Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Just the Basics – All Things Holsters


Shooters are passionate folks. When you sit around a table with them and a few nice, cold adult beverages and talk about “all things guns”, there is simply no hiding these passions. Whether you talk about the best trigger, the best sight set, the best handgun, the best magazine, the best stock, the best ammunition, the best hearing protection . . . . or the best holster, there is no lack of opinion.

Honestly, that’s one of the “draws” for me in this community, because with  passion comes a flood of information – because most true shooters are not spouting BS, but a true understanding – from their POV of course – of the topic under discussion. Listen to enough discussions and you will know these – and many other topics – from the inside out and upside down. I love that!

However, for the new shooter, this can be utterly overwhelming. While certainly well meaning, if a new shooter talks to 3 different friends, each with their knowledge of what is the “best” – whatever, a new shooter ends their search more confused than when he/she started.

One such topic that is on the list of new shooters in my classes is; “What holster should I buy?” Wow, have a sit-down with virtually any shooter and ask this question and be prepared to buy more than one round as you are taught all the ins and outs of just what is the “right” holster. Sit with two shooters – heck you may as well hand the bar keep your pay check!

So, let’s talk a bit about holsters. The different types, advantages and disadvantages, their purpose and then I will share with you some choices I have made to carry the various handguns I use. Keeping in mind, of course, this is all IMNSHO (In My Not So Humble Opinion).

What’s it purpose?

Just what is the purpose of a holster? It does a number of things.

It provides ready access to your weapon. Should the need arise, your weapon is useless if you need to open a brief case, unzip a backpack, unlock one of those spiffy fake “organizers”, run to a drawer, unlock a gun safe – you’ll be chatting with St. Peter long before you can defend yourself. A holster, worn in the same position (mostly) and containing your weapon is the first step in defending yourself, your family and friends.

A holster holds your weapon securely. As you move throughout your normal day – whether sitting, standing, walking, running, bending over, crawling on your back or belly, laying on your side – it insures that your weapon isn’t going to spill out of its concealed spot and go skidding across the floor, sidewalk or pavement.

Your holster will protect your weapon. It protects your weapon from the bumps, scratches, gouges and nicks that would happen as you move throughout your day if you didn’t have some type of protection wrapped around it.

And finally, it helps you conceal your weapon. Again, IMNSHO, I promote “Concealed Carry” – your weapon is hidden from view - as opposed to “Open Carry” – where your weapon is clearly visible on your body. It’s not because I want to “hide” what I’m doing, I simply don’t want to give up the tactical advantage I have by concealing my weapon. I know I have the right to carry under the 2nd Amendment – I don’t need to be packin’ in plain sight to prove that to myself or anyone else. My opinions, of course. I have heard the whole “well if everyone open carried all the bad guys would see all the guns and not behave badly”. Not gonna enter that argument today – my wallet is empty and it’s too early to be drinkin’ – so talk among yourselves and let me know how it turns out.

So, to recap; A holster provides ready access, holds your weapon securely, protects your weapon and helps you conceal it. That is the purpose of a holster.

What types of holsters are there?

There are a whole host of options here, we are going to talk about a few of the most common.

Outside the Waistband

The OWB holster is the one most folks think of when they think of the word “holster”. It is worn on your belt and on your “dominant side” – the side of your body that has the hand you will use to draw your weapon. While it is usually secured to your body by your belt, a “paddle” can be used to allow you to easily remove your weapon and then replace it later. Honestly, I hate paddle holsters – they just never feel secure to me.


It is typically worn in one of two positions – the 3 o’clock, right over your hip, or at the 4 o’clock, slight behind your hip but in front of your rear pocket. The position is based on comfort, concealment and accessibility. The balance of those three considerations will decide where you wear your holster.

Retention of your weapon is usually handled three different ways. First is a simple screw adjustment that set so the weapon draws easily but is firmly retained during your normal movement.

This retention can be increased by adding a strap across the back of the weapon that first must be released before the weapon can be drawn. There are a host of designs out there – all with the intent of providing greater retention for your weapon.

The third type is a holster that provides an integrated “lock” that must be released – typically by sliding your trigger finger alongside the holster during your draw. These style holsters are typically warn in environments where the shooter is concerned that a bad guy may actively attempt to seize their weapon – typically in law-enforcement or military situations. Also, these styles of holsters are usually not considered concealable – though with the right shirt or jacket that can be accomplished. One common manufacturer of this style of holster is Blackhawk – their Serpa holster is shown in this image.


