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Holster Selection

Holster Selection

Just as there are a variety of things to be considered when selecting a firearm for defensive purposes, there are also a host of things to be considered when selecting a holster for that firearm. 

Fit of the Holster to the Firearm

  • Though it may seem obvious, it has to be said that the first thing that must be considered is the fit of the holster to the firearm. The firearm must sit in the holster correctly. Not just about right but exactly right. You would be surprised how many people Ive seen with improperly fitting holsters. Ive even seen police officers or Sheriffs deputies, typically on smaller departments where the officer is asked to provide there own firearm and leather with ill fitted equipment. Firearms flopping around in loose fitting holsters are dangerous. Equally dangerous situations are created by firearms that may actually be stuck in holsters that are too small for the firearm. Holster manufacturers mold their holsters specifically for particular firearms. A holster made for a Beretta model 92 will not fit a Springfield Armory XD-9. After you select your firearm, dont pick a holster out of a barrel of holsters. This selection is very important. Consider it carefully.   

Open versus Concealed Carry

  • How do you plan to carry your firearm? There are some jurisdictions where open carry may not only be legal but is accepted, whereas concealed carry may not be a legal option, particularly for non-residents. Of course the converse is also true.
  • Open carry has the disadvantage that it advertises a gun for the taking to anyone who cares to try taking it. For this reason, it would be foolish to carry openly in a holster which did not provide at least some level of security via a retention device of some sort.
  • Opinions may differ, but many people feel that if a gun is concealed, security devices, such as straps, are unnecessary on a well built holster. In fact, many holster makers do not even offer concealment holsters with thumb-break straps, generally regarded as the lowest level of retention device on a holster. Not so in my opinion.
  • I would submit that a holster which has no retention device is only suitable for competition games of some sort. Consider the following:
    • If you are forced to run up a set of stairs, jump from the back of a pick up truck (preferably not moving) climb a fence or perform some other acrobatic and or strenuous actions your firearm could become loose from your holster.
    • In a scuffle it would be very difficult for someone to disarm you and use that firearm on you.
    • Drawing and reholstering should be programmed reflexes. If you program them with an open-top holster, then use a thumb-break holster for a special occasion, your reflexes may not be tuned to pop that thumb-break in an emergency.




