With all of the options for carry positions, holster construction, design, and even the type of firearm you carry, picking the right holster can be very difficult. There are so many cheap options flooding the market, many of which are just junk. How do you even start?
Well, here is the right place. With decades of experience carrying a variety of firearms in a variety of ways, we have learned what works and what does not. We are going to break it down to the basics to help you get the holster that works best for you!
Table of Contents
- Part 1 – Choosing a Holster by Carry Method
- Part 2 – Choosing a Holster by Firearm
- Part 3 – Choosing a Holster Material
- Part 4 – Best Holster Brands
Part 1 – Choosing a Holster by Carry Method
Where you carry your holster can greatly affect your comfort as well as the efficacy of deploying your firearm should you need it. There are numerous places on your body that you can carry a pistol but you have to pick what is right for you and your firearm.
The size and weight of your firearm will be a primary concern but not the only concern. You will need to factor in your body type, lifestyle, and comfort level before making a firm decision. With that, let’s break down each carry method and look at them critically.
IWB Carry Holsters
The most popular method of carry is Inside the Waistband for those who wish to keep their pistols concealed. This is a solid method for most small and medium-sized firearms. You may find larger pistols and revolvers will be uncomfortable and harder to conceal with this method of carry.
If you want to carry concealed, this is usually the starting point. It is tried and true with good performance. It’s easy to keep your pistol out of sight but provides an effective way to get your pistol out when needed. Probably 80% or more of those who choose a concealed firearm will go with this method.
OWB Carry Holsters
The standard for many years, probably from the advent of the firearm all the way to current times is a simple belt mounted holster carried outside the waistband on the hip. This was the method used by cowboys and currently used by almost all police and military units.
Any of the people who carried this way historically were less concerned with having a concealed pistol. It is possible to conceal with this method on most firearms with the correct clothing. Even though you can conceal, this is the most common method of carry used by those who wish to open carry.
Appendix Carry Holsters
Appendix carry really refers to the location just in front of the hip on your strong side and has little to do with where your appendix really is. This method of carry is becoming far more popular with today’s lighter and smaller firearms. It is not appropriate for a full-size pistol which will just cause mobility issues.
Most people find appendix carry to be very comfortable, even while sitting or driving. Along with that, access to your pistol is much easier and you have a very natural draw stroke. You will have to take the time to lift your shirt for this method but it still beats most others for speed of draw.
For those wanting deep concealment or who choose to carry a small backup gun, the ankle has always been the go-to carry spot. It does take more time to access a pistol here but for some people, ankle carry is almost a way of life. They may not have their primary firearm there but a small revolver or auto pistol here can be useful.
The primary concern with an ankle holster is the size and weight of the pistol carried. Most ankle guns are small and lightweight. Still they must be carried in a high-quality, secure holster to keep them in place and making drawing easier. Avoid cheap ankle holsters.
Before modern concealable holsters became a thing, the go-to was the shoulder holster. It could be worn with a suit and still keep your pistol concealed. These have dropped significantly in popularity over the last few decades but there are a few reasons they are still relevant.
Primarily, there are some people who have medical issues that prevent them from drawing a pistol from the waist. Some people choose to carry guns that are too large to conceal any other way. Both of these are reasons why a shoulder holster may be a good bet.
With the many small and effective pistol options on today’s market, the ability to just stick one in your pocket and go is very appealing. The pocket holster is a method that allows you to do this safely without the danger of something getting lodged in the trigger and setting off the pistol.
Most pocket holsters are made in a way that drawing the pistol leaves the holster behind. This makes them relatively quick but that isn’t the major selling point. The reason they are so loved is purely convenience. When it comes to carrying a pistol, this is probably the easiest way to do it if your pistol is small enough.
Small of Back Holsters
Carry in the small of the back has many detractors. With your gun and holster out of sight, it can be a little dangerous. Re-holstering is especially difficult. Even considering t those things, there are a few reasons someone may choose to carry this way.
For one, it leaves other areas of the belt clear for other gear you may need for your job or just every day carry. You can also carry larger pistols concealed with this method than most belt carry methods. You should do your research before purchasing a holster of this type to fully understand the advantages and disadvantages.
