Holsters are generally an afterthought when you buy a gun, but if you are going to carry that gun on you, you’ll need a holster, and you need to make a choice between various style of holsters.
Generally, holsters falls into three main categories; Concealed Carry, Open Carry and Duty/Tactical holsters. Now we will explain the advantages of each style.
Concealed Carry Holsters
Concealed carry holsters help you be inconspicuous and allow you to have the surprise element in self-defense situations, depending on style, they can be hidden in your pocket, inside the waistband, under your shoulders, on your ankles under the pants. Now let’s go over each style of concealed carry holsters.
Inside The Waistband Holster
Inside the Waistband, IWB for short, holsters are the most common choice of concealed carry. IWB holsters commonly secure onto your belt with a sturdy metal clip and hold the gun inside the waistband of your pants.
IWB holsters combined with bigger than compact size pistols may cause comfortability issues for some users, so be sure to try one with your gun to make sure it fits comfortably.
Cold War Concealment offers several IWB holsters that are hand-crafted:
Outside The Waistband Holsters
OWB for short, these holsters are much more comfortable than IWB and also allow you to carry bulkier guns like standard size semi-automatic and revolvers. They can be conceal carried under a jacket as long as the gun doesn’t have a really long barrel that sticks out from underneath the jacket.
These holsters usually have wide “wings” which helps it hold securely on your belt. OWB’s also comes with different retention levels which we’ll dive deeper into it later on but just know that there are 4 levels and higher the number, the higher the safety it has, so it doesn’t fall out or taken out by someone else.
These holsters are great if you want to carry the gun comfortably while driving or in any other sitting position. Waistband holsters can feel awkward to reach to while sitting but shoulder holsters have a natural position to pull the gun out and respond to any situation that may arise momentarily.
Shoulder holsters are easily concealed under a jacket, and many include a magazine pouch opposite of the gun holster, there are also versions that allow for dual pistols so you can be extra dangerous!
The biggest advantage of using shoulder holsters is being able to conceal carry big revolvers. The actual holster can be horizontal for compact/subcompact handguns, which allows for an easier draw, or vertical for longer-barreled pistols like big revolvers.
Depending on your needs, a pocket holster could be a much easier and simpler option to carry your gun, but just simply putting it in your pocket leads to snags and delay on the draw and can actually cause accidental discharge, that’s why you need a pocket holster that sits in your pocket and allows for a clean draw without any snags and delays.
Pocket holsters rely on friction to hold the gun so the holster is rough on the outside for more friction, which causes the gun to be secure in the pocket and prevent it from falling out.
Ankle holsters are generally used for as a backup handgun, they are usually subcompact semi-automatics or snub-nosed revolvers. Ankle holsters are the most unexpected place to stash your gun which adds to the surprise element however, they are not the fastest on the draw, that’s why they should be used as backup gun.
They may also not be the most comfortable way of carrying a gun if you are physically active since they can be an annoyance while running and jumping. One of the advantages of ankle holster is not getting noticed by hasty pat-downs.
Belly Band Holsters
These are designed to hide the gun under an elastic band that goes all around your belly, a belly band holster is a wide elasticated belt with an integrated holster, some has extra inner pouches for carrying more magazines. Styles vary that lets you choose the exact position you are going to place the gun anywhere from above the belt to all the way up to the chest.
You can set it up so it holds the gun on your chest or under armpits, these are unusual ways to carry it but depending on your needs it may prove useful. One disadvantage of the belly band holster design is that it relies on the gun being tight contact with the body so it is not the most comfortable way of carrying.
Open Carry Holsters
Open carry holsters are suitable if you don’t need the gun to be hidden and they are usually the more comfortable way of carrying since you don’t have to hide the gun inside the waistband etc.
Belt holsters are the most common choice for open carry, this is thanks to them being easily accessible, comfortable and they provide a secure fit that stays in place so every time you draw, you know exactly where the gun will be. You also have much more retention options to stop the gun from coming out of the holster until you want to draw.
Just as we mentioned the main purpose and advantages of shoulder holsters in concealed carry, the practical usage of it stays relatively same. Lots of sitting and driving will require an easier draw compared to belt holsters and shoulder holsters provide the most natural draw when it comes to drawing from sitting position.
