Learning about holsters is very daunting to new shooters. More questions are asked about holsters than any other topic after which gun should someone get. Holsters are a necessary and specific tool to be used in conjunction with your firearm. But, how to choose the right holster? Get a holster from a reputable dealer made specifically for your firearm. Avoid falling for the “this holster fits 25 models” trap. You’ve made an investment in your gun of choice. Make the investment in a good holster. Things to consider are material, features, vendors, where it sits on your body, your wardrobe and your firearm.
There are a number of materials from which to choose for your holster. There are “sticky” holsters, leather, plastic and kydex. The sticky holsters are a soft pocket type of holster designed to disguise your small pocket type pistol. In general, I’m not a big fan of these collapsible holsters because when you place your pistol in one, you have to hold it open with the other hand and it’s impossible not to point a loaded firearm at your hand holding it open while holstering. Plus, sometimes you have to push really hard on your firearm to holster it, making the pistol come out of battery. Being out of battery means the slide isn’t all the way forward and thus, it won’t fire if needed. Leather is another traditional material for holsters. Leather is silent when holstering and unholstering making it a popular choice for concealed holsters. The issue with leather is that over time it becomes pliable at the edges and people have discharged their firearm with a soft piece of leather folded inwards while holstering. If you choose leather, you need to inspect it fairly often to make sure the edges around the trigger guard are still rigid. There are some neat hybrid options with a leather back, making it more comfortable, and a kydex front. Plastic holsters can be a low-cost option but lots of times the hardware is the same low-quality plastic making it not very viable for the long term. Kydex is a very hard, rigid plastic heat molded for a specific pistol. It comes in many patterns and colors and can be made for virtually any pistol on the market. Kydex has a very distinct sounding click when the firearm is holstered properly.
There are nearly as many features as there are firearms so what is actually needed? Outside the Waistband (OWB) holsters have pancake loops, regular back loops, belt clips in metal or plastic, drop offset features, multi retention options, pistol cant angle options, etc. For any holster it’s important that it stays secure and doesn’t flop around. In the beginning keep it simple. The pancake loops hold the holster closer to your body if you intend to conceal carry using an OWB holster. All other types sit off the body in various degrees. If you want it for training get an OWB with regular loops in kydex.
For Inside the Waistband (IWB), things get a little more complicated. An IWB holster is designed to hold your firearm inside your waistband for conceal carry. The features are a little more varied with this type of option. I will start with the clips that hold this to your belt. The holster goes inside the waistband and the clip comes out and over your belt on the outside. The clip sees a lot of on and off over the years, so metal is a much better option. Whether it has one wide one or 2 thinner ones in metal are of no matter. I’ve used both types and they both work very well. Another feature that works very well is the “claw”. The claw is situated next to the clips and goes inside the waistband as well. The tighter you go on your belt, the more it shoves the grip of the pistol up into your trunk, reducing the printing of your firearm under your shirt. There are also little wedges from various companies you can buy (or make your own from yoga blocks) that glue onto the bottom of the holster near the muzzle pushing the top and grip into your trunk more. Again, many materials are available, but I like kydex the best for IWB because you are moving around and don’t want to take any chances that anything could manipulate the trigger or that it could work its way out of the holster making for a dangerous situation.
There are lots of level retention options for a holster, level one, two and three. Level one retention is the click and hold of the trigger guard as you holster your firearm. For most situations this is all you need. Level two is that tight trigger guard click plus an exterior button or latch that must be defeated as you unholster your firearm. A note about type of holster: An external push button on the outside right where the trigger guard is located is a dangerous type of holster and most reputable training facilities won’t allow this type. It’s too easy as you’re drawing out of the holster, while pushing that button down, to end up on the trigger and causing a negligent discharge down your own leg! Third level retention has the click, a lever on the back side AND a hood that goes over the top of the slide. This is what you see law enforcement carrying. For conceal carry purposes, the more levels of retention you have to defeat, the slower you are on target and to first shots without a LOT of extra training.
For competition and training a lot of people (me included) use a drop offset holster outside the strong side hip. The drop offset makes the gun sit lower which is much more comfortable when drawing a lot! This is also a great solution for someone who has a shoulder injury as that repeated higher reach to the waistband can cause a lot of pain and re-injury. The drop offset is the picture above. It’s sits much lower than the belt.
The cant, or angle, of the holster is a personal preference and for some reason most holster makers put an FBI (forward) cant on their holsters. I prefer a straight up and down as it’s easier to get the gun out of the holster. With the FBI cant you actually have to lean forward a bit and angle the wrist ruining the kinesthetic alignment and proprioceptive body system. What that means in simple terms is that you have to lean, throwing your balance and vision coordination out of alignment until you correct for that, thus wasting a lot of time. a “0” cant is much faster and easier for drawing consistency.
