The Cornered Cat
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A Better Holster, Part Six

For the past little while, we have been talking about what makes a “good” holster — and what makes one holster “better” than another. . To catch up, click here for the series introduction. Then go on to read Part One, and Part Two, and Part Three, and Part Four, and Part Five.

As we’ve already discussed, the first thing that might make a good holster “better” is when it performs one of the non-negotiable basic requirements in a more consistent, more reliable, or more durable form.

Today, let’s talk about other ways to make a holster “better” — ways that are not closely tied to the holster’s basic functions, but that can improve our experience using the holster in daily life.

Here are some attributes we might want to improve beyond the bare minimum.

  • Comfort
  • Concealability
  • Flexibility
  • Durability
  • Beauty

Lots more, too, but these are enough to get started for now.

Comfort. Have you ever had a friend tell you about their new holster and heard them rave about how comfortable it is? And then later, you try it out — and it’s not comfortable to you, at all? That’s not an uncommon experience, and just goes to show that comfort is often in the nerves of the beholder. Still, there are a few design features that can help almost anyone feel more comfortable when wearing the holster. These include padding the back of the holster, molding it so that it conforms better to the person’s body, and personalizing the angle at which the gun rides.

Padding the back of the holster helps Kydex holsters feel a little softer against the skin. For years, I’ve simply worn an undershirt to add that layer of padding to any holster I try on. That works. Or you can add the padding directly to the holster, as recommended by Lisa Looper of Flashbang; she suggests putting a piece of moleskin on the back of her bra holsters. 1 Melody Lauer takes a similar tack, and trimmed a padded insole to glue on the back of her personal holster.

When choosing holsters, I personally like the ones that have a small footprint. My preferred holsters don’t take up a lot of space on the belt, and could be considered narrow rather than wide. I personally find that more comfortable, though it does cost a tiny bit of stability (in a well-designed holster, the difference is negligible, but you can’t beat the laws of physics). If you prefer a wide holster, look for one that comes with a slight curve so it will conform better to your body. This helps both comfort and concealability, as the gun will ride closer with less friction.

One more word about comfort: when choosing your first holster, every holster will feel weird to you. That’s normal. Think how … odd … a pair of shoes would feel to your feet, if you had literally never worn shoes before you got to adulthood. There is such a thing as a pair of shoes that don’t fit your feet at all, but that’s a different (and much more painful) kind of discomfort. It isn’t always easy to separate those sensations when everything is new at first, but it’s worth keeping in mind — because the “this feels weird” type of discomfort does go away with time. Almost everyone goes through that stage, and pretty much everyone just has to stubbornly work their way through that feeling no matter what kind of holster they choose.

Concealability and comfort are more closely related than a lot of people realize. After all, if the holster isn’t comfortable, a person is likely to keep moving around trying to get comfortable. Readjusting the holster might feel discreet, but people can and do notice, especially if you’re doing it every few minutes.

Some factors that help concealability include how and where the holster rides on the user’s body, and the type of clothing that the user might cover it with. Holsters that allow a greater number of clothing options — such as attaching directly to the body like a belly band rather than to a belt; allowing the user to tuck their shirt in over the top of the holster; letting the user get away with wearing tightly-fitting clothes sometimes — generally also offer better concealability. But that’s not universally true, especially for people who tend to have one preferred style of clothing they wear all the time.

Flexibility means the holster offers the user some choices. As above, the choices might allow a wider selection of clothing styles. For women in particular, having at least one holster that does not absolutely require a belt can be a godsend. (Wouldn’t it be nice if women’s pants all had belt loops and functional pockets? A girl can dream…)

Flexibility might mean that the user can change out the attachments on a belt holster, perhaps changing the color of the loops or altering the depth and angle at which the gun will ride. For most people, changing the holster’s depth or angle doesn’t make much sense once they’ve found their own “sweet spot” where the gun rides most comfortably and discreetly. That’s why holster makers often recommend adding a little Loctite to the screws after you’ve decided which angle and depth works best for you. But again especially for women, with pants styles that constantly change, being able to change the depth of the holster means you can keep the gun in your sweet spot even when your pants change from one rise height to another.

