How to Choose The Best Holster For You: The Essential Guide to Holsters
It is critical to choose a holster carefully since a holster performs key functions for an individual carrying a firearm. A holster’s primary role is to give you immediate accessibility to your firearm. Secondarily the holster protects the firearm from outward elements while protecting the wearer from having the firearm uncomfortably exposed to the body.
With a variety of options on the market, there are many factors to keep in mind when choosing the right holster. Some important factors to consider are your state carry laws, accessibility, comfort and functionality. Our guide to firearm holsters will help in making a smart decision about which holster is right for you.
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Types of Holsters
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Outside Waistband Holster (OWB)
OWB holsters carry your firearm along the outside of your waistband. They tend to be one of the most popular ways to carry. Given their location on the body, OWB holsters typically make for easy access and fast draws. This is why the majority of law enforcement carry’s in this position. Due to a placement that is prone to being detectable, if you wish to conceal this method it is ideal to wear outer layers of clothing.
Inside Waistband Holster (IWB)
IWB holsters carry your gun on the inside of the waistband. This holster location is one of the best methods for concealment. IWB holsters are built slim and usually have minimal printing, or the noticeable outline of a firearm under clothing. Since this type of holster goes on the interior of the waistband, it’s important to get a pant with a waist that is slightly bigger than normal – generally about 2 inches – in order to have the correct fit. They are usually attached to the belt using clips or loops, some of which allow you to tuck your shirt over the pistol. If you are tucking your shirt over the holster, wearing an undershirt is advised since the gun and holster will be flush with your skin otherwise, which could cause irritation.
Appendix Carry (AIWB)
Appendix carry is when the holster is located at the front of your waistline, just to the side of your belly button, over the appendix. This holster is carried inside the waistband. An appendix carry holster can grant easy access, but will limit your forward bending movement and can be uncomfortable while sitting.
Ankle holsters can range greatly in comfort, from those that are well-fitting to ones that cause extreme discomfort depending on the size and shape of your firearm, not just the holster. The majority of smaller-framed firearms can be concealed with an ankle holster, but larger firearms can be exposed if the pant rides up. It is harder to draw a firearm from the ankle compared to placement on the midsection since there is a longer reach. Ankle holsters can cause discomfort depending on the shoe you wear: a high-riding shoe will rub and move the holster, causing irritation. As with all methods of carrying, you want to be proficient and comfortable drawing from whichever location you choose for your holster.
Shoulder holsters are ideal for wearing under a jacket, making them effectively concealed handgun holsters for winter. In contrast, they are not easy to conceal in the summer months where the weather is warm. A well-made shoulder holster should be very comfortable and can be ideal when in outdoors situations. If this method is used for your EDC (Everyday Carry) it is important to note an especially dangerous feature of carrying with this method. Unless properly trained to draw from across the body and specifically from this holster, most wearers will use a sweeping motion across the body to draw the firearm and get on target. This can have devastating impact if in a high stress situation your firearm is accidentally discharged while pointing at anything in the path of your gun as it moves from holster to target. Due to this, shoulder holsters are the least recommended option for EDC.
Small of the Back (SOB) holsters
SOB holsters sit in the center of your lower back and are canted toward the hand you intend to draw from. Sometimes, the holsters are completely horizontal along the beltline when worn outside the waistband. Due to comfort issues, small of the back holsters are better suited for people with larger statures. Smaller people may not find this position comfortable, especially when sitting down. A note of caution: falling on your back while wearing a small of the back holster can cause damage to your lower spine. Depending on the force of the fall, this could mean anything from a bruise to paralysis.
A flat-style holster, the pancake holster is worn outside the waistband and kept close to the body. This style holster is known for its curving or flexible sides, which are what keep the gun close to the body. Pancake holsters can minimize printing.
The paddle holster is ideal for easily putting on or taking off your holster. This can be a great option for people on a long road trip or doing desk work that regularly take off and put back on their holster so as not to cause discomfort when sitting. The paddle works quite well, tending to be a very secure option for keeping your gun close and accessible. Depending on the brand, paddle holsters can be very concealable and give the wearer great accessibility to their firearm. This holster can be used without a belt, but a belt will increase holster stability, and is highly recommended.
