Gun Gear

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.

Sale ends July 28, 2019

Sale ends July 28, 2019

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 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.

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