Durability matters. It might matter more when you’re on a strict budget, but nobody likes having to replace a favorite holster that’s worn out too soon.

The rule of thumb is that the softer the holster, the less durable it will be. Fabric-based holsters (belly bands and specialty clothing) last a lot less time than holsters made of leather or Kydex. The max for soft products seems to be about a year of frequent wear, and less if the product needs to be washed. But a good leather holster can last for a decade or more. Kydex often lasts at least five years in regular use, and even longer as a practical thing since most of the time the part that has broken can simply be replaced.

Among leather holsters, you might not always get what you pay for, but you’ll almost never get what you don’t pay for. It’s worthwhile to shop around, which includes getting your hands on work from as many different holstermakers as possible before ordering custom work. Look especially at the stiffness and sheen of the leather and the solidity of the stitching.

Not all polymer holsters are made from Kydex. As a rule, plain plastic holsters just do not hold up as well as good Kydex does, and when they break they can rarely be repaired. Funny story: when I first started shooting, years ago, we were flat broke. Really flat broke. When I was getting ready to take a class (that I got into by bartering some work), I had no mag pouch and no money to buy one. So a friend and I built a simple mag pouch out of cardboard. We poured hot glue down the corrugations, and sealed the edges with duct tape. I used that cardboard mag pouch through several classes and local competitions for at least a year, always embarrassed but happy to have something at least. When I finally saved up enough money to buy a “real” mag pouch, I went with a cheap plastic one from Fobus, and it broke within a few weeks. Yup — the crappy homemade cardboard mag pouch lasted much longer than cheap plastic. Moral? If you can afford to at all, avoid cheap plastic.

Finally, be aware that nothing lasts forever. No matter what material your holster is built from, it will wear out. Stiff leather gets soft and bendy. Soft leather stretches and stops holding the gun securely. Plastic and Kydex break, usually at the attachment points. Anything with Velcro stops sticking as the burrs wear down or fill with crud. Elastic stops stretching and snaps stop snapping. No matter what you buy, make a habit of checking it on the regular and replace it when it starts to wear. Don’t bet your life on worn-out gear.

Beauty. There are people who think beauty does not matter in a holster. My friend Dennis of Dragon Leatherworks used to be among those folks. He and I met at a firearms convention some years ago. We were talking about his holsters (they are well-built and worth checking out!) and got onto the subject of appearance. At that time, Dragon Leatherworks offered a really beautiful outside-the-waistband holster, but the concealment holsters were all a bit … ugly. “What’s up with that?” I asked him. “Why no pretty choices?” Dennis pointed out that there did not seem to be any point in making a concealment holster attractive, since nobody would ever see it anyway. Did I really think it mattered? Hmmm. I looked around the room and then leaned closer, as if I were about to tell him a deep, dark secret. He leaned in, and I said, “Do you know, I’m wearing a lacy bra?” He blinked, confused and a bit taken aback. “Nobody’s going to see it and I don’t want anyone to see it. But it makes me happy because it makes me feel pretty. Victoria’s Secret makes a fortune selling pretty panties to women who have no intention of showing them off at the office.” He laughed and we went on to talk about other things — but when I ran into him again at another convention several years later, he pulled me aside and told me it was some of the best business advice he’d ever gotten. Go figure.

To be clear, I’m not a fan of beauty in a holster unless that holster does everything a holster is supposed to do, and does those things with excellence. Once the basics have been covered (and maybe improved upon), then I’m thrilled to see attractive work. And given a choice between an ugly holster and a pretty one that does the same thing just as well, I’ll take the pretty one, every time.

There are lots of other things we might consider when looking for a “better” holster, and we’ll be discussing those in days to come. I’m on the road this week so posting will be a bit spotty, but watch this space.  🙂

Coming soon: What about cost? Does a “better” holster always cost more $$$ ?

***

Can’t wait for the next post in this series? Want the bottom line right now? Sure, here it is:

  • A good holster protects the trigger, holds the gun securely, and allows the user to access the gun when they need it. (These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it.)
  • A better holster does one or all of these things better than the bare minimum.

