Most of us put a lot of thought into choosing the right handgun because it's a big decision. Unfortunately, many take a case pretty much as an afterthought.
It doesn't matter how good your gun is if you can't expect it to be well protected, easy to handle, and quick to spring into action. It has to be the right holster for you, your carrying style, and your weapon.
Concealed carry holsters should not only hold your gun securely;they need to help make it as unobtrusive as possible.That means bulky flaps, padding, and carrier systems are out;discreet leather is in order.
There's also a limit to what a holster can do for concealment, and your choice of weapon is going to make a big difference.Go for a revolver with a long barrel and a large frame and your concealed carry options will become very limited.
Inside belt holsters
Inside-the-waist (IWB) holsters are the most popular option for concealed carry.These holsters attach to your belt with a buckle or clip and hold the gun inside your trouser waistband.This is great for concealment, as only the toe and back of the zipper are exposed above the waistband.On the other hand, it is not the most comfortable style, and exposes the weapon to perspiration.They work best with flatter, more compact semi-automatics.
Outside belt holsters
Outside of the Belt (OWB) holsters designed for concealed carry are a better option if you are carrying a larger revolver or semi-automatic.These holsters often have wide wings, which hold it securely on the belt and help smooth out the shape, reducing the "print" on your shirt or coat.
If you spend a lot of time driving or sitting down, a belt holster can be uncomfortable – and drawing can be troublesome too.A shoulder holster is a great choice for comfort;the harness has loops on each shoulder, connected by a back strap, to help distribute the weight of the weapon.Shoulder holsters are easily concealed under an open jacket and allow quick draw while seated.Many include a magazine pouch opposite the holster.Another advantage of shoulder holsters is that they are the only really effective way to hide a large revolver.The holster itself can be horizontal for compact handguns, making it easier to draw, or vertical for pistols with longer barrels.
Sometimes it's easier to just carry a gun in your pocket, but doing so can result in snags on your clothing or other pocket contents, slowing your draw, or even accidentally dropping a bullet.A pocket holster protects the gun from snags and lets you draw neatly when you need to.Most pocket holsters are unattached inside the pocket, making them quick and easy to move between coats - they rely on friction to keep them in place.You will often find them with the rough side of the leather facing out, to give more friction against your pocket and less against your weapon.
Ankle holsters are typically used for a backup pistol - either a semi-automatic or short-barreled subcompact revolver.They do an excellent job of concealment and tend to be missed if someone does a hasty or surreptitious pat-down.They do have a few issues though.By the time you bend over and roll up your pant leg, it won't be the fastest draw in history.They can also be uncomfortable if you do a lot of physical activity.Running around with a revolver bouncing against your ankle isn't much fun.
belly band holsters
Designed to hide a handgun under an untucked shirt, a belly band holster is a wide, elasticated waistband with an integrated holster.They come in several styles that allow you to choose the exact placement of the weapon - anywhere from just above the waistband to quite high on the chest.Some are set up to hold the gun in the front of the body and others place it under the armpit.Belly band holsters are good for concealment, but bad for comfort.To hold the weapon firmly in place, they must be tight, making them uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.
Open carrying cases
Belt holsters are the most popular choice for open carry, mainly because they're ideal for it.They keep the weapon out of the way but easily accessible.They're secure and stay in position, so when you grab your gun, you know exactly where it's going to be.Without the need for concealment, a belt holster can have a much more comfortable design, and you also get more retention options to keep the gun from slipping out of the holster until you want it to.If you plan to open the pack, an open belt holster with a strap or other retention device will usually do the trick.
There are times when a belt holster isn't ideal for open carry, however.Just like concealed carry, if you spend a lot of time driving or sitting down, you'll probably be better off with a shoulder holster.When it comes to shoulder holsters, the same holsters tend to be suitable for both concealed and open carry.The main difference with open carry is that you don't have to worry about wearing a jacket over it.If you're shorter, you can also get away with carrying a bigger handgun — unless you've got a little bulk to make it disappear, a 1911 will never be so well concealed.
Duty & Tactical Holsters
Belt holsters are the traditional military and law enforcement solution.A gear belt or gear web is a great fit for a holster and keeps all of your gear together in one unit.
Police belt holsters usually have an open top and some sort of retention.This allows for a quick draw, and with modern retention devices there is little chance of someone else getting hold of the gun.
Military belt holsters are a bit different.For soldiers, a quick draw is desirable, but less important than for a cop - few soldiers carry a handgun as their primary weapon, usually senior officers or non-combat specialists.Military handguns, however, live a tough life.They are transported for long periods in dirty, muddy, wet, dusty or cold conditions.This means that protection is the priority, so most holsters are full flip designs that cover as much of the weapon as possible.
Drop leg holsters
Holsters are great, but can be tricky to use, especially if you're seated.Drop your hand to the side and it's 18 inches from the butt of a pistol hanging from your belt.Practice helps, but a drop leg holster is - in theory, anyway - a more intuitive way to do it.
The drop leg holsters hang from your belt around mid-thigh and a strap around the thigh secures them in place.Extension kits convert most military belt holsters to drop legs.Kits typically contain a thigh board with a PALS grid and retention straps attached.A big advantage is that they work well with body armor long enough to interfere with a belt holster.
Drop leg holsters are controversial.Some find them easier to pull, while others say they are more troublesome in certain positions.Shooters who have trained with belt holsters for years may find it difficult to adapt.Drop leg holsters also don't hold the weapon as securely as belt styles, so they tend to bounce around when running.When you crawl, the holster can work its way under your thigh and be dragged through the dirt.
