One of the more popular designs in the conceal carry world is the hybrid holster. Easily found on shelves in gun stores across America, and often appearing in ads on Facebook and Youtube, virtually everyone is at least vaguely familiar with the hybrid. Unfortunately, common use does not necessarily equate high quality. With this in mind, how do hybrid holsters compare to traditional all leather and all kydex offerings?
What is a Hybrid Holster
First we must define what exactly is a hybrid holster. Typically this is a holster which uses a combination of kydex or other polymers backed by leather or synthetic material, worn inside the waistband. The leather backer is designed to improve comfort and protect the gun from wear when compared to a traditional kydex or leather holster. Belt mounts are usually a metal or plastic belt clip, with soft loops being a less common method.
Advantages of Hybrid Holsters
The main advantage I typically hear people claim about hybrid holsters is comfort. That a hybrid outclasses an all-kydex holster in terms of comfort, while providing a little more security than a traditional leather holster. I haven't found this to be the case, which I'll cover more below.
Price is another advantage I will sometimes hear touted. Alien Gear specifically makes incredibly inexpensive holsters, which allow users to quickly swap out shells for a reduced price. While saving money is good, I wouldn't recommend buying poor quality life saving equipment. As someone who has seen a variety of holsters fail in short order, going the "buy once, cry once" route is the better option. Again, I'll speak more to this point throughout the article.
Disadvantages of Hybrid Holsters
As someone who teaches and writes, I frequently get asked about my gear recommendations. Wanting to give the best possible answer both for those who ask, and for myself, I decided to try several hybrid holsters to see how they compare to my typical carry. With this in mind, I bought a few examples, and borrowed others. Over the course of six months I carried and practiced with five different hybrid holsters. Examples came from Alien Gear, Black Arch, Comp-Tac, and Crossbreed. These were selected as I felt they represented common variations of the hybrid design, and are popular options among the general public. This is on top of significant exposure to hybrid holsters in classes and competition over the course of several years.
During my time with these holsters I found that each typically had some unique positives and negatives compared to the others, with none being a perfect solution.
The number one reason why I hear people advocate for hybrid holsters is comfort. Curiously, I've found that hybrids offer the worst levels of comfort between them, and pure kydex or leather offerings. The primary issue in my mind is bulk. Bolting a leather backer to a kydex shell virtually guarantees you a bulkier holster than a standard holster design. As an example, I have to loosen my belt by 1 to 2 notches when wearing a hybrid holster, compared to non-hybrids carried in the same position. Additionally, I have to unbutton and unzip my pants to don hybrid holsters, which is not the case with kydex or leather options. I often see people say that a hybrid spreads pressure over a large area of the body, resulting in greater comfort. Again, this is not the case.
This excess bulk causes pressure against the body, which turns to discomfort over time. Instead of relieving pressure via distribution, hybrids simply cause more discomfort over more of the body. The smallest footprint hybrid I've used to date is the Black Arch Protos-M, which provided improved comfort due to the smaller size of the holster.
Quality of Materials
These holsters get sweaty fast and stay sweaty for the long haul. Wearing each holster throughout a Midwestern Summer let me see how they stand up to the rigors of daily life, and the results were wanting. Black Arch, Alien Gear, and Crossbreed all soak up sweat from their porous backers, and hold onto it for hours, even once the holster comes off. Even Alien Gear's synthetic backer suffers from this issue, despite claims to the contrary. The combination of sweat and sometimes rough material makes for an unpleasant experience on even the hardiest of hides.
I can hear the comments now "but leather holsters do that too!" This is only partially true. Cheap leather holsters, like the Galco Stow-N-Go soak up sweat like a sponge. If you buy a quality leather option, like a Milt Sparks Summer Special, or Galco Summer Comfort, they repel sweat nearly as well as kydex. I know, I was shocked too, but I own both of those holsters and have seen it with my own eyes.
Gone are the days of old when we simply threw a bare holster in our waistband and dressed around it. It's the 2020's and we have tools to improve our ability to conceal our tools. That is, unless you're carrying with a hybrid holster. For most hybrids, you'll lack concealment features such as the traditional wing and wedge. While typically found on AIWB holsters, these can be beneficial to those carrying strong side as well. With hybrids covering such a large area of our body, it becomes difficult to focus our concealment efforts.
The bulk mentioned in the previous section does more than impact comfort. It also has a negative impact on concealment. There is a distinct bulge in my pants (UwU) where the holster is "hidden", which is not present on the other hip. Unfortunately, this bulge is not in a place to benefit the public perception of me. Am I hiding a tumor, or maybe a colostomy bag? Who knows, but it's certainly noticeable to those looking. While the average soccer mom may miss it, a knowledgeable bad guy will likely hone in on this distinctly misplaced lump.
Hybrid holsters are notorious for poor durability across several fronts.
Loss of Rigidity in Backers
The most common issue I see regarding durability is a loss of rigidity in the backers. On multiple occasions I have seen hybrid holsters from multiple manufacturers become unsafe within hours of being worn. I have experienced this with both Crossbreed and Black Arch holsters. Some holsters, like the Alien Gear CloakTuck 3.5 feature a steel liner within the backer to help prevent these issues. Others just opt for thicker leather, which then impacts comfort and concealment as noted above. Thicker backers only serve to delay a loss of rigidity.
