If you have carried a gun for any amount of time. I bet I have a couple of things in common with you. We both have spent a lot of money searching for the perfect holster, and we both have a bin or box filled with holsters that didn’t fit the bill. I was looking at my bin when the idea for this article slapped me in the face. So let’s take some time and talk about holsters.
Before we talk about material, let’s talk about position. Where and how are you going to carry your firearm. My preferred method is strong side carry and in a straight drop or mild cant holster. I prefer this for many reasons. This first is that it most closely resembles how I carry my firearm at work. I am trained to find my weapon there as a reflex, in a high stress situation, that is where my hand it going, like it or not. Second is retention, it is much easier to keep your weapon in the holster with your strong hand using the basic retention techniques. The third is safety. I can draw my firearm, address and threat and place my firearms back in my holster without muzzling my body, or anyone else. I can also do it with one had, which we will talk about later. There are other methods of carry such as shoulder holster, small of the back, & cross draw. The are issues with all of them, it is near impossible to out your firearm back into a shoulder holster with one hand, and muzzling everyone behind you. Small of the back holsters make a little sense until you’re seating in a car, then what. Not to mention the potential back injury you could receive if you fell and hit your weapon into your spine. Cross draw holsters work well in automobile seats, but when you are standing in a responsive position, your weapon is within reach to your adversary. So now that is it settled that strong side carry is most suitable for defensive carry, lets talk about fit and quality.
When I say quality holster, what do you think about. I will tell you what I think of and how I evaluate a carry rig. First off the holster should be sturdy, it does you no good if someone is able to rip the weapon off of your side. The holster should be well constructed and attached firmly to your pants via belt loops are in some cases a paddle. The holster should cover the trigger guard completely, yet allow you to get a firing grip on the weapon while it is in the holster. The holster should remain stiff and retain it’s shape when the weapon is out of it, this will allow you to re-holster with one hand. Using two hands is unsafe because you are likely to muzzle your hand, and you leave your self with out a support hand to respond to a threat. A secondary but important feature of a holster is protect your firearms from being banged up in daily carry, make sure the holster covers the entire slide and barrel, and open bottom is fine, but I try to avoid having the tip of the slide showing. This also comes in handy should your cover shift raise up a little. A passer will only see a little material, not cold steel. Alright, we are moving along, next we will tackle an issue most people don’t even thing about, belts.
How many people have gone out and spend $800 on a carry gun, $70 on a holster and strapped it to there body with a $6 belt. Your chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. In that scenario, the belt is the weakest link. There are two important factors to keep in mind, size & stiffness. You want your belt width to match the width of your belt loops. This will reduce movement and wobble. The belt should also be stiff enough to support the weight of a firearm and in some cases other equipment, magazines, lights, etc. Many manufactures make belts with stiff palmer inserts to keep them rigid and keeps your weapon tight and close to your body. These belts are available in many colors and designs to fit your style. You can find them through holster companies and tactical equipment retailers like 5.11 tactical. Alright, we know have address the belt issue, lets talk about retention.
Holsters are rated with retention levels. Levels 1 through 3 are commonly available in concealment holsters. The level number refers to how many retention devices are on the holster, such as retention screws, trigger guard traps, thumb straps, etc. Most people have the belief that the higher the retention number, the more time it takes to get the firearms out. The real world answer is that it takes more training and practice, but once you are proficient, you can remove the weapon very fast. I wouldn’t use a holster that did not offer at least a level 1 retention rating. Other then that your choice will have a lot to do with what you do when you are carrying your firearms. If I was a bail enforcement agent and may be struggling with suspects, I would go for a triple retention, If I was often around other people in close quarters I would use a level 2. Whatever level you choose, practice drawing often as it takes minimum of 500 draws to build muscle memory.
Now it is time to talk about the most controversial topic related to holsters. What should they be made of? Well the answer has a more to do with personal preference then anything else. Holsters are made from too many materials to mention. The two most common and what I feel are most appropriate are cowhide leather, or kydex. Given that leather is clearly the senior of the two, we will discuss it first. Leather holsters are often molded to the specific firearms. They are available in a few colors and typically very stiff. The benefits are that leather conceals very well and is very natural looking. It also tend to flex which can sometime be more comfortable to the wearer. The downside is that leather often needs to be broken in like a baseball glove, in the process can squeak when you move. As with anything that needs to be broken in, they also where out. I leather holster should be replaced once it looses it’s stiff retention and upright stance. The relative newcomer, kydex has taken the holster industry by storm. Kydex is a thin plastic like material that is heat molded to your firearm. It offers excellent value, requires no break in, does not wear like leather and protects the firearms from scratches and moisture. The downside is that they are a little more bulky and tend to “print” a little more then leather and you have to be a little more careful to make sure you are getting a quality product, not the $15 special. Inside the waistband or out.
I prefer to carry an outside the waistband (OWB) holster solely for comfort. Sometimes, when you need to be more discreet, and inside the waistband holster (IWB) is in order. That is fine to switch between the two as they keep the gun in the same place. The one thing to remember isthat the holser needs to stay open when the weapon is out of it so you can re-holster it quickly, and the method in which it is secured to the belt needs to be strong. Those steel clips are sure to fail and have you end up with you gun out, still in it’s holster. What about brands?
There are many quality holster manufactures. Shop around and find the specific model & style that fits your needs and budget. Don’t walk into the gun shop and settle for the one they had that fit the gun. Think about all you have read, apply it to your daily carry habits. Ask friends, especially those friends with big boxes of holsters, they can tell you what worked for them, and more importantly what didn’t. Good luck in the search and please come by the range and show me if you find the perfect holster, I would love to finally see the giant catfish!