There are LOTS of quality holster vendors in the market. I would caution against an Amazon holster as those tend to be of lower quality unless you are familiar with the brand. For example, CompTac is a holster brand that makes a lot of competition type holsters. They are great and I own a rig from them. They sell on Amazon, but you can only get black. If you go to their website, you have a number of colored options for the same price. But you’d have to already know that they are a very reputable brand. There are too many good holster makers to list here but find one that has the features you want for your specific firearm and budget. Speaking of budget, expect to spend AT LEAST $75 for a quality holster. That’s without any customization of colors, patterns or add ons. The average price of the regular holsters I use is $100. It’s worth every penny as they are high quality and backed up by the manufacturer. They sit very solidly in position and keep my firearm secure. All while sporting my preferred colors. Ask your friends in the shooting community what holster brand they are using and its pros and cons. Being educated here means buying once, crying once. So, do the homework and you will have a holster that will be in use for years. Many of us when starting out didn’t do the homework in this area and have a HUGE bag of unused, less than ideal holsters. Now, they are used to educate people on what is good and less good in my training program.
There are lots of discussions about what is the best holster placement on the body. But, it depends on a number of factors. Is this for competition? Conceal carry? Body type is also a determining factor as is your wardrobe. When I started conceal carrying, I refused to give up cute clothes for an untucked shirt and pants. As a result, I had several options that worked with my wardrobe. Now that I’ve transitioned to a full-time firearms instructor, my wardrobe has changed to mostly range clothes and OWB carry. The cute clothes get used now and then as do my cute corsets from www.deneadams.com when wearing stretchy clothes. The corsets keep my firearm very secure and invisible. If you are regularly in a business suit, a different option may be what you need. A holster set up that has set the conceal carry world on fire is the Pflster Enigma. But, even their website will say that unless you are willing to fiddle with the chassis and figure out what you need to do to make it work for you, not to purchase it. I bought the express version (not customizable) for my Glock 19 and have been very happy with it. But there is a leg strap that takes getting used to and I had to ask a friend what to do with all those cords when in the bathroom. So, luckily, I could phone a friend.
Some people conceal carry appendix area, some in fanny packs or purses, others cross draw and yet others swear by small of the back carry. These are all options with some being better than others. BUT, this is a very personal choice you have to make. To figure it out, get with a certified instructor and work through all the pros and cons of each position so that you understand the choice you are making. While working with that instructor, they will likely put you under a little pressure while drawing with a cleared firearm. The right choice for you will become apparent pretty quickly. It’s awesome that there are so many choices out there and it’s no longer a one size fits most mindset. Find what works for you and then train with it so you understand the limitations of your choice and any factors that need to be included.
How your firearm affects your holster choice and options
Some people choose teeny, little guns for conceal carry and others a large gun. Small guns are incredibly easy to conceal but have a trade off in that they are less accurate and have more felt recoil than a bigger gun. So, more options for concealing but you definitely need more training to make sure you are proficient with it at multiple distances. A large honking gun gives a lot of security but is much harder to conceal unless you are also a large framed person. I’m 5’4″, 145 lbs. So, my choice is somewhere in the middle with a mid-sized gun, the Glock 19. I’ve developed tricks over the years for concealing this larger gun on my smallish frame. But, sometimes it just prints through my shirt. And guess what? No one even notices. Remember, there is no perfect gun out there. Everything is about the tradeoffs involved. Being educated on those tradeoffs are what will help you make the best choice early on.
Hopefully, this post gives you more information about how to choose the right holster. The simple truth is that you will likely need several different types of holsters. For being on the range, I use an OWB holster. For conceal carry I use several different ones depending on my wardrobe. For competition, I use a drop offset holster. My suggestion is to start with an OWB made specifically for your firearm and start getting training with that holster with a competent, certified instructor. The skills you learn will translate over to the eventual conceal holster you choose. Understand up front that there will be some differences between drawing from an IWB appendix location that OWB strong side hip. But, you will still use the same trigger finger placement and discipline. You will still use, more or less, the same draw stroke. You will still join your hands on the grip at the same place, etc. Learn the safety first with the simplest option and go from there. Your firearm, and you, are worth spending a little extra on to get a high-quality holster.
When you get your first holster, seek out some competent training from a certified firearms instructor. We offer a number of regular classes that include holster training and practice. Check out our website for all of our classes.