Notes:

  1. I asked her, “Why didn’t you design the holster to come from the factory with a soft back already in place?” Lisa wrinkled her nose as she answered that: “Moleskin can be swapped out when it gets manky!”
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A Better Holster, Part Five

Over the past week or so, we have been talking about what makes a “good” holster — and what makes one holster “better” than another. To catch up, click here for the series introduction. Then go on to read Part One, and Part Two, and Part Three, and Part Four.

As we’ve already discussed, the first thing that might make a good holster better is when it performs one of the three basic requirements in a more consistent, more reliable, or more durable form. So far, we have discussed ways that one holster might be better than another at protecting the trigger (so that it does not move even when something brushes against the outside of the holster) and at holding the gun securely. We also briefly discussed the importance of the holster helping the user get to the gun quickly and reliably when it’s needed.

Today, I’d like to dig a little deeper into that last point before we move on to other things. Ready?

“A good holster allows the user to access the gun when they need it.”

Keeping with the theme of  holsters that do things better than the bare minimum, a “better”  holster will let us get to the gun faster or more reliably in a wider variety of circumstances. We can measure how quickly the draw happens on a calm day at the range, and yes — faster is generally better. But being able to draw the gun in a wide variety of circumstances can matter too. This means being able to get the gun out one-handed, while moving, and maybe while jammed into some odd position by circumstances. Flexibility is key here.

A huge number of elements can play into how quickly we can get the gun out, and some of them have very little to do with the holster itself. Outer clothing, for instance. Wearing six layers of clothes is bound to slow down a person’s access to the firearm, no matter how efficient the holster design might otherwise be. There are also personal factors, such as shoulder flexibility and overall body shape, that affect how easily the user can reach the gun. We can talk about some of those issues another day, maybe. Right now we’re just talking about the holster itself.

Some of the factors that affect speed of access include the following:

  • The shape of the holster mouth and how sturdy it is.
  • The depth and angle at which the holster holds the gun.
  • How tightly the gun fits in the holster.
  • How the holster is attached to the user.
  • Where the holster rides on the body — or if it does.

Lots more, too. But that’s certainly enough to get started.

When looking at the shape of the holster mouth, remember that it’s always easier and more reliable to draw the gun safely when you’re able to get a complete, solid grip on it while it is still inside the holster.

A solid grip means that your thumb and fingers all go exactly where they belong, just as if you were holding the gun outside the holster. The web between your thumb and forefinger should hit the top part of the grip (the tang). Your thumb should wrap completely around the grip and find its place snugly against the side of the gun. Your trigger finger should stay straight alongside the frame, above the trigger guard. And your other fingers, including your middle finger, should land correctly on the grip so you will not have to adjust your hand in any way after the gun comes out of the holster.

That’s the ideal.

Not every “good” holster meets this ideal, but the further away from the ideal your holster or carry product is, the harder it will be to safely and reliably access the gun when you need it. So when looking for a “better” holster, look for one that will let you get a complete, solid grip on the gun while the gun is still inside the holster.

There are many popular holsters that don’t meet this ideal, by the way. Hybrid holsters with soft leather backs are especially notorious for making it difficult to get your thumb wrapped into place with the gun still inside the holster. Sometimes that can be fixed with a “combat cut” — that is, removing some of the leather backing to get it out of the way of your hand. Unfortunately, that often creates other problems with the soft back flopping over and getting in the way when it’s time to holster the gun.

Other holsters and carry products run into trouble by letting the gun ride so deeply in the pouch that it’s hard to get your hand on the grip in a hurry. One of my favorite belly bands (Pistol Wear) can have this problem, because it has such a nice deep pocket. It’s easily fixed by wrapping a Maxpedition Universal around the gun before putting it in the holster’s pocket. This adds a little extra trigger protection while holding the gun at your own ideal angle and depth — turning a “good” holster into a “better” one.

