What Is the Best Holster for Me?

You are the only person who can answer this question specifically, because the answer is, whichever holster you are most comfortable wearing/ carrying in. You are going to be at your safest and most effective when you are comfortable with how you are carrying your firearm. Before I go any further, I feel the need to mention that the audience this is directed toward are those with little to no carrying experience, however I would love the feedback of those who are more acclimated. Keep in mind that nothing is absolute, and I acknowledge that there are exceptions to any general statement I make here.

 I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who say they have bins full of holsters they’ve collected trying to find to “right one”. So, if you are new to the carry game, is there a way to avoid spending the kind of money it would take to accumulate that many holsters? Maybe if you’re lucky, or don’t really care, but in my humble opinion, if you don’t care, you shouldn’t be carrying. What you can do to minimize your holster hoarding is narrow down your search by asking yourself a few questions. What purpose am I carrying for? Are there any factors that restrict my ability to carry comfortably in certain ways? What exactly am I going to be carrying? Are there certain types of holsters that I know I do, or do not, want to carry? Allow me to expand on these questions.

The first, and possibly most important question, “What is my purpose for carrying this gun?”. It may sound like a stupid question but hear me out. Are you looking to concealed carry? Are you carrying out in the woods? Are you carrying on duty? Are you shooting in a competition? Are you simply open carrying because you can?

For concealed carry, you would probably be looking for an IWB (Inside the Waist Band) holster, though depending certain factors that I will get into later, there are some OWB (Outside the Waist Band) holsters on the market that can be pretty concealable as well. You want to be sure that your holster properly retains your weapon while allowing for fast, easy access, and can be comfortably worn without giving away the fact that you are armed.

 If you are carrying out in the woods, you probably don’t need to worry about concealment, but you want to make sure you aren’t getting snagged up on branches and losing your hardware, so a close to the body OWB, chest rig, shoulder holster, or level 2 duty would probably do the trick.

If you are needing to duty carry, you are most likely required to use a level 2 or level 3 duty rig, in addition, you will want to look for a holster that is narrow as possible from sight channel to bottom of trigger guard, because on a duty belt, landscape is everything. Do you wear body armor? If so, you need to be sure your holster allows your pistol to ride low enough and away from the body enough, so the armor doesn’t interfere with drawing and holstering, or possibly releasing your duty retention prematurely.

For competition shooting, of course you want a smooth, easy release, however, some competitions have very specific rules on what holsters can and cannot be used. I have talked to people who were disqualified from competition because their holster was not made to standard stated within the guidelines. Study the rules for your competition of choice and make sure your holster falls within regulation.

Do you live in an area where open carry is legal? Keep in mind there are still certain locations you can’t carry (schools, gov’t buildings, etc.). Know the community. I am aware there are communities where carrying a firearm is the norm and completely expected. I happen to live in a place where yes, open carry is perfectly legal, however, it is almost guaranteed that if I were to open carry throughout my community, the police would be called. No, I would not be in any legal trouble, but both my time and the police’s time would be wasted just because “Karen” doesn’t like guns. It is perfectly within my right to not care what the next guy thinks, but not worth my personal time to deal with the fallout, so I choose concealment. The next thing I would like to add is that if you find yourself in a situation where a “bad guy” with a gun needs to be dealt with, those with the obvious means to fight back will probably be the first targets, and you probably wouldn’t see it coming until it already started.  All that being said, if you choose to open carry, the holster world is your oyster, and there are plenty of options available, have fun with it but be responsible.

Are there any factors that restrict your ability to comfortably carry in certain ways? There are so many things that could factor into this question, so hopefully if I give a few examples, you will understand the line of thinking needed to answer this question. This can range anywhere from injuries/ health issues, to body type, to the type of clothing you wear.

My personal preference for concealed carry for many years was to carry at approximately 5 o’clock, with an FBI cant. I have found that as my age progresses and the activities of my younger years catch up to me, my shoulders don’t have to mobility they once had. As a result, I have had to change my carry position to more like 4 o’clock. I have met several individuals who can’t reach further back than 2 or 3. For those not understanding the clock references, and yes, there are more than a few out there, as you look down at your feet, picture an analog clock around your waist. 12 o’clock is in line with your belly button, and 6 o’clock is your tail bone. Though 4-5 o’clock is a great position for concealed carry (or 7-8 o’clock if you’re left-handed, but we all know that lefties don’t exist in the tactical industry), if you have arm or shoulder issues that hinder your ability to easily draw from that location, it’s probably not a good idea to carry there. Every fraction of a second matters when it comes to protection of self and others.

