So, we’ve bought our new handgun and decided what back-up or “small” gun we’re going to carry to compliment the “big” gun. We’ve researched the right caliber of ammunition, but we have one more little issue to address. How do we actually carry it all concealed?
We have worked really hard on the best overall weapon “system” for our own concealed carry 24/7, 365 days per year, But now we are now tasked with picking the “perfect” holster. Obviously, neither your selection nor this article is going to be easy since we all have different issues to consider.
Car = Holster ??
Recently, I was conducting some entry-level defensive pistol training for three students. Yet again, I became surprised. All of the highly educated and well-read students had made excellent choices in calibers and defensive pistols. From our conversations, it was obvious that they all had spent a considerable amount of time researching what pistol and caliber was going to be the best for them. One shooter had spent almost $1,300.00 on his defensive pistol, yet had not purchased a holster in which to carry it! When asked about a holster, the student stated that he generally carried his pistol in his car. Well my friends, a car is not my recommendation for a holster!
Let’s see what makes a good concealed carry holster. Here is my criteria:
- Comfortable to wear when seated, standing or walking.
- Ability to draw using a “master grip” before clearing the pistol from the holster. Ability to draw while seated, standing or walking.
- Secure enough to stay in place during vigorous movements like running and jumping.
- Allows for a fast draw with little or no retention straps/snaps.
- Does not close up when the handgun is drawn; ability to re-holster with one hand.
- Minimal footprint, on belt, being more comfortable to wear and easier to conceal.
- Stays in place, on belt, during vigorous physical activity.
- Durable for long-term use.
I Ask Myself…
When picking the “perfect” holster for our use, several questions arise. Is your defensive handgun going to be carried openly, concealed or both on occasion? Should your holster have any retention to keep the pistol from being grabbed by unauthorized persons? Should it have retention to keep it from falling out of the holster during running, fighting or jumping over items? If the pistol is going to be carried concealed, should we be concerned with any retention at all? What type of material should the holster be made from for the best long-term use? What angle or “cant” should the pistol be carried for the best comfort and fastest draw speed? Should the pistol be carried in an outside the waistband (OWB) or inside the waistband (IWB) holster? Are we going to carry our defensive pistol on our waist, ankle, pocket or in some other manner?
If the pistol is going to be carried openly, we need to consider the amount of security and retention needed to keep others from taking the pistol from us. When I started working in the law enforcement field over 25 years ago, police officers were often killed due to a suspect taking the officer’s own gun.
The duty holsters that were used by many of us were well past their prime. To begin with, they were poorly designed for retention and the leather was worn. Many only had one safety strap to keep the handgun (usually a revolver) in the holster while moving in and out of the vehicle. Using several of the issued duty holsters (at the time), handguns were easily snatched from the front or rear of the holster depending on the brand or model. Given these issues and the sad fact that many officers were not properly trained in weapon retention, many officer’s names ended up on the memorial wall.
While many holsters will openly carry the pistol, I personally advocate that you always carry your defensive handgun in a concealed manner. Not to get into tactics or political views, but my thought has always been to retain your tactical advantage of appearing like other “Sheeple” (Sheep + People). “Blend in” is the phrase of the day. Wearing your pistol openly invites others (that you may not see, or initially believe to be dangerous) into engaging you first when they decide to do others harm. If your weapon is concealed, then you can make your choice whether you want to engage or not. Also, you can pick the best time to “win” the confrontation if you appear to be like other “Sheeple”. The correctly sized T-shirt, golf shirt or light jacket is usually enough to conceal even the largest handgun.
As far as retention straps, unusual release mechanisms, etc., I personally do not want any of these “features” on my concealed carry holster. If you do not train with these types of security holsters on a regular basis each week, then you will not be able to quickly draw your pistol without fumbling. When we get big adrenaline dumps (as when we become scared), we lose the ability to effectively use our fine motor skills. Gross motor skills are all that we have left. If we truly have kept our handgun concealed until our time of actual need, then we should not have to worry about others taking our pistol. To begin with, the unauthorized person(s) will not know that we have one.
Retention straps and unusual release mechanisms will also slow down your draw speed. These will further increase your stress level during your time of need. Ideally, the handgun should be able to be drawn straight out of the holster, yet remain secure enough for you to run and/or jump without fear of losing it. I’m not interested in seeing my handgun go tumbling in front of me when I’m running or jumping. Dynamic situations are just that…dynamic. Plan accordingly.
Innie or Outie?
Next on the list is whether the holster should be an inside the waist band holster (IWB) or outside the waist band holster (OWB). While many concealed carry users I know prefer IWB holsters, I like the OWB holsters. I have enough in my pants already…I surely don’t need a pistol in there too.
