This guide will teach you everything you need to know about gun holsters and how to select the perfect holster.
Like most people when you purchase your first handgun you will then wander over to the holster section of the store only to stare at a wall holsters in many different styles and configurations. Knowing which handgun holster to choose can be bewildering and confusing to a person new to concealed carry. Yet having the correct holster is a vital part of concealed carry and will ultimately determine how comfortable, safe and accessible your handgun is when carried. Holsters are a bit like clothing in that they are very personalized to each individuals needs and body shape. Choosing the wrong holster can result in an uncomfortable and unsafe experience while choosing the correct holster will make carrying your gun a joy. I hope this article will guide you to just such an experience so please read on.
It does not matter if you are a big dude with a pot belly, a small shapely women or something in between, there is a holster type that will fit your body type and every situation. The holster is key to succeeding with your first experience carrying a concealed handgun. But there are so many choices when it comes to handgun holsters that it can get a bit overwhelming for someone new to concealed carry. So we decided to write this quick start guide to cut out all the white noise and let you make a quick holster selection right now, let’s get started.
There are so many different types of holsters that choosing one can quickly become overwhelming.
A holster does not simply just hold a gun. It conceals the handgun, secures the handgun and gives you quick access to the handgun. Other things to consider are that the trigger is covered for safety and the gun barrel is also protected from scratches and damage.
The most critical thing to consider is how your gun fits into the holster as you certainly do not want the gun to fall out while moving around. The gun has to fit snugly in the holster but not so tight as to make it difficult to draw out. Fit is key here as you will be hanging a handgun that weighs from 12 ounces to 2 pounds of your hip. So it must feel comfortable from the start.
Visit any gun shop and you will be confronted with multiple choices in sizes, colors and configurations. Specific models of guns will have a holster made just for that gun. There will certainly be a model 19 holster for a glock model 19 handgun. And that is just the start of the different options you will need to take into account. So don’t worry about all those options for now.
Start with a Galco Royal Deluxe holster or the Alien Gear Cloak Mod OWB paddle holster made for your specific handgun and you will be of to a good start.
For your first holster it’s hard to beat an outside-the-waistband leather holster like this Royal Deluxe Holster from Galco. This design is simple and comfortable, it works.
This leather holster from Masc Holsters, is made from premium leather with top quality workmanship, and all for a reasonable price. It has the correct tilt for concealed carry and a fast draw. If you can’t handle the IWB holsters then this OWB holster will keep you happy.
Inside-the-waistband holsters are also very popular and many people will tell you to start with a IWB such as this Galco Tuck & Go holster. They do conceal better but some people find them uncomfortable plus you will probably need to buy a wardrobe of larger pants to accommodate the extra bulk.
So that’s it, start of with one of these holsters and it should tick all the boxes. I have seen so many people start with this style of holster and never look back. It is the one style I can say I use the most, it just does the job. Personally I like the OWB pancake holsters made by Galco Leather. Some other factory brands you may consider are Desantis, and Bianchi. At the handmade high end you should look for Soteria Leather, Rosen, Milt Sparks. I know from experience that if you only buy one holster and you make it a leather, pancake style, strong-side, configured for outside-the-waist carry, and pair it with a good gun belt you will be very happy.
If you want something different to the OWB holsters we have suggested then to speed things along we have selected some of the better holsters from each style for you.
Hover over the tiles below to see our best holster pick for that style.
Don’t forget about the belt! You don’t see too many people writing about gun belts. And that’s a mistake because there is not much point in having a good gun and holster if you hang it from an inferior belt. A good gun belt is essential if you want to carry your weapon in comfort and maintain functionality. Check out our review to find out what the best gun belts are.
To support your holster, ammo, and gun you will need a good belt as the foundation. This belt from Relentless Tactical is one of the best you can get.
Typically used for backup guns the ankle holster is best used with snubby revolvers and semi-auto handguns. It should not be a first choice for a main defensive gun as you need to bend down and pull up your pant leg to draw it.
This is a old and well proven concealed carry method. The bellyband holster consists of a roughly four inch wide band of elastic that a holster pocket has been sewn into and usually includes a retention strap to secure the gun.
These holsters are popular among outdoorsmen due to the handgun being easily accessible. The holster is also in a good position if you are carrying a backpack. Chest holsters are made in a variety of materials.
Inside-the-Waistband (IWB) holsters are probably the most common type of holster in use today. The IWB holster sits on the inside of the pants, hence the name Inside-the-Waistband. They are attached to the belt with either clips or belt loops.
Outside the Waistband (OWB) holsters are made from a variety of materials including leather, Kydex, nylon, and polymer. These holsters attach to the belt using a variety of different methods.