Other holsters might slow the user down by holding the gun too firmly. Brand new leather holsters often have this problem, which is why holster makers recommend users break in the holster before wearing it. Kydex and plastic holsters often have tension screws that let you adjust the fit. Be aware, though, that the best Kydex products already fit the gun properly and do not often come with tension screws.

Holsters attached to the user’s body — think belt, belly band, and bra holsters — will almost always allow faster access than holsters that might be across the room when you need them. When looking at off-body holster options, look for those that encourage the user to maintain control of the holster and gun at all times. A purse that’s worn cross-body, for example, is much less likely to be set down and forgotten than one carried with a simple shoulder strap.

Even so, a holster that attaches securely to the user’s body will always be a bit faster than one that can flop around and move. This is one reason a purse holster, even when worn cross-body, will always be slower than a belt holster. If the holster moves around on you, it will take you a little longer to find the gun and get it out.

Purses also tend to require the shooter to use two hands to get the gun out, and often make it difficult to access the gun with the non-dominant hand alone when that’s what is needed. There are ways around this with good training, but it’s still an important factor to keep in mind.

Holsters can be worn nearly anywhere on the human body. But there’s a reason most holsters put the gun somewhere around the waistline; that’s because most people find this location easiest to access from a bunch of different postures. When the gun is on or near the waist, you can draw while standing, sitting, kneeling, lying down, crouched behind something, running or otherwise moving. If the gun is on the waist and in front of the hip, you may be able to draw even when entangled with an attacker who has knocked you to the ground. But when the gun is on an ankle, your options get a bit more limited.

All of these factors, and more, go into how quickly and easily a holster allows you to draw the gun when it’s needed.

Tomorrow: Other than improving upon the three non-negotiables, what other factors can make one holster “better” than another?

***

Can’t wait for the next post in this series? Want the bottom line right now? Sure, here it is:

  • A good holster protects the trigger, holds the gun securely, and allows the user to access the gun when they need it. (These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it.)
  • A better holster does one or all of these things better than the bare minimum.

But the details matter, too. Tune in tomorrow!

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A Better Holster, Part Four

For the past few days, we have been talking about what makes a “good” holster. To catch up, click here for the series introduction, and then click here to read Part One, and Part Two, and Part Three.

As I have already said, the first thing that might make a good holster “better” is when it performs one of the three basic requirements in a more consistent, more reliable, or more durable form. We have already discussed protecting the trigger and holding the gun securely, so now let’s take a look at the third non-negotiable:

“A good holster allows the user to access the gun when they need it.”

This one could be an entire book of its own. For now, please let me point out that many factors go into being able to access the gun when we need it. When we look for a “better” holster, we want one that will let us get to the gun faster or more reliably in a wider variety of circumstances.

Here are some questions we might ask when we’re evaluating this.

  • Will using this holster mean that gun will actually be with us when we need it, and not at home in the safe? A lot of times, we-in-the-training-community skip right past this essential first question! But it’s often vital to our students, and might sometimes be the only factor worth looking at after the non-negotiable basics are covered. Is this holster or carry product comfortable enough to wear all day? Can we wear it discreetly with the clothes we prefer to wear? More important, will we do that?
  • Can we draw the gun safely and reliably from this holster? Too often, this question gets asked — and we assume, answered — on a calm sunny day at the range when we are wearing comfortable  range clothes and have both hands and a lot of time to figure things out. But when we need to answer the question in real life, we’ll be wearing regular clothes and won’t have a lot of time. 1
  • Can we draw the gun safely and reliably with one hand? With either hand?
  • Can we draw the gun safely and reliably while moving? Can we draw it while moving, and also push a loved one to safety with the other hand at the same time?
  • Can we draw the gun when entangled with an attacker? Or when we have tripped and fallen?

And so on.

There are many enthusiastic people who get very excited about one of the questions above, and who therefore define a “better” holster only as one that will give a positive answer to their particular question. For example, we often see people get wrapped around the axle on speed of access (“MY carry position beats YOUR carry position!”) or on being able to draw the gun in a specific, relatively narrow and rare set of circumstances (“Can you draw while someone holds your left elbow at a 47-degree angle, with your right hand partially disabled after worming out of a thumb lock?”).