In recent years appendix carry has become a more popular way to carry. Being in the industry as long as I have, I had to give it a shot and discovered it is not for me. Before I get into the explanation of that, I need to issue a quick statement regarding a comment I hear repeatedly in reference to appendix carry. If you believe that appendix carry puts you at risk of shooting yourself in the groin, you do not know how to properly handle a firearm, especially with all of the safety features implemented into the modern-day handgun. Back to our regularly scheduled programming. If you have a dad bod, beer gut, muffin top, baby weight, or any kind of a belly, appendix carry is extremely uncomfortable. In addition, if you have a body like this and choose to appendix carry, you will find that you have the additional step of lifting your belly when drawing your weapon. Again, every fraction of a second matters when it comes to protection of self and others.

Another possible body type issue that is more prevalent in women, is that those with curvier pronounced hips may find that carrying at 2-4 o’clock (8-10 for you lefties) can cause the holster to sit at a bit of an odd angle so the grip is turned in toward your body while kicking the barrel away. There are a couple of potential problems with this. First, it can create a bit of difficulty drawing and holstering your gun. Second, depending on the barrel length of the firearm, the shape of your body, and how form fitting your clothing is, the barrel may print in a manner that people can see you have “something” there that you are concealing. For you, I recommend not exactly a holster, but a belly band. This allows you to carry in a manor that works around your curves.

In my personal opinion, if you plan on carrying, you should be wearing clothes that optimize your ability to carry, draw, and holster safely and securely. In recent years, more and more people want the holster to work around their clothing, and though there are options out there, I am not a fan of a lot of them. If you are wearing tight form fitting clothing, you are going to have a hard time concealing a firearm. You will probably need to start with the gun you purchase. In this case, you will want as slim as possible and probably a shorter grip as well, keeping in mind that this means you will have fewer rounds at your disposal. You will probably want to look into the clothing with carry pockets, sewn into them, a belly band, a pocket holster, or for the ladies there are carry purses with an area built in for your handgun that keeps it separate from the rest of your “stuff” so you can draw without interference.

Many people are now wanting to carry without a belt, personally, I am against this. However, again, there are options. There are a LOT of “clip” style holsters on the market, and for the most part, they serve the same basic function. I am not meaning fit quality when I say this, but simply referring to how the holster attaches and is worn. I have found that some of the various metal attachments grab and hold better, but they will wear through/ tear your clothing. The plastic clips won’t damage your clothes in the same manor, but they don’t hold as well and, in some situations, can come out of your waist band still holstered on the gun when you try to draw. To prevent this, the extra step of holding your holster in place while drawing may be necessary. Yet again I say, every fraction of a second matters when it comes to protection of self and others. Please consider adapting and wear a belt, but if not, there are the options I mentioned when discussing form fitting clothing.

Ideally, when you are concealed carrying, you would be wearing loose enough clothing to keep your firearm from printing, and would absolutely be wearing a belt. Most holster attachments (but not all) come in either 1.5” or 1.75”, know your belt width. This is where I go back to concealed carrying in an OWB holster. If you just aren’t comfortable carrying inside your waist band, and there are plenty of you out there, I recommend looking into the various “pancake” style holsters out there. These holsters tend to keep your pistol nice and tight to the body, and depending on your body type, can easily be concealed by an untucked shirt or long enough jacket.

What are you going to be carrying? Now, more than ever, people are wanting to add more and more “stuff” to their guns. By “stuff”, I mean lights, lasers, optics, threaded barrels/ compensators, etc. When I first got into this industry, there was only a small handful of popular light/ laser options, so it was relatively easy for holster manufacturers to keep up with the various gun/ light / laser combinations. Now, the market has been flooded. There are dozens and dozens of options available to the point that it just isn’t possible to keep up. If you are considering adding accessories to your daily carry, I recommend looking to see if there are holster options available for your desired build before purchasing. A lot of the quality holster manufacturers out there can’t simply throw something together if they are not already set up for it, a good holster mold takes time and investment.

Another thing a lot of people seem to not understand, is that the more “stuff” you add to your gun, the more difficult it is going to be to conceal. There is only so much a holster maker can do to minimalize your imprint. I’ve seen customers yell and the holster companies and leave horrible online reviews because their Glock 21 with TLR-2 and a red dot optic was printing on their 130lb frame with snug clothing. This is NOT the fault of the holster.

Even if you are not planning on adding anything to your firearm, consider its size and shape compared to your body size/ shape and the way you plan on dressing. A 1911 full-size is going to be more difficult to conceal than a Glock 43. In addition, if you do end up deciding to add to or change something on your build, you will need a new holster. It is rare that a holster can be modified in these situations. I suppose the best way to put it is to thoroughly research and consider your options before buying. If money is too tight to just buy what you want, when you want, do not impulse buy your firearms, or you may find yourself in possession of something you can’t carry the way you intended.