Pocket holsters are designed for smaller, thinner guns in order to minimize their visibility under clothing, or their printing. This type of holster is great for summertime as it can conceal a gun without the need for a big jacket or layer necessary for covering other types of holsters. One negative of pocket holsters is the pocket cannot be used for other items, like keys or a phone. While pocket holsters can maximize concealability, the tradeoff is accessibility, tactical reload assistance, and ease of reholstering.
Thigh, Drop Leg or Tactical Holster
Thigh holsters go outside of the pants and attach around the upper thigh. These are typically used by military and law enforcement since the holster does not conceal the firearm. This style of holster is used most often when the upper body and waist line are carrying other gear. This holster gives easy access to the firearm while remaining very comfortable since it is not interfering with other gear. This holster also minimizes space used on a gear belt by dropping the firearm down to the leg.
Fanny Pack Holster
The fanny pack holster is worn at the waist with the firearm concealed in an attached pouch. Because this holster has its own waist belt included, no belt is needed and it can be adjusted to fit many sizes. This holster offers versatility since it is easily removed and reattached, but could easily be forgotten if taken off and set down.
Belly Band Holster
The belly band holster is strapped onto the waist, hips or chest utilizing stretchy material and Velcro. Its place on the body depends on the wearer’s size and what feels most comfortable. Belly band holsters work well when an individual is not wearing gear or layers that would easily conceal other types of holsters.
A bra holster is either a bra with a built in holster or holster that attaches to or sits near the bra. When worn with a relaxed fit shirt, this holster can have minimal printing and be a good option for concealability. The drawbacks of bra holsters are they might not be comfortable for everyone depending on the fit, and can be tricky to draw a gun from quickly.
Off the Body Holster (Conceal carry bags)
Rather than carry your gun directly on you, another option is to have a conceal carry bag with a firearm holster built into it. They are very good for discretely carrying a firearm and extra ammunition. One downside is that this type of holster can be more easily stolen or accessed by people without permission if left unattended.
Vehicle Platform Holster
A vehicle platform holster is mounted inside the vehicle and gives a user easy access to the firearm when needed. It is important to not only have easy access to the firearm but keep it in a location not visible to passersby if the firearm will be left unattended in a vehicle.
There are multiple types of minimalist gun holster designs, which utilize very little material or adornments. For example, there are belt slide holsters with no material past the trigger guard or holsters simply utilizing the trigger guard to hold the holster. These holsters are sometimes referred to as BBQ holsters. This holster allows you to display a nice firearm instead of focusing on the holster surrounding it.
There are other gun holster styles, such as specialty concealment garments that have a built-in holsters or vest carry holsters for military and police. The holsters are genuinely created for very specific uses and are not as common for every day carry.
Holster Security and Retention
Holster security or holster retention is important because it keeps your firearm securely in place and prepared to be drawn. The following are three levels of security found on most holsters. When selecting a holster, consider the situations in which you will be using it. Will you be active, running, jumping, fighting or in close contact with other individuals? Answering yes to multiple of these situations could indicate a need for a higher level of retention.
- Level 1 holsters are generally configured to hold the firearm in place using pressure from the holster shell or a locking mechanism on the holster. Pressure retention at level 1 gives the wearer an easy draw right out of the holster.
- Level 2 holsters are held in place with pressure from the holster shell and a locking mechanism, giving two levels of security. A level two usually requires the wearer to unsnap an over the top retention as well as pull the firearm free from the pressure retention.
- Level 3 holsters are held in place with pressure from the holster shell and two forms of locking mechanisms, giving the wearer three levels of security. . A level three usually requires the wearer to unsnap an over the top retention, make some sort of rotation or rocking motion to deactivate the second retention as well as pull the firearm free from the pressure retention.
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Snap breaks are pressed apart by the thumb allowing the firearm to move through the retention straps.
Auto drop hood straps have a button activated by the thumb that is either pressed directly down upon or moved to the side so the hood holding the firearm to spring and rotate forward so the firearm can be drawn.