Sweat, outboard pressure from the wearer's body, and aggressive contact during the drawstroke will weaken the backer, quickly causing them to become floppy. Once a backer loses its rigidity, it never returns. These floppy backers cause several problems.
The first issue with floppy backers is interference with the holstering process in general. It's fairly common to see a backer hanging over the mouth of the holster after the pistol is drawn. Two things typically happen once the shooter starts to holster their gun.
Most commonly I see shooters using the muzzle of their pistol to press the backer away, opening the mouth of the holster to ease holstering. Think about that for a second. You have a live gun in your hand, and you're willingly pointing it at yourself, finger only maybe off the trigger, as you're trying to safe your gun. People talk about appendix carry being dangerous, but I think a shot transverse across the hips is gonna be a lot worse than anything I could do at AIWB. Ask anyone with medical training if they can help you after blasting a round across the hips and intestines; spoiler alert, they can't.
Next, I see shooters using their support hand to push the backer away. Most of the time this is due to a curling sweat guard. However, this can also be caused by a backer filling the void in the holster once the pistol is drawn. More than once I've seen shooters put fingers inside of their holster, muzzles following, as they try to press the backer away from the shell. Losing a couple digits is the best case scenario here if things go wrong.
Another issue is interference with the trigger when holstering. A floppy backer can easily find its way inside the trigger guard during the holstering process. As the shooter attempts to holster their gun, they begin to press harder upon encountering resistance. This extra force causes the backer to press against the trigger until...BANG. We've seen this happen on video, and I've seen it nearly happen until someone stepped in and stopped the shooter from holstering. The latter portion I've seen in multiple classes, with Chuck Haggard, Tom Givens, and John Johnston swooping in to save the student.
Kydex outer shells have significant stress points due to methods of attachment to the backer. This results in cracking of the shell, and separation of the two pieces. Most commonly this occurs when the shell is bolted directly onto the backer, like with Crossbreed and certain Alien Gear models.
The cause of this is differences in flexibility between the soft backer and the rigid shell, with the shell eventually breaking opposed to the flexing of the backer. Models with hard 90 degree angles on the shells will experience this sooner, as pressure focuses here. Once this happens, the holster will begin to lose whatever retention it has. Eventually, full separation of the two pieces will occur.
Many hybrid holsters offer adjustable retention via screws, tightening the shell to the backer. Despite this, retention is often inconsistent and poor across all holsters of the type. This is due to varying levels of tension caused by the mating of different materials. Pressure from the wearer's body will press into the backer, causing greater retention as the pressure increases. This means that tighter belts or bigger users could experience stronger retention. Rigid shells will try to grab onto the pistol, much like a kydex holster, trying to lock into the trigger guards and ejection ports. The combination of these two materials causes an interesting mix of retention. You'll often feel a slow drag from the backer, with a slight "pop" from the shell.
With varying levels of retention, you have varying levels of security. With some hybrid holsters, even when worn, I can get my finger fully on the trigger--on the body side of the pistol. This is a problem. If I'm in an entangled fight, I don't want my attacker to have access to my pistol. If I'm playing with my children, I don't want them to have access to my pistol. Even if the trigger is fully covered, it's easy to force leather away from the gun, causing a substantial safety concern.
Most hybrid holsters suffer from poor quality belt attachments, resulting in poor retention on the belt. From cheap plastic and metal, I've found nearly every hybrid holster to be lacking in the belt attachment department. I can't count the number of hybrids I've seen leave the pants on the drawstroke or during force on force drills. I've personally experienced this just from everyday movements, the holster working its way out of my pants throughout the day. Much like weapon retention, losing your holstered gun while fighting or playing could be a life threatening issue.
Look for metal clips, ideally something compatible with Discrete Carry Concepts clips, or similar. I had good luck with the OEM metal clips from Black Arch, which seem higher quality than those from Crossbreed.
What good is a holster if we can't readily access our pistol from it? Looking at most hybrid holsters, and you can clearly see access is of little to concern to both their designers and userbase. Sweat guard portions of backers are often oversized, and poorly cut. Some don't seem to cut their material at all, leaving a massive oval of leather behind the gun. These oversized sweat guards make it difficult to impossible to achieve and appropriate grip upon drawing the pistol. Additionally, these large portions of leather further add to the bulk of the holster, and often begin curling sooner than lower profile options.
Final Thoughts on Hybrid Holsters
I like to think I'm a pretty open minded guy. I spent a couple hundred dollars of my own money working on this project. I also put my reputation on the line, borrowing gear from other shooters. After several months of hands-on evaluation, and years of watching hybrid holsters, I think I've come to a pretty effective conclusion on the type.
Pure nylon holsters and soft leather might take the cake, but a hybrid holster is one of the worst choices a shooter could make when it comes to selecting an IWB concealment holster. All have serious downsides when compared to quality leather and just about any kydex offering. Some hybrid holsters are straight up dangerous.
If there's a hybrid which you think does things better, let me know in the comments. I'm more than willing to give new gear a shot. If you need a quality holster, consider looking at PHLster, KSG Armory, Bawidamann, Tenicor, and others we've reviewed here, along with positive mentions elsewhere in this article.
Author's Note: Special thanks to Karl Rehn of KR Training for loaning me some hybrid holsters. Without your help, this project would've been a lot more expensive. If you're looking for training in Central Texas, Karl and his team are an excellent resource.