While the pistol is easier to conceal, most users have to buy pants in a larger size to accommodate the handgun during IWB carry. This precludes you from wearing the same pants without having the handgun carried in this manner. In addition, many of the IWB designs set the handgun so low on the belt line that it stops you from (easily) getting a master grip before you draw the pistol. Some IWB holsters keep the handgun so close to the body that it is hard to obtain a good grip on the pistol without getting caught up in your t-shirt. Thus, slowing down your actual draw speed.
When selecting an OWB holster, I like to have a holster that doesn’t have any “cant”. This allows for a straight draw when the handgun is worn directly on my hip or slightly forward. For those concealed carry people who prefer to have their holster slightly behind their hip, you may want to consider a holster with a 5 degree cant (muzzle more to the rear, grip slightly forward). This allows you to draw the pistol while obtaining a master grip on the handle before the actual draw starts. As you have probably figured out by now, one must obtain a master grip on the pistol before the draw starts.
For over two hundred years, the standard holster material was leather. For the past twenty years, the thermoplastic material called “Kydex” has taken over most holster production. Kydex can be heated and bent into any kind of configuration, yet never loses its form over time when cooled. It is resistant to water, has lower friction than leather and scores around “90” on the Rockwell hardness scale. Kydex is more scratch resistant. While I own excellent holsters made from both materials, I have come to prefer “Kydex” as my number one choice for a concealed carry holster.
While companies such as Blade-Tech, Raven Concealment and many others make excellent Kydex concealed carry holsters, I have been most satisfied with a product made locally from IBX Tactical https://www.ibxtactical.com/. IBX Tactical specializes in concealed carry holsters. For many years, the owner has himself been a police officer, competition shooter, firearms instructor and a concealed carry user. IBX prices are reasonable and they will custom make whatever combination and/or color you need/want. Since these are made to order, allow 2-3 weeks for delivery.
My personal IBX Tactical favorite is the “Adventure” model, OWB holster. This holster is fast to draw and is easy to re-holster. It is made into a curved design to hug your hip for comfort and concealment. It still retains the pistol well enough for vigorous, dynamic activity. When in doubt as to what options to order, tell them to make it like mine. They’ll know what you mean. No, I don’t own stock in the company…but I should!
For those concealed carry users that prefer the pistol to sit more off of their hips, such as the ladies, I like the Blade-Tech “Classic OWB” Belt holster. This Kydex material OWB holster sits slightly off of the hip when worn with the standard belt loop. This allows for a faster draw without getting your hand filled with your T-shirt. The Tek-Loc belt attachment system brings the holster closer to the body for more concealment. Buying two belt attachments would offer the end-user more options.
For those who like the traditional leather as their choice in holster material, another classic OWB holster design is available from Galco. One of my favorite Galco models is called the “Avenger”. This holster was originally designed by the late Col. Charles Askins of Border Patrol fame. A version of this holster was also made by Bianchi Gun Leather. The Avenger holster sits high on the belt, out-of-the-way and has a minimum footprint on your belt. This holster is easier on the inside of your jacket linings due to the leather material from which it’s made. Because the holster has three pieces of leather sewn together at the opening or top of the holster, it allows the pistol to be easily re-holstered with one hand.
Other solidly designed leather holsters are available from custom makers: Milt Sparks and Ted Blocker. I’m a big fan of the older Milt Sparks’ designed “1AT” rig for competition, the “55BN” for OWB concealed carry and the “200AW” for OWB revolver carry. For IWB holsters, the Milt Sparks Summer Special 2 is one of the best and oldest designs available. Currently, my all-time favorite 1911 holster for OWB concealed and competition use is the Ted Blocker “Thunder” model. It’s metal lined for easy re-holstering and has a small footprint on your belt.
While I’m not a big fan of inside the waistband (IWB) holsters, many knowledgeable shooters I know love them. I would look at Cross Breed and Alien Gear IWB holsters. When it comes to IWB carry, you either love them or hate them. You be the judge.
Another IWB design that I do not recommend is the appendix style carry. I especially do not care for this method of carry for those of us carrying an extra 25 lbs. or more. Why you may ask? Well, as stated earlier, I do not find them to be comfortable to wear. Depending on barrel length, some may jab you in the upper thigh or some other non-favorite location when seated. This is less of an issue for those in the normal range for Body Mass Index (BMI).
The main reason I don’t care for appendix carry holsters is safety. When carrying an extra 25 lbs. or more in body weight, the muzzle of the handgun is generally pointed very close to the femoral artery and angled into the pelvic region of the body. If the handgun would discharge while re-holstering, the femoral artery is located in a hard place to stop the bleeding. While I’m no doctor, I’ve heard most humans don’t last more than 1-2 minutes before going into shock. Remember, it’s not only about drawing the pistol, but re-holstering under stress that matters in your holster selection.
