Now we will discuss holsters, which can be an overwhelming topic. There are a few different broad types, such as OWB-outside the waistband, IWB-inside the waistband, thigh/drop holsters, shoulder, ankle, pocket, and bag/purse holsters. Each one of these broad has their own sub-categories, and like the belts they have their own purpose-driven design. There are several levels of retention, the most common are Level 0-no retention, I-friction, II-Lock or strap, III-lock and strap/hood.
We will start with the OTW as this category is the most commonly used and come in Level 0 to III. This category covers all belt mounted holsters [and can be considered to include thigh/drop holsters]. With belt mounted holsters they may be used for open carry or lower profile models you may be able to conceal carry. This is also the category Duty Holsters fall under. For Duty Holsters, the best I have found, are the “ALS” Safariland models which can be Level II or III; ALS is their Auto-Locking-System which uses a thumb lever that locks into the breach of the slide. I have used an ALS model for a Duty Holster while working Police Patrol, and I have also used another ALS for my off-duty personal pistol during advanced Raven One-Five courses such as Combat Pistol. The benefit of the larger Duty Holster also gives the user the benefit of not having to look to re-holster due to the large mouth of the holster, whereas most other holsters we will discuss require a quick visual check to re-holster safely. This category also includes belt mounted Kydex holsters such as those made by Bravo Concealment or Black Point Tactical [they also make IWB options]. I have both BC and BPT holsters and really like both companies’ products. I am currently using the BPT holster for my EDC/CCW due to their leather wing design which allows the holster to mold and bend around my hip better, but I still use my BC holster for bag holstering and firearms storage when not on my belt. This category also has “cross draw” options, I advise against these holsters because drawing across your body takes longer, and you almost always run the risk of flagging someone.
Next the IWB holster category, which is the most common for CCW. These holsters can be made from a variety of materials including leather, Kydex, or nylon. Most IWB holsters are Level 0 or I, as Level II or III would be hard to disengage when the holster is inside your pants and mostly below the belt line. While they have a lower level of retention, they provide the most concealment ability of any waistline holster. I have used several different IWB, including a leather holster that tucked completely below the waistline of the pants, a Crossbreed leather back holster with a Kydex sleeve, and I have used my BC holster with IWB belt loops.
The category of thigh/drop holster is a debated/contested option. The sides seem to be either you hate them or love them. For myself, I look at this debate again back to purpose. When EDC/CCW, I use a OWB or IWB, but during more tactical courses, hunting, camping, or hiking I prefer the drop leg. The drop leg also gives me more clearance when wearing an armor carrier or chest rig. These holsters like the ones covered in OWB also come in Level 0 to Level III. I use an ALS Level II [I removed the level III hood] for my drop leg. If you switch between OWB belt and drop leg, if possible you should try to have the same retention design for both.
For the rest of the categories I am going to discuss, they are all CCW options that allow you to put a pistol in places other than your waist or on your thigh. The shoulder holster allows for great concealment under larger shirts and jackets, but you must be proficient with this holster type, because during the draw from the shoulder holster like a cross draw, you will most likely flag someone. The ankle holster again moves the pistol away from the waist and allows you to carry but trying to draw from these holsters takes the most amount of work and skill. This is best for a backup pistol carry, rather than a primary carry. The pocket holster is a great option for concealed carry of small pistols/revolvers and covers the trigger while the firearm is in your pocket. This is impractical if you are wearing a Duty Belt, Battle Belt [or even work belts] because your pocket may not be accessible. The bag or purse holster option is great for women, whose clothing designs do not always allow for regular concealment options. These are also great for someone who wears very lightweight, relaxed, or workout clothes regularly. Most of these clothes options have difficulty concealing firearms or support the weight of a firearm and deem it necessary to do off body carry in a bag or purse.
Once you have chosen your firearm or have been assigned a firearm, you should ditch the cheap holsters like Uncle Mike’s nylon holsters [these are good for getting started because you do not want to invest in equipment before deciding what firearm you like or plan to use]. Besides purpose, the next most crucial factor is quality. Your life may depend on this holster for retaining the firearm, releasing it when needed, and staying attached to the belt or however it is attached to you. The holster also needs to cover the trigger/trigger guard for safety purposes. Those with some form of retention, the retention must be able to engage and disengage with minimal effort. I advise against straps or flaps that go over the holster [unless you are in an Airborne unit], they can be cumbersome to disengage and get in the way during re-holstering. As I mentioned before the best retention I have used and seen has been the Level II ALS from Safariland; you can get an ALS Level III and if you do not like the hood, remove it and it becomes an ALS Level II. Watch for my next article, where we will discuss magazine pouches and additional gear you may want or need on your belt.
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