Let me begin this article by saying that if you carry a firearm concealed, you must carry it in a holster. There are a lot of details about which is the best holster for you to carry your handgun in that we can debate, but what is not debatable is whether or not you should use a holster in the first place. You absolutely should! Carrying a handgun on your person that is not in a holster is not safe, and safety is priority one bar none. Discussion over on that point.
Okay, so now that we have gotten that out of the way, lest discuss picking the right holster for the job. In my experience, there are three primary things to consider when choosing a concealed carry holster:
- Does the holster secure the weapon properly and protect the trigger from accidentally being manipulated?
- Is the holster comfortable enough to wear all day, every day?
- Are you able to retrieve the weapon in a timely and efficient manner when “it” hits the fan?
Any good holsters primary function will be to secure the firearm and protect the trigger. When we talk about securing the handgun, we talk in terms of retention. The vast majority of holsters on the market will be classified as either zero retention, level 1, level 2 or level 3 retention. Zero retention means that the gun just sits in the holster and can basically fall out if turned upside down. Other than a little bit of friction and gravity, there is nothing that keeps the gun secure.
If you open carry, zero retention is foolish as your gun can be easily taken from you or even just fall out depending on what you are doing. If it is concealed, obviously it isn’t likely to be taken from you by a bad guy, but it can still fall out should you find yourself in a struggle or you trip and fall walking down the street. I can’t imagine how embarrassing it would be to fall walking into a store and then have your firearm slide across the floor in front of you, not to mention how freaked out people who witness it will be. I have two concealed carry holsters that would be classified as zero retention, however, one is all leather and fitted to my gun resulting in a very snug fit that requires a slight bit of force to unholster. The gun will not fall out of the holster if turned upside down, but it would still be considered a zero retention holster. In my eyes, it secures the firearm in sufficiently enough to prevent it from falling out and so it qualifies as a level 1 retention. The other one I have, although molded to my guns specific dimensions still does not hold it in very securely, so I rarely every use it anymore. It is truly a zero retention holster. It was the first in the waistband holster (IWB) I ever bought, and it was the last by that particular manufacturer. Lesson learned on my part.
A level 1 retention holster means that you need to manipulate a safety break on the holster in order to remove the firearm. Generally this would be some kind of strap with a snap that goes over the back of the grip. Level 2 means there are 2 safety breaks to manipulate and level 3 means there are 3. You will generally find level 2 and 3 retention systems on holsters made for open carry and usually those are worn by police or military. Most civilians never go past level 1, and for purposes of concealed carry, I don’t think its necessary to have anything more than that. But I would recommend that you utilize some kind of retention holster.
Currently me favorite holster for concealed carry is made by X Concealment. It’s a Kydex holster that is specifically sized for my particular handgun. The retention system is internal and works by applying tension, adjustable with a screw to the trigger guard of the gun when it is holstered. The gun snaps into place when inserted and stays secure until upward pressure is applied. The amount of pressure is determined on an individual basis by the adjustable tension screw. The firearm stays secure when worn and is easily removed when needed, but won’t fall out should you take a tumble or get into a physical altercation. I wear mine inside the waistband, but with the X Concealment holster, it can be converted easily to be worn outside the waistband if you prefer.
The other half of securing the firearm properly is protecting the trigger from accidentally being manipulated. When you carry concealed, your gun will be interacting with clothing. When that occurs, especially in a high stress situation, it is critical that you be able to retrieve the firearm in a way that doesn’t result in the trigger accidentally getting caught in the clothing or your finger getting caught inside the trigger guard. There are IWB holsters that basically clip onto the gun and then onto the waistband that don’t cover the trigger. For my money this is a bad idea so I do not recommend them.
One final thought on securing your firearm. While I prefer some type of retention, there are fine holsters made by reputable manufacturers that don’t have a retention system other than good ole fashion gravity. For some people that works for them, so if that is acceptable to you, by al means go for it, provided the firearm is comfortable to wear and easily accessible, which brings me to my next criteria, comfort.
A firearm does you no good when “it” happens if it’s locked away at home because it isn’t comfortable to wear. The number one excuse people who are qualified to carry concealed don’t, is comfort. In the last two decades, and especially in the last 10 years, there has been an explosion on the market of concealed carry holsters. We could talk about holsters for hours and still not cover all of your options. If you cannot find a holster that is comfortable, it’s because you aren’t trying, because there are hundreds if not thousand of options. Don’t settle for a holster if it isn’t comfortable to wear, because you will eventually stop wearing it. Comfort might seem superficial when we are talking about your personal security, but it is a huge consideration when we are talking about everyday carry.
Lastly, we need to be able to retrieve the weapon in a timely and efficient manner when “it” happens. Like I just mentioned, there are literally hundreds of concealed carry holster options that will enable you to carry your firearm just about anywhere on your body. From your ankle all the way to your upper torso, there is virtually no place on the body that somebody hasn’t made a holster to fit. And while comfort is important, it also must be functional. If it takes you 30 seconds to move your clothing out of the way, retrieve your gun and then put the sights on target, you are probably already too late for the fight. Where you carry is dictated by the size of the gun, what type of clothing you are wearing and your body type, so picking the right holster is going to be a personal choice, just remember you have to be able to get to it quickly. For the most part, this will be determined by how much you practice. You can strap a gun anywhere on your body and become proficient enough to get to it fast if you practice. So to quote Yoda, practice you must.
That’s a lot to digest for now and in my next article, I will talk more about your holster options from a stand point of styles and body placement. When you starting shopping for one, remember the criteria I have outlined and you will be okay. Oh, one more point, always remember to spend good money on good equipment. If you are serious about personal protection, a 5 dollar holster is a huge mistake. Do your research and spend a few extra dollars getting a good quality holster and you it will last virtually a lifetime. More on that point latter.
Don’t just survive, thrive!
Carrying a firearm for personal protection brings with it an awesome responsibility. You have the power to change a person’s world forever, and even the power to take their life. It is you duty as a responsible gun owner to always obey the cardinal rules of firearms safety and to understand the laws where you live and travel with your gun. Do your due diligence become educated on the use of force continuum and become proficient with your firearm before you leave home.