A few days ago, we talked about how to check out a new holster. Today, let’s talk about how to break one in.
Those of you with Kydex holsters can skip this post. The procedure below applies strictly to leather holsters. Specifically, it applies to leather IWB and OWB holsters, as well as to ankle, shoulder, or crossdraw rigs. Regardless of where you carry it, if your holster is made out of stiff leather, you should find this information helpful to you.
First, a brief word about holster fit. When it first arrives, a really excellent leather holster should be “too tight” for the firearm. That’s because leather naturally stretches a bit over time. If the holster is not snug—perhaps very snug—at first, it will soon become too loose to hold the gun securely. This means the best leather holsters always start off with a very tight fit. When the holster first arrives, you may struggle to get the gun into the holster. Once it’s in there, you may have a tough time getting it back out again. That’s better than okay! It’s downright ideal, because that initial snugness is what creates the best fit for the long haul.
With that in mind, you’ve already checked the new holster to be sure it fits your unloaded gun tightly and appropriately. You’ve seen that it covers the trigger guard securely and does not interfere with any of the gun’s buttons or levers. But you can’t yet get the gun into or out of the holster very easily, so now it’s time to break the holster in for use. But how?
Let’s dispose of some common myths right now.
- Myth #1: You don’t need to break in a good holster. You can just start using it immediately.
- Myth #2: Breaking in a holster is like breaking in a baseball glove. You want to end up with a soft, flexible piece of leather.
- Myth #3: Rubbing saddle soap into the inside of your holster is the best way to break it in.
- Myth #4: You should rub oil or some other product into your holster to soften the leather for use.
We’ve already dealt with Myth #1. You do need to break in a good leather holster, because when it is new you won’t be able to draw the firearm from it as quickly as you might need it. After you have checked the holster for suitability and broken it in, then your can bet your life that it will hold the gun securely, protect the gun from inadvertent access, and allow you to get the gun quickly when you need it. Until then, the holster is an unknown quantity and probably too stiff for quick use; it might even be too stiff to use at all.
Myth #2 suggests that you want to end up with a soft, flexible leather pouch that feels something like a well-worn baseball glove. That’s not true. You need a holster that feels just as stiff and sturdy as the day it arrived on your doorstep, but that also allows you to pull the gun out of it very smoothly and efficiently. Anything you do that softens the leather or makes it lose its stiffness (Myths #3 and #4) will weaken the holster and shorten its life. Such products may even completely ruin the holster for its intended use. So don’t plan to use saddle soap, oil, or any other goop on your new holster.
Your goal is to loosen the holster just enough for smooth use, but absolutely no more than that. It will take a few days, but it’s worth it.
Start by unloading the gun and removing the ammunition from the room. Then lock the action open. Look into the chamber(s) and down the magazine well. Feel the empty chamber(s) with your finger, and run a finger into the empty magazine well. Definitely empty gun, yes? Good.
Put the unloaded gun into your new holster. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction—not at either hand and not at your knees. You may have to really shove the gun to get it completely into the holster.
Leave it there, inside the holster, for at least 24 hours. Two or three days may be better. (Yes, yes, of course put it in your gun safe or lockbox. Don’t leave it lying around to frighten children and tempt casual visitors into stupid behavior.)
When you return to the holster, you’ll find that it’s already loosened up just a tiny little bit. Good!
With the muzzle pointed away from you, pointed in a safe direction—not at either hand and not at your knees—remove the gun from the holster and put it back in a few times. It will still be a little stiff. That’s okay.
- If it is only a little stiff at this point, sit down and work with it a bit. Keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction—not at either hand and not at your knees—pull the gun out of the holster and put it back into the holster. Do this over and over again until the gun is easily slipping into place and coming back out with only a little tug.
- If it is still very stiff and tough to get the gun out of the holster, set the gun down and grab a sandwich bag from the kitchen. Check to be sure the gun is still unloaded, and that it is clean and dry. Then slip the gun into the baggie, and slide the whole thing into the holster. Leave the baggie’d gun inside the holster for at least 24 hours. Then do the process above, putting the gun into and out of the holster over and over again until it works easily.
Once the holster is almost broken in by hand using the procedure above, you can put the holster onto your belt and do the same thing. Be aware that moving the holster to the belt will likely increase the tension on the gun at first, which is why we don’t usually start here. With the holster on your belt, pull the unloaded gun up and push it back down again, over and over, until it is working smoothly.
If you run into really unexpected trouble when you put the holster on your belt, you may have a belt problem. A stiff, sturdy belt adds a critically important part of holster function. That’s something we don’t always talk about or think about. So if you find that when you try to draw, your belt distorts and rides up almost to your armpit (or cuts into your side, or lets the holster flop over, or drives you crazy in some other way), you know that your next investment is a good belt to go with your awesome new holster.
Once your awesome new holster is well broken in, you’ll want to do a few dryfire drills with it to be sure it will work well for you on the range. I’ll talk about that in a later post.