How to Select a Holster

There are many ways to conceal a handgun, but some are better than others. Some techniques are comfortable, while others aren’t. Some positions are hard to access, while others are lightning fast. They all have their advantages and disadvantages and I will cover all of that with you in this article. I don’t claim to know everything about concealed carry, but I do have a large amount of experience with this topic. Not only have I carried a concealed handgun everyday for years, I am also the President of Old Faithful Holsters. Old Faithful Holsters sells tens of thousands of holsters each year and I personally designed every model. I’ll cover inside the waistband (IWB) holsters, outside the waistband (OWB) holsters, shoulder holsters, ankle holsters, and pocket holsters.

A very popular type of holster is the inside the waistband holster, commonly referred to as IWB. These holsters will ride between the waistband and the body and have some type of clips that usually attach to the belt to hold the holster in place. They are normally less comfortable than outside the waistband holsters; however, they conceal much better and can be quite comfortable if properly designed. They are also easily accessed, because they are tactically located close to your hands. They are typically available in nylon, leather, plastic, and leather/plastic hybrids. While they all have their pros and cons, the nylon holster is the only one I consider to be virtually unusable.

I believe nylon IWB holsters to be inferior products and I recommend you don’t consider using one for concealed carry. While it is certainly better than carrying without a holster, it has some serious shortcomings. The primary faults of a nylon holster are its lack of retention and its instability. I have personally had a pistol fall out of a nylon holster in public when I first started carrying a concealed handgun. That is a scary situation and one that is easily avoided by choosing a holster with proper retention features.

One type of gun holster that provides good retention is a leather IWB holster, which can be molded or unmolded. Molded means that the leather has been “worked” to fit a particular pistol perfectly, which provides retention. Unmolded leather gun holsters are just made to be the same general shape and size and lack active retention. Both may or may not have a thumb strap, but the thumb strap isn’t necessary for tightly molded leather holsters. The upside to all leather holsters is they are usually very comfortable, because the leather absorbs the sharp edges of a handgun; however, it’s Achilles heel is its inability to stay open without a pistol in it. When the pistol is withdrawn the pressure from your belt will collapse the opening, making re-holstering a dicey situation. It’s cumbersome and I consider it to be a safety hazard to pry open a holster with one hand, while holstering a gun with the other.

Plastic gun holsters don’t collapse when empty, because of their rigidity and are usually made of either ABS or Kydex. They are molded to fit your handgun exactly. Both ABS and Kydex materials are great for holsters and normally provide great retention when properly designed. Some even have a button that you must press in order to draw your gun, which is a great feature if you practice enough to use it reliably. The mouth of the holster will stay open when you pull your gun out, which gives you the ability to re-holster you weapon with one hand. The downside to plastic holsters is that they can be very uncomfortable for inside the waistband carry. The hard plastic can really dig into your skin making all day carrying impractical. Some people don’t experience any discomfort, but many do.

If you want the best features of the leather and plastic gun holsters with none of the compromises you’ll need the leather/plastic hybrid holster. They normally use Kydex, plastic, and leather. The part that comes into contact with your skin is soft leather, while the part that covers the outside of the gun is hard plastic. You can re-holster with one hand and you can wear it all day comfortably. A quality hybrid holster will have good retention and the best ones even have an adjustable retention so you can set it to the tightness you prefer. This is, in my opinion, the best type of holster for everyday carry.

Outside the waistband holsters are commonly referred to as OWB holsters and are a great way to carry a handgun either concealed or in the open. They also offer fast access, due to their location on the hip. There are two main types of OWB holsters that civilians use. They are the paddle holster and the slide holster. If they are designed to ride high on the belt, they can be great for concealed carry. Just drape a shirt or jacket over them and you are good to go, but be mindful of your weapon when you lift your arms or bend so you don’t accidentally brandish your weapon. Pistols with short barrels work best for this setup, because longer barrels are harder to hide under a shirt.

