There are hundreds of different holsters on the market today – shoulders holsters, OWBs, IWBs, bra holsters, thigh holsters, belly bands, ankle holsters and SOBs, among others. And they are made in myriad materials – lined leather, unlined leather, kydex, plastic, fabric and laminates. Which is the best? More importantly, which is the right fit for your body type, lifestyle and budget?
Almost everyone who has been carrying for a few years has a drawer at home full of holsters that sounded great but suffered in actual use. Here’s a framework for sorting the grain from the chaff: Think of the five C’s – Concealment, Comfort, Convenience, Carry and Cost.
Every holster on the market is a compromise between one of these factors and the others. Find one that rates well for you in most of these areas, and you’ve got a good fit.
Concealment – How well does the holster conceal your pistol on your body? A holster that is invisible when worn by an athletic man carrying a .380 may be a terrible choice for a skinny fellow with a 1911.
Most folks who are new to concealed carry tend to stress out to an unnecessary degree about their pistol being invisible to prying eyes. The law in Florida merely says the pistol has to be concealed or covered. If a bump shows under your shirt, don’t sweat it. Today, all sort of folks carry smartphones and tablets attached to their belts, concealed under shirts or jackets.
Holsters that fit inside the waistband (IWBs) tend to be the most concealable, but they are among the least comfortable. Holsters that ride on the inside of the thigh are a very concealable option for women in dresses or skirts, but only work well for light pistols, and they are neither particularly comfortable, nor easily accessible.
“Concealment” usually means hiding the gun where clothing drapes loosely over your body – the small of your back, the hollow of your side or the inside of your leg.
Look for a holster that conceals your pistol reasonably well in the clothing that you will normally be wearing. High-quality paddle holsters can be a good option for smaller guns like the J-Frames, SIG 938 or a 3-inch 1911, along with high-riding pancake holsters.
Top-quality leather holsters, like pancakes or Avengers, tend to hold more tightly to the body than plastics or laminates, although some custom made kydex rigs tuck in quite tightly.
Comfort – Polls show that more than half of the folks that have concealed carry permits do not carry their guns regularly. The most common reasons given are comfort and convenience.
The most concealable modes of carry – IWB (Inside the Waistband) and SOB (Small of Back) – are usually the least comfortable modes of carry. The most comfortable modes of carry are usually OWB (Outside The Waistband) and off-body (packs, pocketbooks, and shoulder bags), each of which has its own issues. OWB holsters often don’t hug the body well enough to conceal effectively or hang too low, and off-body carry methods are often difficult to deploy quickly, and less secure.
In general, holsters made of leather or laminates tend to be more comfortable than plastics because the material yields more easily to your body. And a good belt is key to comfortable carry. What makes a belt good for CCW? In a word, rigidity. A dual-layer gunbelt won’t roll or sag, and a three-layer belt sandwiched with kydex is even better. One of the best bargains on the market is the five-stitch Wilderness Instructor belt, a double-layered nylon web belt with an internal plastic stiffener.
Convenience – The ability to mount or dismount a holster quickly is an enormous asset in a holster that you will use day-in and day-out. For example, a “tuckable” sidestrap IWB holster is probably the ultimate in concealment for a medium- to full-sized pistol. But it requires that you dress around the holster – have pants and belt that are one size larger, and get dressed in front of a mirror each morning so that you can tuck your shirt in around the pistol. That’s hard enough when you’re getting dressed in the morning, but it’s a real burden when you use a public restroom, and have to go through the same drill.
Moreover there are times when you have to dismount the gun – for example, when you’re going to the post office. Unless you can dismount your gun while you’re behind the wheel, your only option is to take the gun out of the holster. Why is that a bad thing? Because a holstered gun is a safe gun. As long as the trigger guard is enclosed, you can’t have an accidental discharge.
OWBs that mount with snap straps, paddle holsters, some IWBs and off-body carry are among the most convenient forms of carry.
Carry – We use “carry” to refer to the issues involving the proper presentation of your gun. Most serious civilians who carry concealed take training classes that require the use of a strong-side holster that provides a smooth draw and proper grip from the start – but most concealment holsters provide neither. Many concealment holsters require a convoluted draw or force the user to “regrip” the gun after the draw. It takes a LOT of practice to be able to execute a multi-stage grip under the stress of an armed encounter. And if your grip is off, your aim won’t be true.
Cost – This one is simple: What’s your budget? Properly fitted leather holsters typically are more expensive than laminates, plastic or kydex. But the cost of similar models from different makers can vary dramatically – sometimes by as much as 100%. Shopping around can help you to find the holster you want at the price you can afford.