Everybody has their own opinion and preference on who makes or what is the best holster. The truth is, there is not a single holster company out there with every single option on the market available. I’ve seen companies put themselves in position to do it all, and then crash and burn. I’ve seen companies rise to the top of the industry, and then just stop advancing to keep up with the modern era. I’ve seen small companies try to do it all, and as a result, do nothing well. Just because some people love a company’s holsters doesn’t mean you will. I suppose the best place to start when narrowing down your options would be construction material. Your basics are leather, plastic, and cloth.

In my opinion, when it comes to holsters, there is nothing more beautiful than a leather holster made by an artist who is a master of their craft. The downside is, generally speaking, there are fewer options available, and leather does tend to put a little more wear on your gun. The wearing is not something I personally care about because my personal point of view is that a firearm is a tool, not an accessory or decoration. That being said, I know people spend a lot of money on different colored finishes and coatings and don’t want to wear that out. If you worry about the finish on your gun, generally speaking, leather is probably not for you.

My personal expertise is in the plastic holster industry so if this section ends up sounding biased, at the point of writing this, I’ve been in this line of work for 17 years. You may also hear plastic holsters referred to as Kydex holsters, however, Kydex is a specific line of thermoplastic manufactured by Sekisui SPI. Many holster manufacturers do in fact use authentic Kydex, but some use other similar plastics. In addition, there are different tiers of Kydex, the most commonly used probably being Kydex T due to its balance of quality and affordability relatively speaking. Some of the bigger manufacturers are using injection molded plastics, which is a more expensive short-term investment, but a higher profit margin long term. I’ve heard people say anything other than Kydex is poor quality, Kydex T is inferior to Kydex 100, all injection molded holsters are bad, etc. From my experience, the quality depends more on things like regrind vs virgin when it comes to thermoplastics, and the blends being used when it comes to injection molding. If your firearm is dragging, moving around in the holster, or the retention doesn’t feel quite right, chances are it’s not the material, it’s the manufacturer.

For the most part, when properly made, a plastic holster will have minimal wear on your finish. The smooth interior creates much less friction than leather or cloth. I say properly made because in this day and age you have hundreds of “companies” that have popped up because somebody watched a few You Tube videos and decided to make some cash working out of their garage. Don’t get me wrong, some of them are ok, but buyer beware.

The other thing to note about plastic holsters is that they are fit specifically to your setup, and maintain their shape even when worn IWB, which makes for a much easier time holstering your weapon.

The most common complaint I hear about plastic holsters (that were fit properly) is that they are uncomfortable against the skin. I have noticed that a lot of the manufacturers out there are not rounding off the edges and corners on their molds, or drafting their tooling enough, and this can create hot spots when worn against the body. Even though the sharp, crisp lines can look cool, I do recommend looking for holsters with a smoother, more organic look. The other thing some of these companies are doing that causes problems in this area is shaping sharper corners and edges into their holster outline/ silhouette. Again, edges and corners against the body are uncomfortable, look for holsters with more rounded features.

Honestly, I have a hard time even mentioning the various cloth holsters. These are really only good for throwing into a bag or your pocket to keep things from getting into your barrel or trigger guard. If you are using a cloth holster, you probably aren’t planning on actually needing to use your gun and it’s just there to make you feel safe.

When it comes to attachments, there are tons of options available, many of which accomplish the same exact thing but were designed to look different in attempt to stand out. Generally speaking, the easier an attachment is to put on and take off, the less stable/ secure it is. This statement is not absolute. Holsters with a single attachment centered on the firearm are very popular because they are easy to use, affordable, and EVERYBODY makes them. These holsters are not really stable at all and move around a lot when worn. When you pair them with a “claw” attachment which is another popular trend, the holster can shift to the point where the claw slides either above or below your belt completely negating its purpose. Ideally for maximum stability, you want an attachment with a wider profile from trigger guard to sight channel. I know minimalist designs seem like a good idea, but generally speaking you’re probably better off with more stability.

I feel like I’ve barely touched the surface when it comes to things to consider, but hopefully you’ve been able to gather some helpful information here. Though you don’t need to accept everything you hear as gospel, visit forums, go to your local gun shop or shooting range, and ask questions, take gun safety and/or shooting classes, read reviews (keeping in mind some companies have been known to delete bad reviews from their websites and social media), just be informed. When you get your holster, practice drawing and holstering so it feels familiar, wear it around the house before venturing out into the world to develop a level of comfort. If you are carrying uncomfortably and uninformed, you are more likely to be a danger than a protector.

~M

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