I’m not going to say none of those things matter — some of them can and do matter very much indeed, which is why they’re on this list — but I am going to again point out that we need to keep our eye on the ball as far as what we are doing, and why.

When looking for a “better” holster, keep in mind that it’s only a better holster if it does these things without taking away your ability and desire to wear the gun in the first place. The key point is that the gun will be with you when you need it. After all, the slowest and least-reliable draw of all is the one from twenty miles away when the gun is at home in the safe.

That said, slower is not better than faster. Less reliable is not better than more reliable. Access in fewer circumstances is not better than access in a wider variety of circumstances.

Look for a holster that meets the bare minimum demands of being a good holster. Then look for improvements in how it meets those needs and you’ll be well on your way to finding a better holster.

Tomorrow: more about accessing the gun when needed.

***

Can’t wait for the next post in this series? Want the bottom line right now? Sure, here it is:

  • A good holster protects the trigger, holds the gun securely, and allows the user to access the gun when they need it. (These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it.)
  • A better holster does one or all of these things better than the bare minimum.

But the details matter, too. Tune in tomorrow!

Notes:

  1. How much time will you have? Dunno. But since you’re only drawing the gun because someone is trying to kill you (and the attacker is probably in a hurry), it’s probably a good idea to respond as quickly as you reasonably can.
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A Better Holster, Part Three

For the past few days, we have been talking about what makes a “good” holster. To catch up, click here for the series introduction. Then go on to read Part One and Part Two.

As I have already said, the first thing that might make a good holster “better” is when it performs one of the three basic requirements in a more consistent, more reliable, or more durable form. We have already discussed ways to improve the first non-negotiable, protecting the trigger.

Now let’s take a look at the second non-negotiable:

“A good holster holds the gun securely.”

In daily life, we trust the holster to keep the gun’s trigger covered while we move around and do things. We expect it to hold the gun in the same orientation no matter how we move. We rely on it to keep the gun from falling out even if it gets inadvertently tipped upside down and shaken gently during a visit to the rest room (we can check that using the tip test). Because these basics are really yes/no — the holster either does them or it does not — we can’t expect any given holster to truly improve on these basic requirements.

Or can we?

Many users find it comforting when the holster includes a retention strap or some other user-operated way to keep the gun in place. A “better” holster may or may not include these features, but if it does, the added features will not create new problems for the user.

For example, I have seen some thumb break retention straps that can easily get into the trigger guard when the user goes to holster the gun. Can I just say, right here, that that’s a bad thing? We have enough to do keeping our clothing (and its buttons, toggles, and strings) clear of the holster. Adding one more item to clear before holstering seems to me like a step in the wrong direction. That doesn’t make the holster better, but worse.

In a similar way, some holsters designed to hold the gun more securely might also make it difficult to draw the gun in certain circumstances. Or they might make the holster bulkier or harder to conceal.

Worse, some “improvements” to a basic holster design actually make the holster less safe, because they disable safeties on the gun. If you’ve ever seen a retention strap that goes right across the grip safety and holds it down, you know what I’m talking about.

When looking for a better holster, always look to make sure that any added features do not create added problems for yourself. A holster that disables one of the safeties on the gun is a non-starter. That’s a failure of “holding the gun securely” at a pretty basic level.

But other issues might sometimes be acceptable, in some circumstances. So if you choose a holster that does seem to create added problems, be sure that those problems are ones you 1) are aware of, and 2) are willing to work around. 1 Denial does not make a good holster out of a bad one.

Also, take it seriously when you hear experienced instructors warning their students about problems they have seen with a specific holster design. Although it’s tempting to feel as though the instructors are just being “holster snobs” when you hear these warnings, that may not be the case. When several instructors have sounded the alarm about a specific design, it is often because they have each seen many different students working with that gear — and have observed first hand the problems that some students have run into. Because firearms trainers get a front row seat to watch many different people using holsters, they often spot issues that might not be obvious to those who have not had the opportunity to see many different people working with different types of gear.

