Holster 101

For many, holsters for handguns are kind of like tires: many, many people kind of go to the local Wal-Mart or equivalent, walk in, tell the guy/gal behind the counter, “I need tires” and they get what they get, without having put any research or thought into the process. Yet, like tires, holsters have numerous designs, types, materials, and intended uses for different seasons, and it is well worth your time to do a touch of research before you buy.


These days, holsters come in three basic materials: leather, nylon, and kydex/plastic.


Galco 1911 holster with matching gunbelt. Image from usgalco.com


Leather holsters have been around for centuries now, and there’s a reason they’re still around. Leather can be but, sewn, molded, stretched, and worked to make exquisite products. It can be dyed with lots of colors, but the primary mainstays in the gun world are black and variations of brown. With care, a quality leather holster will last you many, many years of good, hard service. I have several that I’ve been using for over 20 years, and they are still in beautiful shape, with no signs of backing down. Leather goes right along with walnut and blued steel as the classic way to go. Not only will leather protect your gun and keep it with you and protect it, but it can also be a touch of a gun aficionado mark…a nice high end leather holster  will give any gun guy or gal the warm fuzzies! Also in this category, we’ll throw in the exotic animal hides, like shark skin, alligator, etc. The biggest downfall to the leather holster is cost: a good one can run you around $100 or more. Much, much more. But DAMN will it be sexy!


Uncle Mike’s Sidekick nylon holsterwith a Taurus PT92. Image from unclemikes.com


Nylon holsters are made from tough woven synthetic fibers stitched together. Several manufacturers pound these out, Uncle Mike’s ‘Sidekick” like being the most commonly encountered by far. They are very inexpensive, reasonably rugged, and follow more of a “one size fits all” theme. The Sidekick type holsters are generally considered on the “cheapo” end of things in the gun world, and while they will certainly work in a pinch, and you will see many of them in daily use out there, for my money when the chips are down, I’d much rather run kydex or leather. However, bump things up a notch, and you can get one of the best SHTF holsters out there: the Bianchi M12 or UM84.

Bianchi M12 holster


The Bianchi M12 /UM84 holsters are military spec, and what the US military currently uses for their Beretta M9 handguns. My UM84 will fit a Beretta, 1911, S&W 39, 59, and 69 series semiautos, a The SIG/Sauer P220, 225,229,228,226, 227, etc, and lots of other full-sized autos very securely. It has a cleaning rod built in, too! This is a bitchin’ rig, and I would look at one seriously for a SHTF belt holster. Oh yeah, they UM84R holds 4″ barreled revolvers! It is built with plastic reinforcing, is ambidextrious, and the half-flap design protects the majority of the handgun. Good stuff for bad times.


Armordillo Concealment kydex holster


Kydex/plastic holsters are relatively new on the gun scene. They are made from molded plastic, and are gun-specific, usually being molded to one specific gun profile. They are the epitome of rugged, no-nonsense, zero-maintenance gun holsters. They sure are kinda ugly, and have zero sex appeal when placed next to a nice hand-crafted leather holster, but they do fit the bill they were designed for. They are impervious to normal-use temperatures (don’t sit too close to the wood stove!), they can be rained on, snowed on, dropped, banged, folded, spindled, mutilated, and they are just fine with it. I ran an Armordillo Concealment holster similar to the one pictures above with my Smith & Wesson M&P40C in a one-handed defensive shooting course this past summer, and it held up beautifully, even after some very unconventional use, including using the edge of the holster to catch the rear sight while racking the slide one-handed. The prices usually run in the $40-80 range, making them a fantastic bang for the buck. They CAN break, but it takes work. Lots of it.  As with pretty much anything, spend the money, get the good stuff, and it’ll pay off in the long run. The aforementioned Armordillo Concealment, Raven Concealment, Blackhawk!, and many others make good quality Kydex holsters. As an added bonus, if you can locate some ABS plastic and a heat gun, you can make your own relatively easily…I’ll show you how in a future DIY article.


