Inside-The-Waistband Holsters: Kydex, Leather, & Hybrid Styles
We tested eight of these styles and came away with a new understanding of which ones may be the best tools for the job.
A reader recently asked if we could do a test of IWB holsters and come up with the best balance of speed, retention, and access between Kydex, leather, and hybrid types ó a tall order. But the South Carolina test team was eager to put these holsters to the test because most of us carry a concealed handgun on a daily basis and have a personal stake in the program. The holsters were worn for a minimum of a week and tested by drawing for at least fifty repetitions. We looked at a number of considerations to come up with what we liked the best and what we believe will work the best for most people. But as we found out, everyone is different.
Before you choose a holster, knowing how you will wear it is important. By placing a triple-checked unloaded handgun in your waistband (or better yet, a Rings or ASP fake gun), practicing the draw from standing, seated, and driving positions, you will obtain a better idea of the right holster position for your needs. As an example, some users do not have enough rotation in their shoulder for the FBI tilt in the small of the back, and others are too thin for near-the-hip carry. Drop is related to how the holster rides in relation to the belt, above or below the belt. Most makers offer a choice in how deep in the pants the holster rides.
For our consideration, we deemed access and retention to be the most important points. The shooter must be able to consistently reach the handgun and draw it correctly and quickly. This must be true for a spot on the belt just behind the hip and a sharp draw from the kidney position as well. Of course, the holster must retain the handgun, and the handgun must be in the same position every time the user draws the gun. You should be able to jump up and land hard on your feet without dislodging the handgun. Holstering the handgun with one hand after drawing is also important and was given considerable weight during the test program. † Comfort is subjective, but quality isnít subjective when something comes apart, so quality and durability are serious concerns. Is the holster well made? Does it fit the individual handgun correctly? Will the holster last through years of daily carry and practice sessions?
The quality of mounting hardware is also important. With holsters offered with loops or snaps for both OWB and IWB carry, the holsters have to be considered as a system. The mounting hardware cannot break easily and it must fit correctly.
Also, it is no secret that Kydex is harder on a handgunís finish than waxed leather. Bottom line, if you use your handgun and practice often, there will be finish degradation. The carry handgun isnít a safe queen, so degrading the finish cannot be an overwhelming consideration. Just the same, since Kydex retains the handgun by friction on certain points, finish wear is evident. Leather holsters also tend to wear the muzzle, so this wasnít a deal breaker.
Leather is usually rated as the most comfortable material because it is softer and it flexes. Most often, leather requires a plastic or steel reinforcement in the mouth of the holster to prevent the holster from collapsing after the handgun is drawn. Otherwise, we would have to loosen our trousers and pull the holster mouth open to reholster the handgun once it is drawn.
A Kydex holster is rigid and will not need the addition of a welt. This thermoplastic resin is impervious to oil, water, solvents, and some claim wear, but they will break.
A hybrid holster has both leather and Kydex, usually with the leather as backing and the gun sheath being Kydex, but the term is also applied to leather holsters with a Kydex paddle. A hybrid will have a parallelogram backing that may be a rectangle or a square, although some feature more irregular geometry. The holster lip of a Kydex holster should ride on the belt line or above. The shape of the backing means a lot on the hybrid holster, as there is the problem of interference with the draw if the back rises too high. A sweat guard is OK, but a large piece of leather rising over the handgun probably will interfere with the draw, particularly if the leather isnít very rigid. The handgun will have to be partially drawn to acquire a good firing grip. While Kydex is rigid and may get the job done with a compact holster, leather conforms to the body and is more comfortable overall.
To Each His (and Her) Own
As we moved along in the testing, we began to realize that there are different holsters that work better or worse for different body types. Some of the raters genuinely liked a holster that may not be the fastest rig for them, but they found the kit secure and comfortable. Others were willing to give up some comfort for speed, and vice versa. This is another reason the choices are so broad. The balance of speed and retention is a personal decision.
In concealed carry, design is important. Some of the IWB holster designs are as compact as possible. Others work on the premise that since they cannot be seen, they may use the holster body to spread the weight of the pistol out on the body. Some makers use wings that distribute the pistolís weight over a wider area. This is a contrast to traditional holsters with the belt clip or loop on the face of the holster. For certain body types, the holsters with wings work just fine, but they are too much for other body types.
Belt loops or J hooks is another decision. Most Kydex makers offer square Kydex loops, but others use optional leather loops. If you use the J hook, be certain that you always clip the J hook solidly into the belt. With traditional holsters that use belt loops, be certain that you thread the belt through the holster loop, the next loop in the trousers, and finally the last holster loop to have maximum security. Do your part in wearing the holster correctly. Do not go cheap on the belt; the gun belt is at least as important as the holster.