      Belt Holsters

  • Generally speaking there are two things to consider with a belt holster. (1.) Just where on the waist do they position the firearm and (2.) whether or not they are worn inside or outside the waistband.
  • Try this little experiment: extend your index finger, making a fist with the rest of your hand, and slowly sweep your hand along your waist. Notice that your index finger is nearly vertical when it is around your hip joint, points forward if it is forward of the joint and points to the rear when it goes behind the hip joint. The farther you go from your hip joint, the greater the angle from the vertical your finger is. This experiment will give you the angle or “rake” of the holster you need to select depending upon the part of the waist where you plan to wear it.
  • Heres something else to consider. Most holsters have been designed for the build of a fairly athletic male, of at least average American size. Not very realistic for most but in any event, that is the way it works. This is certainly not the same build as most women. Most women and some men are “short-waisted.” As men gain weight they fall into two categories: “apples” and “pears.” Pear types may also experience some of the holster frustrations of the average woman. The hips widen driving the grip into the side.
  • Because they work best for the average man, the most common concealment holsters have a tilt known as the FBI rake that tilts the muzzle of the gun to the rear. These holsters are designed to be worn behind the hip of the gun hand side. These holsters are quick to access and provide a direct path to the sighting plane. They generally do a good job of tucking the grip area of the gun into the relative hollows of the anatomy of a physically fit male. This position places your gun where you can cover and protect it with your elbow.
  • Some of the problems that may come into play with the FBI rake holster (worn behind the hip joint) include having the butt of the weapon grinding into the ribs and the lack of adequate concealment. These are the result from mismatches to the body size and/or shape.
  • One answer to these concerns is to shift the holster to different positions along the waist. Moving from under your firing hand side around the front:
    • There is the Appendix Position. This is where the holster is placed forward of the hip joint, still on the gun-hand side. This position is popular with many women. The downside to this is that the firearm is flashed to the entire world every time the coat or jacket starts to open. It does however offer good concealment to women in the drape of a loose pullover garment, rather than a coat or conventional shirt. Another downside to this carry mode is that it may be uncomfortable when you are seated.
    • You also have the Front Cross-draw Position. This is a real compromise but this particular position places the butt of the grip somewhere near the line of the navel. It requires more of a lateral arc to bring the muzzle on target but with practice is quite effective. In the right holster, it may actually be useful for people who work seated. In the wrong holster or with a long handgun it can be extremely uncomfortable when seated.  Conceal-ability is compromised with this method.
    • The Standard Cross-draw position. With this position the firearm rests butt forward on the opposite hip and can offer great concealment. The concealment is even greater if the holster is worn behind the hip joint. A downside to this placement is that it requires a long reach to acquire your grip. Unfortunately for you, an assailant to your front has very easy access to your firearm. This position requires a very large lateral arc to bring the muzzle of your weapon onto your target and you could possibly have your arm pinned to your torso when you reach for your weapon rendering you defenseless in a CQB (close quarters battle) situation.
    • The Kidney Position is an exaggeration of the FBI position, moving to the rear. This position enhances concealment for the slim user and will get the firearm out of the armpit or ribcage for the short-waisted among us. The downside here is that it takes more lateral motion to withdraw the firearm from the holster and will likely make your weapon at least somewhat inaccessible when seated. This position may also make sitting at least a bit uncomfortable.
    • The Middle or Small of the Back Position (S.O.B.). This position is an extreme version of the kidney position. Yes, it is highly concealable but the downside is that it not only adds to the lateral component of the draw stroke but places the weapon right over the spine. Should you fall onto your back or be pushed up against a wall or solid structure of some sort you now have an opportunity to do serious damage to your spine.
  • Remember that little finger pointing experiment? The angle or rake of the holster needs to fit the position where you place it on your waist!
  •  As long as we are dealing with holster design, lets consider the choice of how high or low the holster rides on your waist. Some holster manufacturers even offer the choice of lateral offset to help keep the butt of the weapon out of your ribcage. Conceal-ability can be affected by these options.

Warning- Position like the “Cavalry Draw” (butt forward on the gun hand side) or Small of the Back with the grip frame down will result in the muzzle of your firearm crossing your own body as you draw under stress. Remember safety rule #1?

         Inside or Outside the Waistband?

  • When the holster is held inside the waistband (IWB), concealment is normally increased in two ways:
    1. Because most of the length of the holster is covered by the pants, the upper body garment (shirt, coat, etc.) only has to conceal the portion of the gun projecting above the waist band and the loops holding the holster to the belt.
    2. Because the belt goes outboard of the holster, the gun is pressed closer to the body and usually does not appear to project as far to the side.
  • The downsides to IWB holsters include:
    1. IWB requires a longer belt and about 2 inches larger waist size for the pants.
    2. Women and pears may find the butt angled too sharply into the ribcage if worn in the FBI position.
    3. Pears may find that the muzzle end of the holster pinches a roll of fat when seated. This problem may be minimized with a design with a “flange,” like the Executive Companion from Milt Sparks or the Undercover Special from Ken Null.
    4. Most IWB holsters are manufactured with an FBI rake, so if you do not like the product of the few who do offer a choice of rake, it may take a custom holster to get the rake you need for your carry position.
  • Holsters worn outside of the waistband and the belt may pose challenges such as:
    1. The covering garment has to come lower to cover the entire holster or length of the firearm.
    2. You may need a wider belt to stabilize the firearm in the holster. This is particularly true for semiautomatics with heavy, high-capacity magazines, which place much of the gun’s weight above the waistband.
    3. The contours of the gun may be more obvious, making concealment more difficult.
    4. The holster may block access to pants pockets.
  • Remember, a belt holster is only one half of the carry system. The belt is the other half. It is not a bad idea to order a belt from your holster maker to ensure that you get a belt which is designed to support your choice of holsters. Among other things, the width of the belt should match the belt slots of the holster. A holster worn outside the waistband will require a more substantial belt than one worn inside the waistband.

