brittle and with tension from the belt on the beltloop it breaking off the hip

  15. In general, a good article. There are, however, different kinds of leather which isn’t really mentioned. Horse leather is preferable to cow hide. It is much more resistant to water, sweat, etc which makes it more difficult to work with causing a sligtly higher price. Additional considerations need to be made for the availability of plastic molded holsters for non-mainstream handguns (e.g Arcus 94). There are also body conformance issues – leather will conform to your body while polymers will resist it.

    IMO, holster selection and materials is non-trivial and has both technical as well as personal considerations with the balance on personal preference. After all, a holster is worth nothing if it doesn’t fit the gun and the wearer well and is left in the drawer.

    • Horse hide is actually debatable. It is touted as the leather to go with by many, but yet, its abilities to be water resistant, while better than untreated cow leathers, still isn’t all that resistant. I know some manufacturers acquire cow leather that is actually treated to be not water resistant, but actually water-proof AND low maintenance. I’ve heard of many people trying horsehide, only to send it back to the manufacturer as being uncomfortable.

      Now I do have a curiosity as to if any holsters out there use pig-skin for their leather. Anyone know?

      • Permeability can be demonstrated with color selection for horsehide vs cowhide holsters. That is why coloredmhosehide is more expensive not to mention water forming is more challenging. I don’t think pigskin in and of itself is sufficiently thick and stiff to provide the needed support. Anyway, that’s just what I notice fwiw.

    • In the Fire Dept glove business elkhide and kangaroo are the premium material choice. Obviously water/wet performance is important Goat being another major player a performs similar to Elk but as thinner wears a bit more and allow more flexibility (good for gloves) .

      Cow or pig hide has not been serious options (only at the Yugo price point) for decades.

      I think Elk would be the way to go (and all outdoorsy).

      • Back when I was a kid there were some NFL receivers who swore by kangaroo shoes because it was so light and thin–but it also stretched out rapidly and wasn’t good for more than a couple of games.

    • Didn’t I read on Mitch Rosen’site that he thought horsehide was horse hockey, and bull hide nothing more than low quality and distressed cow hide?

  16. I can see the advantages in certain cases with Kydex, but as someone mentioned above, comparing Kydex to a very-well made leather holster is almost apples to oranges for me. There is a time and place for both types, but a good leather holster will certainly require more care (and probably twice the cost).

    • Not. The OWB leather holster I purchased recently was the almost the exact same price as the similar OWB from K Rounds. I added a throat reinforcement for an additional $10. If we are talking premium holsters like a Mitch Rosen or High Noon, yeah. But there are plenty of high quality leather holsters that are cost competitive with kydex.

  17. I bought a high quality Kydex belt holster for my Glock 26 and I can’t say I hate it, because I have not been able to use it. The fit is sooooooooooooooooo tight it is impossible to draw the weapon with out giving myself an atomic-wedgie, when my pant belt is near my arm pit before the Kydex holster finely lets loose of the gun…. There are all kind of break in instructions, drawing the weapon A LOT, bending it and lubricating the thing with silicon…. I am afraid of the wear on the gun. I have nice leather holsters…. far better and more friendly.

  18. As a firearms instruction and a holster maker, kydex is by far a better material. Proper design and manufacturing is needed with any holster to make it work correctly that takes more than just heating some plastic. A holster needs to be fast, concealable, and comfortable. fb fastdrawholster 🙂

  19. I found the best of both worlds. It’s a leather-backed OWB Kydex holster made by American-Holsters. Super comfortable, perfect retention and looks very cool!

  20. Some people say things like “kydex has no soul.” Whatever it means for an inanimate object to have “soul” is utterly irrelevant to me. Some dismiss kydex as a budget alternative to leather. I would argue that if handguns and thermoplastics came on the market at the same time, there would be no leather holsters. I’ve tried leather (cow and horsehide), and the level of comfort was lower, reholstering was far more awkward, and drawing was slooooow compared with modern holsters.
    Oh, and to the dude who keeps calling the author a shill for kydex and pointing out that there are “20 other plastics available that work the same or better,” we’re all very impressed with your knowledge of the thermoplastic industry. Really. But just because a holster manufacturer uses something that has become an industry standard does not mean he is a “shill” for anyone. Hype or not, Boltaron or any of the other 20 you might be referring to doesn’t have the name recognition.

  21. I have alien gear holster for my px4 subcompact. I have scratches all over my gun now. And I don’t really carry that often. Total contact with the holster is about less than a week. I put it in my safe most of the time. The kydex rubbed on my gun and the poly on the gun just got scratched. I’ve been wondering why my gun was getting scratched and realized it’s the holster. Just right above trigger area scratches all over it going horizontal from sliding it in and out of the holster. And just right below “without” lettering there is a dip and scratches. I contacted alien gear but all they said was to put a tape or some sort. Not very helpful. My gun now looks awful. Cosmetic wise.

  22. My favorite OWB holster is a 12+ year old Blade Tech that is one of the old technology foldover holsters. They (Blade Tech) have gone to an injection process, and I am sure that it’s a great holster, but I want another one for a 34 that fits like the one for my 19/23 and I can torque down as I like.

    Can anyone recommend a maker, that can do that and builds a fixed double loop belt tunnel that is durable?

  23. I’ve had dozens of holsters of all kinds.leather and kydex both have downsides.a quality leather holster does have a “soul” that kydex lacks but I do appreciate the way my guns lock into a kydex holster.I recently bought my first leather lined kydex holster and I’m in love.almost no wear on the gun,That loud kydex noise is eliminated and for me at least,this holster has a “soul”.This company makes their own belt attachments out of kydex and they are better than any I’ve ever seen.I think I’ve found my perfect holster

  24. This article is super biased. You obviously manufacture this type holster. I found it almost offensive the way you bashed leather, even going so far as to warn people about the untold dangers of using leather holsters. What about all the negligent DCs that happened with plastic? Your example on the dangers of leather was the result of negligence. That cheap, store bought holster should have been pitched months before the negligent DC took place. You glorified your product while attempting to scare people away from leather. You even brought up longevity as if leather is inferior to plastic in everyway. There are still leather holsters that are well over a hundred years old on display that ate both beautiful and fully functional.

    • “You obviously manufacture this type holster”

      Doesn’t disclose that he manufactures leather holsters.

  25. I live in South Georgia swamp country. Leather IWB holsters do not seem to hold up long term in the sweat and humidity without stretching. We only get a psuedo-winter a few weeks out of the year. I like the feel and classy look of leather, but not the reality of EDC. My Kydex holsters usually just need a wipe down. Once in awhile I hit them with some mild detergent and running water. No more Fiebing’s Foaming Saddle Soap or paste wax for me.

  26. 16V probably worked as machine operator in a plastics plant, until he got fired for crashing the mold. That makes him the “educated” expert he dreams about. He probably voted for Obama, a true liberal.

  27. kydex is ugly as sin and limited to passive retention. injection molded is where its at! even aliengear is discovering that with their new lines!

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