Manual rotation hood straps are pressed down by the thumb and manually rotated forward using thumb pressure allowing the firearm to be drawn.
A retention screw is used to apply pressure using the shell of the holster to keep the firearm in place. Retention screws are customizable and administer a wide range of retention pressure to be set by the wearer.
A retention usually using the trigger guard to lock the firearm in place. The wearer uses the index finger when drawing to press the release button and draw the firearm.
A retention using a magnet either in or attached to the holster to keep the firearm in place.
Gun Placement and Adjustments
The placement of your firearm is reliant on a few factors, such as the type of holster used, your desired level of access, and extent of concealability. Here are the main terms that are important to know:
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Cant or Rake
The cant or rake is the angle at which your firearm is positioned. Zero is a straight vertical draw and 180 would be a horizontal draw as seen in some SOB holsters. Cant or Rake is measured in degrees – 5, 10, etc. Zero is the most common holster alignment.
The ride is the position of the gun vertically along the belt line. The ride can range from low to high, each with their own benefits. Mid ride is usually the best of both worlds with an easy draw and comfortable position.
Mid ride has the belt line run through the center of the firearm, generally through the center of the trigger.
Your strong hand is the hand that is dominant. If you are right handed that is usually your strong hand and the side of your body you will carry your firearm.
Support or Weak Hand
In contrast to the strong hand, the support hand (or weak hand) is the side opposite to the hand you use to shoot. (I.e. If you shoot with your right, the support hand is your left.) This is the hand used to support your strong hand grip while shooting two handed.
When looking at holster materials, it is critical to think about factors such as duration, comfort and the speed of draw.
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Plastic holsters are highly functional, offering great firearm protection and a quick draw. Plastic holsters can offer great definition and be very aesthetically pleasing as they can be molded to the gun and come in a variety of different colors and patterns. Three benefits of plastic holsters are that there is no break in necessary, they maintain their original formation better than any other material, and plastic is the easiest of any material to clean and maintain. Plastic holsters tend to be the most all around rugged and durable of holster materials.
Synthetic materials like Kydex have become popular in the most recent decade. They are very wear resistant, even in humid clients. Synthetic holsters are typically also faster to draw from than leather ones; armed professionals tend to prefer them for these reasons.
The Difference Between Injection Molded Plastic and Sheet Plastics
- Sheet Plastics: such as Kydex are very durable and made from an acrylic-polyvinyl chloride thermoplastic. Sheets of material are heated and molded to fit a specific shape. Kydex is highly UV and repetitive-flex failure resistant. Kydex is corrosive, scratch and impact resistant. Overall, it’s a very high quality plastic holster material.
- Injection-molded plastic holsters are made from liquefying plastic and injecting it into a mold. IM plastic is less expensive but is not as high quality or resistant. The molding process is fast and produces cheaper parts, typically from less-premium plastic. Its material can wear faster and is not as durable.
Leather holsters are the most traditional style of holsters, classic looking and aesthetically pleasing. There is break in time required for a leather holster. (Learn more about how to break in a holster later in this guide.) Leather holsters can be worn down faster by elements, such as humidity and sweat, compared to other varieties.
Nylon holsters are popular because they tend to have a more universal fit, are lightweight and moderately easy to clean. Typically, they are also the cheapest kind of holster. However, the lower cost also means lower durability; they tend to need replacing much more often than plastic or leather holsters. Nylon maintains shape the least effectively of any material.
Hybrid holsters are made using a mixture of materials, such as Kydex and Neoprene or Kydex and leather. This type of holster can be made to distribute weight over a larger area of the waistline adding to comfort. One concern is that many hybrid holsters are difficult to reholster and draw from because they can collapse when being worn on the inside of the waistband. This can be dangerous in high risk situations where one handed reholstering may be necessary.
Manufactured Holsters vs. Custom Holsters
If you’re deciding whether to get a manufactured gun holster or a custom made holster, here are some important factors to consider.
