Now Let’s Talk About Holsters

A 16th-century pistol holster from Tbilisi, Georgia. Satin-stitch embroidery with gold and silver thread on velvet, silk and cotton. 32X13 cm. Art Museum of Georgia, Tbilisi

So, a friend of mine approached me about holster selection the other day, and I thought about it a little bit and decided I really didn’t have a good answer. And really, neither did the internet (at least not a consolidated answer).  Along the lines with gun buying tips for new shooters it would be decent to have a resource like “Holster Buying Tips for New Shooters”.

There are a few good articles I found out there, from people like Greg Ellifritz at Active Response Training, or Aaron Cowan at Recoil. But by and large most of the articles and resources are biased by the writers’ opinions (duh), which are based on how they carry. And I found myself falling into that same trap. I like to carry a couple of specific ways, and outside of that I’m not really sure how to recommend something. Not to mention the way I choose to carry is not right for everyone. My wife, for instance, is not at all interested in appendix carry. She doesn’t like it, she doesn’t feel comfortable with it–it is a no-go for her.

The other factor is that I believe there are good and bad holsters, and good holsters with poor features and poor holsters with good features. And when trying to work with someone new, how do you impart the correct things to look for, and more importantly, the critical thinking necessary to select a holster right for their situation.

I would argue that each method of carry has an optimal way, and a number of variations, some of which work for some people, and some that don’t. And those methods are a near religious war with the carriers that espouse them. Some people will have an aneurysm at the thought of a ClipDraw, while others are anti-leather. The list goes on.

The problem is that very few people have experienced every holster variation out there. Other than people that are sent units for review, I would assert that most people narrow in on a solution that is decent for their situation and then optimize that. Not that I think there is anything wrong with that, but it is limiting.

I would like to get a discussion going in the comments about what YOU think makes a good holster and why, or what makes a bad holster and why. I’d also like to hear some thoughts on why you carry certain ways (e.g. why do you love/hate appendix/ankle/small of back/etc.). Depending on where this goes maybe we can do some short articles discussing each carry method, and the reader sourced best and worst features in holsters.

Tom is a former Navy Corpsman that spent some time bumbling around the deserts of Iraq with a Marine Recon unit, kicking in tent flaps and harassing sheep. Prior to that he was a paramedic somewhere in DFW, also doing some Executive Protection work between shifts. Now that those exciting days are behind him, he has embraced his inner “Warrior Hippie” and assaults 14er in his sandals and beard, or engages in rucking adventure challenges while consuming craft beer. To fund these adventures, he writes medical software and builds websites and mobile apps. His latest venture is as one of the founders of; a search engine for all things gun related. He hopes that his posts will help you find solid gear that will survive whatever you can throw at it–he is known (in certain circles) for his curse…ahem, ability…to find the breaking point of anything.


  • M.M.D.C.

    It’s one of those things that’s very subjective and very difficult to make recommendations on.

  • Yeah, lets talk about them, more specifically, what the hell is this holster here? I mean, I’ve tried looking it up, but it’s pretty much un-Googleable.

    • M.M.D.C.

      What movie?

      • The Original “Dawn of the Dead”. Not the remake.

        • M.M.D.C.

          I was going to direct you to IMFDB, but that’s where the image comes from. No mention of the holster there.

          • Otm Shooter

            Looks like an M7, like the fella above said.

    • Michael Hardy

      That looks like a military holster worn by tank crews around WW2, Google give me M3 and M7 model numbers

      • Awesome, thanks mates. It’s a very nice looking holster. Think anybody makes in the same format for different handguns?

        • Michael Hardy

          There are a lot of different shoulder holsters, not sure how many of them will let you wear the gun tanker style.

    • Just the facts

      That appears to be a US Army shoulder Holster for the .45. Typically was issued to Tank crewman.

    • greasyjohn

      El Paso Saddlery, 1942 Tanker. Goes on sale a lot too.

  • Renegade

    I tend not to advise people on holsters; too many variables. Weight, height, body shape, male, female, style of dress, occupation, personal vehicle(s), work vehicle(s)… The list goes on.

    Mostly I go with “I use this, but-“

    • Budogunner

      Whatever you get, train with it. Start with lots of empty gun draw, present, and reholster drills. Don’t worry about fast until you can access the gun, obtain a solid sight picture, then reholster safely and consistently without taking your eyes of the target.