Belly Band Holsters
For those with an active lifestyle, the belly band holster offers a secure way to hold your pistol that doesn’t shift with your movement. The most common demographic to carry this holster are runners who often have to go unarmed because of the difficulties of having a holster that fits with their lifestyle.
In theory, the belly band can be used with pistols of almost any size. They are far more effective with smaller pistols but you could go with a full-sized pistol if desired. They are often quite comfortable and do a good job of keeping your pistol concealed. They can be a little hard to draw from considering how much of your shirt has to be moved out of the way to get to the pistol.
For smaller pistols, the Bra has always been a favorite carry location for some women. The holster makes this method far safer. There are some negative connotations to this carry method as it was a favorite method of certain women in the Wild West but it was used by those women because of its convenience and effectiveness.
When you have no other place that is viable to carry a pistol, this can be effective. With a small pistol, it will remain concealed well and be fairly quick to access. The actual location they mount may change between brands but all of them are equally effective depending on your body shape.
Running and Workout Holsters
Though we briefly covered this with the belly band holsters, they are not the only carry method that is viable for those with an active lifestyle. There are a few other types that, with the right firearm, can be carried while jogging or running.
Usually these will be holsters that do not require a belt. That limits you to some degree but a few IWB holsters and Appendix holsters are up to the task. Whatever holster you get, it needs to have great retention and not shift too easily during energetic movements.
The Pancake holster is a type of OWB holster that offers more stability for your pistol. These were popular with police officers up to the late 1980s because they held the firearm firmly in a time when most firearms were quite heavy.
Usually a pancake holster is very wide on the belt and has some form of manual snap to keep the gun firmly in place. This makes them a good choice for those who want a holster for being active but not so active as to require clothing that does not have a belt.
Another older style holster, most paddle holsters are OWB as was the preferred carry method up until the 1990s. There are a few IWB holsters that qualify as paddle holsters but they can be hard to find. These are generally not considered the best CCW holsters due to their size.
One thing the paddle has going for it is support. With a wider brace on the back, the gun comes free cleanly and with maximum stability. This is a vital function of a holster and one the paddle game does extremely well.
Drop Thigh/Drop Leg/Tactical Holsters
In the military and tactical realm, there are a few interesting holster options. These are not suitable for CCW holders but they are very effective when combat is a part of your life. They sit at a very natural height and make drawing the pistol easier.
The drop thigh or drop leg holster puts the pistols grip right at the proper height. This is a very great attribute. Chest rigs are another popular option for tactical carry but there can be no concealment with this holster type.
Fanny Pack Holsters
Sometimes there is just no other way to carry your pistol and you need some space. This is common on the beach or other areas where you wear limited clothing. It may not be the most fashionable but that’s not the point. The point is to always be armed just in case.
Though you could carry in just about any fanny pack, you are far better off with a dedicated pack made for the purpose. These usually have purpose made features that make their use far more effective. This could be easy access pockets or even built-in holsters.
Sometimes the best way to carry your pistol is not to have it on you at all. For long trips, a holster on your waist can be hard to put up with. For those times, being able to get your gun to an easily accessible location that will hold it securely is a definite advantage.
You can always store your pistol any way you like in your car. It could be in a console or the passenger seat. The problem with that is being able to get a good grip on your gun when you need it. A car mounted holster is a great way to make sure your pistol is where you need it.
Part 2 – Choosing a Holster by Firearm
There are a few factors of specific firearms that make some holsters more suitable for them than others. This may be the position you carry it, they type of holster, or the holster material. Most of these factors will depend on the overall size of the firearm.
Length and thickness are the two major factors that will determine the best way to carry your pistol. Revolvers can be much more limiting than automatics. These are just a couple of decisions that will guide you toward the best holster for your gun.
The Glock has become one of the most prolific firearms of our time thanks to its outstanding reliability and durability. It may have its detractors but not enough to stem the constant sales of Glock as a company. They remain the industry leader by a larger margin.
Glocks come in a variety of models, calibers, and sizes. It can be hard to pick a pistol but once you have one, their overall popularity means you can get holsters from most any manufacturer. This is one of the biggest benefits of choosing a popular pistol for your carry weapon.
