GUN SPA: choosing the perfect holster

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GUN SPA: choosing the perfect holster

Welcome to this week's Gun Spa. Sorry for the delay (I just know you ladies were dying of anticipation). The in-laws were in town until Sunday and I was swamped with stuff yesterday. But here I am nonetheless. Let's get down to business.

We discussed choosing a firearm last week, so it only makes sense to discuss choosing how to carry it this week. Once again, it is imperative that you research and understand your state's requirements and restrictions on carrying a firearm.

If you're going to carry a firearm outside of a locked case, it absolutely has to be carried in a holster. Tucked in the waist band of a pair of your favorite Levis is not only dangerous, but stupid. And despite their label, "pocket" guns should never be carried in the pocket without a holster (yes, they make "pocket holsters).

Unless you want to be John Wayne wearing a cowboy rig complete with a belt with cartridge loops or Sonny Crockett with the shoulder rig under the white coat, chances are your holster choice will fit into one of four categories: paddle, outside the waistband (OWB), inside the waistband (IWB), and pocket.

Paddle Holsters
The paddle holster derives its name from the shape of the holster. The paddle is attached to the rear of the holster body and slide between the pants and the individual's hip. Some will have a hook on the lower edge of the paddle to keep it from being pulled out of the pants when the firearm is removed from the paddle. Others might have adjustment screws for changing the tension of the paddle's "grip."

The paddle holster's biggest advantage is its ease of use. Simply slide it on or pull it off. However, such ease of use is not without its drawbacks. There is a tendency, particularly with larger, heavier firearms for the rig to lean outward from the body OR fall forward as the holster rocks on the waistband. A poorly secured firearm can fall out. Or, if concealment is your goal, your firearm will "print" tremendously.

IWB Holsters
As its name implies, the IWB holster, the body of the holster is worn between the clothing and the wearer's body. The holster is usually retained by a clip or loops through which the wearer's belt is passed. Clips are clearly an easier on/off option, but the belt loop is a more secure hold, IMO. And I've found that, regardless of holster type, securing with the belt generally results in less movement and play in the fit and wear of the holster against the body.

Depending on firearm size, wearing an IWB holster might require the wearing to don clothing, at least the pants, of a larger size to accomodate the extra girth the firearm and holster will cause. And while the simple act of concealing the firearm in the pants limits the ability of another person to see it, it's not exactly hard to distinguish the "print" a firearm makes when worn between the pants and the body. A jacket or shirt worn over the waistband can help hide the "bulge." From experience, the other major drawback is that the material of the holster or the firearm itself if it is large enough to have exposed surfaces, can rub or irritate the skin of the wearer. To say nothing of having the cold metal touch bare skin when you first put it on. Extra diligence should be taken in choosing an IWB holster for firearms with hammers or checkering or sharp edges that have the potential to rub.

There is no shortage of options for IWB holsters. In fact, except for their location on the body and under the clothes, there is very little else in common with these holsters. If you are going for a hard concealed carry effort, this is a good choice. But be sure to do your research. And ask for experience and opinions from people who use different ones.

One issue I've notice with IWB is that the feminine form is curvier and less
forgiving of a straight, non-yielding object shoved between the hip and my jeans than the male's boring flat frame. And, in my case, a lot curvier. This makes for some slight alterations in my movements, either to accomodate the fact that the firearm will not move the way my body does or to keep the obvious flat-object-on-a-round-object profile from announcing to the world that "Hey, I've got a gun on my hip." To say nothing of the fact that female fashion is notoriously ill-designed for accomodating anything other than the female body. And in some cases, not even that very well.

If you are interested in this type, chances are your first purchase will not be your last. I've got a stack of holsters that looked good on paper and had great reviews, but just didn't fit the bill when theory met practice.

OWB Holsters
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the holster is worn outside the clothes. And like IWB holsters, aside from their location on the wearer's body relative to the clothing, there is little else they have in common. They are secured with a clip to the waistband or with slots through which the wearer's belt is fed. Again, the belt is usually a safer, more secure method of carrying since clips can, and do, fail. (If your belt fails, I don't know what to tell ya. I just hope you weren't using to secure your holster AND your pants. ;))

The sheer variety of options available for the OWB holster is a Gun Spa topic all its own. Perhaps two. Firearm retention (what keeps the firearm in the holster), open or closed "muzzle" (is the holster a sleeve into which the muzzle of the firearm is completely covered or is it open on both ends allowing the muzzle to be seen?), cant or rake (at what angle does the firearm sit relatively to the ground--where does the muzzle point when the firearm is holsterd). All of these options have their pros and cons. And you must choose the option that best fits the firearm AND your personal desires.

For example, for the 1911 carried in Condition One (round chambered, hammer cocked, safety on), a thumb-break retention strap is an absolute necessary. But a firearm such as the Glock is a great candidate for a Kydex holster.

I like OWB holsters because I prefer to not be poked and rubbed everytime I move. I usually wear this or a paddle holster (depending on the firearm being carried) when I'm home since concealment is not an issue. And because my choice of carry firearms just generally work better with OWB or paddle holsters than IWB.

Pocket Holsters
No one can ever claim that holster manufacturers were overly creative in their naming process. I mean, who would have thunk of calling a holster than fits in a pocket a pocket holster. Wink This is the simplest of holsters. Simply fit the firearm into the holster and then the holster into the pocket.

