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What should I look for in a holster for CCW?

December 29, 2009 AZ CCW Laws, Equipment Reviews No Comments

Question:  What are some things to look for in a holster for carrying concealed in Arizona?  Any preferences or advice you might have?

Answer: There are many factors to consider when making a holster selection for concealed carry.  Let’s talk about the general issues and then we can deal with a few issues that might be specific to Arizona.

There are several characteristics you should look for in a holster for concealed carry.

First, the holster should do a good job of retaining the gun.  One of the last issues you want to have is having your gun fall out of the holster if you run or should happen to fall down.  This is best accomplished by having a holster designed specifically for the gun you carry.  The holster retains the gun by a custom fit instead of some type of strap or retention device.  Better holsters usually have some sort of tension adjustment that allows you to vary the level of retention based on your individual preference.

I don’t recommend straps or retention devices for CCW type holsters as they can make it more difficult for you to get your gun out of the holster quickly.  In our more advanced courses, we see people having a lot of problems drawing under stress when they have retention devices on their holster.  While this can be remedied by lots of practice, most people aren’t prepared to make the time commitment.

Second, any decent holster should cover the trigger area of the gun.  A holstered pistol is a safe pistol as long as the trigger is completely covered and no part of the holster attaches to the trigger guard or trigger.

The type of holster is also an important consideration.  There are ‘outside the waistband’, ‘inside the waistband’, shoulder holsters, ankle holsters, small of the back holsters, belly bands, etc.   It is a pretty long list.  Overall, I’d probably avoid the specialty holsters like shoulder holsters, ankle holsters, belly bands and others that are very deep concealment holsters.  The biggest reason is getting access to your gun.  When you need it, you will need it in a BIG hurry and if it is not easily accessed, I could be a problem.  I prefer to keep my primary firearm located on my waist as it is most accessible there.

When looking at the choice between an ‘inside the waistband’ or ‘outside the waistband’ holster, there are several issues to consider.  An ‘inside the waistband’ holster is more easily concealed since the bulk of the holster body is inside your pants.  This requires that you wear your pants in a larger size to accommodate the holster.  It is also not as comfortable to carry using this type of holster.  An ‘outside the waistband’ holster is more comfortable and does not require adjustment of your clothing size, but it is more difficult to conceal since the holster is more likely to be seen if the covering garment is blown open or is tight around the waist.

Another factor to consider is the material of the holster.  In my view, a quality holster should be constructed of either Kydex or leather.  Plastic and nylon holsters, while inexpensive, typically are not durable and don’t offer proper retention characteristics.  Plastic holsters tend to have too much retention and usually not adjustable.  Nylon holsters have virtually no retention outside of a strap and should be avoided for concealed carry.  Both Kydex and leather holsters are typically molded to fit a specific gun and have good retention.  Kydex is virtually indestructible.  It can be cleaned easily and will not stain or be damaged if it comes in contact with water, sweat, blood or any other type of fluid.  Leather is more esthetically pleasing to many people can be more comfortable to wear depending on the type of holster.  Leather holsters tend to be thicker than Kydex due to the nature of the material and the stiffness that a good holster requires.

Another factor that is almost as important as the holster is the gun belt.  A quality gun belt is part of the support system for the gun.  The belt must be study enough to support the weight of the gun and holster.  It must also provide a stable platform for the drawstroke.  I have seen people come to class with lightweight dress type belts that don’t allow them to draw effectively as the belt flexes and does not keep the holster in place making it difficult to extract the gun.  If you don’t usually wear belts or don’t wish to hang your holster on a belt, there are paddle style holsters that fit inside the waistband of pants and use a retaining hook to keep the holster in place during the drawstroke.  Paddle style holsters are also somewhat easier to remove since they can be taken off without removing the belt in most cases.

If you are planning on purchasing a quality holster, you need to probably plan on spending between $50 and $75 depending on the type of holster.  Leather holsters tend to be a bit more expensive than Kydex.  I have honestly not seen a $20 holster that meets the requirements for CCW type carry.  If you just need something for the range, then maybe the $20 version will do the job, but a quality CCW holster will cost you more.  Trust me when I say that the extra money is worth it.  I can’t tell you how many people show up for advanced pistol training with a cheap holster and have a miserable training experience while learning the severe limitations of their holster/belt system.

The best suggestion that I can offer is to keep the system simple.  Choose quality and simplicity over gimmicks.  A good quality leather or Kydex holster carried on the waist with a sturdy belt is really hard to beat.  If you look at people that carry a gun for a living, most of them are using that type of setup.  That should tell you something…

One of the first questions is what material should my holster be made of?  Holsters are generally constructed of leather, Kydex, plastic or ballistic nylon.  In general, I would avoid plastic or nylon holsters.  While they are generally inexpensive, they have some problems

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