One more point, and this is a big one: holding the gun securely with the trigger completely protected is a non-negotiable because otherwise the gun is a danger to others. We do not get to endanger others simply because we want to keep ourselves safe.

Tomorrow we will look at ways to improve upon the third non-negotiable: accessing the gun when you need it.

***

Can’t wait for tomorrow’s post? Want the bottom line right now? Sure, here it is:

  • A good holster protects the trigger, holds the gun securely, and allows the user to access the gun when they need it. (These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it.)
  • A better holster does one or all of these things better than the bare minimum.

But the details matter, too. Tune in tomorrow!

 

Notes:

  1. I bolded the word “work” because many design features require extra training and practice on the part of the user. Passively accepting that there is an added challenge, without doing the work to soften the effects of that challenge, is not wise. Do the work!
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A Better Holster, Part Two

For the past few days, we have been talking about what makes a “good” holster. To catch up, click here for the series introduction, and then click here to read Part One.

As I said yesterday, the first thing that might make a good holster “better” is when it performs one of the three basic requirements in a more consistent, more reliable, or more durable form. Let’s take a look at the first non-negotiable:

“A good holster covers the trigger guard completely with something sturdy enough to keep it from moving.”

Where a good holster covers the trigger guard completely with something sturdy enough to keep the trigger from moving when something brushes against the outside of the holster, a better holster might be a little over-engineered in that area. This is one big advantage that almost any hard-sided, non-collapsing holster has over most soft products (such as belly bands).

Covering the trigger is one thing, but protecting it is something else. Protecting the trigger means the trigger cannot move even if something (or someone) brushes against the outside of the holster. This is non-negotiable because the user nearly always goes on to think about other things once they’ve holstered the gun. Since there’s no responsible adult paying close attention to protect the trigger from unintentional movement, we must trust the holster to do that job for us.

Of course, any soft product can be created from material stiff enough to protect the trigger by itself. But every soft product will eventually break down in a way that softens the material over time. Adding something stiff to the product, such as a piece of hard plastic that can be slipped into a pocket to protect the trigger area, can keep the trigger protected a little bit better.

An even more reliable choice for protecting the trigger would be building the gun-holder entirely from something stiff enough to keep the trigger from moving (such as Kydex). That change would also make the product  durable enough to last much longer, too. Improving the reliability and durability of the trigger protection makes the holster better.

Does this mean soft-sided products, like belly bands and corset holsters, are inherently “bad”? Nope. Not at all. As long as they protect the trigger well enough to prevent it from moving, they’re already doing the basic job of a good holster. Protecting the trigger more reliably, in a more durable form, just makes a good holster better.

Tomorrow: can features intended to improve holster security actually create safety problems?

***

Can’t wait for tomorrow’s post? Want the bottom line right now? Sure, here it is:

  • A good holster protects the trigger, holds the gun securely, and allows the user to access the gun when they need it. (These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it.)
  • A better holster does one or all of these things better than the bare minimum.

But the details matter, too. Tune in tomorrow!

Leave a comment
A Better Holster, Part One

A few days ago, I blogged about what makes a “good” holster — and especially, about the dynamics that drive some of the bewildered (and sometimes angry) conversations between people within the firearms training community and their students.

Today, I’m thinking about the type of questions people ask when they are choosing between two carry options that both meet the three basic requirements for a good holster. Once the non-negotiable needs have been met, how do we choose between carry products? What makes one holster better than another?

It’s tempting to say that it all comes down to personal choice. And there’s no doubt that personal choice and personal priorities do play a big part when it comes to secondary concerns. But fair warning: although I’m a big fan of people making up their own minds about stuff, and setting their own priorities, I’m also a big fan of making choices based on solid evidence.

This means that I do think there are some holsters that are objectively “better” than others, especially in how well they meet these primary needs. This isn’t an insult or a personal attack against anyone’s taste in holsters or other carry gear. It’s simply a matter of making careful and well-informed choices in our personal defense equipment.