      • Mikial

        I agree with your comment about training a LOT, but why would you not worry about how fast you can access the gun? That is a part of the critical training for draw and present. Not disagreeing, just asking for you to elaborate.

        • Budogunner

          I agree speed is important, but not first priority in training. If you start with the mindset that you have to get the gun out as soon as possible poor initial grip, inefficient movement, and spastic muscles can add a LOT of time to acquiring a good sight picture.

          That is why I like to teach the draw backwards. Start with a clear gun with sights on target then bring in to chest. Release the off-hand and hold it to chest, bring gun to side, muzzle down without flagging, insert to holster, release grip, and take natural stance. Once you can do this smoothly, speed it up a little. Now you can reverse it and do a draw as you have established good habits and muscle memory that gets muzzle and sights in correct position. With that smooth, speed it up and add clearing of clothing. You will wear a variety of clothes so I like adding that last as you need a solid foundation before adding those clothes-specific variations.

          In short, I do believe speed matters but is the result of a proper training process, not an end in itself. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.

          • Mikial

            Okay, that actually makes sense. I can agree with that approach once you put it in context.

    • Mikial

      This is actually a good point. Everyone’s body and circumstances are different. There is no one best answer.

  • Gary

    It depends…The first question should be what are you carrying for and what gun are you going to carry? I carry in several different modes depending on the gun I am carrying, the time of year, and the activity I am performing. As a firearms instructor, when I’m teaching students on the range I tend to carry OWB in a retention holster–yes, a Serpa! But, on the range I am not trying to do quick draws, etc. but have done 1-1.5 second draws (including the first shot on a target) many times during classes. Not a problem with a Serpa if you learn to keep your finger straight and off the trigger until the sights are aligned on the target. During the colder times of the year when I’m out in public I tend to prefer the Crossbreed SuperTuck Deluxe if I’m going to be out for a while. If it is just a quick run to the corner store, I’ll just grab an IWB (leather) with a J-hook. In the summer it is usually a small pocket pistol like the Kimber Solo in a leather OWB pancake holster under a T-shirt or in a pocket holster. The gun I end up carrying concealed most often is a Glock 19 and I have IWB, OWB, shoulder holsters, etc. for it. I do prefer to carry in the 4 o’clock position when I conceal the gun. I do not like AWB because I don’t have the “figure” to keep the gun from pointing at things I’d rather not point a gun at. Like most people, you’ll most likely go through several different holsters until you find one (or more) that you like. I don’t know many retail stores that stock custom holsters, most seem to carry the Blackhawk Serpas or, to a lesser extent, the BladeTech holsters. Galco, Forbis, Bianchi, and the cheap Uncle Mike’s also seem to be stocked. If you want a quality holster you’ll have to rely on the Internet. When teaching firearms classes I try to explain what to avoid in the way of a concealed carry holster–those cheap generic nylon ones with a plastic belt clip. I do find it interesting to have someone tell me about the $500+ they paid for their concealed carry handgun but also complain about having to spend more than $50 for a holster to carry it in!

  • Roy G Bunting

    Holsters are about as personal as you can get with gun accessories. First you have to define the situation you’ll be wearing it in. A plainclothes School Resource Officer has different needs then a CCW licencee working in an office cubicle. Hiking in the backcountry is different from all concealed carry uses and different then a pistol match holster.

    So once you’ve sorted out how important concealiblity, accessibility and retention and picked a gun that is likely to meet your needs in that case, you can start narrowing down the options.

    However, for a short list.
    “I don’t need to conceal my gun, but I might need to holster it at home, on the range or camping”
    Outside the waistband Fobus/Blade-Tech/kydex holster, a good belt and magazine carrier.

    “I’m mostly concerned about carrying my new tiny CCW gun”
    Pocket holster and good IWB holster with a clip to attach it to your belt where it’s comfortable.

    “I need to carry a fighting gun, like a 1911, or G19 all the time”
    A good IWB or possibly a close to the body OWB, if being noticed occasionally isn’t a big problem. A good belt.

    Those are the main starting points. Then you get into brand, gun fit, leather vs synthetic, color (Black goes with everything), and other more esoteric questions.

