What is the best holster for open/conceal carry for gunX? I have seen this question asked at least 100 times in the last year on one gun forum or another, and I have been asked this question by family, friends, students, and colleagues about 20 times this year.
It is important to note how the holster will be used. Inside waistband (IWB) and outside waistband (OWB) usually refers to a holster that is worn on the strong side. Appendix inside waistband (AIWB) is fairly clear, too (see picture of an AIWB holster). There are many other methods such as bottom of back (BoB), shoulder holster, chest holster, and off body carry. For example, if somebody is back packing and needs ready access to a gun in case of a bear or mountain lion threatening or attacking them, then a chest holster makes lots of sense. The kind of gun and the size of the gun can make a difference in holster choice, too.
I have given this a great deal of thought over the recent years. I have also done some reconsidering of those thoughts in recent days.
I believe that the following features should be considered requirements for safe and reliable use:
- Ease of Carry – The main reason that we use holsters is because a holster makes it easy for us to carry our handguns. Every quality holster should make it easy to for us to carry the gun. The holster has to be easy to put on and take off while being easy to wear every day. A minimal level of comfort is required, or we just won’t use the holster and may choose to not carry.
- Stability – The gun needs to be held in a stable position so that it is in the same place every time you reach for it. It is pretty hard to build automaticity (again, I promised that I would start using this word) if you can’t practice over and over and find your gun in the same position every time you reach for it without looking. This means that the gun needs top quality loops or clips that will hold the gun and holster, securely, on your belt. For example, if you look at one of the clips on the AIWB holster shown, you can see that it is secured with two screws to the holster and it is made of metal. With two clips holding the holster on the belt, it is incredibly stable.
- Retention – The gun needs to stay in the holster until you draw it. Passive and/or active retention is vital for every holster. For those that have had the experience of seeing a gun skittering down a hallway because it came out of the holster, it makes you cringe to see it. Skittering syndrome is very ugly. Your gun needs to stay in that holster, even during strenuous physical activity. You should probably roll around on the floor with your gun (unloaded, of course, until you are confident in the holster) in the holster, run around a little, do some jumping jacks and burpees, and perform some other daily activities to test your holster’s retention. Also, retention needs to be considered as part of your defense against gun grabbers. Kydex, especially when it is well formed to the gun (see picture of the kydex molded around the trigger guard), provides excellent passive retention. There are also many good holsters that have active retention devices that must be deactivated for the gun to be drawn from the holster. By the way, I don’t like the holster shown here as it does not completely cover the trigger guard.
- Protect the Trigger – The trigger must be covered so that it is not possible for other objects to get into the trigger guard and activate the trigger. The trigger also needs to be protected from the holster, itself. We have had some reports of holsters actually causing negligent discharges because the material of the holster got into the trigger guard during holstering.
- Protect the Gun – When we carry a gun in a holster, it is likely that we will, accidentally, bang the holster and gun into other objects like door frames, desks, shelves, and so on. A holster should protect our gun from day to day beatings. Sweat and flaking skin cells (yuck!) can have a severe impact on your gun, too. One of my friends was showing me his gun, and when he broke it down, it had belly hair in it. Kind of gross, and unlikely to prevent the gun from firing, but the impact of sweat (salt water at a warm temperature) can lead to rust. Lint and other contaminants can gum up the action of a gun, even though it might take quite a bit of it. You can protect your gun just by covering it with a holster.
First, the elimination round. I have seen way too many fad or gimmick solutions that just don’t meet what I see as some of the bare requirements for a quality holster. For example:
- Clipdraw – Anyone who knows me knows how much I despise the Clipdraw, and other devices like it. There are many issues with this product. Even the manufacturer says that you should not carry with a round in the chamber so you can prevent negligent discharges. If you aren’t supposed to carry with a round in the chamber, what does that say about the device?
- Serpa – The Blackhawk Serpa is disliked by many because it is promoted as an active retention holster, and many people think it is awesome with its lower price, but those that know of its reputation can’t support its use. The Serpa is well known as a poorly designed holster. The retention paddle is easily jammed by dirt and debris, and the way the release paddle aligns with the trigger finger when trying for draw too quickly can result in a negligent discharge. This holster has been banned at pretty much every single large training center in the country, including the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.
- VersaCarry – This device, just doesn’t measure up. It, actually, fails to deliver. As with the Clipdraw and the Serpa, I am far from the only one that hates this device. The poor protection provided, and the plastic piece that is inserted into the barrel should scare you away. If you are not scared of it, please research it. You will find it isn’t worth the risk.
