September 10, 2018 8 min read

A hybrid holster is an in-the-waistband (IWB) holster, manufactured by attaching a Kydex scabbard to a large piece of leather or flexible synthetic backer. This large, flexible backing distributes the weight across a larger surface than most IWB holsters, making them more comfortable for some users.

Hybrid IWB holsters are a (relatively) new development in the holster world. The last “great leap forward” was the move towards Kydex holsters which have been in use since the early 1970s. They have become so popular that they now eclipse leather for most CCW applications. The theory of using leather or other material between the gun and the wearer is not new, tracing its lineage back to theShadow Concealmentholster of yore, but advances in materials and mounting hardware have made them a more viable option today.

Early variants used leather and Kydex, while newer designs often use a synthetic backer material with a metal reinforcing band. The leather portion formed a large “backer” for the holster that rides against the body and forms a mounting surface to attach the gun-holding shell. This gun-holding part of a hybrid is a form-fitting Kydex scabbard. Kydex is a semi-flexible polymer which is molded to fit specific firearms.

Hybrids are designed for strong-side IWB carry at or behind the hip and do not lend themselves to improvised use as appendix or cross draw rigs, but they offer a number of advantages over traditional holster styles:

Why You Should Wear a Hybrid IWB Holster Divider

Add Some Stability to Your Life

The hybrid design spreads the mounting points out along a wider area, distributing the weight better than a traditional holster. Like a boxer planting his feet apart to keep from getting knocked over, the wider stance of the hybrid helps anchor your carry piece in place. Attached to a sturdy, quality gun belt, the hybrid rig will ride without shifting, flopping or otherwise annoying the crap out of you.

IWB Holster Weight Distributing

With a hybrid, the gun stays in the position you expect to find it in when you need to grab it in a hurry, which translates into a faster draw time. A faster draw time gives you extra seconds to better analyze a situation or to start responding in kind to an attack already in progress.

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A quality hybrid will be more comfortable as there is a large backer shielding your body from the rest of the rig. A good backer spreads the weight over a wider area, minimizing the pressure on any specific area and making it more tolerable for prolonged wear.

IWB Holster Shield

The hybrid’s “shield effect” also keeps the gun from touching the body as many traditional IWB holsters do not. This prevents any sharp angles of the gun or sights from contacting the wearer directly, creating irritating pressure points.

The hybrid’s shield also keeps the corrosive effects of sweat away from the pistol which can be damaging over time. This feature shouldn’t be underestimated, as years of sweat can corrode steel and aluminum pistol components leaving a scarred and pitted surface.

Why You Should Wear a Hybrid IWB Holster Divider


9mm pistol bullets on black table

Hybrid designs can be customized and adjusted to meet the specific needs of the customer. Holster angle (cant), retention force, height above the belt line and even the types of attachment points are all features that can be modified to meet your requirements. Some of the better recent designs can even be reversed for right- or left-handed mounting!

When shopping for a hybrid, closely examine the three main components of the holster that will have a major impact on your choice–the backpad, pistol scabbard and mounting clips.

Why You Should Wear a Hybrid IWB Holster Divider

Hybrid Holster Construction

The two choices in backers is leather or synthetic. Leather backpads will need to “break-in,” just like a regular leather holster.  Higher quality, thicker leather will take longer to break in. Neoprene or other synthetics don’t require a break-in period and won’t begin to disintegrate from repeated soakings of sweat. Newer designs have voids to help the holster “breathe” by letting moisture out instead of trapping it in.  Some companies have eliminated leather from their hybrid designs, with many savvy customers now seeking out comfortable hybrid holsters whose backing is a cushioned synthetic. Synthetic backers eliminate certain wear issues and usually make for a faster draw stroke.

Reinforcing layers are added to let the backer shape the holster to your body but return to its original shape when not needed. On leather-backed hybrids, the thick leather backpad acts as the reinforcing layer.

Synthetic backers need additional support to maintain their shape and retention of the gun. Some designs use an ABS plastic reinforcing layer which molds itself almost as well as leather options. ABS reinforcement will help maintain your holster’s shape and add years to its service life.

Other hybrid designs use spring-steel, which is a thin, flexible layer of steel that snaps back to its original shape. Inserted between the backpad material and a protective top layer, spring-steel can maintain retention of the pistol through vigorous movement. Your gun rides securely in the holster sandwiched between the Kydex scabbard and the steel band behind the backer.

The outer protective layers for Hybrid Holsters are typically Kydex, which forms the scabbard that contains the firearm. Kydex makes excellent holster material even as a standalone material, so it only makes sense to adapt it to the new design.

IWB Holster Kydex

Some manufacturers have options to switch the scabbards to accommodate multiple pistol types on the same backer. This can cut down on holster expenses as far anyone adding a new carry piece to the lineup.

As with all modern holsters, they should cover the trigger guard and allow the shooter to access the gun with a full firing grip.

The fastening clips physically attach the holster to your belt and are a key element in the suitability of any hybrid setup. Depending on brand, these clips come in polymer, steel or traditional leather loops.