Now, some IWB concealed carry people will start hollering! They will say that the OWB holsters also have the muzzle of the pistol pointed in towards the hip, calf or foot, also causing a safety issue. Well, this is true. Personally, I will take my chances on a gunshot wound (GSW) in these areas long before I want to risk a GSW to the femoral artery or pelvic region of my body. Again, you pay your monies and take your chances.
Black is the New…Black
This brings us to color. I like my concealed carry holsters in any color you want…as long as it’s black. If my coat opens up, the darker colored holster will “hide” better in the shadows. We don’t want anyone to know we’re carrying a handgun until we actually need it. Avoid any wild colors, logos or themes. They may be “cool” or “funny” now when you order it, but it won’t be so funny when you are seeing it again in court. A jury of our peers may not find a neon green colored, “Zombie Hunter” themed holster very cute. Think about your future like your life depends on it…from a legal standard. It just may. Again, you can have any color you want…as long as it’s black.
But Wait, There’s More…
A concealed carry holster isn’t all that you have to consider. The holster is all part of a system or “kit”. The holster, belt and magazine carrier should all function together. Here’s what I’m looking for in a serious defensive kit:
- Belt: at least 1.5-1.75″ in width, designed to hold the weight of the handgun and extra ammunition.
- Magazine carrier, or carriers: Personally, I like these to be held in place by friction only for concealed carry use.
- Holster: criteria stated above.
As far as the other two students I had mentioned earlier, both had purchased excellent defensive pistols. But, their holsters were $25.00 “specials” not suitable for long-term daily use. Neither of these students had a magazine carrier or a suitable belt designed to support the weight of a handgun. It occurred to me that none of them had spent much time in considering what the “best” defensive handgun holster for concealed carry would be. Nor, had they considered how to carry the holster they had purchased!
The belt. Your selection here has as much to do with your successful holster selection and performance as anything else. This is what actually secures the handgun to your body. Using cheap, flimsy, department store, 1″ wide dress belts will not lead to a comfortable concealed carry day. Neither will the handgun stay in the same place with a flimsy belt. A flimsy belt will allow the holster/gun to move around during daily walking and moving around.
I prefer belts that will actually support the weight of a pistol and magazine carrier. The belt should be at least 1 1/2″ – 1 3/4″ in width and sewn with a double thickness of leather or nylon. This will keep the belt from rolling and the holster from moving on the belt under use. Cheap, thin, department store dress belts will not last because they are not designed to hold the weight of the handgun and magazine carrier(s).
Belt material usually comes down to two choices: leather and web/nylon. Leather is the usual belt material selection. Quality gun belts are made by Ted Blocker, Milt Sparks, Galco, Bianchi and many others. Contact each manufacturer to determine how they measure the actual waistline (not what we may want it to be). This will avoid having the wrong sized belt when carrying your defensive handgun and spare ammunition/magazine.
Currently, one of my favorite belt systems for concealed carry is made by 5.11 and Wilderness. I’ve been using the web/nylon 1 1/2″ and 1 3/4″ sized belts over the past five years. These belts do not make the noise that leather does, they are cheaper in cost, lighter in weight, easier to clean and are generally more comfortable to wear. If you do not have to wear leather in your area to “blend-in”, give the web belt system a try.
Don’t Need No Stinking…
Ammunition management. We need to carry at least one spare reload. It’s bad to get into a gunfight…it’s even worse not to finish it! Some people carry their spare magazine(s) in their pants’ pocket for deep concealed carry. This is fine until we start carrying bigger magazines that are needed much faster. For example, the Beretta 92F, Sig P226, Glock 17/19, S&W M&P series all have bigger magazines than I find comfortable to carry in my pocket. For these reasons, a belt carrier is the best for me.
Personally, I find the belt magazine carriers by Bladetech and IBX Tactical to be my favorites. The magazine(s) should fit tight but still allow for a straight, fast draw. Again, no fancy snaps or releases should be needed. Tension only, either from a tension screw or carrier design, should hold the magazine in place. They need to be easy to draw from and re-insert during tactical reloads, yet secure for vigorous activity.
Looking for the best way
Hopefully, this article has given you a few ideas to think about. What I’ve listed works for me, as well as many of my students, friends and fellow officers. The end result: search for a holster you will use every day, can easily draw from, will keep the handgun secure during vigorous physical activity and will allow for easy re-holstering under stress. It is not “The” only way, it’s just “A” way.
I once read a study that said the average concealed carry person purchased five holsters before they settled on the “best” holster for their own use. Don’t let this be you. Do your due diligence when researching your best carry options, holsters, belts, etc., then buy once, to cry once. Spend the same amount of time, effort and energy into picking the correct holster for your defensive handgun as you did in selecting the handgun and caliber itself. Again, the life you save may be your own.
Until next month…remember, your car is not a holster!