The Cornered Cat
Check it out

When you get a new holster, it’s always tempting to just throw that puppy on your hip and start carrying your loaded firearm in it right away. Not so fast! There are a few things you should do first. In future posts, we’ll discuss how to break in a leather holster, and then we’ll follow up with a few basic dryfire tests you should do before you start using that holster “for real.” For today, let’s talk about how to check your newly-arrived holster for fit and safety.

With either a Kydex or a leather holster, the first thing you should do is unload your gun. Get the ammunition out of the gun and out of the room, then lock the action open and look to be sure the gun is really empty. Touch the empty chamber(s) and, if the gun is a semi-auto, run your finger into the empty magazine well. Do this procedure, checking by sight and feel, every time you ever unload a gun or check its unloaded status. This provides two layers of safety between you and a noisy mishap.

  1. First check: does the holster fit your belt? Set aside the unloaded gun for now. Take your belt off your body and slide the empty holster onto your belt. The holster should fit your belt snugly, without any wiggle. If it’s a clip-type holster, the clip should secure itself immediately below the edge of the belt, without leaving a gap at either top or bottom. Snap, loop, and slot-type attachments should fit around the belt snugly, without even a quarter-inch of play. Be aware that many Kydex holsters will allow you to adjust the belt attachment to match the width of your belt; if yours does, do so. Gaps are bad because they lead to unstable holsters, poor concealment, uncomfortable wear, and dangerous draws.
  2. Second check: does the gun fit the holster? Remove the holster from your belt. With the muzzle pointed in a safe direction (not at your own knees!), put your three-times-checked unloaded gun into the holster.

    With a  Kydex holster, the gun should slide easily into place with a satisfying snick.If it does not, first check the overall shape to be sure you have the right holster for your model of firearm. Then look for tension screws, which may need to be adjusted. Once you have the correct tension with your Kydex holster, the gun will slide easily into place and will not fall out when you try the “tip test” discussed below.

    With a leather holster, you may have a little trouble getting the gun into the holster at first. That’s okay—it’s supposed to be stiff. If it is not, the holster may be too loose for your firearm. You’ll check that in a minute with the “tip test.” After you’ve shoved your gun into place, it should be slightly tough to pull it back out again. That’s okay; it just means the holster needs to be broken in before use.[1]We’ll talk about how to break in a leather holster in a later post.

    With either holster type, the holster should completely cover the trigger and the entire trigger guard area. Can you get a finger onto the trigger while it’s in the holster? The holster should not interfere with any of the gun’s controls: safety, decocking lever, slide stop, or magazine release. Finally, if the gun uses a retention strap (sometimes called a thumb break), you want to be sure the strap fits the gun securely and snaps in place without deactivating any safeties.

  3. Third check: tip test. Now that we know the gun will fit inside the holster, it’s time to check whether it is held securely in place as it should be. For this you need an unloaded gun—or better still, a gun that has been disabled with a training barrel or blocking device. Put your unloaded gun into the holster and then stand over your couch or bed. With the holster just a few inches above this soft surface and with the muzzle angled away from you, tip the holster upside down. Give it a gentle shake. Does the gun fall out? If so, either adjust the tension screw or return the holster to the company. A holster that lets a gun fall out during the tip test is not secure enough to bet your life on.

Yup, I’m serious. You don’t want to carry your loaded firearm in a dangerous, loose-fitting gun-bucket instead of a secure holster that fits it properly. What happens when you need to use the restroom? You’ll be faced with two equally unpalatable choices, both dangerous. Option one would be to simply hope that you can get your pants down and back up again without ever allowing your holster to tip over and let the gun escape. That’s risky, and results in a certain number of firearms skittering across the floors of public restrooms every year, sometimes with embarrassingly noisy or even disastrous results. Option two would be to pull the gun out of your holster before using the facilities. This results in nearly as many dropped handguns as the other method, plus a certain number of misplaced ones—also sometimes with disastrous results. Not good.

Once you’ve performed these three checks, you can set the receipt aside, because you’re planning to keep this holster. But you aren’t yet ready to carry it. If it is a leather holster, it needs to be broken in. After it is broken in, there are a few dryfire drills you should do with it before you carry a deadly weapon in it. I’ll write more about both those topics over the next few days.


[1] Aren’t you glad you decided to check the holster out first, and not just bet your life on being able to get that gun out in a hurry when you need it?