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Manufactured holsters from well-established firms tend to be very high quality in styles like military and police options. Manufactured holsters for EDC tend to be lower quality cookie cutter holsters. They can be limited in options like cant, retention, or color. These may also not fit your gun specifically, as in the case of nylon holsters.
A custom gun holster guarantees the perfect fit for both the individual and their firearm. With a custom holster, the individual ordering it can receive the personalized touches they desire, such as preferred materials, and have the holster modified as desired.
A custom holster is form fitted to the exact gun model that an individual owns, so the fit is seamless. Custom holsters can be modified in a large number of ways. While a custom holster may cost more than a prefabricated one, the personalized aspect is usually a worthy tradeoff.
Here are just a few of the options you can find when ordering custom holsters.
- Custom holsters can easily be made for left handed individuals, which makes ordering easy compared to finding left-handed holster in stores.
- There are countless combinations for colors and specialty print options available.
- Attachments and sizes can be customized to your preference.
A custom holster allows you to express your personality on an item unique to you. Premium custom holsters are high functioning with unique features not found on mass produced holsters.
The Best Holster for Different Situations
One holster type does not necessarily fit all needs or situations.
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Every Day Carry
This is a type of holster that individuals can easily wear on a daily basis. The IWB and OWB holsters are the most common.
Weather Based Conditions
- How hot or cold it is outside can have an effect on the comfortability of your carry depending on what material your holster is made of and where you wear it.
- An OWB holster is a great choice in winter because it carries well under a jacket during summer an IWB holster may be preferred.
- For warm weather, a pocket holster might be an option because there’s no need for a big jacket or outer layer for concealment.
- Leather against skin in warm conditions can also be uncomfortable due to perspiration. Wearing an undershirt with IWB holsters can help prevent this.
Those looking for holsters should examine how they will be using their firearm. If they will be sitting down a lot, one holster will offer better comfort and function than another. The same applies to someone who will be walking or running often.
For example, ankle holsters can be ideal for those who are sitting or driving a lot. However, they can cause friction if worn too long while walking.
If you sit a lot throughout the day, IWB, SOB, and Appendix holsters may all become uncomfortable as they sit at a natural bend in the hips. OWB holsters would be a preferred option in this case.
Depending on the activity you are going to be doing while wearing your holster, it is important to find the proper retention that will keep your firearm in place. If you will be walking with no intense movement throughout the day, a holster with a standard pressure retention will perform well. If you will be wearing your holster while running or doing manual labor you may want a holster with a tighter retention. If you are in law enforcement or in close contact with other people, you may have high standards for holster security, like preventing suspects from accessing your firearm. In this case, may opt for a hood or thumb break retention on the holster in addition to a high pressure retention.
Exact Fit to Your Gun
For individuals who will be highly active, it is critical the holster continues to keep your firearm securely in place. An exact fit to one’s firearm, such as with a Kydex holster, is ideal. This will minimize holster wear on the firearm and assure the firearm is in place and ready for use if the situation arises.
Elements to Remember When Purchasing a Holster
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Company’s Customer Service & Holster Warranty
A holster should be purchased from a company that is committed to serving customers and their needs. This customer commitment should include a warranty, so that if there are any troubles or defects with holster it can be returned without hassle.
Level of Firearm Concealment
Concealment allows you to decide your level of force when responding to a threat. Concealment helps you avoid unfortunate or uncomfortable circumstances involving other people in public. Depending on where you live, if your firearm is exposed there are people who may call for law enforcement. The level of concealment you choose may also affect how easily your firearm can be accessed.
Drawing Your Firearm
You should be able to quickly draw your firearm weather it’s from a concealed or exposed holster. The holster should allow you to gain a complete grip on your handgun, while still allowing you to release any retention devices. We recommend holsters be placed on your person, on the strong side of your body that allow for easiest holster to target acquisition.
If it’s not comfortable, you won’t wear it. Your holster may need some breaking in, like leather holsters, but if this does not happen in a reasonable amount of time you may want to find a new holster option. Adding a firearm to your wardrobe will never be as comfortable as not having one, but you should be comforted in the knowledge you have ready access to a means of protection. That is the most important aspect of carrying your firearm.