Clip-style mounting options for hybrid holsters include “J” and “C” clips.  J-clips go between the belt and the waistband and cup the bottom end of the belt. C-clips fit between the belt and the waistband and latch on to the top and bottom of the belt. This style minimizes the holster signature on the belt line but depends on a purpose-built gun belt to ensure that they are retained on the belt. J- or C-clip mounting is no place for a flimsy fashion belt. These are most often found on “tuckable” holster designs that allow the shooter to conceal the holster under a tucked-in shirt.

Old-school shooters, law enforcement or anyone who has drawn a gun with the holster still attached tend to prefer the traditional leather or synthetic loop. These are “target indicators” to anyone who knows to look for them to ID anyone carrying a gun and are usually not found on tuckable styles.

Steel clip options offer increased rigidity and can be a secure option if designed properly, which means they have a lip that locks under the belt and interfaces with the over-belt portion of the clip.  Steel clips without these features are a holster disaster waiting to happen.

Understand that steel clips still require a sturdy gun belt.They are not an invitation to clip onto your beltless jeans, sweats or yoga pants (also a holster disaster waiting to happen). If you find yourself rocking a pair of awesome yoga pants or are wearing your Ghe to your Tae Kwon Do class, there are other viable options for carrying your peace of mind. Belly bands and ankle rigs come to mind and offer a more reliable solution than beltless clip-on carry. Nothing screams “untrained amateur” louder than clipping onto your clothes.

So-called “Standard” polymer clips loop around the belt like a "p." The leg of the "p" is on the inside of the waistband and the loop wraps around the belt.

No matter which style of clip you choose, the interchangeability feature allows you to replace them when worn or broken, or to change types as your requirements evolve.

Why You Should Wear a Hybrid IWB Holster Divider

Hybrid Holster Realities

Hybrids can take a bit longer to put on in the morning than other, smaller holster types. This is the tradeoff for the increased stability they provide. Most people don’t consider this a factor as the holster goes on and stays on. For law enforcement officers who need to take their rig off several times a day for security reasons, this may be a deal breaker.

The advantage of hybrid holsters is that the shield actually protects the wearer from a sharp-edged gun, and the gun from a sweaty shooter. The tradeoff is that the pistol’s grip area is pressed tightly into the leather shield, and the fingers have to negotiate the two to gain a positive firing grip. This demonstrably slows down the draw. Many shooters find synthetic backing alternatives to be faster than leather, which mirrors the lessons learned when transitioning from all-leather holsters to all-Kydex rigs.

iwb kydex holster smith wesson

A major consideration with the backing design of holsters is the body shape of the customer. If you’ve grown into a “dad bod” and have developed a spare tire around your middle, you will find the hybrid’s backing to be a comfortable option. The downside is that pressure from your midsection will, over time, roll a leather backer over the back of the slide. Designs with backers that shield the entire grip-frame may eventually start rolling over the backstrap of the grip frame itself. This will do more than slow the draw. It can trap it or cause a fumble under stress. A minimal backing will be a better choice for shooters with this body shape, or a hybrid design using a synthetic backer which will always retain its shape.

Why You Should Wear a Hybrid IWB Holster Divider

Wear and Age

Traditional hybrid holsters using a leather backer are very comfortable after breaking in to fit the individual user. The downside is leather will eventually wear to the point that it can begin to fold over the gun or, in some cases, actually trap the gun in place and impede the draw. More recent designs using composite materials reduce this problem. After repeated sweat soakings, even well-maintained leather will stretch and crack where a synthetic-backed hybrid may outlast the original buyer.

Backing material varies. Horsehide, a traditional leather on higher-grade rigs, is denser and lighter-grained than cowhide, which makes it more moisture-resistant. Shooters in humid climates or who sweat heavily find this advantageous, as horsehide tolerates dampness better. Horsehide will withstand repeated soaking/drying cycles longer than cowhide before developing compromises in structural integrity.

Hybrid IWB holster

Concealment Express IWB hybrid holster. Synthetic backer breathes, won’t deform with age and speeds draw stroke.

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Setting Up Your Hybrid Rig

Some people are intimidated by the sheer amount of adjustment and customization available to them with a hybrid. Many will just leave it the way it came from the shop and never take advantage of the hybrid’s modularity. Follow these few pointers to get started with a new setup:

Retention adjustment–Retention is adjusted by a screw on the rear of the Kydex scabbard. A good rule of thumb is to tighten the retention just enough to keep the gun in the holster when held upside down and given a good shake (try to do this over something soft like your bed or a couch). Go an extra half turn on the screw to compensate for the additional weight of your ammo load, because we all know you weren’t just shaking a loaded gun around the house. Right?

Attach your belt clips so the holster rides at your optimal height. If you are tucking a shirt in, get it as low as possible. Also adjust the clip angle to set the holster cant to provide a smooth draw stroke.

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What Will Work Best for You?

If you prefer to carry your gun IWB, at or behind your hip, then a hybrid IWB holster should be on your radar. No other holster design offers as many options, or the ability to upgrade or change features to meet your evolving CCW needs. And on top of all that, a quality hybrid holster delivers increased carry comfort and stability so you aren’t constantly adjusting your rig (another “tell” to observers). The current generation of synthetic rigs have eliminated many of the downsides exhibited by early designs, so give one a shot and see what works best for you.

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