- MIC – The MIC holster covers the trigger guard, but that is about it. There is no secure method provided to hold that gun in position. There is no protection for the gun. I also dislike that the MIC relies on a string wrapped around your belt to separate the MIC from your gun when you draw your gun.
- Others – There are many others that should just jump out at you as not being good devices or holsters, i.e. the Urban Carry Holster, when it comes to carrying your gun. Please ask around before using them, but, at a minimum, read through the rest of this blog so you can better evaluate a holster before using one out there on the street.
If the holster meets the basic requirements, as discussed, above, I will take the next steps when it comes to evaluation. I have always looked at holsters using a few different criteria, above meeting the minimum requirements of a holster, before buying one. Even then, I still have way too many holsters sitting in a box in my closet because they just didn’t work out for me. Here is what I tend to look at when buying a holster:
- Material – Kydex is king. Leather can be good, too, and I have used a couple of leather holsters, in the past. Kydex and leather, combined, make for some good hybrid holsters. There are lots of good hybrid holsters out there. Stay away from nylon holsters, injection molded plastic, and anything that uses strings. If using leather, make sure it is stiff and uses double/triple stitching at stress points. Durability is as important as retention when it comes to the materials used.
- Comfort – Keep in mind, very few people are ever comfortable with a new holster because it just doesn’t feel right. It is like a new pair of shoes. You need to get used to them. It takes time to get used to a holster. After all, if you can’t carry comfortably, you will be tempted to not carry as much as you should, or not at all. So, comfort is important. I have found that some holsters, like Alien Gear and Stealth Gear, are incredibly comfortable right out of the box (OK, really they arrive in plastic bags). Kydex holsters can take some time to get used to them. Give them a chance.
- Functionality – You need to be able to draw your gun from the holster, with ease. The gun must be drawn, rapidly, and safely, for the holster to have any value, at all. Some holsters are difficult to access. Also, it is important to note if any of the retention devices are hard to operate or if the front sight catches on the holster. Another example, you shouldn’t have to twist your gun while drawing it, for it to come out of the holster.
- Adjustability – Sometimes we need to adjust the cant of a gun, or the depth that it rides as it compares to our belt. It is vital, for example, that we can get a full firing grip on our gun when drawing it from the holster.
I have lumped all minimalist holsters together, in the past. I blew up Glock Nation, recently, and was barraged with insults (some of the insults were really entertaining) when I discounted a particular holster based on my thinking around minimalist holsters. BTW, those that insulted me had no clue about my background and abilities, but I have a thick skin, so no worries. Not all perception is reality.
As I have always stated, my main issues with minimalist holsters have been:
- Stability – The gun needs to be stable on the body. It needs to stay where you put it.
- Protection of the Gun – The holster needs to protect the gun from being smacked around and from being exposed to the body’s sweat and skin flakes.
- Training – It is really hard to built automaticity if you can’t draw, fire, then holster the gun, repeatedly. Building automaticity is hampered by the heat of the barrel and slide after firing a few times.
A Glock Nation member recommended this holster, the VEIL Ghost (shown here), and I was quick to discount it, a little too harshly and without really researching it well enough. The reason that I discounted it was that I didn’t like the belt loop and I didn’t like that the slide was exposed and not protected by the holster.
A couple of members stepped in and pointed out that the holster was very stable with the right size loop to match the belt width, but that it was also available with a good clip instead of the loop, which would meet my requirement. The claw device, and an optional bump are also available, and they would increase stability while also improving the concealment of the holster. The clip was the key to me, though. Another person demonstrated their use of this holster and that there were no issues with training with it, especially if you use an undershirt to give you a layer of fabric between you and the slide of the gun. The other part of protecting the gun is from banging into things. Well, that is not an issue, either, when carrying AIWB. People just don’t bang that part of the body into door frames and desks. Well, at least, I don’t.
Anyway, I thought long and hard about this holster, and some of the others like it. I decided that they, definitely, should be considered. This kind of holster should not be lumped in with the MIC and other minimal holsters as it offers much more than they do. I haven’t ordered the Ghost, yet, but it is on the short list of holsters that I want to try. I appreciated the professionalism of those that took the time to address my concerns. I also took the time to make sure everyone knew that I was reassessing my point of view on this holster and others like it.