I confess; I’m a holster junky. I like buying them and trying them out. That said, I hate buying a holster and ending up not being able to use it. I’m left-handed, and that makes it harder to sell or even give them away. Unfortunately, in the process of learning what I am writing here, I’ve wasted a fair amount of money. With luck, perhaps some of what I’ve learned can help you a bit. Much of it is probably obvious, but I’m not the only one with a box of unused holsters, so I’m not alone in learning the hard way.
Just as a point of information, my first carry gun was a S&W 659 in a Bianchi fanny pack. I was bicycling a lot for recreation and encountered some threatening people and dogs. I wasn’t there, but a rider I knew got hit by someone with a bat just for being on the road. That had a sobering effect. I wasn’t happy with how I shot the Smith, however, compared to how I shoot 1911’s, so it got replaced with a Colt Officers ACP. My primary carry gun on the belt has almost always been a Colt Commander in some sort of Milt Sparks inside the waist band (IWB) holster. Last year I began to experiment with Kydex. I have a G-Code IWB and am looking forward to a JM Custom IWB that is on order (review to come). I love leather, but I have a lot of hot, humid weather here, and summer sweat ruins my beautiful Sparks holsters. It also allows that corrosive stuff to get into the pistol, which increases maintenance issues. I almost always carry a S&W Centennial in a trouser pocket using a DeSantis or Uncle Mikes pocket holster. I still use a fanny pack for cycling, but I now often use a S&W Model 19 revolver as I started to fret about something bumping the safety off on a 1911 pattern pistol covered only by a layer of nylon.
Concealment holsters may look simple, but their job is deceptively complex. They handle the difficult tasks of carrying your weapon comfortably and safely, ready for immediate use, yet invisible to onlookers. Balancing these four factors– comfort, safety, access, and concealment– must give holster makers fits as they perform their craft. Luckily for us, there are so many good ones that we face tough decisions when we try to pick one.
Two holsters may look much the same, but there can be very subtle differences. Precisely where and how a holster carries your gun can make a world of difference in how well works. The location of a belt loop might make a holster simply not work with some clothes.
We first have to realize that any holster is a compromise that reflects individual circumstances and what type of gun you carry. How do you dress? How big are you? Body size and shape are critical factors in what will work for you. Some things just won’t do. A five foot tall woman in jogging shorts won’t be able to conceal a six inch .44 in an inside the pants holster.
The threat you face plays a role in choosing the type of weapon you need and how you carry it. A prosecution witness in an organized crime case could have different priorities than a rural physician. The bigger the threat, the more weapon most of us want. Firepower and stopping power exact a price in the size and weight of the gun. In short, we trade comfort for protection.
Levels of concealment have an effect, too. An undercover cop, who can’t afford to be made, has different requirements than a legal civilian or a detective on routine duty. Laws also pose problems. Florida, for example, recently made “wardrobe malfunctions” legal. Before that, flashing a gun when your shirt got caught getting out of a car was a crime. Now it isn’t.
Safety is the only factor that can’t be compromised. A holster must be safe or you shouldn’t use it! The design of your gun plays a big role here. As an example, there are holsters that disengage the safety on some types of pistols.
The four factors– safety, comfort, access, and concealment– play off against each other, your situation, and your gun. It’s a tough job, one most of us don’t solve on the first try, but hopefully this will help you get there as quickly and cheaply as possible (unless, of course, you enjoy collecting holsters)!
The most important thing is safety. A good holster helps prevent negligent discharges (ND’s) while the gun is holstered, drawn and carried. A bad design that’s unsuited for your gun can cause an ND. At best, an ND is embarrassing. If you shoot yourself, you’re doing the bad guy’s work for him. Worse, hitting an innocent bystander makes you the bad guy.
The single best safety feature is a covered trigger. Don’t leave home without it. If you get eager or fumble, you might put your finger on the trigger too soon. The stress of mortal combat has been known to produce a certain degree of clumsiness. Covering the trigger keeps you from shooting at least until the gun clears the holster. It forces the trigger finger to go straight, which is how it should be until your sights acquire the target. Only then should it move into the trigger guard.