The most neglected part of the holster system is one I’m sure almost nobody puts any thought into: The belt. The belt holds the holster against your body, and has to deal with keeping your pants on your ass while twisting, turning, and conforming to your body as you move. Throw in the fact that now it has a payload to carry (besides your ass) in the form of a holster and probably magazine pouches or speedloader carriers, and you’re asking a lot of a belt. Belts also come in leather and reinforced nylon, and will run as much as a good holster. A good gunbelt can be stylish and utilitarian too…it just takes more effort that looking at the cheapo $10 belt rack at Wal-Mart. Those belts WILL NOT WORK for long…trust me. I have a Bianchi B29 Professional 1.5″ belt that’s served me extremely well for 16 years, and looks and performs as well as the day I bought it. I even still wear it with dress pants. Newer nylon belts are kevlar reinforced, made of ballistic nylon, and are rugged as all get out. Look to Ares Armor, Blackhawk!, Bianchi, Galco, and others for an excellent nylon belt. Spend at least $50-100 on a good belt, and get at LEAST 1 1/4″ wide to fit through belt loops and still stay sturdy. It will pay off in comfort, longetivity, and gun retention! You want to keep your gun, right?


Next week, on “Holster 102”, I’ll go over various holster types and their applications. And, as always, when searching for your next holster on Amazon, be sure to use the Amazon search function in the right hand sidebar; it helps keep this site up and running when you do!


What holsters do you use for your gun carry? I’m a huge gear nerd; let’s hear what you got!


Stay Safe!





15 comments… add one
  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. July 31, 2013, 6:47 am

    I big “+1” on the Bianchi UM84 series, they are a great holster and I’ve seen a lot of surplus holsters back from the Middle East theaters for very little money. Handguns tend to get neglected in the outdoors and a flap holster does a pretty good job protecting them. I’m pretty much old school and prefer leather holsters but admit they have shortcomings.

    Your initial comment on gun fit – take that to heart. My biggest gripe against nylon is the manufacturers approach of ‘one size fits all’ – like hell. The gun may fit, but the finish gets worn very quickly and can even be lost if its too lose. Don’t pick size 6 because its one of the 10 options the backer sez, pick a holster that fits YOUR specific gun. I guess that is why I like leather – they don’t expand nearly as much as nylon and are made to fit a specific item.

    Like many old timers, I have quite a few holsters I no longer use because I needed the ‘something better’ :^). Shoulder holsters, strong side, weak side, cross draw, round the back and up the side, lol. Its easy to get carried away.

    Thanks for the article.

  • Ray July 31, 2013, 8:48 am

    I like old military leather, My weapon is secure. It wears like iron. Is easy to maintain. I don’t CC , (you don’t need a permit to carry in Ky.) so I don’t need that, and I don’t like nylon after my “melting gear” fiasco some years ago. I have found it all to easy to get a weapon hot enough to melt nylon holsters AND belts-I no longer use ether.

  • Lester July 31, 2013, 8:54 am

    I am currently using a N82tactical holster for IWB CC of my Ruger LC9. It’s not too bulky, and has a nice suede padding that sits between the gun and my skin. It’s a great barrier for the skin and on the hottest of days here last week in New England it never became uncomfortable to wear. It is functional, and comfortable, and didn’t break the bank at around $70 for the “professional” model.

  • Bill July 31, 2013, 9:39 am

    I am not familiar with the pistol in the top photo, but it sure looks like it is cocked while in the holster?????

    • j.r. guerra in s. tx. July 31, 2013, 3:49 pm

      Yup – cocked and locked (loaded chamber, safety on). Reportedly years back, a Texas Ranger wearing his gun that way was asked by a newspaper reporter if that was dangerous. “Hell yes” was his reply. :^)

      The grip safety isn’t depressed (see that projection on back of grip ?) When your hand grips the gun, that part is pushed into grip and the hammer is now allowed to move forward, firing weapon.

      +1 on Simply Rugged – I have several holsters from them as well, they do a great job.

