NOTE: Catch up with other articles in our Beginner Series below:
When you exercise your rights and take personal responsibility for your safety, important decisions must be made. Obviously, choosing a handgun is important. But for beginners, choosing a holster is near the top of the list too.
A holster is equally as important as a quality firearm because good load-bearing gear will allow you to carry said firearm. A compact gun flopping about in the pocket is a poor choice. In the beginning, 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.
Get a Good Gun Belt
A proper gun belt must secure a holster. Galco and Bigfoot are two makers I respect, but most holster manufacturers offer quality belts. The difference between a gun belt and a dress belt is like hiking boots to flip flops. A gun belt supports a firearm’s weight but can still be stylish. The gun belt allows you to deploy the 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.
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. While Kydex and leather are most popular, the hybrid type — a Kydex holster attached to a leather backing — is useful. This allows a strong holster over a supple backing. 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. It must be practiced before you consider other options. There should be a compelling reason to leave the strong-side holster behind.
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, crossdraw 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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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
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.
These recommendations can be important for the beginner. Consider your lifestyle and level of training and also how readily the holster may be concealed. With care and study, you will have a good carry system. The holster you choose may make or break your indoctrination into concealed carry. You want a quality holster that fits your lifestyle and mode of dress. Practice hard and learn what works for you.
Our beginner series has everything a new gun owner should know. If you’re just getting started in concealed carry or in need of a refresher, check out some of the articles below. Now that you’ve read up on several holster options, be sure to head back to some of the earlier posts. Steve Brass poses three critical questions to ask when deciding to concealed carry in Article 1, and Beth Alcazar lays out some tips for getting the right gear and training in Article 2. Did you catch Bob’s recommended guns for those new to shooting in Article 3 or the ammunition basics in Article 4? In the next post, Beth wraps up the series with suggestions to start your gun training in Article 6. And you can check out the Protector Academy for even more training and videos!
Find more articles in our Beginner Series below:
About Bob Campbell
Bob Campbell is a writer for Concealed Carry Magazine with a degree in criminal justice. Bob has been a firearms writer for decades, writing for Concealed Carry Handguns, Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, SWAT Magazine, Law and Order and Black Belt, among others. He has written 15 books primarily focused on handguns and training, including The Accurate Handgun from Gun Digest. In addition to serving as a peace officer and firearms instructor, he has also written curriculum at the university level.