  • Joshua

    The style I use probably the most is a shoulder holster under the left pec, barrel down. I employ this style for a large caliber revolver as a backup gun on hunting/fishing.trapping excursions. for it I like a thick, formed leather holster because I find leather easier to wear. I don’t like a plastic holster here out of personal preference more than anything, the leather has some give to it, and is less abrasive when your carrying the gun this way for an extended period of time. Under the arm here also puts the gun in or close to the divers triangle meaning that I can draw with either hand, which being ambidextrous and it being an emergency gun strikes me as a good thing, it also keeps the gun higher out of water in the event that I end up taking a dunk. It’s not really concealable, in order to conceal it I would have to add a jacket, and adding a jacket over a gun I plan on needing in a hurry if I need it I don’t like, so that is open carry, bush carry for me.

    • Anomanom

      Vertical shoulder holsters are my favorite, although it’s hard to find one for my USP that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.

    • RSG

      I e been carrying horizontal shoulder rigs for semi’s for 20 years. I’m most comfortable on that draw. Have my two extra mags opposite side. It’s comfortable for me. And I don’t change around anything when I’m in the car. I can get to it quickly there. I have 5 different rigs for different guns, lol.

      • Mikial

        I’m sure some people will chuckle, but I even have one for my Desert Eagle. 😉 It’s surprisingly comfortable. I love the fact that it’s always accessible no matter whether I’m sitting or standing.

  • Jwedel1231

    What makes a good holster? Something that holds a firearm secure (both in place and safe from accidental fire) and allows you to draw safely and quickly, and doesn’t impede movement overly much. Anything beyond that is personal preference.

  • Kristoff

    Usually I pocket carry for maximum discretion. When I’m not pocket carrying I small of back carry.

  • M1911

    A holster has to do several things: 1) cover the trigger guard, 2) hold the gun securely, 3) not move around much on the belt, 4) hold the gun in tight to the body for best concealment, 5) be comfortable, 6) does not collapse after you draw so that you can holster one-handed (not applicable to pocket holsters).

    We all have a big box of holsters because people’s bodies and clothing are different. I’ve tried several different appendix holsters but can’t find one that works for me — I’ve just got too big a gut.

    For IWB, I haven’t found anything that beats Crossbreed. For OWB, Raven Concealment makes a very nice holster that conceals well. For pocket carry, Mika holsters are ugly as crap, but they are cheap and work very well.

  • USMC03Vet

    As long as it secures the firearm in a safe manner that is all that matters. The firearm industry loves to over complicate things and it’s typically an attempt to justify some downright hilarious prices. Firearm holsters have been around for centuries and people did just fine before modern must have ultimate gun fighter tactical SHTF marketing.

    • Budogunner

      Yep. I suggest trying a bunch on, like borrowing some from friends, with the following points in mind:

      1) Is it safe? Does it retain the firearm securely without risk of causing ND by design on draw or reholster?
      2) Does it fit the specific gun you plan on carrying well (see point 1)
      3) Does it conceal well with your wardrobe if CCDW, or provide quick access if competing?
      4) Is it comfortable? If not, you’ll find you won’t wear it.
      5) Remember, there is no single holster for every situation. Repeat this process as needed.

      I lean toward the leather/kydex IWB style holsters but have a few other for different reasons. They all match the above minimum requirements, though.

  • Anomanom

    I use an open topped Tagua IWB with the barrel end, well… basically stuck in my crack. I think it’s really meant to be worn on the hip or appendix, but as i have wide hips (not comfortable) and a tendency to rest my arm on whatever happens to be on my belt (not really good concealment) it rides the small of my back quite comfortably.

  • UCSPanther

    I like that 16th century holster. It definitely has that Ottoman vibe to it…

    Something that a Janissary soldier might carry his service sidearm in.

  • ltulrich

    Gotta say, I love the nylon reversible holsters from Uncle Mike’s & Blackhawk. They protect the gun, safely, and ready to clip onto anything in an emergency. Horrible carry option, I know, but ideal for storage-at-the-ready.

  • Edeco

    I think Bladetech Nanos are the bees knees. IWB without a huge leather biscuit (yech), thus also good for off-person storage and transportation. To be clear I’m not primarily a self-defense user.

