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.
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. 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.