They can be both conceal and open carried. Open carry lets you not worry about having to wear a jacket over it so you can be more comfortable in hot summer times. Don’t forget that you can also comfortably carry larger size semi-automatics and revolvers with this type of holster thanks to even distribution of weight.
Tactical and Duty Holsters
These holsters play an important role because they need to have higher retention level than a civilian holster but also needs to have more protection from natural hazards like dust and mud.
Comfortable reach is important because military personnel on the field will be wearing an armored rig, therefore some civilian style holsters will simply not work because they are unreachable with the added dimensions, and the movement with armored rigs and backpacks are somewhat limited.
The purpose and usage of military holsters are a little different, soldiers need a quick draw yes but it is less important than a police unit, military has two uses of a sidearm, one is for high-ranking officers (as a main weapon) and for backup weapon for military units on the field.
Full flap designs are common for high-ranking officers that doesn’t need a quick draw however, for units in the front lines it is still an important aspect, therefore they don’t use the full flap designs.
Now let’s look over to the options for our brave men and women.
This is the proven and traditional police and military way of carrying. Equipment belt or web gear is an ideal combination for a holster and they keep all of your tactical gear on one place.
Police belt holsters generally have an open top and some sort of retention, this allows a quick draw and with modern retention mechanisms there is little to no chance anyone reaching for your weapon against your will.
Yes, that pistol looks extremely tiny compared to the 50 BMG but you get the idea
The chest holster works really good with armored rigs because you won’t be able to use belt holster with longer rigs therefore, a chest holster or drop leg holster will be the better choice. They can be attached to the MOLLE-compatible armor. Chest holster is positioned so you can easily draw the weapon that is sitting on your armor on the chest level. This type of holster is the better choice if you are the driver or crewman.
Drop Leg Holsters
The biggest advantage of drop leg style holster is not being affected by longer body armor that interfere with the belt holsters. Drop leg holsters are secured on your belt and with straps around your leg, it has varying retention levels you need to choose according to your needs but this design is secure enough to run and jump around with.
The drop leg holsters are kind of, you either like it a lot or you hate it sort of thing. Some people find it awkward to draw from the thigh level holster but it may be just a matter of getting used to it, if you train drawing from your holster and practice shooting with it in range, anyone can get used to them.
Kydex is a reshaped thermoplastic acrylic-polyvinyl chloride that can be shaped into pretty much anything. It is used in various fields of the industry like automobile, aero plane etc.
It is a tough material that is durable enough to protect your gun, Kydex holsters are usually shaped for a specific gun. Since they are sturdy, they can utilize retention systems as well, this adds even more value to the holsters made of this material.
Kydex may be the easiest material to maintain as it is highly durable against moisture, sweat and direct water contact, you can just wipe it after heavy use and you are good to go.
Leather is the traditional choice of material for the holsters, it’s still popular today for its unbeatable classic look and it is also more favorable material for IWB holsters since it won’t irritate your skin as much as other materials available.
One big downside to the leather is, you have to look after it more than the gun you put in it, a poorly maintained leather will start to decay as it will collect moisture from rain and sweat.
There are plenty of cases that you can find online which indicates, people have holstered their gun in old leather which folded, got inside trigger guard and caused accidental discharge, so if you consider this material make sure you look after it like the precious gun you put in it.
Synthetic fabrics are somewhere in between leather and Kydex, they are tough but also low maintenance material. Waterproofing is better than leather but it’s harder to maintain than the Kydex.
This material is more favorable if you have different weapons about the same dimensions because you can use multiple weapons with the same holster. They have a bit more padding than Kydex holsters, so they are little more comfortable to wear. They don’t have a solid trigger guard like a kydex holster, so reholstering has similar issues as leather.
Trigger Guard Lock
The most modern solution that can be found on almost all latest rigid holsters. This method utilizes a hook that locks the weapon from the trigger guard, to release it, you must push a button to release the hook and draw the weapon.
If you are a law enforcement officer, you may appreciate this method the most since most criminals may not be aware of this in the heat of the moment and they might just try to pull the gun out thinking it’s the traditional retention method of friction.