Retention must be addressed when choosing a holster. This is because if a person ever needs to draw their firearm in the event of an assailant attacking, they need to have that control. If not, the other party may obtain it instead.
Retention devices vary; some examples include internal devices with locking mechanisms or simple thumb breaks, which help retain a firearm in the event of a confrontation. A holster with an improper fit and retention could fall out of place.
Gun Holsters That Keep Shape
A good holster is formed well to your gun as to keep the firearm in place. It makes drawing your firearm accessible and does not wear heavily on your firearm overtime. All holsters will wear on your firearm over time, the variation is in how much wear and how quickly. This is where purchasing a quality holster will keep your firearm investment in the best shape over the longest period of time. You get what you pay for. A holster should be long lasting and not lose its shape over time.
Quality of Workmanship (Materials)
The holster materials themselves make up one of the biggest differences between manufacturers and quality levels. As referred to in the earlier section, high quality plastics like Kydex have become popular for their strength and reliability. With premium custom holsters you will see a higher level of customization, fit, and retention you will not find with high-production manufactured holsters.
Reholstering With One Hand
When reholstering your firearm with one hand, the rim of the holster should maintain its form without collapsing so you can easily reholster one-handed. Using two hands or having to look down for your holster can be dangerous in emergency situations. See Drawing Firearm to see a video example.
Covered Trigger Guard & Safety
A holster should cover the trigger guard with as little material inside the guard as possible. The material protecting the trigger guard should also be strong enough that contact with it would not cause the trigger to depress. Keeping the trigger guard protected is the best way to ensure something does not get in the guard causing an accidental discharge or injury.
Ease of Attachment & Detachment
Your holster, no matter the style, should not take long or be difficult to put on or take off.
Holsters for Women
Due to most women having smaller stature and different clothing styles than their male counterparts, some traditional carry options may not be suitable.
Here are few options for women to consider. There are some great purses on the market that have built in holsters for firearm concealment. Bra or inner thigh holsters may also be an option to minimize your firearm printing. These options may help you continue to wear a more feminine wardrobe while still maintaining great levels of concealment.
Dawning your Holster
Here are a few factors to consider when deciding what holster to purchase.
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Something to consider when wearing any lower body clothing. If you will be wearing an OWB holster you will not need to modify your pant size in any way. If you are going to be using an IWB holster you will want to get a size or two larger garment so you can adjust for the additional space needed to fit your firearm inside your waistline and still be comfortable.
When wearing any type of holster with belt loops, clips, or snaps, it is always important to get a holster with the proper size attachments to fit your belt width. You want the loops to be as precise as possible to the same size belt you will be using to minimize any movement or shifting of the holster.
A sturdy belt may be the most important purchase related to firearm carrying other than the holster itself. If you do not have a sturdy belt as the platform to mount your holster, you will not have a good experience no matter which holster you purchase. Belts should be sturdy enough to provide little to no movement when drawing your firearm from the holster. Thick leather belts are good for this purpose, whereas cloth belts might be too flimsy.
We recommend OWB holsters with belt loops and IWB holsters with clips for the most rigid and sturdy platform to carry your firearm.
How to Properly Take a Holster On and Off
No matter which style holster you will be wearing, it is important to carefully put the holster in the position you intend to carry. Once attached to you via clip, paddle, or loops, adjust the position so it is comfortable and easily accessible. Confirm your firearm is in place and you have ready access to draw.
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How to Remove via a Clip
Since a clip is meant to keep the holster in place without being pulled off when drawing the firearm, simply trying to pull it off the belt will not work. Use your palm to place pressure on the holster towards your body while using your fingers to pull the base of the clip away from the belt. While applying pressure on the holster towards you and pulling the base of the clip away, you may now simply slide the holster up and off the waistline.
How to Remove via a Paddle
Paddle holsters are designed for the paddle to rest inside the pants and outside the underwear. The paddle grips under the belt and onto the pants from inside the waist. This gives you a versatile and sturdy platform that is easily put on and taken off multiple clothing configurations. The paddle is easily removed by pressing down on the holster, sliding the interior paddle towards your body and away from the pant and belt while rotating the holster up and off the waistline.
