Last week, I talked about holster materials, with a few pros and cons of each. This week, I’d like to delve into different types of holsters available to the consumer, and chit-chat a bit about why each one works and how it might be best for you.
Holsters are a deeply personal item for a lot of folks (myself included!) and they spend a lot of time researching, trying holsters out, and getting recommendations. There are so many different types out there that it can be truly bewildering to narrow down what you need and what will work best for you under a given range of circumstances. Some are truly multi-purpose, while some are really only good for one thing. Let’s see what’s out there…
There is a LARGE category of holster that is extremely varied in design, yet very useful under most circumstances. This “class” of holster, which I’m going to put under the sweeping generalization “Field Holsters,” are general purpose holsters that keep the gun in a comfortable, convenient location on your body, namely, on your belt, at hip-level. They cover almost the entirety of the gun (in some cases, all of the gun!) and keep the handgun handy for use in a speedy fashion. These are generally not very easy to conceal, so they really come into play while hunting, working in the yard or while you’re on a tractor harvesting crops, or perhaps on duty as a police officer or soldier. They are comfortable, rugged (usually) and keep the gun pretty well protected while keeping it readily available.
In the image above, clockwise from top center: Bianchi M84/M12, Lawrence Full-flap holster, Uncle Mike’s “Sidekick” holster, Safariland 25, El Paso Saddlery #5 “Patton” holster, two Lawrence 3/4 flap leather holsters.
A good field holster will take care of a lot of needs. They come in strong-side (if you’re right handed, it goes on your right hip. Left handed, left hip. If you’re left handed, be sure to check that the holster is indeed left-handed!) and cross-draw, meaning that the hand and arm you’re drawing the gun from the holster with has to reach across your body to grab the handgun. Each setup as its pros and cons: A strong-side holster will be more comfortable for most, and easiest to access and utilize. However, if you’re carrying a rifle that’s slung over your shoulder, a handgun on your hip will quickly become a giant pain in the ass. The handgun will ding your stock, wear bluing off metal, make noise while the two bang together, and catch on the rifle when you’re trying to get it un-slung. The full- and 3/4-flap type holsters pictured above will alleviate the damage issue to an extent. However, if it’s something you do frequently, a cross-draw may be a better choice for you. It keeps the slung rifle on the opposite side of your body from the handgun, yet leaves both readily available for use. I sometimes use this setup while hunting in the Maine woods, where the open oak groves which necessitate a rifle will quickly turn to close-in hemlock glades, where a handgun makes more sense. Just keep in mind that if there are people in close proximity to you, drawing from a cross-draw holster may mean the muzzle of your handgun gets swung past them as you bring the handgun to bear on your target. This is why many training and range companies will not allow them. Here’s a good picture from www.westernemporium.com that shows pretty well the difference between strong side and cross-draw:
As I stated in last week’s post, I’m a HUGE fan of the Bianchi M84/M12 holster, and though I dearly love leather holsters, I would begrudgingly name it the best of the lot for a field holster. It’s modular, meaning you can add or subtract options like thumb breaks, flaps, leg drop rigs, shoulder holster rigs, etc. It’s ambidextrous and can be used strong side or cross-draw, and its ballistic nylon/plastic construction mean zero maintenance and quick drying it if gets wet. As a bonus, its size and construction mean it can fit a multitude of handguns securely. As Charlie Sheen crooned, “Winning!”
The other side of the holster coin is the pack of holsters meant for concealment. These come in a few different types, just like the field holsters, but their intended use is much more specific.
Pancake Holsters (so named because their rounded edges and flat profiles are reminiscent of the food) are extremely popular, and for good reason: they do their job, and they do it well.
Pancake holsters (also called belt-slides) keep your handgun high on your body, canted forward somewhat. This keeps the gun sucked in tight to the natural hollow of your waist, close to your body. This allows the holster to be more easily concealed by a heavier shirt, sweater, sweatshirt, or jacket, and the butt-forward cant makes the gun easier to draw from higher on your body, as well as helping to keep the butt of the gun (in my experience, the hardest part of the handgun to conceal) hidden better. These can also be used as field holsters, and some prefer it so because the gun is up higher, and mounted closer in to the body than the traditional field holster. An open bottomed holster, like the Bianchi Black Widow above, works well for people who have multiple gun sizes based on one frame (e.g. Glock 17/19/26 family, SIG Sauer P220/P245, or 1911 full-sized, Commander, or Officer’s ACP). One holster will fit them all, regardless of barrel length. However, if you have just one gun, I prefer a closed-bottom type, such as the others pictured. It keeps the gun better protected, and less visible. People may not recognize a holster peeking out below your jacket, but they sure as hell will recognize the exposed muzzle of a handgun. I also prefer thumbstraps for retention when moving quickly, though the current line of moulded kydex holsters with tension screws has swayed me in that regard.
