Selecting A Concealed Carry Holster That Fits

From Sportsman's News Magazine
December, 2007
Vol. III, Iss. 10
By Dan Kidder

Like most people who have carried a concealed handgun for any length of time, I have a box of holsters. Many looked good in the catalogue or on the store shelf, but fell far short of expectations once purchased. Others found their way onto my hip for a short time, but later, for one reason or another, were ultimately relegated to the box.

The issues with a good concealed carry holster are usability, comfort, practicality, and reliability. Additionally, when writing about holsters, it warrants discussing materials and types of holsters commonly used.


Holsters come in a variety of materials both natural and man-made. Each has its strengths and short-comings.  Natural materials would be lumped together as leather, but in reality are a variety of hides including horsehide, cowhide, deerskin, lambskin, and pigskin.

For durability, any of these natural materials will stand up to daily wear. Their drawback is that they retain moisture, which if left in contact with your firearm, will eventually cause rust and pitting on your gun if care is not taken to frequently wipe it down with a light coating of oil or silicon. Any of the wipe-down cloths sold by Tuff Cloth or Hoppes is sufficient for this purpose.

If the leather holster is going to be worn directly against the skin, horsehide is the best choice as it will absorb sweat and not cause a rash or chafing on the skin.

Synthetic materials include Kydex®, plastic, and nylon. These can either be hard sided or soft.  Kydex® is a molded material that fits precisely to your model of firearm.  It usually has a molded lock that snaps into your weapon, keeping it snug but snapping out of place when you draw. The material stands up amazingly well to wear and moisture, and often incorporates a variety of retention methods, which we will discuss later in this article. The shortcoming with Kydex® is that it is model specific, including barrel length, so it is easy to get the wrong holster for your gun.

Nylon holsters, while they usually will fit a large variety of models, are frequently not a good choice for concealed carry wear.  The threads in the nylon often work loose and can snag the sights of the gun causing the draw to be delayed or aborted, or the entire holster to come out with the gun. Additionally, they also often retain moisture, chafe the skin, and seldom feature retention devices other than a snap strap. These holsters are best used for keeping your firearm in a safe place while on the range than for concealed carry.

Plastic features many of the same benefits of Kydex®, but doesn’t hold up as well or retain the firearm as rigidly. The benefit is a significant cost savings over Kydex®.


Holsters come in a wide variety of styles, but as I have previously discussed, the best place for a concealed carry holster is on the strong side hip. (Right hip for right-handed shooters and left hip for left-handed shooters.) This placement will give you the most comfort, ability to retain your gun should a bad guy try to take it away, and the easiest accessibility if you need to get it out quickly.

While tactical drop holsters and leather six-gun rigs have their place, neither offers concealment, so we won’t go into detail about them here.

What I do want to discuss is the use of behind-the-back, cross draws, and shoulder rigs. My first thought on these is that in order to use them, you begin by pointing your gun at something or someone other than a bad guy.  In order to draw from these holsters, you have to transcribe an arc that begins by pointing the gun behind you and swinging it out.  This makes it very easy for the attacker to block your draw and grab the gun or knock it from your grip. Additionally, if you are trying to protect a loved one who is standing beside you or behind you, then you must first point your gun at them before presenting it to fire at your attacker. This is never a good thing in a gunfight. Even if you are alone, you are still pointing your gun at something other than your intended target and the chances of injury or death to an innocent bystander are greatly increased.

Ankle holsters are similarly useless for practical concealed carry, as most attackers are not going to wait for you to lift your leg or bend over to extricate your gun from beneath your pant leg.

When carrying your firearm on your hip there are a few options available.  For smaller frame guns, one choice is the inside the waistband holster (IWB).  This holster slips inside your pants and clips over or behind the belt offering supreme concealment and securing the firearm. Some IWB holsters even offer fancy pager or cell phone holders to further conceal the fact that you are wearing a gun. While novel, these decoys can impede your draw and are often an unnecessary encumbrance to conceal your weapon.

Paddle or pancake holsters offer the benefit of easily slipping on and off of your belt.  A large paddle slips inside your waistband while leaving the actual holster outside of your pants.  A small clip holds the holster to your belt to keep the holster from sliding out when you draw. This type of rig offers the added benefit of being easily removed should you frequently go into places where your firearm is not permitted such as a post office, a school, or an establishment that serves alcohol.

Belt holsters have loops that slide onto a belt.  Most accommodate belts between an inch and a quarter to an inch and a half. These holsters will not come off with the gun during a draw, but require the user to remove their belt to take off the holster.

Other options that are available, but not suggested, are fanny packs, portfolios, and purses.  Each of these offer deep concealment, but portfolios and purses are easily taken from you and are attractive targets for thieves. Instead of offering protection, you have inadvertently armed a criminal by supplying them an easily stolen gun. Fanny packs become cumbersome and the odds are that they will be removed for comfort while dining in a restaurant. Once removed, these are also easily and frequently stolen. Always keep your gun on you when wearing it concealed.  This can also be said for jackets with internal holster pockets. If you are going to take it off, don’t put your gun in it.

