Gear, Parts and Accessories

The Importance of Finding the Right Holster

Black Blackhawk IWB holster with black-and-silver handgun on a white background.

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.

Black IWB/Tuckable and Black Appendix design holsers with black gripped handguns on a black background
Picking the right holster is as important as picking the right carry gun.

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?

Black Blackhawk IWB holster with black-and-silver handgun on a white background.
This BLACKHAWK! IWB is among the best of the mass-produced holsters.

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.

Black Level III rentention holster for pistols
The Safariland 6360 ALS is a Level III retention holster.

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.

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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.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (25)

  1. I have found that I like my clinger holsters best. I have the Stingray model. I have one for my Sig P938,P320 and my Kimber 1911. I have tried the Alien, DeSantis and one from Wright Leather Works. All are good quality holsters but the clinger holster best fit my needs and to me was the most comfortable. 2 of the holsters were actually a Comfort holster brand which is a sister company to Clinger holster. The only difference in them is they have a gel backing covered in suede which is a little more comfortable.

    1. I have two Nate Squared Tactical holsters. The Original has a metal belt clip on a stretchy, elastic fabric that holds the gun. It works fine with my Walther PPQ M2 9mm. The only problem with it is re-holstering. There is no preformed pocket as a leather or polycarbonate holster has.
      I would recommend the Professional model. My S&W M&P Shield fits into its hard plastic shell and makes re-holstering a breeze. It also offers better retention; a slight twist of the grip towards you releases it for drawing.
      The tuckable option is the best for concealment. It allows space to tuck your shirt over the gun and in your pants. Just blouse your shirt out a bit and even with a light T-shirt no one can tell you are carrying.
      The backing on both is the most comfortable against your skin I have found (after investing a few hundred on other manufacturers).

    2. Thanks Eighty. I appreciate your opinion. Maybe I’ll try one. Probably not before Christmas though.

    3. I was looking at a N82 holster but decided on a foxx holster instead he lil foxx is VERY similar to N82s Professional but has an extra screw holding the clip in place and it doesn’t hurt that it was $20 cheaper for what to all appearances is equal or better quality.

    4. Indiana Steve – I own 2 of the N82 holsters; Original Tuckable and the Professional.

      The Original Tuckable is by far the most comfortable holster I have worn out of the 20+ holsters I own. The Professional is good too, but the Tuckable has become my EDC holster. With the Tuckable, you will have some difficulty one hand holstering.

      I think you would be very happy with going with either N82 holster. Thanks

  2. As a firearms instructor and retired po I have found the spetz gear iwb holster fit the job well. I carry a 1911 and a sig 380. The holsters fit well and are very comfortable, in expensive and durable. The owner will work with you if you need custom fits for lights. Check out their website and good prices

  3. I have a crossbreed appendix carry for a S&W M&P bodyguard and love it. Good fit for a smaller frame size person, as some of my larger frame friends or family find it harshly uncomfortable. I also will use a Fobus ankle holster and it works well. 92a1 with light is a bit harder to conceal and/or wear IWB but raven concealment is one I have found to be decent along with a GOOD sturdy edc belt.

  4. FYI. If you are going to use a IWB holster, try it on and make sure you can draw your gun from the holster. This may sound stupid but it could save your life. Awhile back I purchased one. Reputable brand, quality materials and perfect fit for my Sig. So I wore this rig for about a week. One afternoon I went to the range to do a little bench rest rifle work. After I finished with the rifle, I decided to make some holes with my Sig. When I tried to draw I could not get it out of the holster. The pressure of my belt put it in a bind and No amount of force could get it out! Needless to say things would have gone south very fast if I had been in a life threating situation.

  5. Try a wilder tactical owb. Carries comfortable cross draw all day long with a full size 1911. I have used mine for 2 years now. Have to wear shirt untucked however. No pinch, no bind, no digging in of beavertail or hammer(cocked n locked).

  6. I love my Cardon holster. Some great videos on YouTube showing the quality of how they are made. I would email the company and Joe Cardon would email me back. Yes the wait time is long, but I have tried several holsters and I have to say this one by far is my favorite. I have a Spitfire holster with a S&W Shield.

    1. If a guy wears his shirt untucked while wearing an IWB, why choose a IWB? They are not as comfortable as a snug belt holster and the draw is not as easy. The untucked shirt covers either choice. I used an IWB for a long time in conjunction with a snug belt holster depending upon what I was wearing and the time of year: winter being easier for concealment than summer. I have changed that and now dress with concealment and accessing the firearm in mind using a belt holster. Your choice of dress / clothes can be as important as your choice of holster or the position of the holster. Remember you have to access the firearm easily. Whether I am carrying a Glock, a 1911, or my .44 Bulldog they are all easier to access with a belt holster and well concealed by my choice of clothing. After dressing and before going out into the world, always make a practice access of your firearm to catch any possible concerns. You want to be safe out there.