  • rubrduky July 31, 2013, 1:24 pm

    I’m really impressed with my custom leather pancake from SimplyRugged. Reasonably priced…..even attractive:)

  • slhaynes July 31, 2013, 1:53 pm

    I also have a UM84 for my Ruger P-85. Fits great and rides on the USGI Alice web belt nicely. I also have a matching four magazine holder.

  • Wild Weasel July 31, 2013, 6:32 pm

    I have a few different ones depending on what is needed, they are like shoes, differen ones for different task. I have a G-Code INCOG that works great w the mag holster. Conceals nicely and gives me an extra mag all in one holster. Raven concealment is great hides my full size frame firearm with weapon light under a tshirt. Then I have a custom kydex/leather IWB from Robert Ohneck for the money can’t beat for IWB. Invest in your holster won’t let you down!

  • Kyle July 31, 2013, 7:25 pm

    I carry a glock 26 everyday in a homemade kydex and leather hybrid holster on a Galco leather belt. It’s extremely comfortable, and kind of fun when you make your own holster.

  • Ray July 31, 2013, 10:00 pm

    I like to carry my SAA .45 in a cowboy rig that I made . I made a Ranger belt out of old stirrup leathers. I made a “buffalo hunter” pattern(think Qwigly Down under) scabbard for my 1960s stag grip Solingen Bowie, a civil war pattern carbine cartridge box and a “Mexican double loop” holster. The box holds 40rds. and the rig is just “Lonesome Dove” to the bone. I used Harness stitching on the belt- holster and knife sheath and mattress stitching for the cartridge box. Every thing got copper rivets and brass studs or burrs where needed. The best part (to me) is the bronze US ARMY stirrup buckle I found for the belt. I had a lot of fun making this one.

  • TANK August 1, 2013, 5:58 pm

    I carry a 1911 45acp in a Crossbreed IWB leather and kydex holster. It is the most comfortable holster I have ever found and It is always cocked and locked!

  • eieio August 2, 2013, 3:07 am

    Just a FYI. No matter what type of carry holster material is used, if you carry, one of the things that would always come up for me was oil stains on clothing. I used to run with an oil based lubricant and not grease in my Glock. There seemed to always be lubricant stains on my clothing and the gun feeling oily. Glocks don’t need much lubricant but I did not run my Glocks “dry”.

    I started using Froglube. Search “froglube review” on Amazon.com and there will be a lot of reading to do.

    This lubricant / cleaner / rust preventative is not an oil based product. It seems more like a wax that leaches into the pores of the metal. Once the metal is “treated” you can wipe the metal down so it feels more like a polished metal surface rather than an oiled metal surface.

    The pistol can now be worn very close to the body and clothing and it will not wick oil or stain the clothing. It also smells like BenGay cream (mentholatum). This is a benefit to concealed carry. Someone with a good nose and a familiarity with gun cleaning fluids would be able to determine if you carried a concealed pistol that was cleaned with Hoppes #9 by the smell of the cleaning fluid on the gun and the holster. Something cleaned with Froglube would make you smell like you had rubbed a little BenGay cream on your leg, lower back, hip, or chest (the places where the holstered handgun would be).

    A holster means we move with the handgun. I like to move with the least identifiable cross section possible, and that includes identity by sight and smell. If you carry with a Froglubed holstered handgun, it might even be a good Idea to rub a little BenGay on your weak side forearm or wrist to really throw off the curious few who would know Froglube and its uses. Froglube also is great for knives (folders and fixed blades).


    • Ray August 2, 2013, 8:05 am

      At my age smelling like bengay is not a plus.

  • Preacher August 2, 2013, 5:26 pm

    I decided to make my own pocket holster for my NAA PUG. Turned out good. I am experimenting with working leather again and have put together a couple; NAA mini’s and a Kel-Tec P3AT.

  • Sadie August 4, 2013, 6:38 pm

    Nice intro article. Reminded me of another blog post I read recently about kydex pancake holsters: http://www.triangletactical.net/2013/07/31/kydex-pancake-holsters-suck/

    He also wrote a “how to” make your own kydex holsters:


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