Learning what to look for in a good holster is equally as important as how to buy quality first firearm because good load-bearing gear will allow you to carry said firearm. For beginners, a sturdy range holster that allows plenty of familiarization before you proceed to a concealed carry holster is important. This gives you a chance to perfect the draw before proceeding to working the angles of pushing away covering garments to draw a handgun worn close to the body. The training holster will offer a greater offset from the body.

There are thousands on the market, all promising the most comfortable and effective design in the history of ever. Not only are there many models from which to choose, there are also a dozen (give or take) concealed carry positions: inside the waistband (IWB), outside the waistband (OWB), appendix, cross-draw, shoulder, undershirt, underwear, ankle, bags, purses, packs, day planners and more.

Why You Need a Good Gun Holster

There are three primary criteria for holster selection that will help you narrow the choices for both method of carry and the holster itself. Here are the things that a quality holster must do.

Secure Your Handgun

Job one is to ensure that your handgun remains in your possession at all times. Don’t breeze by this one. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to lose a firearm when you’re engaged in vigorous activity like fighting or running for your life. 

Most quality concealed carry holsters use friction, shape molding, retention screw pressure or a combination of those to secure the handgun. And that’s not counting holsters with active retention systems that require a manual release. A quality leather holster will be hand-boned (shaped) to the exact contours of your pistol or revolver. That fit “grabs” the gun and prevents it from just slipping out.

Kydex holsters accomplish a similar result and often use aggressive molding around the trigger guard to “lock” the handgun in place until you apply enough pressure to slightly bend the Kydex mold, thereby releasing the gun. Retention screw systems on leather or Kydex holsters allow you to adjust the overall “squeeze” on your handgun so you can make your draw as easy or as hard as you like.

Protect the Trigger

An equally important holster task is protecting the trigger to prevent a negligent discharge. A good holster will cover the trigger and protect it from hands, fingers and foreign objects. A good concealed carry holster will keep that trigger covered and protected while you get a “permanent” firing grip. This is an important detail. If your holster, in its correct position on the body, doesn’t allow you to obtain a proper firing grip that you won’t have to adjust before firing, move on to another model.

Ease of Draw

Last and certainly not least, you’ll want to be able to draw your gun with one hand. On the range, using two hands to grip your pistol is fine and seems easy and intuitive. In a life-or-death encounter, you don’t get to decide whether you have two hands available. You might be pushing a child out of the way or calling for help. Maybe you will be fighting off an attacker while trying to get your gun into action. There are an infinite number of scenarios that might cause you to defend yourself one-handed.

How to Wear a Gun Holster

As for the angle of the holster, it should be tilted slightly, with the muzzle to the rear, in order to present the firearm into the draw. This is called a “rear rake.” For safety, the holster body should fully cover the trigger guard, and your finger should be off the trigger until the handgun is on target.

The holster must fit the individual handgun and be properly molded for its frame. The holster mouth should not lie flat. This could prevent re-holstering. The holster must be firmly attached to the belt. A reinforced belt loop is recommended for belt holsters.

Inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters should have a strong, reinforced belt clip that takes a strong bite of the belt. Cheap fabric holsters sometimes use poorly designed plastic clips that are not only weak but also placed incorrectly. A single, wide clip or smaller dual clips work well. For concealed carry, a thumbreak or retention device isn’t needed if the holster is tightly molded. A well-made holster with good stitching may demand a modest break-in period. Quality leather, tough fabric construction and Kydex work well. Kydex is the least comfortable but works well for some shooters.

Begin With an IWB Holster

For most shooters, an IWB holster is best. This type of holster carries the handgun between the trousers and the body. It may allow carrying a compact or even a service-sized handgun with only a sport shirt draped over the beltline to conceal the holster. It’s worn behind the hip in the kidney position. The drawback of an IWB is the wide footprint, but comfort is a strong point.

Some designs, such as the new CrossBreed Reckoning, have a smaller footprint. This holster allows appendix or front-of-the-belt carry by adding a well-designed rollout feature that prevents tilt. (The rollout and magazine carrier attachments are easily removed.) You cannot simply take an IWB holster and move it to the front of the belt. You’ll need a special design for that.

Appendix carry is possible so long as the user employs a quality holster with a compact handgun. A longer slide may pinch the user by forcing the holster inward when he or she sits. This is less pronounced with IWB carry. The holster should be secure, but comfort level varies. As an example, while Kydex isn’t exactly comfortable, most Kydex holsters offer an easy on-and-off design and often a sharp draw. Leather is more comfortable. A quality leather holster may last a decade or more given proper care.

Holster Options as You Advance

Holsters that are more specialized, such as crossdraw and shoulder holsters, should be avoided by beginners until they have considerable experience. It is difficult to purchase a quality shoulder holster for less than $200 — quite an investment to discover it doesn’t work for you. The strong-side draw is the easiest and most natural.