Paddle holsters are usually plastic holsters molded to fit your gun exactly. They have a paddle that slides inside the waistband while the rest of the holster that holds the gun hangs on the outside of the pants. They are easy to put on, inexpensive, and function fairly well if it is a quality holster. However, some have been know to break where the paddle connects to the holster and usually aren’t as secure as a quality slide holster.

Slide holsters can be constructed of plastic, nylon, leather, or leather/plastic hybrids. They are called slide holsters, because you slide your belt through slots cut into the holster and also, because you can slide the holster around a bit on your waist to find the perfect position. However, it will only slide a few inches in either direction until it runs into a belt loop. As long as you pick a quality holster, you should be ok with any of them. My personal preference for OWB is a hybrid holster that has leather against the skin and plastic on the outside. A good hybrid holster will have leather that covers the top of the pistol to keep is from digging into your side. The bottom of the barrel doesn’t need leather behind it, because it won’t normally contact your body. You also want to make sure that the plastic on the outside goes all the way to the end of the barrel, though, so it will be protected from impacts.

Shoulder holsters are a convenient way to carry a pistol if you spend a lot of time driving. Your gun will be easier to access in a seated position, but there are some serious trade-offs. The largest drawback is that most of them place the pistol in a horizontal position. This is considered unsafe by many, because the firearm will be pointed at other people, even though it is in a holster. I have the belief that once the pistol is holstered, it is safe to carry in a horizontal position IF the holster is a quality holster that properly covers the trigger and has a proper retention system. Another drawback of the shoulder holster is that if you want to hide it you have to wear a jacket. Dinner in a warm restaurant can become very uncomfortable. Shoulder comfort is often a complaint as well. The shoulder straps can really dig into your body and it can get very heavy after a few hours. A well-built rig will have wide shoulder straps to avoid comfort issues and will attach to the belt to avoid swinging.

Ankle holsters are typically used as a way to store a backup gun. I don’t believe this is a good way to carry, even for a backup gun. Multiple issues arise when carrying on the ankle. First, the gun is much more difficult to access than a weapon stored on the upper body. It is also more difficult to draw your weapon unnoticed, which may be necessary in some situations. Another problem is that the holster stores the gun BETWEEN your legs, which leads to banging around on the shinbone and ankle of your other leg. Let’s also not forget what happens when we sit down – your pants go up. You’ll need to be extra careful that you don’t expose your weapon in public. A better way to carry a back up gun is in your pocket.

Pocket holsters hold your pistol upright and easy to access in your front pocket, which offers some distinct advantages. First it’s fairly comfortable if your pants aren’t too tight. However, perhaps most important, is draw speed. You can keep your hand on your gun without anyone knowing and whip it out at a moment’s notice. Some carry a gun in their pocket without a holster, but if you carry a gun in your pocket, you absolutely need a holster or your handgun will get tussled around in odd positions and you risk accidental discharge from the uncovered trigger. You don’t need to spend a lot of money here and it’s the only time I will say a nylon holster is up to the job. I recommend a five-shot hammerless J frame revolver, such as a Smith and Wesson 642, for this position. They are inexpensive, reliable, and have no hammer to snag on the way out. I also recommend that you keep it on the weak side of your body if this is a back up gun (that means your left pocket if you are right-handed). If you want to carry in your pocket, but your pockets are too small, do not fret. Your local seamstress will be happy to modify your pockets to make them deeper for a modest fee, but most men’s jeans won’t have any trouble with space.

That covers most of the common methods to conceal a weapon. There are other ways, such as purses, fanny packs, or holsters that look like cell phones, etc., but they’re not what I would recommend. For most people, I recommend a quality hybrid IWB; however, if you wear your pants tight, you’ll probably want to go with a high riding OWB holster. If neither of those appeal to you, consider a pocket holster with a handgun that’s small enough to draw quickly.

Thomas Tedder

President – Old Faithful Holsters

1 Comment

  1. Ronnie Sluder

    Thanks for the good information. I have all of the holsters you mentioned except the shoulder variety and I agree with you completely on their shortcomings. I typically carry one of my four Old Faithful IWB’s or the Milt Sparks Summer Special as my second fovorite.

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