Of course, any one of us might sometimes choose the objectively less-good option for our own quirky reasons. And that’s okay. We tend to want to jump between saying either, “This is the best holster EVER and EVERYONE SHOULD USE IT, YAY!!” or, “This holster is the devil and will GET YOU KILLED ON THE STREETS IF YOU EVEN LOOK AT IT, YO.”

But real life isn’t always quite that black and white, and most holsters fall somewhere in between those extremes. And again — that’s okay. As long as the three non-negotiable basic needs have been met, it’s all gravy after that. 1

At the same time, I think it’s very, very important that we’re aware of what we’re gaining and what we’re giving up with each of the choices we make. That way, we’re more likely to notice (and change) when it’s time to do something different.

So, what makes one holster better than another? To my way of thinking, the first thing that might make a holster “better” is when it performs one of the three basic requirements in a more consistent, more reliable, or more durable form. This is not the only thing that might make a holster “better,” but it’s a good place to start.

More about that tomorrow.

***

Can’t wait for tomorrow’s post? Want the bottom line right now? Sure, here it is:

  • A good holster protects the trigger, holds the gun securely, and allows the user to access the gun when they need it. (These are the non-negotiable, bare minimum things a holster must do. A holster or carry product that does not do these things is not a good holster, no matter how much it costs or who recommends it.)
  • A better holster does one or all of these things better than the bare minimum.

But the details matter, too. Tune in tomorrow!

Notes:

  1. Do I really need to add here that the reason these basics are “non-negotiable” is because a holster that fails to protect the trigger, hold the gun securely, or allow the user to access the gun really can get a person killed? We can joke around with some of this stuff, but never forget that we really are talking about stuff that can seriously hurt or kill someone if we get it wrong.
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Holster Conversations

It seems to me that a lot of times we-in-the-training-community think we are helping people make a choice between a barely functional holster or an excellent one.

But from the other person’s perspective, they are actually making a choice between an affordable, readily-available holster or leaving the gun at home.

This mistaken understanding of the options on the table often leads to confusion and resentment on both sides of the conversation.

This confusion sometimes leads to a bit of resentful mockery: “Why won’t you foolish people use the gear we recommend??!” vs “Why do you people keep acting like snobs in your gear recommendations!?”

(I truly hope that I have never fallen into either one of those traps, but being human it’s very, very likely that I have.)

But this whole thing is one reason I spend so much time educating people about the very basic functions of a carry holster. Any product designed to carry a gun for defensive use in ordinary life must do these basic things:

  • Cover the trigger guard completely with something sturdy enough to keep the trigger from moving if something brushes up against the outside of the holster;
  • Hold the gun securely enough that we can trust that the trigger will stay covered at all times, that the gun will stay in the same orientation at all times, and that the user can visit the bathroom without having to take the gun out of its carry location (so that the gun will reliably not fall to the floor if the holster gets inadvertently tipped upside down and shaken gently); and
  • Allow the user to access the gun when they need it.

These are the non-reducible minimums for safe and responsible concealed carry. As long as a proposed holster does all these things, it is a “good” holster.

After those minimums are met, we can start talking about the benefits and trade offs of specific holsters and carry methods. We can discuss hard-sided versus soft-sided options (and yes, there are ways to protect the trigger when wearing a soft product). We can debate “How fast is fast enough?” when it comes to accessing the gun. We can measure the speed differences between carry designs worn in different places on the body.  We can talk about durability of design and materials. We can discuss minor differences in design that make a big difference in speed, comfort, or concealability.

But none of those things matter until the minimums are met.

And once the minimums are met? It’s all gravy.

***

This post is the introduction to a series of posts about choosing better holsters. So far, we have published Part One, and Part Two, and Part Three. More to follow!

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Confidence in Carrying

The question comes up surprisingly often, even from people who have had their carry permits for a long time: “How can I get confident enough to actually carry the gun in my daily life?”

It’s a tough question and I’m not going to make light of it. Sometimes, people are even reluctant to ask it, for fear that People Like Me will make fun of them or look down on them. Nothing could be further from the truth — at least as far as I’m concerned. I know that the journey into armed self-defense is a tough one, and a very personal one. It’s a big step and often a very big shift in mindset. It’s not an easy journey.