Straps are the traditional method police use with the open carry holsters, they are much simpler compared to trigger guard lock method, with these you just have to release strap and you can deploy the weapon.
Biggest disadvantage of this retention method comes in the form of being so common, someone else can also release the straps as easily as you do and unholster your weapon against your will.
These are the most traditional holsters used by the military as they protect the gun the best against natural hazards like dust and mud, but they are also the slowest to use.
This is not a holster military personnel on the field would use neither any civilian since it’s so bulky and slow to draw from.
Regardless of the drawbacks, they provide the best protection against natural hazards and they can hold the gun securely in position.
Vast number of holsters don’t have any separate retention mechanism, they simply rely on friction between the holster and the gun to hold it in place. Almost all concealed carry holsters use friction, they are perfectly fine for everyday use. If you are using concealed carry, you shouldn’t be worrying about anyone trying to grab your gun since they’d have no idea that it’s there in the first place!
A well-made, well-maintained holster that fits your weapon well should hold it in place just fine. Many modern holsters have a retention screw that can be adjusted to alter the amount of friction, that way you can dial-in how tightly you want to keep your gun in the holster.
Holsters are rated by a retention level. The higher the level, it’s harder for your weapon to drop out of the holster and it’s also harder for someone to grab your weapon from the holster without your help.
Higher retention level may not always mean better as it will increase the time it takes to draw but that is not something that can’t be solved by simply going to the shooting range and practicing drawing and shooting with your holster.
You need to find exactly how much protection you need and select a level that suits your needs. A civilian that is conceal carrying will not need trigger guard lock, but a police unit would highly benefit from having that retention system.
- Level 1 relies on friction to hold the weapon in place (also called “passive retention”). A well-fitted Level 1 holster, especially if it has a retention screw is secure enough to keep your gun in place through most physical activity however, it does nothing in the way of stopping someone from trying to take your gun. Vast majority of concealed carry holsters are Level 1.
- Level 2 has a secondary retention system as well as friction. A strap is the most common addition here but trigger guard locks are gaining increasing popularity.
- Level 3 has two additional retention methods on top of friction. Generally, this is a strap and a trigger guard lock combined. Many law enforcement departments require a minimum of Level 3 for duty holsters.
- Level 4 has three retention methods along with friction. Level 4 holsters are incredibly secure and it is almost impossible for anyone to unholster your gun without your cooperation. These are much rarer than Level 3 holsters and they are the ultimate solution in holster retention, but come at the added cost of time to draw. These are overkill for the vast majority of use cases.
Now that you know about the holster designs, materials and retention methods and its levels, we can start talking about why you would choose one over the other.
A civilian and police/military has different requirements from a holster so your profession will highly limit your options, although there is technically nothing keeping you from buying a Level 4 holster as a civilian, it most likely will be an overkill for you.
On the other hand, for a law enforcement officer, it will be paramount to have at least Level 3 holster since their profession exposes them to criminals that may attempt to unholster their gun and use it against them or other people.
Choosing the correct material depends on several parameters and your preferences, first it will help you choose better if you have already chosen which style of holster you will buy.
IWB holster must be comfortable, leather is smoother and softer to the touch. Kydex is more secure and generally thought of to be safer. We recommend kydex holsters most of the time.
Kydex may not be comfortable for some people since it’s much tougher material than the leather but it is all personal preference and depends on how well the holster is made, even the toughest Kydex holster can be made so it is perfectly comfortable to wear as IWB, that is why you should try and have a feel for it before you decide.
The weather can also affect which material you choose, leather may not be the best if you are living somewhere that is hot almost all year, so a material like Kydex might be a must because Kydex is much more resistant to moisture and sweat than leather, so think about this as well before you buy your holster.
You can try them at your local gun shop, find out which works the best but before you buy it. With holsters, quality normally comes at a higher price. It’s best to buy one high quality holster than 3-4 low quality ones that never quite meet your needs.
Alright folks, hopefully we were able to teach you a thing or two today, we talked about how different holster designs, materials and retention methods differ from one another and which would be more advantageous for you depending on your profession or your gender.
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