About the only redeeming feature of a holster that doesn’t cover the trigger is that it might help prevent an AD if you holster with your finger on the trigger. It seems easier, however, to learn to remove your finger from the trigger during holstering than to keep it off while drawing. You are trying for speed during the draw. That makes you want to hurry up and get the finger on the trigger, especially if someone is shooting at you. You can and should learn to be more leisurely when holstering.
There are other pieces in the safety equation too. How well the holster retains your gun is important for at least two reasons. First, when you need it, the bloody thing better be there. Second, not only are dropped guns embarrassing in polite company, some handguns will fire if they fall far enough. Dropping a gun can also get you arrested.
Your situation will tell you how much retention your gun needs. If you’re a cop show hero doing a track and field event with the French Connection, you need something that holds your piece pretty securely. If your idea of working up a sweat is shuffling loan papers in your bank office, you can get by with something a lot less retentive.
The most common retention systems are friction and straps. Friction can be provided by a tight fit of leather to the gun or the clamping action of a spring or clip. Some friction fit holsters provide a screw to adjust for user preference, conditions, and wear. Inside the pants holsters can be adjusted by tightening the belt. Holsters also use the shape of the body to provide the friction. The bulge most of us (alas) have above the belt helps keep the gun in the holster. By the way, women, having differently placed bulges, probably can’t use the same holster as a guy. I’ll plan on doing my best to address women’s issues later. They have a lot more problems than men do with concealed carry, and it’s hard for us to fully understand them.
Most straps these days are thumb breaks. They let the thumb push them off as the hand wraps around the grip. Alessi makes holsters with a pull through snap. You just jerk the gun out, and the snapped strap pops open. They work well. Many of the soft synthetic holsters are using Velcro rather than snaps. I’m not keen on that, as Velcro doesn’t release as cleanly as a snap. Some makers, including Sparks, are dabbling with magnetic closures. I’m looking forward to trying that. In the old days, there were straps that required a separate motion to release them. These are best avoided.
Ultimately a strap retains best, but a good friction design gives better access, since a strap can be missed under pressure.
Straps can help you, however, keep your gun if someone is trying to take it from you.
Another advantage of straps is that they block the movement of the hammer (if your gun has one). This prevents the gun from firing when holstered. This is a nice bonus, and if everything else were equal, might give the nod to one design over another.
A drawback of retaining straps is that they can interfere when you’re trying to re-holster. There is also a possibility of one getting into the trigger guard and causing an ND.
Another safety point to ponder is how much your gun points at things you don’t want destroyed (like your personals, perhaps). It’s just about impossible to make a holster that conceals well that doesn’t point your gun at you, but I like to minimize it as much as possible. Skill is important and is derived from practice and repetition. During all that practice, worry about where the muzzle points! Some designs, like horizontal shoulder holsters, are very problematic.
Then there is the safety many handguns have. Make sure your holster doesn’t push it off. Some holsters will. Some designers make holsters that secure the safety in the safe position as part of their design. This is a good thing. Have you modified your safety or fitted a replacement? Go back and check your holster again. Things might have been fine with the original, but now you may have a problem.
A final safety factor is how well can you re-holster your gun? Some designs take two hands while others practically force you to undress. Some holsters collapse after the gun is drawn. Some retaining straps also cause trouble. The hooked trigger guards found on some autos don’t help either.
Don’t underestimate the importance of being able to re-holster. Uniformed police will surely respond to ANY incident that caused you to draw your weapon. Having your gun back in the holster will help prevent them from thinking you’re the bad guy. If you can re-holster without looking, you can keep your eyes where they belong– on the situation. Don’t give the bad guy a chance because you have to look at your holster to get the gun back in. This should, of course, make the point that you should practice re-holstering as well as drawing!
There can be a problem with ND’s during the re-holster. You must remember to get the finger out of the trigger guard during the re-holster. Clothing can get caught and press the trigger. As mentioned earlier, be careful with retention straps. The weight and length of the trigger stroke as well as the presence of a thumb safety can make a difference here. Technique matters too. Practice pulling your clothing out of the way as you re-holster.