That’s all … normal. The individual struggle and specific concerns that might lead you to ask the question, that’s all your own. But it’s pretty common for someone to get their concealed carry permit one year, and then three years later still never have carried the gun in public.

So for me, over the years it’s become fairly common to hear questions from people who really want to carry, but who also worry about the practical issues surrounding concealed carry. That might be worries about firearm safety around children, concerns about the impact on work and social life if someone unexpected finds out, worries about finding a holster that holds the gun securely enough that they won’t have to think about it, or worries about the everyday safety of carrying with a round in the chamber… and the list goes on.

It ends up sounding pretty self-serving when I tell people the honest truth in response to such questions, but it’s true anyway. Here it is.

The best way to become confident with carrying is to take a really good class. Not just a “this is the end the bullet comes out” (aka Basic Pistol) class, and not just the type of class that certifies someone to get their carry permit. I’m talking about the type of class that comes after those foundational experiences and builds on them.

Unfortunately, such classes are not cheap, and they do take some commitment. Making the logistics work when you have a little one can be tough, and it can be even tougher when you have more than one little one. I’m not denying any of that. In fact, let me emphasize it, right here:

Getting yourself into a really good class takes commitment. I am not lying about this. Good classes cost money (around $200/day per student seems to be the industry standard). It takes money to buy the ammunition for such classes. It takes money to buy gear, including things like extra magazines for the gun. There’s also the cost of travel to get there, and the cost of hotel rooms and meals out. A lot of times, getting into a class means taking time off work. For people paid by the hour, that’s a significant barrier. Even to someone on a salary it can be a big loss, because vacation time matters.

More than the financial cost, though, there’s the practical cost. I’m talking about time away from your family. The hassle of arranging child care, including annoying “details” like who’s going to cheer the kid on during the big soccer or basketball game that you’re going to miss. This practical cost goes up significantly if your significant other doesn’t fully support what you’re doing. And let’s not even talk about the cost to people who don’t have a significant other, but do have young children. The cost of child care goes way up, and the ease of arranging it goes way down. Add in a hefty splash of mom-guilt or dad-guilt, and it may seem easier just to stay home.

The commitment matters. If taking a class is such an expensive, high-commitment hassle, is it really worth it? I believe it is.

The advantage of doing things this way — remember, we’re still talking about developing enough confidence to actually carry the gun — is that in a lot of ways, it’s like  planting a flag on territory you’ve battled to take: THIS is what I’m going to do now. I WILL protect myself and my family, and I WILL do what it takes to make that happen. The internal and external commitment of a specific time and place to start making that happen can go a long way toward building the confidence to make it happen.

On the practical and logistic side, a good class will teach you how to handle the gun with confidence so you not only know how to make it work when you need it, but you also know that you know how to make it work when you need it. A good class can help bring some questions to the front of your mind that you haven’t yet realized you should be asking (if I could tell you what those are right now, I would — but everyone sparks on different things). It can help you get a better understanding of how the legal system deals with cases of self defense, and it can give you much better skills with whatever holster(s) you decide to use.

All of that knowledge helps you learn to trust yourself and the decisions you make — both in the long term about choosing holsters and other gear, and in the immediate moment of needing to make decisions under stress when you face danger.

And there’s one more thing.

Physical confidence comes from physical activities. Just getting to the range to practice on your own can help (and I highly recommend doing that on a regular basis). But solo practice helps build confidence a whole lot more when we know what to practice, and why, and how. That’s where a good class comes in: it shows us what to practice, and why, and how.

A good class moves you through the physical motions of carrying the gun. All weekend long, you handle the firearm while doing a wide variety of things: standing, moving around, peering around a wall, kneeling, using just one hand or using both hands. You gain physical practice at manipulating the gun so that your hands know how to make it work just as well as your brain does. You wear the gun in its holster all weekend, including everyday-ish things like eating lunch or using the bathroom. And you do all these things with easy, immediate access to someone who can help you figure out how to do them in the safest possible way. You gain the type of physical confidence that comes only from physical activity.

There’s really no substitute for it.

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