Paddle Holsters

  • Paddle holsters are outside the waistband holsters which do not use loops to secure them to a belt. Instead they use a paddle which rides inside the waistband, to which the holster is fastened, over the top of the waistband. This last factor tends to make the holster ride fairly high, a potentially undesirable feature for the short-waisted user of one of the larger handguns.
  • These holsters were originally designed for ease putting on the gun and removing it during the day. Some require the use of a belt and some do not.
  • While the manufacturers must provide some means to ensure that the paddle does not slip out of the pants during the draw, leaving the holster on the gun, you cannot expect a paddle holster to resist a gun grab as well as a loop-secured holster. I would not consider a paddle holster for open carry.

Belt Holster Info. For Women (& Men)

From what I have observed (and from what my wife tells me) most women find belt holsters to be most comfortable when worn in the Appendix or Front Cross-draw positions. As mentioned above, this is due to the combination of rounded hips and short waist and their tendency to stick the butt of the weapon into the ribs or the armpits of most women who try to use FBI canted holsters.

  • Most women can easily conceal an IWB holster in this location under a loose, un-tucked shirt or blouse, such as a golf shirt. Such a garment will usually drape from the breasts, giving plenty of cover to the gun.
  • As previously discussed, when the holster moves forward of the hip joint to avoid this problem, the rake must be adjusted accordingly. Sometimes a straight-drop holster will work but usually it will take a forward-rake holster to do the trick.

Its plain to see that for women, as well as for men, one size does not fit all. 

Some Other Types of Holsters You May Run Into Its been my experience that no holster will be faster than a belt holster on your gun hand side unless you’ve already got your hand on the gun when the shoe drops. That being said, there are a variety of holsters that may be considered for various specific purposes.
 Ankle Holsters are really not a good place for a primary weapon but the ankle is not necessarily a bad location for a backup weapon. This type of holster is accessible when seated, especially if your cars seat belt blocks access to your primary weapon. This type of holster gives you good access to your weapon if you are knocked to the ground on your back and can pull your knees toward your chest as you roll.
Pocket Holsters are not a first choice location for a primary weapon either. They will however, most likely work well as a backup.
Shoulder Holsters while looking kind of slick (in the movies), bring with them the disadvantages of a cross-draw along with the fact that it tends not to be as concealable in real life as they are in the movies.
Fanny Pack Holsters. You might as well wear a sign that says Im packing. Its been my experience that most fanny packs of any size conceals a weapon of some sort of weapon. Most fanny packs carry the same disadvantages of a front cross-draw with slower access. Plus, you dont want to have to use two hands to withdraw your weapon.
Off-Body Carry like a gunpurse.  Not a bad option but maintaining control of your firearm may be a concern here. You take on a lot of responsibility when you carry a gun; carry it where you can keep control of it.

Face It. Finding the Right Holster Will Most Likely Be Frustrating

  • Everyone who carries a gun will eventually collect a drawer full of holsters. I cant think of anyone that I know that is still using the same holster that they first bought when they decided on a firearm to carry. Every time they changed firearms they went through the same process all over again. Its like a natural law.

Your best friend may swear by the high dollar holster that they carry but, until you know that its the design thats right for you considering your habits, your 


A word (or two) of Caution:

  1. Be sure that you can acquire a full firing grip on the handgun while it is still in the holster. Most likely you will not have the time to shift your grip after you have withdrawing the firearm. If you haven’t drawn with a full firing grip you may be forced to shoot without the gun in its proper position in your hand. That translates to misses on target.
  2. Make sure that the mouth of the holster remains open when it is empty, under a variety of conditions of use. You and your holster both contribute to the ability to re-holster your gun one-handed with your eyes on the threat. This is a crucial gun handling skill which could be impeded by the wrong equipment.