Another option for deep concealment in warm weather when a cover garment may not be practical is a pocket holster.  These small frame holsters slip into a pants pocket and have a small hook on the holster that keeps it from sliding easily out of the pocket.  This would only be suggested for warm weather with a very small gun. Never place anything else in the pocket with the gun.

For many females, a standard hip holster presents its own difficulties. Because of anatomical differences between men and women, the standard hip holster may not be a good fit for many women. Women’s hips are typically more prominent than a man’s. This causes a hip holster to cant outward, digging the grip into their side.  This makes drawing difficult, as they must then pull the gun into their side in order to draw.  Many major holster manufacturers make hip holsters with an offset for women. This pushes the holster out from the belt to compensate for wider hips. By spacing the distance between the belt and the holster, this allows the gun to ride in the straight vertical position and be drawn straight up for presentation.


If you decide to carry a gun, the most important aspect to consider is how you will retain that firearm, both in a holster and from being taken away from you in a fight.  Many holsters have different levels and methods of retaining that firearm in the holster.

Snap strap.

Many holsters have a strap that wraps around the grip of the gun and attaches either with a snap or with Velcro®. This strap keeps the gun from falling out should the wearer bend over, jump, or run while wearing a gun. The snap offers quick accessibility with the flick of a thumb while Velcro® requires more effort and time to unrestrain the gun for drawing.

Retention Device

Many tactical or duty style holsters, even those for concealed carry, offer different levels of retention devices.  From loops that pivot over the grip of the gun, to internal locks, these holsters keep the firearm form being removed from the holster unless a series of steps are taken to disengage the retention devices. These holsters are marked with a retention level, i.e. I, II, III.  This retention level corresponds to the number of retention devices that need to be disengaged to draw the firearm. For example, in a retention level III holster, a hidden button is pressed, allowing the retention loop to be pivoted. Then a button near the trigger guard is pressed in a certain way allowing the gun to move in the holster. Finally, the gun is twisted or pressed forward in a specific fashion that allows it to be drawn from the holster.

The up side of this type of retention holster is that it will be very difficult for an attacker to snatch your gun out of the holster. Given the many different brands and retention schemes, it is unlikely that an attacker will know the correct sequence to unlock your holster.  The downside, is that in a stressful situation, you are likely to forget the correct sequence, or execute them improperly, thus delaying your ability to defend yourself. The key to overcoming this problem is to frequently practice drawing from your retention holster, with an unloaded firearm, always keeping the gun pointed in a safe direction, and with your finger off the trigger, until the practice becomes second nature.  We call this building muscle memory and it is an essential component of any firearms training and practice.

In addition to keeping an attacker from getting your gun, the delay the retention devices cause can place your attacker in a very vulnerable position to an unarmed counterattack.  With a very basic grab and spin, you can lock up the attackers wrist and immobilize them.  This technique can be demonstrated by a skilled martial arts instructor and mastered rather quickly be even the most novice of students.

Trying on a holster.

If you are unsure about whether a holster will fit your gun or your body, it is always best to try one on.  Many gun shops have liberal return policies on holsters.  If you purchase a holster and it doesn’t work for you, you can exchange it or return it for a refund within a reasonable period of time. Another option is to take your firearm to the store to try it on there.  If you are taking your gun to the store, please make sure to follow the three rules of gun safety: always point the gun is a safe direction (in a store there are 360 degrees of unsafe directions so keep it pointed down), always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use it, and always keep your finger off of the trigger until ready to shoot.

Another option in a well stocked gun store is to ask the licensed gun dealers if they have your model of firearm and see if their “clean” (never loaded, never fired) floor models will fit.  These should still be treated like all guns and the three rules of firearms safety still apply.

With any holster choice it is important to think about whether it is practical, whether is it useable, whether it is comfortable, and whether it is reliable.  If it fails to hold the gun properly or is not accessible then get rid of it.  If it hurts to wear it, points the gun in directions where you don’t want the gun pointed, or snags when you draw, keep looking.  Pretty soon, like me, you will have a large selection of holsters. The upside, is that you will eventually find that perfect holster that does everything you want it to.

About the author: In addition to his job as managing editor of Sportsman’s News, Dan Kidder is an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor, a former range safety officer for the National Rifle Association Headquarters Range in Fairfax, VA, and a former Marine. He has worked with hundreds of students, including members of local and federal law enforcement, as well as beginning shooters.

Sportsman’s News in no way endorses the use of violence and is not advocating for or encouraging anyone to carry a firearm or use a firearm upon another person. The information provided in this article is general in nature and does not cover any and all circumstances or situations. Sportsman’s News encourages anyone choosing to carry a firearm for personal protection to seek out the services of a qualified professional firearms instructor and to comply with all local and federal firearms laws.

The cost of ignorance is far higher than the price of our training.

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Dan Kidder •BCI/ NRA Certified Instructors • (435) 868-8919 • Cedar City, UT

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