There are a number of different Glock generations though most of them you will see are gen 3 to gen 5. Some of Glocks models are so new they are only made in later generations. Most of the time this will make little difference as the size and shape of the pistol is very close to identical. Just be sure to check with the holster manufacturer first.
The Glock 19 is probably the most popular Glock on the market being in their mid-sized range. The Glock 42 and 43 are the smallest Glocks available in .380 and 9mm respectively. Most Glocks are these models but there are plenty of other models that remain popular.
Ruger as a company has produced many firearms that are considered among the best and more than a few that were complete flops. Most of their pistols have been considered middle of the pack when it came to quality and reliability.
This all changed with the LC series which are regarded as phenomenal small carry guns. Of these the LCP and LC9 are the most popular though the LCR has its fans. Any of these make excellent carry guns and are available at very good prices.
Being popular, these are often rather easy to find holsters for though often they are restricted to holsters designed to be deeply concealed. You will find very few OWB holsters but numerous IWB holsters for example.
This plays well to the advantage the LC series has in size. They are perfect CCW guns and can even be carried with a pocket holster or appendix carry with ease. IWB is a good choice and ankle could also work very well.
When we talk about the Beretta as a carry gun, it’s almost always going to be their famous 92fs. Modeled after Model 92 which was widely used by U.S. military forces for decades and only recently replaced despite numerous attempts.
One of the best traits of the 92 was its unerring accuracy. It has been highly regarded as one of the most accurate automatic pistols ever made and many world-class competitors have used them to win their titles.
While that is impressive, it doesn’t tell us much about how the 92 can be carried. OWB has always been a preference considering its size. You can, if you are a larger enough person, carry IWB with no issue. If neither of those appeals to you, shoulder holster is probably the only other viable method. You can carry small of back but holsters for such a method are rare.
You usually won’t have a problem finding a holster for a Beretta 92fs if you are willing to look. Most companies to make a holster for them and many are quite good companies.
Sig Sauer has always been considered one of the best pistols manufactures in the world. Their range of products include everything you could find: From firearms, ammunition, rifle scopes and sights, gun parts and accessories to custom services. A reputation they have earned with pistols that as reliable as any other on the market and more accurate than most. This is partly due to their weight which tends to be a little on the high side.
There are tons of Sig models that are very popular but most of them remain unchanged for years. They are still competitive in the current market but most of Sig’s sales are with their smaller pistol options. These make great carry guns and have everything a good Sig should have.
Conversely, the new Sig P320 has turned heads as one of the best new tactical additions to the pistol world in years. This modular pistol can be tinkered with to get your perfect setup. This can make choosing a holster somewhat more difficult.
For the other Sigs, it’s a little more straight forward. If you are looking for a holster for an older model, those are still around and still being made by the dozens a day.
Smith & Wesson M&P
The M&P series by Smith and Wesson have been immensely popular if for no other reason than they are an alternative to the Glock with very similar performance. This isn’t to say anything bad about the M&P which are very good and very reliable firearms in their own right.
Though the main M&P line may be somewhat similar to the Glock, one M&P pistol is a fine weapon that, until recently, Glock had no answer to. The M&P Shield was, at its release, one of the smallest fighting pistols on the market. Despite the recent release of the Glock 43, it remains the top-selling micro-9mm pistol.
Holsters for the M&P Shield run the gamut of possible carry options from IWB to OWB, Appendix, Ankle, and everything in between. It is a very versatile pistol and one that has an equally versatile number of good carry options.
This can make picking a good holster very difficult as many budget companies offer holsters that are sub-par. Make sure you do your due diligence before picking a holster for your Shield. There are a lot of imposters out there!
Before S&W charged on the scene with the M&P, the Springfield XD series was thought to be the next big polymer pistol after the Glock. For the most part, Springfield fell a little flat with most models of the XD falling short of what they promised.
One, however, out of the models of Springfield proved to be a very good pistol and one of the more popular carry guns. The Springfield XDS is a mid-sized pistol that comes in a variety of calibers and is overall comparable to the Glock 19.