    2. I have worn an IWB during summer with my t-shirt tail out. If I had used a belt holster it would print too easily. During the cooler weather I use a belt holster covered by a flannel shirt or a jacket. Just like one should dry practice their sighting one should also spend the time to practice “dry drawing” to find out any potential problems.

    3. I’ve often thought about iwb/owb with an untucked shirt. Owb would be more comfortable, but my alien gear iwb keeps the grip of my pistol pushed snug up against my back. I like that. I can always feel it there, but it’s not uncomfortable. I just like being able to feel it back there. And it does conceal better, less printing, and more likely not to show if my shirt gets pulled up a little.

  7. I have the same bucket full of old holsters. Shortly after getting my CHL, I ordered a crossbreed for my compact 1911. When I switched my carry gun to a Glock 30S, I considered buying another crossbreed but did some research and watched A LOT or reviews on youtube of different holster which led me to n82tactical.com (think Nate Squared Tactical.com). I ordered one of their holsters for my Glock for less than a Crossbreed and have been thrilled with the comfort and retention that have allowed me to carry everyday as I should because it is the best IWB holster out there.

  8. For years I carried a S&W J-frame in a Serpa holster under a suit or sport coat. When I retired a couple years ago my daily wardrobe changed, and I started looking for alternatives. I now carry a Sig P938 in a woven nylon pocket holster manufactured by orGUNizer.

    http://tinyurl.com/pdqswdg

    I practiced, practiced and practiced some more until I could consistently draw the weapon, release the safety and be on target in less than 2 seconds. The neat thing about this particular type holster is that it’s comfortable in just about any position, sitting, standing, driving a car.

  9. Deciding to carry a firearm also involves deciding on the changes in clothing necessary to support the decision to carry. It really surprises me when people make comments like, “I don’t want to change my wardrobe to support concealed carry.” Or, “it’s too uncomfortable to carry my gun.” Or the real winner, “I don’t carry in hot weather because my wardrobe doesn’t make it possible.”

    I carry a full sized G21 in an IWB year round. I adjust my wardrobe to ensure that I can carry anywhere it’s legal. Baggy T’s, 5-11 covert carry pants and shirts, and specialized accouterments like Belly Bands. At times, when I have to go to a strict office environment for my work, I have to adjust and may end up carrying a pathetic little P32 with a laser and CorBon ammo in a cell phone type case from Sneaky Pete or Bull Dog because it is better than being unarmed.

    My point is . . . trouble may find you regardless of the weather or circumstances. If you choose to carry, then develop the mindset that you will do whatever you need to in order to carry every day. I shape my life around my decision to be prepared to defend myself and my wife, I don;t shape my decision to carry around the weather or circumstances.

    1. As a retired LEO I have carried my 1911 for many years concealed and open. Adjusting you wardrobe is of necessity for comfort and security.

  10. Though there are those that will call it dangerous, ill conceived, or much worse, I have carried my 1911 inside the waistband sans holster, in condition 3, for may years with nary a mishap. I clean and oil it daily, so rust, etc., is a nonissue. As for comfort, perhaps, over the years, it has worn a groove in my left hip, it is very comfortable. When I opt for something smaller. I carry my Freedom Arms .22, in a holster in my pocket. Though less accessible, in my pocket, and less fire power than my .45, there are just some places where a smaller weapon are more appropriate. (Easier to conceal and less apt to be uncovered accidently.)

  11. I am quite typical I guess.

    Comfort: I carry a full sized Sig P226 SAO and I am quite used to it. I know that when I travel on business to areas of the country where I can’t carry and I get used to NOT carrying, when I get home and strap it on I always think that it is no comfortable. Fortunately for me and mine I very quickly get into the groove and I LIKE it there.

    Holster: While I do have a box of unused holsters the one I have been using for over three years is the Comp-Tac Infidel Ultra. It’s very comfortable to me. It is leather on the inside and kydex on the outside. The kydex body can be swapped out to carry different hand guns. I have carried 1911’s and M&P’s on the same base.

    Weapon: I started out carrying about six years ago with an XD. I have very slowly moved from that original XD compact through a period where I carried an Ed Brown compact 1911 and then wanted hi capacity again and switched to a 15 round XD. I have recently switch to the solid and tough as nails Sig P226 elite SAO. I get the capacity, an all metal gun and two features I am very comfortable with: SAO and a thumb safety. The coolest thing about the P226 SAO’s thumb safety is that it doesn’t lock the slide. I can load and unload, press check to my hearts content with the safety ON.

  12. FYI: For those who are Handicapped and Require Wheelchair’s for Mobility. There’s a Company in Oregon, that Specializes in Wheelchair Holster Rig’s.

    Scot Works, LLC.
    500 Old Onion Mountain Road
    Wildervile, OR. 97543
    Work: 1-541-660-3433
    Owner/CEO: Scot Shearer
    (Scot @ ScotWorksLLC . com)

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