What is this Kydex you speak of? Yes, yes, yes, shooters of a certain age can misquote “The Graduate.” Plastics, known now as polymers, have taken over. There was a time when holsters came, much as Ford autos did, one way. In the case of holsters, you could have anything you wanted, as long as it was in leather.
Not so much, now. Oh, there are still those of us who like leather, but Kydex has taken over. What is it? It is, in the techno-speak in which I used to be easily conversant, a thermoplastic acrylic-polyvinyl chloride. Unpacking that, it means it is a heat-shapeable plastic, composed of acrylic and polyvinyl chloride macromolecules. Exactly how are they combined, or made to play well with each other? That is a secret that only Sekisui SPI knows, and they aren’t telling.
We need to know only this: the chemical wizardry that goes into making Kydex creates a material that can be formed into sheets and molded at high temperatures, leading to many useful properties.
The acrylic part of it makes it very hard, rigid and formable. The polyvinyl chloride (yes, the same PVC that you find in PVC pipes) makes it tough but not brittle, and chemically resistant. It is not, however, perfect, it can be cut or scarred. It can be pierced. (I have a holster in my collection that was shot through by its owner. Not me.) The hardness also makes it abrasive.
However, one of the other attributes is that is can be laminated. When it is laminated with other, softer materials, you can have a holster, if you wish, with a leather-like exterior, or a n easier-on-the-finish interior.
Because Kydex is still but moldable, it can be made to fit any gun and can be used for IWB or OWB holsters.
The four things that make it very attractive as holster material are:
When acquired in sheets, it can be cut, heat-shaped, and riveted into holsters. This allows one-man shops to design, fabricate and market holsters. The R&D needed is simple, and we can (and have benefited from) intense design and testing. Don’t like your Kydex holster? Make your own, or modify an existing one.
Kydex is cheap. An 8-square-foot sheet goes for less than $40, and that size sheet makes a bunch of holsters.
The stiffness of the material means it retains its shape despite being formed into long or wide shells. Holsters won’t collapse after you’ve drawn, making re-holstering easier. Long, flat, stiff sheets provide the friction you need for retention without straps.
It will not absorb moisture. Rain, snow, sleet or perspiration won’t stay in the Kydex, so you don’t have to worry about rust on the firearm, or rot in the holster.
That said, there are drawbacks;
Kydex can be noisy. You cannot do a silent draw with Kydex, there will always be the “slide and snick” of the draw. This might not matter on every occasion, but it might, someday.
It wears and it gets ground down by aggressive surfaces. I have a Hi Power with an aggressively matted top, and the slide grinds Kydex off the holster on every draw. Someday I’ll have to replace the holster, but when I do it won’t cost much.
Kydex is ugly. Well, to those who grew up on leather holsters, the industrial look of Kydex is still a bit jarring.
Until there is something invented (chemists are inquisitive and creative like you wouldn‘t believe) Kydex is a now and future king of holster materials. Some of us old-timers may not like the looks of it, but we sure do like the positives. I realized this when I found out that I hadn’t bought a leather holster in years. Sigh.