A criticism of leather is that it is porous and soaks up moisture. In our experience, this isnít completely true. Leather turns color but does not rot or fall apart due to minor saturation from gun oil or perspiration. Most holsters are waxed, and the part that faces the gun isnít likely to become soaked in oil, and the part facing the body should be separated from the body by an undergarment. Something like the Longworth Industries undergarment (Proxgo.com) works fine; it is purpose designed for the chore with plenty of movement built into the shirt. This garment also breathes well. Likewise, the Kakadu trading canvas shirt (KakaduAustralia.com) has more range of movement built into the sleeves than most shirts. Wearing an undergarment ó even in the hottest weather ó has a significant positive effect on comfort and speed with the IWB holster.
And, finally, worth mentioning is wait time for delivery. This isnít a comparison factor for tactical application, but it is nonetheless a practical matter. There is a wait from custom makers of weeks to months. If you need something right now, it will probably have to be Kydex or one of the hybrids. So, with the preliminaries aside, hereís what we thought of each holster:
Blocker ST 17 B Leather IWB Holster, $99
While Blocker has other designs (such as the DA3 with the popular wing design), the ST 17 with thumb break, and the ST 17 B open top as tested, are classic holsters and represent custom leather at a fair price. The ST 17 B features a J-hook belt clip, good molding, and a steel-reinforced holstering welt. For the three body types, ectomorph, endomorph, and the mesomorph, this holster works well and probably best with the thinnest, the ectomorph. The larger endomorph could conceal a holster with wings offsetting the weight better than a thin person. For diverse body types and easy on and off function, the ST 17 B is hard to beat. The holster was accessible and retention is as good as it gets without a thumb break. A point that must be made is that the IWB needs an undergarment between the holster as the gun and the body. But if you break that rule with the Blocker, the penalty isnít as high as with some other types. The holster is fast, the ability to holster with one hand was not compromised, and the holsterís strong spring-steel clip takes a bite into the belt. The draw angle is neutral, which made for a slower draw than the FBI tilt. However, this is a trademark of Blocker designs that allows the holster to be worn as a crossdraw.
Our Team Said: The narrow range of adjustment and the fact that the weight is centered on the belt led us to mark the holster down to a Gun Tests Grade: B. For more information, contact TedBlockerHolsters.com.
Hopp Custom Leather Holsters† IWB, as tested $120
This holster begins in price at about $80, with features and special tanning adding to the price of the unit we evaluated. The tanning of the leather was attractive. Fading one dye into another isnít easy. This holster was one of the popular combination OWB and IWB holsters. A purist may order the holster without the OWB belt slots. The holster was ordered with double stitching. This IWB did not feature a holstering welt. In practice, we were able to holster the handgun with one hand, despite attempting to cause the holster to close after the gun was drawn.
Our Team Said: All raters gave the Hopp high marks for quality, and the finish was the nicest we have seen in some time. The holster was brilliantly fast into action, and the wings add comfort by moderating the drag of a steel-frame 1911. The tilt was ideal for a concealed-carry draw. The holster featured excellent retention, outstanding molding, good speed, and a good design. Gun Tests Grade: A. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
JM Custom Kydex IWB Holster Version 2 IWB2, $75
This holster features a trailing wing for stability, and the loops are designed to keep the holster as low profile as possible. The holster is available with choices in the sweat guard that JM calls the ďbody shield.Ē One of the raters was adamant that he prefers Kydex over cow leather because of an incident in which he inadvertently left the JM holster in the trunk of the family car. His daughter, leaving for a road trip, took an emergency road kit and light floor jack along and dropped the jack on the empty holster. The holster is now scuffed from the jack, but is otherwise unhurt.
Our Team Said: This holster exhibited good retention, good speed, and excellent fit. It felt hard, but the contours were not angular. This holster was as comfortable as any Kydex holster we have tested and rivaled the best leather holsters in this regard and gives nothing up to any holster in speed and retention. We tested the holster with both the full-size pistol it is molded for and the SIG P250 compact with a short grip, and in both cases the holster still afforded a good draw angle. Gun Tests Grade: A. For more information, contact JMCustomKydex.com.
eXo Concealment Products Kydex IWB/OWB holster, $59
This holster gave us pause. It was less expensive than most and had excellent features. For some, the fit was superior, and the Kydex was a little thicker than some. As a result, retention was good and draw speed was excellent. It produced the trademark ďpopĒ that is heard when drawing from a well-fitted Kydex holster. (Leather has a swoosh sound.) The belt loops offer an adjustment device that may be used to change angle or cant or to adjust the holster to various belt sizes. These must be removed to mount the IWB loops. This was a well-designed holster with much to recommend it. However, it is curved to conform to the body. Wearing this holster on the curve of the hip forward was fine, but some of us could not use it well when carried in the kidney position over the right rear pocket. Not one for the ectomorph. This was another holster that is perfect for some applications and not others.