How to Break in a New Holster
Generally, there is only one type of holster that needs to be broken in due to the material. That is a leather holster but can be some nylon brands. You should always follow manufacturer’s recommendations., but here is a quick overview of how to break in a leather holster.
- To break in a leather holster, put the gun in the holster, press it to the ideal position with the retentions in place, and let it rest for 24 hours. This will allow the leather to stretch and mold to the firearm while it’s in the position you intend to carry.
- It is recommended to avoid using oil, which will seep into the material and onto the wearer, clothing and firearm. Oil collects dirt which is not desired around your firearm.
Other types of gun holsters when made correctly will not need breaking in. Plastic holster, like Kydex, should be custom molded to your firearm and be ready for use straight out of the box. This is a major benefit of a Kydex holster.
Exception: Hybrid holsters, depending on leather or other backing on them, may need breaking in since they are much more flexible than their single-material counterparts. You break these in by placing the gun in the holster in the correct position for 24 hours, then wearing them regularly. The holster should be noticeably broken in within a week or two. This is one reason we recommend the Kydex, right of out the box it is ready to use. No break in needed.
Basic Training with Your New Holster
Training with a new holster allows an individual to use it properly and safely while on the range or in a life threatening situation. Practicing regularly will keep you and the people around you safe and secure.
You should immediately become familiar and proficient with a new holster if it is going to be used for your EDC firearm. Here is one example of how to work on proficiency without having to go to the range.
Home Training Process:
- Go into a room by yourself, preferably with a large mirror. Wear similar clothing to the way you intend to carry daily.
- MAKE SURE YOUR FIREARM IS NOT LOADED.
- Practice drawing, gaining a sight on a picture in the mirror and then reholstering. Be mindful of moving clothing out of the way to gain access to the holster to draw.
- Start the process slowly and gradually speed up as you gain familiarity with the holster.
- Repeat the draw, sight, holster process until you feel comfortable drawing at high speed.
- This process should be repeated every day or every other day until the motion becomes second nature.
- Aim for 500 draw, sight, reholster repetitions over 2-4 weeks.
The ultimate objective is for you to reach a point where you can seamlessly draw and reholster without obstruction or hesitation. You should not have to search for your firearm or holster. You should not have to use a second hand in order to reholster.
If a second hand is needed after practicing to draw or holster, get a different holster. Having a holster that will function properly and allow you to draw and reholster one handed is the objective. A holster should not lose its shape when the gun is drawn and not be difficult to reholster.
Remember, a life can depend on one’s ability to draw your firearm in an emergency situation. TALTAC always recommends firearm training classes. You can never be too knowledgeable or too prepared.
Caring for Your Holster
The level of holster care depends upon the holster material. Always follow manufacturer care instructions for your holster. Here are some care examples based on material:
- Leather holsters: It is best to go based off of the specific holster recommendation. Some may require specific oils at a certain point for maintenance of the organic material.
- Kydex Holsters: Simply clean by washing with soap and water in the sink.
No holster should be put in a washing machine; that can damage the form and material.
6 Most Important Holster Tips
Here’s a brief summary of the key points to remember:
- SAFETY FIRST.
- Training with your holster and firearm enables it to be used correctly when needed.
- If carried daily, always follow local, state and federal firearm and concealment laws.
- Always be situationally aware of your surroundings and your firearm. Maintain personal control over your firearm at all times.
- Stage of readiness.
- This is the manner in which you will be carrying your firearm. Specifically, if you engage a safety on your firearm and whether there will be a round in the chamber or not.
- If carrying a firearm for protection, always practice and be aware of the readiness stage you carry your firearm in. This means practice and train so you will be able to deploy your firearm for life saving use without hesitation.
- A Holster Should Not Collapse.
- It is critical an individual only need one hand to draw and holster a firearm. If someone in an emergency situation needs one arm to move something or grab onto someone, operating a holster one handed may make all the difference. This is also important if you are injured and must operate in the fight one handed. This is why having a custom holster that is premium crafted for durability, like a Kydex holster is highly recommended.