Selecting a holster is a very personal choice. There are myriad options out there. You can save yourself a lot of trouble by consideringing the basic functions of holster. There are three reasons we use holsters: security, access and concealment.

Security , the holster should hold the gun in place while you are running, while you’re upside down, while you get in and out of cars and so on. You don’t spend your life sitting still, and in a fight you sure as heck aren’t standing still.

Access, the holster should provide access to the gun in a short amount of time in compromised positions, like when you are rolling around on the ground or strapped in a car seat. Further the gun should be held in a stable position, so that the draw can be consistent and reliable under stress.

Concealment, the holster should not let the gun be visible or “print” through concealing garments.

One-hand re-holstering capability is useful if your hands will be tied up with other things immediately after firing or challenging a suspect with your gun, such as handcuffing him, restraining him, holding onto innocents (such as a spouse or children), and so on. This capability is absent in holsters made of thin, floppy material, and inherent in holsters made of rigid materials like Kydex. Some leather holsters use a metal band around the mouth to keep it open when the gun is out.

These characteristics can sometimes work against one another, so intelligent trade-offs, based on your own lifestyle and threat assessment, are sometimes necessary. For example, retention devices will usually impede draw speed, as will a deeply concealed gun. A comfortable holster may not provide access under some conditions (e.g., most hip holsters are hard to access while seat- belted in a car.) Thus, realize that finding the right holster for you is a process, much like finding the right spouse. Just as you are unlikely to marry the first man or woman you date, you may have to experiment with a few holsters before finding one that’s right for you.

The most popular holsters are hip holsters, and they ride on a belt outside the pants on the strong side. Pancake holsters are made of two pieces of material with the gun sandwiched between them, and they have two or more belt slots.

Inside-the-waistband holsters (IWB) are worn inside the pants and attach to the belt with loops or hooks. These are the most concealable type of holster, but require pants that are about an inch more in the waist measurement than you normally wear. Some people find them less comfortable than hip holsters, and vice versa. A Summer Special-type IWB has the rough side of the leather on the outside to help keep the holster anchored in one place (most leather holsters have the smooth side out.) Some IWBs have an extra “flange” or “tab” to the rear for the same reason. You may or not need/like them.

Cross draw holsters are worn on the off side of the body. They are practical, particularly for people who spend a lot of “threat time” in cars, but they are less concealable than hip holsters because they have to be worn in front of the hip bone.

Shoulder holsters are essentially horizontal cross draw holsters. They have a place when the gun can’t be worn on the hip, but they are specialty items, and are much less popular in the real world than they are on TV. They require a an open-front jacket, while most hip holsters can be concealed by an un-tucked shirt. Horizontal-carry shoulder holsters are worn high near the armpit-not low near the floating rib like so many catalog pictures show.

Paddle holsters are held in place with a paddle attached to the holster that slides inside the pants and is held in place by belt tension on the it. Their main virtue is their “quick-on, quick-off” capability. Most, but not all, are less secure than hip holsters.

Ankle holsters are not appropriate for carrying your primary gun since you can’t move while drawing from them. They do have a place for back- up guns, though.

Pocket holsters are an under-looked option. They are a convenient way to carry a smaller gun, and require no concealing garment. But they cannot be drawn from while seated, which is a serious consideration.

Small-of-the-back holsters carry the gun severely canted at the center of the back and are not recommended! If you fall, you will be crushing your spine between the anvil of the floor and the hammer of the 1 to 2 pounds of ordinance steel that compose your gun and the 150+ pounds that make up you. And then consider sitting for any period of time with them…not a good idea!

Holsters either have something holding the gun in them other than friction or they don’t. Speed scabbards, or open-top holsters, have none, and these are generally preferred for concealed carry. A simple- and the oldest-retention device is the thumb-break, in which a strap of material over the top of the gun is unsnapped with the thumb as the gun is drawn. These are reasonable devices as they slow down the draw-stroke only a bit, but they do make it more complicated, which is the real concern.

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There are now many kinds of retention devices available on concealment holsters (and more still on police duty holsters), and they usually involve one or more digits of the drawing hand releasing one or more levers as the gun is drawn. Some are more intuitive than others. Concealment is the first level of retention.

Synthetic materials like Kydex holsters (either formed from sheets or injection-molded) or other injection-molded polymer holsters have taken the market by storm in the last decade. Usually rigid, polymer holsters don’t lose their shape nor do they get soft and rot in humid conditions (including perspiration), and they are slightly faster than leather on the draw. Synthetics are generally preferred by armed professionals (traditionalists excluded) who never know what conditions their holster encounter.

Leather is the traditional material for holsters and is an excellent choice for armed citizens. It can “give” a bit and conform to the shape of your body a little more than synthetics. The fact that leather will “bind” the gun a little if your draw is not perfectly straight up can be an advantage if you are concerned about retention and don’t want to complicate things with a retention strap. If retention in an open-top holster is your preference, the trick is to go with a deep-seated leather IWB, which should be reasonably difficult for a bad guy to get your gun out of.

It is critical wear a proper gun belt with your hip-holstered gun. Gun belts come in widths of 1¼-, 1½-, and 1¾ -inches. Some are tapered in the front to a thinner width. They are usually double-thick leather or leather reinforced with a synthetic material. There are also some all- synthetic belts available. A proper gun belt will support the weight of the gun (which ordinary belts won’t), and they provide enough vertical leverage on the holster to prevent it from flopping away from the body. Repeat: it’s critical to use a real gun belt with a hip holstered gun!

The “ride” of a holster refers to the vertical height at which the gun is carried relative to the belt line. A normal-ride holster will have the trigger near the belt line. A high-ride holster will have the trigger above the belt. A deep-riding holster will have the trigger below the belt. High-ride holsters are harder to draw from, and unless correctly designed and executed, can allow the grip end of the gun to flop out away from the body. Short-barreled guns will have this tendency even with a normal-ride holsters, so good a quality holster is critical with them. The ride of the gun, combined with theholster’s cant (see below) will largely determine how comfortably a holster carries a particular gun for you.

The cant of a holster refers to how tilted forward from vertical the gun rides when carried in the holster. A straight-drop holster has 0- degrees of cant and carries the gun vertically. An FBI-cant holster has a cant of between 10- and 20-degrees. Some holsters are severely canted to 30-degrees or even more. While more cant aids concealability, the main reason for it is to make the gun 1) comfortable to carry and 2) easy to draw from. The preference of cant and ride is individual.

If you are just starting out in concealed carry, the best bet is to go with a normal-ride, straight-drop or slight cant IWB holster and a proper gun belt that fits. From there you can experiment with other holsters if you feel the need to tweak a characteristic. Remember, it’s a process!

Photo courtesy of Bravo Concealment