The Ultimate Handgun Holster Buying Guide
As a Navy SEAL, firearms instructor, CQC instructor and all-around gun nut, I have had occasion to use many types of handgun holster for multiple purposes over the last few decades. A good holster needs to keep your weapon secure when you’re moving and safe from whatever punishment you plan on putting it through. Most importantly, you need to be able to quickly access that boom-stick when it’s time to deliver customer service to bad guys. Many holsters are quite specialized in form and function and therefore I feel that we need to talk about them here and now.
Kydex or plastic (or whatever the manufacturer wants to call it) is one slick and inexpensive option. They are fast, often adjustable for cant (the angle of the gun in relation to your body) and nearly indestructible. All modern molded holsters made of synthetic materials are light, relatively inexpensive and wear-resistant.
My zZz holster has had thousands of draws from it and is nearly as good as the day it was born. These are great holster materials for the non-traditionalist and are fast catching on with most manufacturers. Beware, some molded holsters will wear that beautiful blue off your fancy new pistol slide in short order. But there are some great custom Kydex holsters being made and prices are not much more than the cheap ones being stamped out in China.
Leather has been the most common holster material since…forever, and there are many levels of quality. Check out the tanning quality and the stitching before you make the investment. Like a cowboy hat or a good pair of boots, it takes a lot of everyday use to get them the way you like them and they become very personal. Remember that leather retains moisture for a long time and is heavier. But it smells great and gets more character with age. If you live in a CCW state, carry a gun daily and are lucky enough to grow old with such a holster, you win.
Nylon is another material that works well and is very versatile. I’ve seen nylon used in every type of holster, and it’s what we used in the field on the SEAL Teams. Like leather, you need to make sure you buy from a company with a good reputation. If not well constructed, nylon holsters can close up on you, making it hard to draw or put away when the fun is over.
A good holster needs to keep your weapon secure when you’re moving and shouldn't slow you down.
Holsters should be chosen by your preferred method of carry. Your body type may preclude the wearing of certain holsters; a person with a large belly (“big-boned”) may not even be able to find his gun under his ample proportion, let alone draw it, and my bony body will not let me comfortably wear a gun directly on my hip bone.
In the line of duty (military/LE/security), drop-leg holsters might be your best bet. If you need to get to that bang-stick quickly, the only thing faster is holding the gun in your hand. For years all I wore was a SPECOPS straight-drop holster for my SIG 226. I sometimes still use these today because they held up to the operational abuse and kept my gun secure and safe.
The Serpa line of holsters from Blackhawk can be level two or three and are nearly as easy to drawn from as a non-security holster. With well thought-out and ergonomically placed releases, these safeties barely slow draw time. This type and others like them are also modular, meaning you can buy one holster for your gun that can be attached to a variety of backing platforms such as paddle, shoulder holster, belt, load bearing vest or thigh rig. At Center Mass Group, the drop-leg SERPA rig is what I use 90% of the time while instructing.
People who drive a lot might consider a cross-draw holster. Besides a shoulder holster or off the body carry, this is the easiest position to draw a gun from while seated in a vehicle and also offers great concealment during daily activities. Shoulder holsters are convenient and comfortable if adjusted to fit your physique. I keep one handy and filled for perusing the estate when things go bump in the night. Got that, bad guys!
Paddle holsters offer the same grab-and-go usefulness. And unless you’re James Bond, ankle holsters are fairly useless for most applications and are clumsily uncomfortable. Pocket holsters are a great idea if you’re packing in the pants. They prevent printing, keep pocket lint off your gun and make drawing easier.
Hip Holsters are worn pretty comfortably on the hip bone (or slightly in front or in back). Carrying in front may poke your stomach and thigh when you sit, and in the rear it may literally be a pain in the butt!
Small-of-the-back (S.O.B.) holsters lie on your vertebrae and often hurt thinner folks like myself. If you go this route, you don’t want to fall backward with your gun under your spine, or risk serious injury…you’ve been warned.
Large and heavy handguns and virtually all scoped handguns are best carried in a bandolier holster in the middle of the chest. They distribute the weight evenly and comfortably with an adjustable harness.
Handgun Holster Hints:
- Try to buy a holster for a specific, intended purpose such as concealed carry, competition, plinking in the woods, etc.
- A higher price generally means better construction and longevity, particularly with leather.
- Modular systems are the most economical, particularly if using a variety of firearms.
- You can't have too many holsters!
- For concealed carry, practice draws and re-holstering often using the clothes you normally wear.
- Make sure your CCW firearm is truly concealed under your normal garb in a variety of positions. Another set of eyes is much more beneficial than you looking in the mirror.
- Always get professional firearms instruction on how to use your holster and practice, practice, practice!
Let me know what handgun holster work best for you and how you use them. Even better, share any holster horror stories in the comments, so others can benefit from your experience. Happy hunting!