There are so many pancake holster types with so many options out there that it’s hard to single out just one I like best. Just remember: you get what you pay for. A good leather holster will run at LEAST $60 new, with kydex just a touch less. Pay the money now and get a quality holster, instead of ten cheap ones that will fail. Dig through “bargain bins” at your local gun shops – they will often ditch holsters that came with guns in there, and you will pay pennies on the dollar for top-notch holsters. It’s always worth a shot!
IWB, or Inside The Waistband holsters, are a specialized type of concealment holster.
IWB holsters actually sit inside your paints, with a belt loop or clip that runs over your waistband, onto your belt, like so:
An IWB holster is the epitome of belt-mounted concealment holsters. They can be uncomfortable, and it requires wardrobe planning (you need to buy pants one size larger than your waist size, generally. Belts too), but a well-designed IWB holster with a smallish gun will disappear under even just a t-shirt. It can be worn in the small of the back (SOB carry) on the hip, or in “Appendix” carry, directly in the front of your body by where your appendix is located. (by the way: Appendix carry is just about the most uncomfortable carry EVER, but it’s effective at concealing even large pistols.) If you get a leather IWB holster, be sure it has the reinforcing band at the top that keeps the holster open once you draw the handgun…it will make re-holstering MUCH easier. I use both leather and Kydex, but my favorite is the Galco SC2 pictured above. I’ve used it for years with a SIG P220, and it has worn well, and is extremely comfortable. It even hides a huge pistol like the P220 with relative ease.
Ankle Holsters are another one-trick pony, but a good one.
Ankle holsters keep the gun right by your ankle (well named, huh?). While this is the least convenient of the holster types to access, it has the bonus of being in a place most people don’t look for a handgun. (FYI, it does its job best while wearing pants. Just a lil’ tip from your buddy TRW) They work best with small, light guns, such as a S&W J-frame revolver. Pro: it hides small guns VERY well. Cons: They tend to move around a lot, rotating about your ankle, if it’s not securely fastened. (It can even work its way loose, with a resounding “THUNK” when your gun hits the floor. Ask me how I know.). It also can be prone to dust and dirt, mud buildup, just by merit of its locale. Keep these things in mind when selecting one. I don’t have a favorite, as I don’t use them much, but the “you get what you pay for” rule goes double here.
Shoulder Holsters come in two basic types: horizontal carry and vertical carry.
With a horizontal carry, the barrel of the gun is horizonal, parallel with the floor.
A vertical shoulder holster holds the gun barrel-down, with the muzzle pointing at the ground.
The horizontal carry works better for shorter barreled handguns, and is faster and more convenient to draw from. It is also very easy to conceal under a jacket. A vertical carry shoulder holster is best for longer barreled full-sized guns, or scoped hunting handguns, as it doesn’t leave the muzzle pointing out behind you, pitching a tent with your jacket. I know James Bond uses them and all, but in the SHTF world where you’ll probably be carrying a backpack or other gear, a shoulder holster may not be the best choice. However, if you can afford a quality one, it will last forever, be easy to put on and take off, and usually have a mag pouch built in. Be sure to try different ones out if you’re horny for a shoulder holster rig; they can be devilishly uncomfortable if not adjusted properly. Also, the same safety concerns over the cross-draw holster hold sway over the shoulder holster: you have to swing the gun out across you as you draw, meaning other people around you may be flagged with the muzzle, and you may be sworn at fervently and repeatedly.
There are a few other holster systems around, but they are really all just permutations of the basic varieties listed above. When choosing a holster, always remember to buy the best you can afford. That Uncle Mike’s one size fit all Sidekick on the Wal-Mart shelf for $20 may be tempting after you see the $90 for a new Bianchi, but just remember there’s a reason why it’s $20. Buy a good belt to go with it, and you will be set up for many, many years to come with a well-protected, comfortably carried handgun that will be there when you need it.
Questions? Comments? Let’s hear your opinions…