The paddle holster is one of the most popular types of outside the waistband (or OWB) holsters out there. These have been in production for a very long time and are highly popular for law enforcement, for people who open carry on the daily or on occasion. They’re also great for use on the range.

The beauty of the paddle holster is that it can be removed far more easily than a holster that slides onto the belt. They also happen to be very good choices for concealed carry under outerwear. Some paddle holsters, if sufficiently high-riding and with a small enough gun, can even conceal under little more than a t-shirt.

However, there are aspects you definitely DON’T want in a paddle holster.

Key To A Good Paddle Holster Is The Paddle

If there is something to look at before almost anything else with a paddle holster, it’s the paddle itself. The paddle is how the holster attaches to the belt. Since this is also dictates how the holster will stay attached to your body, it’s vital that the paddle itself is of sufficient quality and durability to ensure a secure carry for a good long time.

For now, there are two dominant types of paddle – leather and plastic. Leather paddles are essentially leather flaps that are reinforced by stitching – sometimes by inserting a hard material such as a small steel plate into the paddle – to create a strong leather paddle. Use is relatively simple; the paddle is inserted either behind the waistband or between the wearer’s belt and the waistband.

The other dominant material is plastic, which has become far more prevalent as more holsters are made from hard plastics like molded nylon, Boltaron and Kydex. (Kydex in particular is very popular among holster makers. It’s also very popular for the “tacticool” set.) Hard plastic paddles, just like their leather counterparts, are inserted between the belt and waistband or inside the waistband.

When it comes to a leather paddle holster with a leather paddle, what you want to see is as little a gap between the paddle and the holster itself as possible. A stitch or steel-reinforced paddle is also preferred. The reason for this is that leather, as it ages, will stretch and soften. A quality leather paddle will break in, but will still provide a secure carry for years to come. A poor quality one will sag and droop, meaning it will have to be replaced within a year or so of purchase.

Why bother buying something over and over again?

With plastic paddles, the attachment to the rest of the holster is the Achilles heel of that holster. Poor quality paddles have minimal points of attachment, and could be easily shorn off. Imagine you’re open carrying and a determined-enough person walks up behind you with the intent of stealing your pistol. If they can break the paddle attachment, they can get your gun. If the paddle looks or feels flimsy in this area, that’s because it probably is – and you need to ditch that holster for a new one.

The Holster Itself Must Fit And Offer Good Retention

The other aspects that a paddle holster has to have in order to be relied on enough to carry is the fit and retention of your gun. Leather pancake holsters in particular are known for being rigid enough to deliver “good enough” retention but being able to fit multiple pistols. If you open carry occasionally or frequently, especially in public, that may provide less hold than you need it to.

Higher-end leather holsters will offer more of a custom fit, as the holster will usually be stitched to fit your specific make and model of pistol. This will involve custom holster lead times and also cost, as well as a break-in period, but many people swear by custom leather over anything else.

Plastic holsters, either plastic pancakes or hybrid holster designs where a plastic retention shell is mated to a backing material, are usually made using a mold for specific firearms. These will provide the best fit in most cases for reasonable costs.

For holster retention, some passive retention systems (especially holsters that are adjustable) can provide sufficient hold for the daily or occasional open carrier. Some holsters include active retention devices, such as a thumb break strap or trigger guard lock, that provide far more than many passive systems can provide.

Regarding this aspect, the use of the holster is a good guide for determining what you’ll need. For the occasional user, active retention is not necessarily a must. For the person who openly carries a paddle holster daily, active retention is a very good idea. That is something everyone will have to figure out on their own.

Author – Sam Hoober is the contributing editor for Alien Gear Holsters, Bigfoot Gun Belts, and has regular columns and articles appearing around the web. He writes primarily about guns, gear and concealed carry related topics.