There are other alternatives to the IWB holster though. If you use a belly band holster, it should be a quality example, such as the Galco. It collapses after the handgun is drawn but also offers advantages such as ease of adjustment, cross-draw carry, and appendix or IWB carry. It may even allow the user to carry two handguns.

If there were no requirement for concealed carry, outside-the-waistband (OWB) holsters would be ideal for most uses. Handguns with relatively short barrels or slides may be concealed with these holsters if the carrier uses a covering garment. Just the same, OWB holsters are less concealable than IWB. They are visible from a lower position, such as when the wearer rides an elevator. And if they are not properly designed to ride close to the body, they may print on covering garments. The advantages of the strong-side holster are a natural draw, a good handle offset from the body and a solid attachment to the belt.

Top Holster Choices for New Gun Owners

Galco Combat Master

The Galco Combat Master is a great choice for beginner shooters.

The Combat Master is a high-ride pancake-type holster. This holster rides close to the body and offers a sharp draw. It is worn behind the hip — from the seam of the pants to the right-rear pocket — depending on body type and covering garments.

The Combat Master is a fine all-around choice, but concealment is best with a relatively short-barreled handgun.

Galco WalkAbout

Galco’s WalkAbout offers good concealment, and users can carry a speedloader or magazine.

Galco offers many custom-grade and affordable holsters. The WalkAbout has a strong belt clip, a metal-reinforced mouth and a pouch for carrying a speedloader or spare magazine (depending on the holster). This holster encourages the user to carry a spare magazine, a practice in which far too few shooters engage.

The WalkAbout is affordable and well-designed.

Galco’s Stow-N-Go offers a reinforced holster mouth and a sturdy belt clip. The Stow-N-Go belt clip is ideally located for security and concealment.

Galco Stow-N-Go

The Stow-N-Go offers an easy on-and-off belt clip. The clip is large and strong, taking a hefty amount of belt space for security. The holster features a metal-reinforced holstering mouth to prevent the holster from collapsing after the pistol is drawn.

This is a great buy.

CrossBreed Reckoning

The CrossBreed Reckoning is a highly developed hybrid-type IWB.

The Reckoning features the original hybrid design of a Kydex holster and leather backing but has a smaller footprint.

The CrossBreed Reckoning IWB features an anti-rollout “foot” for appendix carry and also features a magazine carrier. Either is easily removable if preferred.

This is a highly adjustable IWB holster with much to recommend.

1791 Gunleather offers the versatile 4-Way holster.

1791 Gunleather 4-Way Holster

The 1791 4-Way holster is designed to allow strong-side, crossdraw, small-of-the-back and inside-the-waistband carry.

As may be expected, there are tradeoffs. For example, when worn OWB, the holster’s IWB clip may snag clothing. However, this holster gives shooters an opportunity to test different carry options. It is best as an IWB yet usable in other roles.

Wright Leather Works Cobra

The Wright Leather Works Cobra is useful as both an IWB and OWB holster.

The Cobra is a development of the Banshee IWB holster. The Banshee is an excellent holster with good fit, a sharp draw and dual belt loops located on “wings” that spread the weight of the handgun out on the belt. The Cobra features slightly elongated wings to allow placing belt loops on these outriggers.

One can wear the Cobra as an IWB or a strong-side holster. It is worth a few extra bucks over the Banshee for this kind of versatility.

This holster is ideal for the first-time buyer who may use the OWB for most practice and the IWB for concealed carry. The belt loops are highly adjustable to cant and height.

Wright Leather Works Marshal holster is a first-class belt scabbard. Note the belt-hugging belt-loop design.

Wright Leather Works Marshal

For those able to conceal an OWB holster or who are not comfortable with IWB, the Wright Leather Works Marshal offers good design features. The holster features a belt slot that positions the holster toward the rear of the body to provide a smaller footprint on the belt. A belt loop right behind the handgun pulls the pistol in tight, making this a close-fitting and secure holster. The holster features a 15-degree angle for concealed carry. This is my favorite holster for the 2.75-inch-barreled revolver. It conceals well enough under a light jacket. The Marshal will work with larger guns and self-loaders. It is a strong favorite.

Choose the Best Holster for You

Before you get caught up in the whirlwind of advertisements, discounts, recommendations, videos and social media posts, be sure to ask yourself some important questions. The answers can help you determine the best type of holster, the most effective location and the best materials or styles for you to use. 

What Gun Do You Plan to Carry in Your Holster?

The size and style of your gun have everything to do with the holster you’ll choose and the location in which you’ll wear it. Small guns may be easier to conceal in a variety of locations, while larger firearms may be more limited to how and where you can carry them. Also, remember a revolver tends to be bulkier because of its cylinder, while a semi-auto usually offers a slimmer profile that may be easier to carry and conceal.

How Heavy Is Your Firearm (Fully Loaded)?

Be sure to keep in mind how heavy your loaded firearm will be. It may feel “just right” when you put it in a holster and try it on without any ammunition. But you could be unpleasantly surprised when it’s loaded and ready to go … and it pulls down on the holster, your belt and even your clothing.

