Selecting a suitable carry holster is only part of your overall pistol concealment strategy. Your carry holster must be integrated with the proper clothing and you must constantly be aware of the body positions, actions and activities that promtoe or hinder gun concealment. There are a number of basic principles, techniques and tips to help you better conceal your gun, which we've covered in previous posts, but in case you need a refresher, you can find them here:
In this part of our Principles of Concealed Carry series, we discuss the Types of Holsters. In most cases, the first holster was never the "right" holster, but knowing and understanding the types of holsters will definitely help you choose which ones you can try to see what fits you best.
Holsters are usually constructed of leather, nylon fabric or plastic/polymer. Leather holsters can be made to snugly fit a pistol, making a safety strap unnecessary on some designs. Fitted leather holsters can expand with use, making some sort of tension adjustment desirable. Leather is reasonably tough and durable, but can deteriorate when exposed to moisture, oils, solvents and extreme temperature conditions. Nylon fabric, on the other hand, is soft and flexible and is often used in several layers with a layer of padding sandwiched between. Holsters made of nylon fabric cannot be made to fit a pistol snugly as fitted leather holsters do and usually require a safety or retaining strap. Holsters made of plastic or polymer are usually hard and stiff, offering retention equal to fitted leather holsters. Plastic or polymer designs have the ability to retain their shape over time and are more resistant than leather to moisture, solvents and oils. Pistols may move slightly inside hard polymer holsters, producing noise and wear on the gun's finish.
The most common holsters are strong-side hip, shoulder, crossdraw, small-of-the-back, ankle and pocket holsters.
Strong-Side Hip Holsters The strong-side hip holster is the most familiar type of holster. These holsters are positioned on the shooting hand side, usually between the kidney and the point of the hip. There are several types of strong-side hip holsters: belt slide, pancake, inside-the-waistband, and paddle holster. These holsters have a number of strengths to consider - pistol retention with strong-side hip holsters is very good; they probably afford the fastest presentation speed among the holster types, and provide a safe draw. While the strengths may outweigh their limitations, you must consider that they generally must be worn with a jacket or coat or, at best, a larger or loose shirt that is not tucked in.
Shoulder Holster Shoulder holsters suspend the firearm under the support arm side from a harness made of leather or fabric straps that wrap around the back and shoulders. There are a few versions that suspend the pistol in various ways, including: Upside-down shoulder, vertical shoulder, and horizontal shoulder. The upside-down shoulter holsters put the pistol in the armpit, suspneded butt-down. They offer good concealment for small-frame revovlers and semi-automatics. The vertical shoulder holster suspends the pistol muzzle-down, when the butt under the armpit. Such holsters are often perferred for large-frame or long-barreled pistols. Horizontal shoulder holsters place the gun with the muzzle pointing directly to the rear and the butt forward. These holsters put the gun in perhaps the most natural drawing positions. These holsters work best with fairly short pistols. Shoulder holsters are usually the only holsters that can conceal a pistol under a short jacket, and enable a simple draw. However, it's good to note that during presentation from a shoulder holster, the firearm often sweeps a wide arc or otherwise points in an unsafe direction.
Crossdraw Holster The crossdraw holster positions the pistol on the belt on the support side with the butt facing more or less forward. In use, the shooting hand reaches across the body to grasp the gun and draw it from the holster. Crossdraw holsters provide a moderate to good level of concealment, fair retention and good access and comfort. Many crossdraw holsters are fitted snugly to the gun, eliminating the need for a safety strap. They provide good access and comfort while seated. One of the drawbacks of a crossdraw holster to consider would be your size. A person having a large girth, a protruding abdomen or short arms will have to position the gun further forward in order to access it with the shooting hand, this in turn, will make concealment difficult.
Ankle Holster Ankle holsters position the gun on the lower leg, on or just above the ankle. Typically, a cuff or series of straps wrap around the lower leg, with the gun positioned muzzle-down on the inside of the leg. The gun is most often located on the inside of the support side leg. The primary benefit of an ankle holster is concealment. The ankle holster is an example of compromising accessibility with a good level of concealment, provided you wear pants in which the pant legs are sufficiently loose. Accessing the gun in an ankle holster requires a relatively complex sequence of events. If balance is not maintained during the drawl it may result in the gun being pointed in an unsafe direction.
Small-of-the-back Holster The small-of-the-back holster provides excellent concealment from the front, but a view from the back or side would present a bulge in the area when a large or medium frame gun is being carried. Concealment is enhanced with an inside waistband holster if a smaller pistol is being carried. Retention is an issue is an assailant sees the firearms and grabs you from behind, comfort may also be limited especially when sitting. And access to the firearm is difficult since reaching behind yourself and under clothes will be a task and can be pointed in an unsafe direction when being pulled from the holster.
Pocket Holster A pocket holster is a staple in many people's concealed carry arsenal. So many people start out with large pistols and determine after time that a small pocket-sized pistol may be perfect for many situations in which a larger gun may be inconvenient or uncomfortable. To be considered a "pocket pistol" the gun must generally be small in size, light weight and made with rounded edges and have very few controls to prevent snagging during presentation. They are comfortable to carry and easy to conceal. Why bother with a pocket holster you ask? Good question! A gun carried in a pocket without a holster may rotate so that its butt is downward when you go to access it. Obviously, that would make presentation more difficult. Event the smallest pistols will tend to print through clothing and may alarm a reasonably observant person. Pocket holsters that fit inside the pocket and hold a small pistol, serve both to orient the gun's butt in a consistent position and break up the gun's outline through the clothing. The main strength of a pocket holster is that they allow concealment of a small "pocket pistol" with virtually any type of clothing. They are extremely convenient, which may encourage people to carry a defensive pistol more frequently and are usually relatively inexpensive. However, there are a few drawbacks. Only a small pistol can be carried concealed in a pocket, and no other objects such as loose change, matches, keys or any other commonly carried items should be mixed in the same pocket, and may also be difficult to draw from a seated position. The good news is, they have become so popular, most manufacturers offer them in powerful calibers and have developed them to a point as to be considered very reliable.
When selecting a holster for concealed carry, keep in mind that the holster must fit you, your gun and your lifestyle. It should provide concealment, access and retention. Next time we discuss other types of carry modes...