Practicality limits usage to small-caliber/small-framed firearms. Particularly if one of your goals is concealment. The huge benefit is that there is virtually no indication that the wearer is carrying (assuming the wearer is not printing like an old dot matrix machine). No tell-tale clips or leather peeking through. The big disadvantage is that the holster is not secured to the clothing. If the wearer has to draw the firearm, there is nothing to keep the holster in the pocket. Of course, proper choice of holster and positioning can eliminate a good portion of the likelihood of this happening.

Finally, regardless of the type of holster you settle on, you will want to consider the following criteria when you make your evaluation. Is it comfortable to wear? You won't wear it if it's not comfortable. How well does it conceal, if that is a concern for you? Does it allow a smooth and quick draw or do you have to fumble around with clothing and/or retention mechanisms to draw it? For holsters with slots for the belt, be sure to buy a properly size belt and one that is sturdy enough to take the weight and extra stress of a firearm hanging from it on a regular basis.

There you have it. We could spend an equal amount of time on the differences within each holster type. So this is anything but an in-depth education. But for those looking to purchase their first, or perhaps change from an existing rig, it should be enough to put you on the right path for future research and education.

As a postscript, for women, there is the option of carrying in a purse. There is a never-ending debate about the pros and cons of doing so (imagine seeing that one on GDB!). Can you retrieve it in a time manner? If your purse is stolen, so is your firearm. However, there's no better concealment than hidden in the chasms of fabric and straps some women call purses. It's a personal decision, one that needs to be made based on your personal circumstances. However, if you do choose to keep a firearm in your purse, there are a few things to consider. The cheapo Walmart purse will probably not withstand the beating. The stitching in most big box purses is woefully insufficient for the weight of a firearm, particularly on a day in and day out basis. Considering spending the money for a quality-made purse. There are companies that make purses with built-in pockets. IMO, these just aren't worth the extra money unless you're carrying a small-framed firearm. There are a few exceptions, but who wants to spend the money for a trial-and-error run? On a slight tangent, purse fashions for concealed carry are much more limited. Hope you like the hobo or tote look. Or the backpack. That's becoming more popular too. Regardless of your purse's built-in carry capabilities, you must still holster your firearm. The holster protects against items or fabric in the purse catching on the trigger and resulting in massive levels of embarassement for you. Not to mention possible legal issues as well. If your firearm has a hammer, you will need to ensure that it is secured as well.

As with choosing a firearm, this is just scratching the surface. So once again, I hope we can have some ladies offer up their experiences and opinions.

Happy Shooting! :violent2:

DasBoogs's picture
Last seen: 6 years 7 months ago
Joined: 02/06/08
Posts: 25

The new Guns & Ammo just had a great article on choosing a holster and the importance of wearing one. I use a variety of carry options because I believe you need to go with what works for you for the day. I use a belly band for my Bersa. If I carry a revolver, I use a small of back Galco pancake holster and wear it cross draw as it's comfy that way and doesn't show as much thanks to the way my body is shaped and it doesn't come out. If I wear something that will show a gun, I purse carry. My current purse is one I made with a special carry pocket. It doesn't look like a carry purse, just looks like a regular fashion purse. If I don't use that purse, I use this little pouch thing I made in a store-bought purse that creates a special carry pocket in any purse making it easy to find my gun and makes sure nothing else gets in the pocket or touches any part of the gun. is where I sell them online. (Sorry to plug my stuff but it is a carry option.) But for people who want to carry on body, I highly recommend belly bands.

VegasMom09's picture
Last seen: 6 years 6 months ago
Joined: 09/14/09
Posts: 2

My husband bought me a paddle holster. I do not have my CCW permit, so there really isn't any other holster for me to use. The only uncomfortable thing about the paddle holster is wearing my seat belt comfortably while driving. It takes me awhile to get adjust in my seat. I will not complain about it too much as I do not wear my gun every where. On my way to work, it's locked in my glove box. It stays there until I pick Carleigh up from daycare. Once she's in the car, I put it back on so I do not forget the gun in my car.

Rivergallery's picture
Last seen: 1 year 8 months ago
Joined: 05/23/03
Posts: 1301

Jenny, thanks so much for your link!

SaucyVidel's picture
Last seen: 4 years 6 months ago
Joined: 07/20/06
Posts: 634

Even after several years, I still have not found an ideal holster!

My husband loves Thunderwear, but I just cannot wear one comnfortably, and it looks TERRIBLE on the front of my pants! Underarm carry (usually the chest-strap kind) isn't terrible, but rubs on occasion and is very difficult for me to draw from. Ankle carry is heavy and also very difficult to draw quickly, and OWB on a belt is the WROST option for me, as the firearm sticks out terribly.

The only options that seem feasible are tactical vests (not the most attractive), and IWB on the small of my back, which is an awkward draw but not as inaccessible as ankle.

I could carry in my purse, but I know I leave it laying around too much for that to be a good option.

So yeah, I am in a near-constant pickle with carrying options, and trying to find something that is discreet, comfortable, secure, and quick to draw from. Let me know when you find this holy grail Lol

Starryblue702's picture
Last seen: 3 years 8 months ago
Joined: 04/06/11
Posts: 5454

Good to know! I don't own a gun only because I'm too afraid one of the kids would get ahold of it... but once they're grown I fully intend on having one in my home at all times!