Finding holsters is easier than ever with no shortage of manufacturers and places to buy. For instance, has nearly 5,000 holsters, holster accessories and magazine pouches for sale. But finding a gun holster and finding the right holster are different. You’ll need to know more than your firearm model when holster shopping.

I have been interested in holsters since before my law enforcement career. As an officer, the choice was usually made for me, and it could be difficult to find well-designed duty holsters. Back then, concealment holsters were difficult. They were made of cheap, floppy leather and inexpensive fabric. Oftentimes, the inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters were simply belt holsters with loops sewn on the face.

Gun Holster Common Terms

Before carrying concealed, it’s important to understand where and how a firearm is worn when concealed. A self-defense gun is often carried behind the strong-side hip. And the draw angle must be suitable for rapid presentation. To choose a good gun holster with the right draw angle, it’s important to understand cant, rake, drop and the two common acronyms of CCW holsters.

Cant — This is the angle the holster is presented at. A very tall person may wish for a neutral cant, but most of us need a 15-degree cant to tilt the handle of the handgun into the draw.

Rake — Rake also refers to the angle. A forward rake means the muzzle is forward of the centerline. Rear rake — the most popular — means the muzzle of the handgun is to the rear compared to the handle.

Drop — Drop is sometimes called ride and indicates where a holster sits. A high-ride holster is elevated on the belt for concealment. When the holster is worn IWB, drop becomes more important. A low drop may make for greater concealment. But a higher ride holster will be more exposed above the waistband. This can make for greater draw speed.

IWB — Acronym for Inside-The-Waistband holsters, sitting inside your pant waistband and usually secured by clips that wrap around the top of your pant and secure around a belt or pant line.

OWB— Acronym for Outside-The-Waistband holsters, usually secured on your belt line with either a paddle inserted inside the pant waistline or belt slide loops.

Two holster show the difference in tilt.

A slight forward tilt is needed to afford a sharp draw (right). The holster on the left has a more neutral draw.

To determine the most beneficial rake and drop for you, use either a triple-checked unloaded firearm or a training tool, such as a SIRT pistol. Place the handgun at different angles in the waistband: tuck it low and ride it higher on the belt. This will give you an idea of how drop and angle work. It may also be good to start with a more generic holster before ordering an expensive custom holster. And, where possible, try the holsters on in-store before purchasing.

Using A Holster When You’re New To Carry

There is a certain acclimation period when you begin carrying a handgun. A concealed firearm is comforting, not comfortable. You will never forget it’s there. But a holster should isolate the hard edges of a firearm from the body. A gun holster also separates the handgun from clothing and perspiration.

Along the way, you must obtain a good gun belt, with a sturdier strap, loop and buckle than a dress belt. Without the proper belt, the holster is useless. The frame, buckle and bar must be up to supporting the weight of the handgun. Thick gun belts may last for decades and are essential to concealed carry. Modern ratchet-type gun belts, such as those produced by Nexbelt, are increasingly popular as another option. These are just a few of the additional nuances you need to know before you start
to concealed carry

Differences in Kydex and Leather Holsters

A leather holster should not be made of very thin suede leather but a thick, heavy leather similar to a saddle skirt, ideally something that is Top Grain or Full Grain leather. Kydex holsters are another option. These have varying thicknesses, with some of the thinner gear being merely plastic. Kydex holsters are bolted together, whereas leather is sewn. The pattern is laid out, formed to the gun or mold, and then stitched. The edges are combined and glued together.

When purchasing a leather holster, it is important to look at the welt — the reinforcement around the holster mouth. A welt should keep the holster mouth open and allow re-holstering. Welt is even more important with an IWB holster. After drawing, you should be able to re-holster with one hand. And the holster should keep a tight fit on the handgun. Leather achieves this by tight molding or boning — using a smooth bone to form wet leather around the gun mold. Some makers get a good fit with a press that steams leather. Kydex is designed to get a tight fit on the bodyguard and muzzle of the

Some holsters may feature a retention device such as a thumb break snap. A well-designed gun holster coupled with body compression makes these straps unnecessary in my opinion. If you do use a holster with a retention device, be certain to practice your draw from it. And use a retention device that is reinforced and will not bind against the body on the draw. A quality holster will offer a sharp draw and a good balance of speed and retention.

Inside-the-Waistband and Beyond

For most, a quality IWB holster is the best choice. In a four-season climate, a good outside-the-waistband belt holster under a cover garment is also a good idea.

This Advanced Shooting Performance holster shows a sharp draw angle and rides high on the belt.

The Advanced Shooting Performance ASOB rides high on the belt. This makes the holster easier to conceal under a light garment and demands a more severe draw angle. For those that may not be able to tolerate an IWB holster, this is a credible design.

There are other, advanced options as well. Some will explore appendix holsters, cross-draw, shoulder holsters or other styles. But the default holster should be a strong-side belt holster. An IWB holster allows carrying serious armament well concealed and keeps most of the handgun under the beltline, concealed by the trousers. Before choosing a holster, examine as many as possible and carefully consider what you need. Don’t go cheap on your everyday carry option. While handgun prices vary from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, a quality gun holster begins at just over $60.

And a superb design can be found for around $150. In between, there are many excellent choices. Consider your needs and plan ahead before you purchase.


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