Choosing the right concealed carry holster is as important as choosing the right gun. Just as you would never drop a couple million on a Bugatti Chiron and top off the oil reservoir with some slightly used Crisco, you should never, ever buy a cheap holster. You can have the best gun in the western world, but if your holster fails, your firearm is as useful as an accordion on the battlefield.

So how do you choose the right holster? 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) ways to carry a concealed handgun: inside the waistband (IWB), outside the waistband (OWB), appendix, cross-draw, shoulder, undershirt, underwear, ankle, bags, purses, packs, day planners and more. The list seems endless and daunting.

Fortunately, 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 for your life. Even running may cause you to lose your handgun. Think about it: At the first sign of trouble, assuming you have the option, running as fast as you can in the opposite direction is a pretty good idea, isn’t it? Losing your gun in the process would make a bad day worse.

Close-up photo of a back semi-automatic pistol inside a black Alien Gear hybrid Kydex and Neoprene IWB concealed carry holster.

Note the precise molding fit of the Alien Gear Cloak Tuck 3.0 for this SIG Sauer P320 pistol. The backing texture and mounting screws also provide excellent retention. (Photo by Tom McHale)

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. As for those felt one-size-fits-many holsters? Avoid them like flesh-eating bacteria. If you ever get in a serious scrap, the odds are excellent that you’ll lose your gun.

Give Your Concealed Carry Holster the Shake Test

Here’s a test you can try on holster candidates. Using a verified unloaded handgun, holster it without mounting it to your body. Now stand over a chair, couch or bed and turn the holster upside-down. Better yet, give it a couple of shakes. Did your handgun fall out? Did it almost fall out? Would it have fallen out if it were weighed down by an additional half-pound of loaded ammo? If your handgun and holster combination fails, consider re-evaluating your selection.

Protect the Trigger

An equally important holster task is protecting the trigger. Here’s why it’s so important to use a proper holster even when you’re carrying in a dedicated pocket. Contrary to what the news reports say, guns don’t just “go off.” With a theoretical one-in-millions exception rate, a gun “goes off” because the trigger moves backward.

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.

A black Kydex Clinger concealed carry holster alongside several belt clip options.

This Clinger holster uses an aggressive trigger guard ledge to lock the pistol in place until you want to remove it. (Photo by Tom McHale)

Present Your Gun Quickly and Consistently Under Stress

An expensive gun, training classes and hundreds of hours of range time are all for naught if your holster doesn’t help you get your gun into action as quickly, safely and intuitively as possible. The holster needs to carry and support your gun in the desired orientation — and keep it that way. Whether you’re sitting, standing, walking or running, you need to be able to reach for your firearm and know precisely how it will be positioned. In other words, you should be able to draw your gun smoothly without looking.

Consistent orientation is a secondary reason it’s so important to use a proper holster when you’re purse or pocket carrying. If you reach into your bag while getting mugged only to find your gun upside-down and pointed backward, you’re going to be digging out of an even deeper hole. Especially with semi-automatic pistols, the weight is in the grip area. Guess which side wants to orient toward the ground?

Two black pistols inserted into two different styles of of black leather Galco concealed carry holsters.

These Galco leather holsters use careful boning (shaping) of the leather to provide excellent gun retention. Note the leather-reinforced mouth areas to support one-handed operation. (Photo by Tom McHale)

Last and certainly not least, you’ll want to be able to draw your gun with one hand. On the range, using two hands 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 need to open or close a door. You might be fighting off an attacker while trying to get your gun into action. You might be injured or shot and only have one available hand. There are an infinite number of scenarios that might cause you to defend yourself one-handed.

Closing Arguments

When choosing a concealed carry holster, remember that it’s the one thing standing between you and your ability to use your firearm to literally save your life. Make sure that your holster choice will support your ability to get your handgun into action in the most intense and chaotic of circumstances — even in the middle of an active fight. Don’t go cheap. Choose quality and keep the three essential holster requirements in mind.

About Tom McHale

Tom McHale, Certified NRA Instructor for pistol and shotgun, is passionate about home and self-defense and the rights of all to protect themselves and their loved ones. He has completed dozens of training programs and will be completing the USCCA Certified Instructor program in the near future. Tom has published seven books on guns, shooting, reloading, concealed carry and holsters, including two for the USCCA (Armed and Ready: Your Comprehensive Blueprint to Concealed Carry Confidence and 30 Days to Concealed Carry Confidence). He has published around 1,700 articles for a dozen gun and shooting publications. Between writing projects, you can find Tom on the range.