As the name suggests pocket holsters are slipped into the pocket of pants. Before they existed people would line their pockets with leather to make the carrying of a handgun more comfortable.
Made popular by many detective shows that went to air the shoulder holster is actually not the most widely used holster in the real world. Although it is useful for some specialized purposes.
IWB carry is the way to go if you want to conceal a medium or large sized gun. The holster is attached to the belt with either metal clips or leather loops and rides inside the pants which offers better concealment. You will need to buy a larger size in pants for it to work comfortably and some will always find it too uncomfortable. In case you are not sure if this mode is for you then I suggest you purchase a dual mode OWB/IWB holster like the Galco Double Time which you can switch from IWB to OWB configurations.
OWB holsters ride on the outside of the belt. They are very versatile but slightly more difficult to conceal than IWB holsters and will need a shirt or jacket to conceal. OWB holsters like the popular Blackhawk Serpa are easy to access and comfortable. They will usually have either an open top or retention strap to hold the gun in. The open top will allow for a quicker draw but I prefer having a retention strap in case a person tries to grab the gun from behind.
Just over the lower spin on a persons back and at waist height is a natural indentation that is perfect for concealing a handgun. One great holster that works well in this carry mode is the Gold Line Small-of-Back holster made by Gould & Goodrich. This mode is a bit slower than others as you need to twist your torso to reach your back and grip the gun, you will also require a bit of flexibility to achieve this. It’s also not a good carry mode if you are driving as the gun will be pressing against your spine while you are driving and very difficult to reach with a seat belt around your body. SOB carry is best reserved for special situations and not recommended for beginners to concealed carry.
Crossbreeds Supertuck was the first hybrid holster to catch on. For comfort it has a leather pad that is placed against your body and a kydex sheath for the gun is attached to the leather pad. This setup provides excellent concealment with a good degree of comfort.
Bianchi have developed the Allusion range of holsters that has a synthetic holster with leather stitched to the outside. So you get a fast draw from the synthetic plus the comfort and good looks that leather offers
There is no industry standard for measuring the retention of holsters. The closest to a standard is the Safariland system developed by FBI agent Bill Rogers (retired). The system gives holsters a rating from level I, II, III, or IV. The holsters are tested with a simulated attempt to grab the handgun from the holster that lasts 5 seconds. If the attacker fails to draw the gun within the 5 seconds the holster is given a retention rating of I. Further levels of testing include user actions that are needed to draw the gun such as disabling lock devices, flip levers and hoods.
1 Friction – Leather holsters do a reasonable job of retention by creating friction between the handgun and holster. The friction can be improved by molding the holster to a particular make and model of handgun, this increases the contact on the handguns surface areas. A rough inside can also help with friction.
New holsters often have too much friction and the holster will need to be broken in. Over time the leather holster will conform to the shape of the revolver or pistol that is placed in it. You will find that if the gun is pulled from any angle other than the normal angle it will tend to lock itself in place. This is at best a basic retention system but one that has proven to work.
If the leather is of good quality the holster will achieve its optimum retention after the break in period and retain that retention for many years if given occasional leather treatment.
Level one holsters like this 1791 simply rely on friction for gun retention. Molding the leather to the gun shape can increase friction and retention.
The Blackhawk SERPA CQC is a level 2 retention holster. The screw on the side controls tightness providing passive retention while active retention is provided by the Auto Lock release on the side
2Mechanism – On level 2 holsters you will find an extra mechanical mechanism such as a back strap, hood, thumb or finger operated lever as well as the friction grip level 1 holsters have. Straps are a common retention method and you will nearly always find them on shoulder and ankle holsters. Paddle and OWB holsters often include straps as an option. To provide active retention the strap wraps around the back of the handguns grip thus keeping it secure.
For an accurate example of a level 2 holster we only need to look at the Blackhawk Serpa CQC, a very popular holster among those who carry handguns. It has a gun lock that will only release once a button is pressed plus tension adjustment screws for level 1 friction. Another level 2 holster I have used on many occasions is Safariland’s ALS Paddle holster which has a thumb operated release. You will find it slightly slower than the open top holsters but there is a reassuring click when you re-holster your handgun.
3Two Mechanisms – To qualify as a level 3 retention holster two active locking mechanisms are added to the holster while still retaining the level 1 friction test. Once again the Blackhawk Duty Holster is an excellent example of a level 3 holster. This level is mostly used by law enforcement as it is a bit over the top for regular concealed carry.
The Blackhawk Auto Lock Duty Holster is an great example of what a level 3 holster looks like.
The Safariland 6360 holster can be changed from a level 3 holster to a level 4 by adding a century device.
4The average person will have no need to use a level 4 holster. Level 4 basically takes all the security measures in level 3 and then adds on to that. This is beyond the scope of this article which is primarily written for the average concealed carry user.
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