  • William Elliott

    I would say, start with a cheap, nylon holster that can be configured in various positions [Appendix, hip, cross draw, shoulder, etc] to try different positions. Carry it for a week each way that interests you until you find YOUR most comfortable. Then go out and find the best holster that fits that carry. I personally prefer somwhat of a horizontal crossdraw [just to the left of belt buckle so it rides across my left thigh when seated] because I spend way too much time in a car, and I have a gut [working on that] and that is one of the best positions to draw from the seated position. I actually prefer the horizontal position, either cross or strong side because it allows me to get muzzle on target as soon as the pistol clears the holster without rotating up [fractions of a second, I know, but every edge counts]. But that is what I have found works for me, and only for OPEN carry. For concealed I revert to strong side, IWB, vertical carry because my aformentioned gut gets in the way of appendix, and horizontal doesn’t really work with IWB.
    And I came to all my personal conclusions over years of trying new things and tinkering. That is why I suggest the “tinker with the cheap holsters till you find what works for you THEN get the GOOD holster when you find it” method.
    As for leather and other materials…well, I’ll let someone else go over that because, again, its partially personal preference, partially what works and doesn’t work. Mushy inside the waste band holster that gets inside your trigger guard while reholstering doesn’t work for instance

  • John ms

    I’ve built holsters in anything you can imagine and in combinations for 30 years now. Mostly for myself and custom jobs for shooters, DAs, cops, you name it. One thing I’ve learned is you end up with 100s of holsters that sounded good and didn’t do what you wanted. So I mostly make them for people who are at the end of the path and not at the beginning. They know exactly what they want and I make it no matter if it sounds right to me. They are usually very happy as no one else would attempt their idea due to their notion of what’s right. Sound familiar?

    Here’s what I know. Kydex tends to wear plastic frames where they click in. Slides aren’t immune to finish loss too. Strong retention but not forming to most body shapes unless made formed to your hip.

    Leather, if done right, does not rust most pistols. But you have to keep your pistol maintained and oiled properly. If your super sweaty, your experience might be different. Also depends on what you condition your leather with and type of leather. Stitching style is key. I run full saddle stitches locked at each end so they don’t pull out. One fails, you still have another full stitch. Leather is forgiving and durable. Never had a gun rust yet. Have one that’s been in safe in holster for 20 years and no maintenance to prove it. My preferred material.

    Nylon is good for generic fit but is limited over time and puffy. Drop leg is fine. Others. Ehh.

    Wether IWB, OWB, AIWB or whatever, you have to find what works for you. Build your box cuz you’ll need it to store the unwanted.

    My personal favorites, these days, are OWB with a behind the holster belt loop system that shortens its length and snugs to your body. Trigger guard rides at or above belt to help hide under shirts and jackets. Leather of course. 2-5 o’clock position. Canted forward to also keep high and easier to present gun. YMMV.

    IWB AND AIWB are all the rage. If your a perfect built specimen, you can do it. If your fluffy, good luck. I also don’t like guns pointed at my junk or federal artery. Your choice. Tight belts required to hold your pants up hurt. Good stiff belts don’t need to be as tight. Wilderness belts are excellent but have there issues too.

    I’ve never grown fond of the double clip leather and kydex type. They are huge and wrap half way around my waist. 2 metal clips is a dead give away too.

    If you want a type you’ve seen or not but think it wil work, learn how to make your own. It’s not hard to create a very looking professional holster. It’s cheaper too.

    Good luck, it’s not an easy road to walk.

    • Generic42

      I’d love to see some pictures of your favorite type as you described it above.

      • John ms

        If you can send me an email through this, I’d be happy to send a pick of a few.

  • Mike Lashewitz

    Well back in da 16th century a gun was as expensive as a Ferrari. So a little added bling makes some sense. Today that would be gay . . . really gay…

    Today I prefer tooled leather bling but cannot afford it unless I make it myself. Unfortunately disability gives limited use of my hands for fine leather work and it is out of the question.

  • Mikial

    First, and I don’t mean this to sound snarky, but Googling “holster buying tips for the new shooter” will return scores of pretty decent articles from sources like Optics Planet, Buckeye Firearms Association and USCCA that give new CCW folks the basics so they can begin considering options.

    Second, there’s a reason most of us have a box of holsters in the closet, some of which have hardly been used. Holsters are like shoes . . . all styles, all occasions, and some of them were just a bad purchase while others are like an old friend.

    Finally, for myself, for IWB I like Crossbreed. They are comfortable, durable, safe, fit well, hold my gun well, and are easy to draw from. I tried Alien Gear, and was terribly disappointed. They were uncomfortable and the screws holding the kydex holster had to be continually adjusted and tightened. Crossbreed cast twice as much, but they are worth it. In my time I have also used belly bands, plain old Uncle Mikes sock holsters, Bulldog and Sneaky Pete belt pouch styles, and of course, OWB models. Crossbreed remains my favorite because it supports the full sized .45 Glock 21 I prefer to carry.