Though it may have never seen the popularity of its Glock counterparts, the XDS has achieved enough popularity to have a wide variety of holsters made for it. You can find all of the usual holsters made for a mid-sized firearm for the XDS from most major brands.
With it being around the approximate size of a Glock 19, you are going to be sticking with holsters more suited to carry around the waist area. The XDS is a little large for carry on the ankle or other locations. Most people choose either an IWB or OWB holster though you can opt for appendix carry.
The 1911 is an absolute classic firearm. It has been made by a number of companies and even in a number of different models from full size to compact. If you want to go way out on a limb, you can even get it in different calibers such as 9mm, 10mm, and .38 Super.
With all of the diversity of the 1911, you need to be attentive when picking a holster. Though most holsters made for a 1911 will fit all similarly sized 1911s, there are a few outliers. Some pistols by Kimber and Para can be slightly different, enough to make a holster not fit correctly.
If you get any of the other major brands from Sig, Colt, Springfield, and many others, you should have no issue at all with fit. You will need to pay attention to the size the holster is made for or you could end up with a holster you can’t use at all.
With the different sizes, you can get a 1911 made to carry any way you like it. The smallest sizes make good ankle or pocket guns while the largest are comfortable in an OWB or shoulder holster. The in-between sizes are great just about anywhere else.
Part 3 – Choosing a Holster Material
With both classic and modern materials being used by major manufacturers to make very good quality holsters, there are options galore for your new rig. When choosing a holster, its material is often one of the first and most important considerations to make.
To assist, here are the most common materials you are likely to see and what attributes they have.
Kydex, and other similar hard polymers, are the newest age in holsters. They are molded specifically to fit a specific model of pistol to provide the best retention. These materials have changed the face of how holsters are made and introduced a whole new dynamic into the holster market.
PROS OF KYDEX
CONS OF KYDEX
Leather has been the go-to material for holsters for well over a hundred years. Though much has changed in how the holsters are constructed, the material is the same. It offers the same benefits to the modern shooter as it did in the wild west. Even with so many modern materials making great holsters, leather will likely always be a top choice.
PROS OF LEATHER
CONS OF LEATHER
When we talk about nylon holsters, we are talking about soft nylon. Hard nylon behaves much like Kydex but is often a little thicker and heavier.
Nylon has its place in holsters as do other similar soft fabrics. They make great pocket holsters and some are even decent appendix holsters. What you want to avoid are universal nylon holsters often made for OWB carry. These are inferior products and offer much less durability and are not generally as safe as other more rigid materials.
PROS OF NYLON
CONS OF NYLON
Most hybrid holsters are a mix of leather and Kydex to give you a holster that has some of the traits of each in the appropriate places. While these are good choices and are often quite affordable, they do wear out more quickly. This doesn’t mean not to get one. The holsters are great overall but you will have to replace them more often.
PROS OF HYBRID
CONS OF HYBRID
There are a few other materials but none that are notably different than the materials above. Occasionally you will get faux leather but it will behave much like real leather in most cases. You may get neoprene rubber but it is much like soft nylon. Even carbon fiber is being used but it is more or less just a lighter weight, stronger Kydex. Look at the material and see which of the above options it is most like. They will likely be very close in behavior.
Part 4 – Best Holster Brands
Galco Gun Leather
Galco has been making holsters for generations and has always been a leading brand. They specialize in leather but have occasionally branched out into other materials to keep up with modern tastes. However, they always go back to leather because they are really, really good at it.
Their pancake and other OWB holsters are top notch. They make the best ankle holster on the market. They have a few IWB holsters including one hybrid that is very well regarded. They simply do not make and have never made a bad holster.
Much like above, Alessi does leather and does it right. Though for decades they were a custom manufacturer that required weeks to months of waiting, they are slowly improving their production times and getting a surplus of ready-to-ship holsters that are appearing around the web.
Alessi is the Ferrari of holsters. They look good and perform amazingly. They have good options in the IWB and OWB categories as well as one of the most comfortable appendix holsters on the market. They have yet to branch out into new materials but their leatherwork is beyond belief.
