One of the primary reasons people begin shopping for a holster is because they’re planning to carry a firearm concealed. Some people also like to use a holster when they head to the range, and certainly handgun competitors in the action pistol sports like IPSC, IDPA, 3-Gun and Cowboy Action also need the right holster. The biggest difference between the two is that in the first case the holster is needed to keep a gun from view, while the latter are all about what’s called “open carry.” Across those two types are hundreds of variations in styles and materials. So how do you choose?
The answer to that is carefully, but the first thing you should know before you plop down your hard-earned money for the first pretty piece of hip leather you see is that the reason there are so very many holster styles is because:
- Not all holsters work in all situations for which a holster might be needed.
- Not all holsters work for all body types.
If you can keep those two things in mind—that holsters are kind of like shoes, where not one size fits all and where sneakers are good for running a few miles but not looked upon favorably in the board room—then you can actually have a lot of fun exploring the many ways to carry a handgun on your person. So let’s look at a few of the styles you’re most likely to come across and explore using as your first holster.
Among the most popular types holsters are outside-the-waistband (OWB), inside-the-waistband (IWB), shoulder, ankle, pocket, small-of-the-back, appendix (in front of the hip instead of at the side) and bellyband options. Less traditional methods include fanny pack, briefcase, day planner and even specially designed bras that are able to securely hold a gun until it’s needed. “Securely” is perhaps the most important metric to consider, followed by finding a holster that you can wear comfortably.
When you start shopping for your first holster, plan on testing different models—and eventually on buying several different kinds. Most firearm enthusiasts have a drawer full of holsters that looked like they would work or were recommended by a friend or some gun writer such as myself. But when it comes down to it, the only way you’re going to determine which rig works for you is through trial and error. This is especially true if you intend to carry a personal-defense gun on your body throughout the day, because walking around carrying a gun all day long, whether concealed or in open carry, is going to feel strange until you get used to it.
Since there are so many holster options and so many ways to carry a gun on your person, whenever possible, borrow a holster from a friend before buying. That way you can take it for a test drive for a week or two and try before you buy.
As I mentioned, there are different holsters for many different and often specific purposes. For example, during the hot summer months, you may be dressed in shorts and a t-shirt—so you can safely eliminate an ankle or shoulder holster. At the same time, when out jogging, an IWB or OWB holster is less than ideal because you will not be wearing a belt. In such a case a fanny pack holster might be smart. That’s just one example, but it should get you thinking about how, when and where you intend to carry your handgun. Whichever method(s) you select, plan on regular practice and training with that holster choice using only an unloaded firearm before going out in public.
The material a holster is constructed from will also play into your selection. Holsters made from leather will enjoy a longer life than materials such as Cordura or nylon, but they will also come with a heftier price tag. Kydex feels similar to a thin, rigid plastic; they are lightweight and yet also offer a long service life. The tradeoffs for Kydex’s positives are a loss of flexibility and the potential for the holster to bite or pinch the skin.
There are also hybrid holsters. Hybrids look to offer the best traits of different materials in one holster. For example, a hybrid may feature a leather backing that will form to the hip when it breaks in, but also has a form-fitted Kydex shell to securely hold the firearm. Other models get more creative and use a neoprene backing for additional comfort with molded Kydex.
Women now have bra holsters available to them. These rigs are worn centrally below the bust or on the side similar in manner to a shoulder rig. Being a man, I am ill equipped to attest to the comfort of a bra holster, but given the popularity among certain manufacturers, they appear to be a viable choice.
In a similar vein, ladies (and men brave enough to wear a kilt, I suppose) have the choice to use a thigh holster. Not being brave enough to ever have worn a kilt, I will rely on the word of the women I have known who preferred thigh holsters. The consensus was that thigh holsters are comfortable and a great concealment option that offers several advantages. A dress or skirt may conceal a gun easier than a pair of pants, for instance, when those garments are more flowing and so don’t “print”—reveal the gun and holster shape beneath—like a tight-fitting shirt would. Elastic or Velcro closures on thigh holsters reduce weight, and silicone grippers along the top and bottom edges keep the holster securely in place on some models. There are also models that rely on a garter belt.
If all else fails, and you simply cannot find a comfortable holster, you can always opt for an off-body solution. Off-body holsters include creative solutions such as purses with concealed pockets, cross-body shoulder bags for men, briefcases, cases made to look they are intended for a tennis racquet and more. The imagination is the only limitation, so long as the firearm is easily accessible and properly secured.
When it comes to finding the holster right for you, advice from a friend or fellow shooter is great, and gun writers even get lucky now and then and dispense advice their readers find useful. But, in the end, you are going to have to do your homework, try a number of holsters and discover a system of carry that works for your wardrobe, security needs, body characteristics and other variables. Do not get discouraged if your first or second attempt doesn’t work out as planned. Odds are, you’ll eventually adopt more than one carry solution, but the upside to that is that through practice and use with all of them, you’ll become a more well-rounded handler of firearms. That’s what I call a win-win situation.