Our Team Said: We rated this holster down a grade due to the unyielding curve of its shape; on the other hand, if this holster suits your needs, it is a best buy. Gun Tests Grade: B and a Best Buy. For more information, contact eXoConcealmentProducts.com.
DC Holsters Hybrid, $60
The Deep Coverís appearance took some getting used to. The leather backing wasnít squared to the holster; instead, it looked trapezoidal. After some thought, we realized the backing was quadrilateral, like most others, but the holster component was mounted at a different angle from the center of the backing. This was OK as far as it goes, but the leather backing extended above the gunís handle. If it were squared to the holster component, it might be out of the way, but the hand sometimes caught the edge of the backing on the draw. When we are drawing a tuckable, the draw hand gets busy, and nothing extraneous needs to impede the movement. Also, when attempting the first few draws, we found the 1911 Kimber simply would not budge from the holster. Finally, after a number of tries we convinced the holster to give up the handgun. Several of the raters noted that since there is only one belt clip, the holster is easier to get on and off, but it may also be less secure. Still, as we noted, it did not come off the belt when we tugged at the pistol.
Our Team Said: The holster is a competing idea in the hybrid field, and it would nicely fit some applications ó such as Deep Cover. We rated the holster down one step for backing design and another for the problem encountered in drawing the handgun. Gun Tests Grade: C. For more information, contact DCHolsters.com.
SwapRig Holsters MiniSwap IWB, $66
This is the most compact of the hybrids, neatly solving one of the criticisms of the breed. The MiniSwap features two J hooks for IWB use; however, it also features two belt loops on the back of the holster for use as a belt-slide holster. We really liked this design. It was fast, secure, and comfortable. Stability was good and speed was excellent. However, the range of adjustment was less than other models, and the weight of the handgun felt more centered than in other rigs.
Our Team Said: After a lengthy discussion, we decided a good big holster such as the SwapRig Revolution beats a good small holster for distributing weight and for comfort. Gun Tests Grade: B. For more information, contact SwapRigHolsters.com.
Old Faithful Holsters Inside-the-Waistband Hip Gun Holster, $75
Old Faithful Holsters took the basic hybrid to a different level with a highly developed understanding of geometry going past the simple cant and angle. The irregular backing shape, which is more difficult to cut than the standard square, extends into a sweat guard, but the backing behind the handle of the pistol is cut away to allow for a rapid grasp of the handle. As a result, the draw angle is unimpeded. With proper adjustment, the body of the holster rides higher and the holster is poised beside the belt for a draw angle that is as good as the best leather IWB holsters. Retention and comfort are good. Also, this company offers holsters for a number of handguns most other makers donít service, including the Bersa, Caracal, and Steyr pistols, among others.
Our Team Said: This is a well-thought-out holster that gets high marks on every count. Rather than the assembled version we tested, you may also order a kit and put it together yourself for nearly 50% savings. Also, the companyís guarantee is formidable. It allows the buyer to wear an Old Faithful holster for a month, and if you donít like it, the company will give you your money back and you can keep the holster. Gun Tests Grade: A. For more information, contact OldFaithfulHolsters.com.
SwapRig Holsters Revolution, $70
We also tested SwapRigís Revolution holster, which is larger than the MiniSwap but as trim as most other hybrids. This holster distributed the weight of the handgun over a larger area, and the range of belt-clip adjustment was good. The backing was not square, and its shape allowed a better grip angle. The SwapRig features are practical and offer a degree of versatility that is a different aspect than the purely tactical components. The SwapRig holster may be set up for greater retention by adding a backing insert. If you own more than handgun for carry or change handguns, you may change holster components and keep the backing for less than purchasing another holster. The holsterís swap design allowed easy changes, and the mechanism was quite secure.
Our Team Said: The innovative versatility was one reason for the SwapRig Revolutionís high rating. This combination and the noticeable price break makes the SwapRig a great buy as a hybrid holster. Gun Tests Grade: A and a Best Buy. For more information, contact SwapRigHolsters.com.
Written and photographed by Bob Campbell, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.
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