Not to brag, but a lot of the writers you read in the firearms media space come from narrow backgrounds. They are retired police officers, or ex-military. Or, they have spent their whole lives hunting. When you need detailed info about their areas of expertise, those types of writers can be great. Me, I came to firearms from lots and lots of shooting, competition, hunting, and some law enforcement, and a STEM(science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subject college degree. A Bachelor’s of Science in chemistry, to be precise. Which makes my musings about kydex a dangerous subject. Dangerous in that I might veer too deeply into the weeds on the technical side of things, but hey, that’s the risk.
Kydex is now everywhere. Kydex is a type of thermoplastic, acrylic-polyvinyl chloride that has been found to have very useful properties.
It can be thermo-formed, that is, shaped by use of heat. How do you think they get your kydex holster to fit a particular firearm? They stuff a dummy (aluminum works well here), heat the kydex, and press to shape.
It can be reshaped if needed. The fit isn’t quite right? You can tighten the fit by heating with a heat gun, and (careful, it is hot) pressing to a closer shape.
It is a relatively rigid plastic, so absent heat, it keeps its shape and will not collapse under a load. This is good because you can always re-holster. But it is also bad, as you’ll find out if you roll over your kydex holster.
It has low friction. So once you overcome the retention designed or built into your holster, the rest of the draw is quick.
It is waterproof. A rainy day and a leather holster can lead to unfortunate consequences—both for the holster and the handgun. A rained-on or sweated-on handgun and holster—that aren’t separated and dried—leads quickly to rust. Your handgun will rust in a kydex holster, but not as quickly, nor aggressively.
Relatively nonflammable. A kydex holster will char (if left in the oven, as urban legend has some handguns so-abused) and with enough heat will sag, but it won’t burst into flames.
Scratch resistant. Your kydex holster won’t show wear and tear, or abuse as readily as a leather holster.
Kydex has a very high work-hardening tolerance. So much so it is actually used as spring material in some applications, Your kydex holster is not ever going to go limp.
Impact resistance. I ran into a whole bunch of French police on a recent trip to Paris, and they were all geared up for riot work. Their armor? Kydex. That would have been useful when I was a combatant in the Neolithic era of the Society of Creative Anachronism.
Cut resistance. Modern knives now come in kydex sheaths simply because the work needed to stab or cut through kydex is so great, it is the safest material with which they can be made.
There is one aspect of kydex that the manufacturer touts that I find not so much to be the case. They claim it is abrasion resistant. Hmmm. I have a custom Browning Hi-Power built for me by Wayne Novak, an FBI-HRT clone. The top is aggressively matted for a non-glare surface. That non-glare surface acts like a wood rasp on my kydex holsters.
A bit of practice with this Browning and this holster produces shards of kydex. This isn’t the only handgun I have that does this, and they don’t do it with all kydex holsters. In the long run, it is no big deal, because holsters don’t last forever. And they don’t cost a lot, either.
Every practice session produces a pair of fuzz-lines of abraded kydex on top of the slide. Oh well, holsters are pretty much consumables anyway. If this one only lasts a decade or two, instead of a lifetime, what do I care? And that leads to the last (#11) beneficial aspect of kydex as a holster material: It isn’t expensive. You can even make your own. You can buy sheets of kydex, to cut, heat, bend, and form to create your own holsters. How do you think the custom holster maker you bought yours from got his (or her) start?
I grew up in a blued-steel, walnut and leather world. Now it is stainless and diamond-like coating, laminated stocks, and kydex holsters. Some charm may have been lost, but the benefits are obvious, and worth the change.