Alien Gear made a name for themselves a few years back with their hybrid holsters but they have grown far beyond that with their modern lineup. Things have gone modular with their newest designs though they do still make some of their older styles as well.
Alien Gear is known for its killer deals on decent holsters. With the current Shapeshifter series, you can get a holster to carry almost any way you like with almost any firearm you want. And they will usually do it cheaply!
Crossbreed made a name for themselves with the Supertuck line of hybrid holsters. At the time these were thought of as some of the best holsters out there. While these have declined in popularity over the past few years, CrossBreed has continued to make innovative products.
While their bread and butter is still in the hybrid holster market, they do make a few all leather holsters along with a modular belly band holster. They round out their lineup with some gun belts and mag pouches. All of these are very well made and on par with any other company out there.
Blackhawk is famous for their SERPA line of holsters but in the greater shooting community those are regarded as a generally bad design and have some safety issues. Though Blackhawk still makes these holsters, they also make a variety of other products that are very safe and usable.
Unless you are very familiar with your firearm and willing to take the risk, stay away from the SERPA series of holsters. Go with one of the many other designs by Blackhawk which come in both kydex and leather. These are generally very good holsters.
Uncle Mike’s offers a wide variety of holsters on a budget. Most of these are not among the best options out there but there are a few notable holsters made by this company that are worth considering if you are tight on cash.
They offer a few kydex holsters that are generally fairly good as well as a decent ankle holster. The real find is their pocket holster which is affordable, effective, and all around a good bet. If you carry in your pocket, its worth picking up one of these just to give it a try.
Urban Carry makes a number of different holster models made for specific types of carry. Some are unique deep concealment options while others are a more standard design. They also offer car and desk holsters among others.
The most popular Urban Carry option is the Revo line which is a modular setup that allows a single shell to be used in a wide variety of configurations. This can save a little cost overall and give you with plenty of options on how you carry as well as what you carry without purchasing all new holsters.
For a company that only makes two holsters, Brave Response seems to do quite well. Their original design is made to be a blend between a belly band holster and IWB holster. They also offer a dedicated appendix holster for smaller firearms.
Most people tend to like these holsters for times you need a belly band or similar holster. Others think the soft body design is not the best bet. Generally, they are reasonably good if used correctly. They are worth checking out and giving a try at the least.
The Sticky holster is a novel attempt at something new but may not be the best bet for some people. The idea of the sticky holster is to have no fastener to the belt or body and rely on the stickiness of the holster to hold it in place. This would make it much easier to take the holster off when needed.
While for most situations, this may not be the greatest thing, it does work very well for a pocket holster. If you do choose to go with one of their other holsters, it’s a good idea to go with one that uses a kydex insert made for your pistol. Otherwise, you could run into safety issues.
Vedder is another company that specializes in kydex holsters with the addition of a hybrid for a little variety. While they are not noticeably different from any other brand doing the same thing, the overall quality of the moldings with Vedder tends to be very good with just the right among of retention.
Particularly their hybrid OWB holster tends to be very good. It holds the pistol well and spreads the weight farther across the belt much like an older pancake holster would. This makes it a great choice for heavier firearms that need that extra support.
Tulster essentially makes one holster but it makes it for so many different models of firearms that you are almost guaranteed to find the one you need. They are available for every popular brand out there and many firearms that are only passingly popular.
The holster they do make is kydex but unlike most small companies, this is a purely professional quality holster. It is well made, well designed, and has a great molding. It’s tough and durable with a slightly thicker kydex than most companies use.
While no one would call Fobus one of the best holsters made, they are often decent quality holsters for the money. And that is the trick, Fobus holsters are very easy on the wallet and tend to work decently. They have a variety of models to fit most firearms.
If you need a cheaper holster, a Fobus will likely work for you for a while. You should look to upgrade as soon as you are able. These are not a perfect holster, you can get many that are far better. These are just good to fill the gap before you find the holster you really want.
While there are many holster makes and models out there, some are obviously better than others. Which ones are better may depend on what you carry and how you carry as much as the overall quality of the brand. That said, spend the money to get a decent holster. You may need something cheap to get you started but try to get past that as soon as possible.