Concealed Carry & Home Defense

HOOBER: Are Leather Holsters Still Worth A Darn? Well, Some Aren’t

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By Sam Hoober

Despite the insistence of many of the tacticool goons on Instagram, Kydex is not the be-all, end-all. Don’t get it wrong; it’s an excellent material for making holsters, but people get fixated on specific materials for reasons that aren’t always good.

Sometimes the reasons aren’t even real.



Corinthian leather doesn’t actually exist. There probably are some tanneries there, but nobody cares; the place that’s really known for its leather in any case is Cordova, and the leather they’re known for is made from horsehide. Point being, Chrysler made it up for their ad campaigns and it probably got a few people to buy a LeBaron or what have you.

It’s not like there was any other reason to buy a Chrysler but one digresses.

So, from time to time the idea comes up whether or not it’s worth it fooling with leather holsters in any way shape or form.

The quick answer is some of them, yes. The longer answer involves, as usual, a certain amount of nuance that essentially boils down to the same idea. So, to explain, let’s dig in.

In and of itself, leather is only beneficial as a holster-making material because it’s softer than polymer and as a result is somewhat more comfortable if worn inside the waistband. That said, what most people learn with experience is that placement on the body is the greater share of comfort while carrying a gun IWB and the reality is that a decent Kydex holster is generally cheaper.

But, some people still insist on leather. So here’s what you should know.

Leather holsters come in two categories. Those that are hobby grade – meaning they’re more for appearance rather than serious use – and those that are made for actual use. If you’re getting one for the former (like, say, a shoulder holster just because or an engraved OWB for a barbecue gun) then get whatever you want and enjoy it. Just don’t rely on it for much more than very occasional use.

Put it this way: if you find it in a gun store, it’s almost certainly a hobby-grade holster. If it’s cheap or modestly affordable, it’s probably a hobby-grade holster.

Those that are for serious use tend to be rather uniform in design, but are offered by a number of different manufacturers. The reason for that is the holster design has been proven to work.

Here are the attributes you want to look for.

First, the holster is made for a specific make and model of pistol. If there’s a fit list and it consists of more than just, say, “most 1911s” just say no. A hand-boned holster is best (meaning hand-molded for the gun) but there are mechanical processes (press molding) that can yield more than acceptable results.

Second, the holster mouth has to be reinforced. This prevents the holster mouth from collapsing on the draw and thus preventing or otherwise complicating reholstering, which is an absolute non-starter. Double layers of leather at an absolute minimum, and rarely is that actually sufficient.

A reinforcing band of kydex is good, steel is better.

Another thing to look for is the leather itself. If it feels soft and squishy, it’s going to go limp in short order.

Most of the quality leather holsters tend to be of the same patterns.

One of the most common is the Summer Special, though not all are necessarily sold under that name. The Summer Special was invented by Bruce Nelson in the 1950s. It’s an IWB holster with one or two snap loops that connect to the belt. It has a reinforced mouth, and is typically made of either rawhide or the roughout (the fleshy side of the leather) side out and the grain on the inside of the holster.

A decent Summer Special (or holster of that type) still makes a good IWB. Most have a slight forward cant, so some find they aren’t the best for appendix carry but still acquit themselves well for that purpose.

The classic belt scabbard OWB can also be made well, as can the related Askins Avenger holster design. Typically these are high-ride OWB holsters offered either as an open-top or with a thumb break for active retention.

What you want to avoid is the Threepersons and Jordan rigs if you’re going to actually carry a gun. These older styles of holster have an exposed trigger guard and a hammer loop or snap for active retention. Holsters with exposed trigger guards were known to cause unintentional discharges, such as the old Safety Speed holster formerly used by various police departments (most notably perhaps the LAPD) and seen in “Adam 12.”

They might be okay for the range or for cowboy events, but the real world has moved on.

One could mention shoulder holsters, but the reality is that very, very few people use shoulder holsters very often. Lots of people buy them, but soon discover reality is a major letdown, like it usually is! Soon after, it is relegated to either occasional use, consigned to a drawer or sold on eBay. As just something to have and enjoy, fine, but it is a rare instance indeed for anyone to use one every day.

Caring for them is easy: don’t do much. Typical leather care like saddle soap, oils or greases for boots shouldn’t be applied to holsters as you don’t want them to soften. A very, very light application once a year at most, if even that. For the most part, they need very little care.

Another thing to know about leather holsters is that you will get what you pay for. If you’re seriously considering one, expect to pay close to $100 if not more. You will probably not find a gun store special that is even adequate, let alone good.

The best brands are generally held to be Milt Sparks, Kramer, and 5 Shot Leather. Some other very good brands include El Paso Saddlery, Wright Leather Works, Wild Bills Concealment and Privateer Leather. Galco makes decent leather holsters, as does Don Hume.

If, that is, you were convinced that you had to. The reality is a decent Kydex holster is just as comfortable when properly placed on the body, more durable and generally more affordable.

What do you think? What do you use?

Sam Hoober is a hunter and shooter based in the Inland Northwest.