As important as the handgun you buy, is the holster you carry it in. It really doesn’t matter what kind of pistol it is or what you intend to use it for—almost every pistol needs a holster of some kind.
Holsters perform a myriad of important functions. They’re not just there as a convenient way to tote your handgun around. They protect the firearm from the elements and wear and tear. A holster also protects the person wearing the holstered gun from an accidental discharge or losing of control of the sidearm.
What does retention mean?
Let’s talk about control for a second.
Everyone knows a gun owner must always maintain positive control over their firearms. This means keeping them safely stored when not in use. It means keeping them pointed in a safe direction when they are in use. Positive control also means transporting a gun safely, whether it is unloaded and locked in a pistol case or secured in a worn holster.
As such, every holster on the market—with the rare exception of a few used for race guns in high-speed pistol competitions—covers the trigger. This is the absolute minimum standard for a holster. By securely covering the trigger, a quality holster prevents an accidental discharge, especially in DAO (double-action only) and safe-action pistols lacking an external safety switch or lever.
The next level of holster is retention holsters. These types of holsters are primarily used by law-enforcement and security forces. There are several different retention holster designs ranging from Serpa to Safariland’s hooded holsters. A basic holster with a Velcro strap would have a Level 1 retention rating. Standards stretch to Level III holsters requiring a combination of a hood, lever, button, or specific movement of the pistol to enable it to be released. Unlike a “standard” holster, retention holsters are designed to prevent an aggressor from removing the handgun. In practice, nobody other than the wearer should be able to easily remove a pistol from a retention holster.
That’s the primary job of a holster. It secures the pistol. But the job of a holster doesn’t stop there. A holster also has to keep the gun ready for quick access. We just mentioned retention holsters, and it might seem that they sacrifice ready access for security. At some level, that’s true. Like most things in life, choosing the proper holster is a practice in compromise. In order to maintain ready access to a firearm secured by a high-level retention holster, the shooter must spend hours repeating thousands of practice draws until it becomes second nature.
Okay. Got it! But, where should I carry it?
Making sure you have ready access to your holstered weapon requires considering more than just whether or not to use a retention holster. The type and location of your holster plays a major role in how easily you can access it. Deep concealment holsters such as belly bands, groin holsters, and ankle holsters can take a significant amount of time to deploy. Shoulder holsters, cross draw holsters, and small of the back (SOB) holsters also deploy with less speed than a holster designed for strong-side or appendix carry. Finally, chest holsters and “tactical” drop-leg holsters can provide still faster deployment in certain situations, such as sitting in a vehicle, than any of the other carry positions mentioned above.
Even guns that are pocket carried need holsters. Without a holster, a pocket-carried pistol can shift around and change position. Worse, the trigger is exposed and can catch on something inside or even outside the fabric of your pocket causing it to discharge. If you are carrying a pocket pistol, even holstered, you should not have any other item in that pocket.
Obviously some of these holsters are not suitable for concealed carry. Others require a significant alteration to your wardrobe. That tactical drop-leg holster or chest rig may look “cool” on the battlefield, but outside of handgun hunting, they have very few legitimate roles in civilian life.
“Carrying a gun shouldn’t be comfortable…It should be comforting.”
This leads us to a bit of a conundrum. The best concealment holsters are not fast or easy to deploy, and holsters that are fast and easy to access can be difficult to conceal. Many people settle somewhere in the middle, and choose a strong side or appendix carry IWB (inside the waistband) holster that can be easily concealed. Likewise, there is another problem that must be addressed—the comfort of the wearer.
A comfortable fit is crucial when choosing a holster you intend to carry concealed—or open—on a daily basis. Ask any law enforcement officer how comfortable their duty belt and gun are after a long day at work. I suspect the answer you’ll get will be unanimously in the negative. The same applies to anyone who carries a concealed handgun on a daily basis in an ill-fitting holster. The primary difference is that the cop doesn’t have much of a choice: it’s a requirement of the job that they carry their sidearm in a holster on their duty belt. Making the decision to carry is a significant choice. However, making that choice without taking the time to pick the right holster could mean the difference between leaving the pistol at home or carrying it regularly.
There’s a reason many of us who carry a handgun on a daily basis have a box in the back of some closet at home filled with holsters that don’t work well. Holsters are a practice in compromise, which makes it all the more important to do your research.
You will need to properly determine the role your holster will play and the most important attributes it should have.
- Do you need one specifically for concealment?
- How important is comfort?
- Are you willing and able to put forth the hours of practice deploying your firearm from a deep-concealment or retention holster?
These are all questions you’ll need to ask yourself as you start searching through the literally thousands of holsters available. Take a look, ask questions, and talk to others who use holsters for similar reasons. Find out why they made the decisions they did and what they like and don’t like about their holster. After all, an informed decision is always better than blindly buying something that you only hope will fit your needs.
To learn more about holsters, click here.
Have you found a holster that works perfectly for you? Help those new to concealed carry by sharing which type of holster it is and why it’s the best in the comment section.
Daniel Scott is a long-time firearms enthusiast, hunter, collector, and has worked at various times as a firearm expert, hunting guide, as well as an executive protection officer (bodyguard). He has been a regular columnist at Western Shooting Journal and published in American Shooting Journal, GunUp the Magazine and numerous places online including AmongTheLeaves.com where he blogs regularly. Daniel makes his home in Fort Worth with his wife and four dogs.