The final type would be a simple nylon holster. Typically I will use a holster like this to hold a weapon within my range bag or if I am out on a backpack trip and I want something a bit more generic yet well-padded with a strap to help secure my weapon.


Holsters like this would typically not be used for every day carry of your weapon.

While there are certainly other options – these cover the vast majority of styles of OWB holsters. The final choice for you is one of the most important you can make if you choose to carry OWB. It must be comfortable – you will carry your weapon all day, every day. You must be certain your weapon won’t go sliding across the big box store floor the first time you bend over and it must provide you the ability to consistently conceal your weapon with the clothing you are wearing.

Inside the Waistband

An Inside the Waistband – IWB – holster fits between your pants/slacks/shorts and your body. It usually secures to your belt by either a strap or specially designed clips that latch to your belt. There are a couple considerations to the type of IWB holster that you purchase.

Do they hold their form when you remove your weapon? There is added pressure placed on your holster by your belt as you tighten it. While it is of little consequence while your weapon is holstered – if you draw it and then must re-holster it, if the mouth of the holster collapses without the weapon in place, re-holstering can be a bitch.

Second, with the weapon in such close proximity to our body, is your body protected from the sharp edges of the slide and hamme? Typically a flap of leather rises above the weapon to shield your body.


In this image you see a Blackhawk IWB leather holster. It is currently my holster of choice. I wear it at the 4 o’clock position and easily forget that it is even there. The mouth is rigid enough that my weapon is easily reinserted after I have removed it from the holster. (FYI – What’s the primary reason a shooter removes his weapon during the day?? Answer: Potty Breaks. A whole post topic in-an-of-itself!)

A second option that has become popular in recent years is a combination of leather and kydex plastic. This marries the best of both worlds – the comfort of leather against your body with the rigidity of a plastic that is formed specifically to your carry weapon. A typical example of this is one that I use made by Comp-tac.


I find this option to be very comfortable and again wear it at the 4 o’clock position as well.

The biggest advantage to IWB carry is that it is much easier to conceal your weapon. Instead of trying to cover something that may extend 6 inches or more below your waistband, your waistband becomes part of your concealment garment. And, while it may take some getting used to, this is a very comfortable way to carry your weapon.

Shoulder Holsters

A shoulder holster is an assembly that is worn on the outside of your shirt. It allows a holster as well as two magazines to be carried on your body. It protects your weapon, provides easy access and secure retention. Probably its biggest challenge is concealment – usually by a jacket, suit coat or sport coat. While they may look great in detective shows, everyday use can be a bit of a challenge.


T-Shirt Holsters

Finally, a recent addition to concealed carry, the “T-Shirt” holster. These are undergarments that essentially have a shoulder holster integrated into their design – usually made out of a thick, soft nylon material. A pouch is provided high, under each arm that can either hold your weapon or spare magazines. I have found that this is a very flexible option for “deep concealment” and easily integrated into a broad range of clothing. The biggest disadvantages are that this is NOT a rapid-draw option and it can get a bit warm if worn over a very long time. Honestly, I would not wear this for every day carry, but there are situations when it is the perfect option.


With the exception of the shoulder holster – these are my holster options and ones I use every day depending on the situation. For me – all are comfortable, secure and easily accessible.

But . . . . we are all different. Take your time, choose an option that fits your lifestyle, break it in, wear it to the range, and practice with it – FREQUENTLY – and . . . .

As I have said many times over . . . .

Wear your damn gun! Every day!!


  1. LOL, how many HOURS do you have to discuss holsters??? I notice you didn't mention the box of holsters that didn't work... :-) I donated mine to Peter for his disabled shooters!

  2. I have no idea WHAT you're talking about . . . (slight indignation if voice)

    I certainly have no box (cough, cough) of holsters (eyes rolled up, looking side to side) in MY house . . . .

    Nope . . . . not me . . . .

    No Sirreee Bob!

  3. You left out crotch holsters!

    I have one of those 5.11 shoulder shirts. Itches a ton and gets host.

  4. Andy "You left out crotch holsters!"

    Why yes - yes I did . . . . . :)