Will You Want to Swap Between Guns and/or Holsters?

While it’s very sensible and beneficial to use the same gun in the same holster (in the same location) every day, it’s just not always possible. So be sure to think through how many different guns you plan to use for everyday carry, how many holsters you may need for each gun and which holsters might work for multiple guns.

What Will You Be Doing While Wearing the Holster?

Do you sit or stand most of the day? Are you active or moving around a lot? Will you need a holster for working out or just sitting around? Knowing the range of motion and the amount of movement you may incorporate into your days can help narrow down which holsters (and which carry locations) will best fit into your lifestyle.

Do You Want to Carry an Extra Magazine or Another Tool (Knife, Pen, Light, etc.)?

Some holsters may be able to carry more than just your firearm if that’s what you desire. (Just make sure NOTHING is ever placed directly with the firearm itself.) You might also consider purchasing a magazine pouch or two for toting extra ammunition, whether for everyday carry, for competition or for training. Also, be sure to think about where all these extra items will “live” as you go about your everyday activities. You want to be sure they are in locations that are safe and accessible without adding any awkward movements or causing any confusion.

What Is Your Body Type/Shape/Proportions?

Every body is unique, and this is a major reason why there’s no “one size fits all” for holsters. Are you an apple, a pear, an hourglass or a rectangle? Understanding your body shape may help eliminate some holster styles that just won’t work well or won’t feel comfortable. It can also help point you to additional accessories, such as a wedge, that might help move that gun into just the right position so it doesn’t poke and print. (Keep in mind that some level of comfort may have to be given up to be able to carry a gun on your body.)

Where Does Your Natural Waist Fall?

Are you high-waisted? A lot of women who concealed carry say they are. This makes a large portion of holsters more difficult to use because it forces the user to have to draw at awkwardly high or uncomfortable angles. You can wear your pants lower at your hips, you can look for holsters with a drop option, or you can try holster styles that aren’t limited to a belt or a waistband to remedy this issue.

What Materials Are You Looking for or Are You Comfortable With in a Holster?

From spandex and leather to thermoplastics and lace, women’s holsters, especially, offer a lot of variety in the materials of which they are constructed. It would certainly help to decide which materials you do not like and which ones make the most sense to you, both for wearing and for maintaining. Kydex and leather are the most popular materials. But a hybrid  — Kydex holster attached to a leather backing — is useful. This allows a strong holster over a supple backing. 

Are You OK With the Firearm Pressing Against Your Skin?

If you dislike the idea of feeling metal against your body or having a gun imprint show up from carrying your firearm all day, you may want to consider holsters that have a soft backing (and keep the entire grip off your skin) or options that can work outside of clothing layers.

What Types of Clothing Do You Wear?

If you’re in dresses or skirts every day as opposed to “typical” concealed carry clothing, you may be limited to which holsters work for you. Even if you wear dress pants or business suits, some options won’t work properly since you would need a proper belt and/or a very sturdy waistband. Think about what you wear most often. And, if possible, wear that when you go try on or test out some holster possibilities.

Get a Good Gun Belt

If you don’t wear a belt every day with every outfit, you may have to eliminate a large group of holster options from your list. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something that will work for you. It just means you need to focus on a setup that doesn’t require a belt. If you do wear a belt (or you would like to include one in your holster setup), just be sure to purchase one that is designed to work with a holster and a firearm.

A proper gun belt should secure a holster. Most holster manufacturers offer quality belts. A gun belt supports a firearm’s weight but can still be stylish. The gun belt allows you to carry your holster and handgun combination for extended periods without fatigue. The holster must cinch tightly against the gun belt. Any slop or loose motion will result in an unstable handgun. This will impede getting a good grip on the handgun, making a rapid presentation impossible.

How Much Money Are You Willing or Able to Spend on a Holster?

Some people don’t realize that a good holster can cost a pretty penny. Don’t settle for a cheap holster or choose one because of cost alone. Do some research. Check out different manufacturers’ websites. Know the prices (or at least a range) before you shop. Then you are prepared to purchase the best holster (and the highest quality) for you.

Do You Have Any Limitations or Needs?

There are a host of other factors that may influence which holster you choose. They may include whether or not you have small children, are in a wheelchair, have limited movement in your left shoulder or have arthritis in your dominant hand. You might avoid cross-draw options for one of these reasons … or gravitate toward them. You might choose extra buttons, straps or security contraptions … or skip them altogether. Keep your own personal, unique situation in mind.

While the above recommendations can be a good start for beginners, look for options that best fit your needs, your skills and training, and your lifestyle. With care and study, you will have a good carry system. Practice hard and learn what works for you.


CrossBreed Holsters: CrossBreedHolsters.com
Galco: GalcoGunleather.com
1791 Gun Leather: 1791Gunleather.com
Wright Leather Works: WrightLeatherWorks.com

This article is a compilation of previous blog posts authored by Bob Campbell, Beth Alcazar and Tom McHale.