A holster doesn't work well with a full combat load - they become very difficult to pull when you reach armor loaded with pouches.For troops operating with lighter equipment, on the other hand, they offer the same advantages as the open carry - the weight is well distributed and it is easy to fire while sitting or riding.
One thing to be aware of is that a shoulder holster worn over a uniform is quite obvious and therefore can be interpreted as aggressive in certain situations.This is not important for everyone, but if you work in CIMIC or HUMINT - where you need to build good relationships with local nationals - this can be a problem.
An alternative to shoulder holsters that works well with armor is a chest holster.These typically attach to the PALS grid on any MOLLE compatible armor (learn more aboutthe use of MOLLE).Positioned so that the butt of the weapon is above your breastbone, they allow for a fairly easy draw.If you are a driver or crew member of a vehicle, this is a good option.
Leather is the traditional case material, and it is still popular today.Leather is tough, versatile and looks great.Modern leather holsters vary from traditional styles to reinforced, molded designs designed to fit a specific model of gun.
Leather is an excellent choice for concealed carry.It is flexible and, with wear, molds to both the body and the weapon.A good leather case doesn't add a lot of bulk, which helps with concealment.
There are, however, drawbacks.Leather requires a lot of maintenance.Poorly cared for leather can pick up moisture from rain or sweat, and you really don't want wet leather wrapped around your handgun all day.It also collects scratches and gouges, which will not damage the function of the case but degrade its appearance.
Leather also tends to soften and wrinkle as it ages, which can be dangerous.Lots of people sheathed an old leather gun that bent, went into the trigger guard and fired a bullet.
Kydex and other hard plastics are great holster materials.They're tough, can be molded into just about any shape, and really protect the weapon.Their rigidity also makes them ideal for cases with retention systems.Usually they are designed for a specific weapon.
The main disadvantage of rigid plastic is that it is often uncomfortable for concealed transport.It doesn't mold to your body like leather does.Hard cases also tend to be bulkier and more obvious.
These materials are low maintenance and do not absorb water, sweat or dirt.Even if they are dripping with mud, they can be easily cleaned.
Many synthetic fabrics have been used to make cases.Synthetic fabrics are (usually) durable and low maintenance.Their other properties place them somewhere between leather and Kydex.
A solidly made nylon case is quite bulky, so it's poor for concealed carry.They are also harder to clean than Kydex.However, they are generally more waterproof than leather and protect the weapon well.
These holsters are also more forgiving with slightly different weapons than they were specifically designed for.This is useful if you don't always carry the same model of gun.Finally, they can be more comfortable than Kydex because they are less rigid and offer padding.
So your gun is holstered.Now you need to make sure it stays there until you want it out - but when you want it in your hand, it needs to be able to get there quickly.There are a variety of retention methods to achieve this.
Many cases do not have a separate retention system;they simply rely on the friction between the gun and the holster to hold it in place.Most concealed carry cases fall into this category.For daily use, it works well.No one should try to snatch a concealed weapon from you (they won't know you have it, because it's concealed) and you probably won't run too much, so a well-made, well-maintained holster that fits your weapon well should hold it in place just fine.Many modern holsters have a retention screw that can be adjusted to change the amount of friction - and how securely the gun is held.
Most traditional military holsters have a flap that covers the butt of the gun and keeps it secure.These designs are very effective at preventing your gun from falling, and they also do a great job of protecting it from rain, dust, and mud.The downside is that they are slower to use because you have to open the shutter and then get your hands on the gun.Flip cases are fine for field use, but a poor choice for everyday civilian carry.
If you don't need to protect your gun from the elements for weeks, a thumb strap is a better alternative to a gun flap.The straps fitted to most traditional open police and carry cases can be released very quickly.However, while they protect your gun from being dropped, they don't do much to stop someone from snagging it - they can free the sling as easily as you can.Thumb loops - which usually go over the hammer - are similar to straps but have no closure.
Locking the trigger guard
A more modern solution found on many hard holsters, especially for police use, trigger guard locks have a hook or rod that locks into the gun's trigger guard.To unlock it, you must press a button or another device on the outside of the case.These don't usually require a rocket scientist, but if someone tries to grab your weapon, they won't be able to do so quickly.
Cases are generally categorized by level of retention.A higher level means it's harder for someone to holster your gun without your cooperation - but it also usually means your draw will be slower, so more retention isn't always better.The right level for you will depend on what you are wearing for.If you're a cop or civilian opening doors, someone trying to grab your gun from the holster is a real hassle.If you are a soldier, a shutter that prevents the weapon from falling should usually suffice.
Level 1 relies on friction to hold the weapon in place.A well-fitting Level 1 holster, especially if it has a retention screw, is secure enough to hold your gun in place during most activities - but it does nothing to prevent someone else from picking it up.Most Concealed Carry Holsters are Level 1.
Level 2 has a second method of retention as well as friction.A strap is the most common option here, but trigger guard locks are growing in popularity.
Level 3 has two additional retention methods besides friction.Typically this is a strap and a trigger guard lock.Many police departments specify level 3 for duty cases.
Level 4 has three methods of retention, plus friction.Level 4 cases are extremely secure;it's nearly impossible for someone else to pull the gun if you don't cooperate.
The best case does not exist.Which one is right for you depends on a lot of things.Before buying, you need to know exactly what you need.Once you've worked that out, you can narrow the field down considerably.It may take a little work to make your final choice, but it's worth it.Get it right and you'll have gear that will protect your gun and make sure it's where you need it, when you need it.For an in-depth knowledge of firearms, consult thefour gun safety rulesand discoverthe basics of gun cleaning and maintenancefire .