What is a Concealed Carry Holster?
In terms of carrying a handgun for self-defense, a concealed carry holster is a pocket or pouch for storing a gun on your person without having it visible to anyone else.
“A handgun holster is a device used to hold or restrict the undesired movement of a handgun, most commonly in a location where it can be easily withdrawn for immediate use. Holsters are often attached to a belt or waistband, but they may be attached to other locations of the body (e.g., the ankle holster). Holsters vary in the degree to which they secure or protect the firearm. Some holsters for law enforcement officers have a strap over the top of the holster to make the handgun less likely to fall out of the holster or harder for another person to grab the gun. Some holsters have a flap over the top to protect the gun from the elements.”
Therefore, a concealed holster is one which allows you to carry the gun somewhat discretely.
Concealment holsters are designed to be easily concealed, as well as lightweight and unobtrusive. They are generally, but not always, designed for subcompact and compact handguns since they are easier to conceal. Concealment holsters are designed to be worn under clothing, such as on the belt under a coat, under the pants in an ankle holster, or in a trouser pocket. Since the holster is held close to the body, comfort is important, and concealment holsters often have broad surfaces in contact with the user’s body, to distribute the pressure across a wider area and prevent abrasion of the skin. Protecting the handgun from the user’s perspiration is often an important consideration in such carry locations. Often the outside of the holster is broader, to help break up the outline of the handgun and prevent printing, where the outline of the gun can be seen through clothing. For pocket holsters, the external flat side is often the side with a nap, or rougher surface, to hold the holster in place when drawing the pistol.
Common types and styles
Holster designs for firearms cover a wide range of shapes, materials, and retention/release mechanisms, from simple leather pouches hanging from a belt to highly protective holsters with flaps that cover the entire handgun, to highly adjustable competition holsters that hold the handgun at a precise position and release instantly when activated. The wide range of types indicates the highly varied circumstances in which holsters are used and the varying preferences of the users.
Popular holster types are:
- Outside the waistband (OWB) or belt holsters, are most commonly used by police and military, and by citizens who choose to open carry. Belt holsters can be worn high and close to the body, slightly behind the hip bone (“4:00 position”), and can be concealed under a long, untucked shirt or jacket.
- Inside the waistband (IWB) holsters, which clip or mount to a belt and allow one to securely holster the weapon inside the pants. Some IWB holsters give the wearer the option of tucking a shirt over the firearm and holster.
- Shoulder holsters consist of two straps connected in a manner similar to a backpack, with the actual holster mounted to a strap on the right or the left side. Shoulder holsters are designed to position the handgun in one of three ways: a vertical position with the barrel pointed generally toward the ground, a vertical position with the barrel pointed generally upward, or a horizontal position with the barrel pointed generally behind the wearer. Shoulder holsters are typically comfortable for the wearer, as they distribute the weight across the shoulders instead of directly on the belt.
- Sling holsters are similar to shoulder holsters, but instead, consist of a band worn over one shoulder and another around the chest. This style of holster (designated M3 for the early 1-strap model and M7 for the two-strap model in the U.S. military) was used for pilots, tank operators, and other vehicle drivers in World War II as they were easier to use in the seated position. They became popular with other soldiers who disliked the heavy leather flap on the standard issue M1911-A1 hip holster. They are still produced by the U.S. military for the M9 pistol.
- The “belly band” holster is a wide elastic belt with a built-in holster, usually worn under an untucked shirt, to facilitate access. There are various types, worn at the belt line or higher, with the gun placement anywhere from in front to under the armpit. In order to remain in place, a belly band must be extremely tight; this is generally uncomfortable – it is comparable to wearing a girdle.
- Pocket holsters are used for very small weapons, such as a backup gun or a mouse gun.
- Small of back holsters place the weapon directly at the center of the back, allowing for even large handguns to be carried with little printing. While both comfortable and stylish, should the wearer fall onto the weapon (such as in a close quarters fight) serious spinal injury may occur. For this reason, in recent times many police departments in the United States have disallowed any equipment from being worn in this position.
- Groin holsters place the handgun mostly below the waistline around the 12:00 position. There are few body movement or clothing restrictions with this holster type.
- Thigh holsters (also called tactical or drop leg holsters) are a popular military and police item that holds the sidearm on the leg where the hand naturally hangs, making for a fast draw. Early U.S. cavalry units used these in the early 1900s with a leather thong strapping it to the leg. Modern ones often use a drop leg PALS grid with a modular holster attached, often with buckles for quick release. Police and military personnel wear these when a bulky vest or a full belt (as in the case of K9 officers) makes belt carry impractical. Western style holsters of this type, known as buscadero holsters,
were worn by many actors in Western films and TV shows set in the 1800s, even though they weren’t invented until the 1920s.
- Ankle (aka “boot”) holsters offer excellent concealment and are used by law enforcement officials who wish to carry a secondary weapon to back up their primary firearm. However, many officers find that even a small handgun bounces around too much while running or other physical activity.
- Chest holsters can be attached to MOLLE compatible vests and chest carriers. Like shoulder holsters, chest holsters are often easier to draw from than belt holsters when the operator is seated inside a vehicle.
- Strut holsters are used exclusively for concealed carry. They are worn above the trouser belt line as a cross draw holster located directly under one’s arm (9 o’clock position) or toward the front of the body (10 to 11 o’clock position). The design contains a strut which is shaped to nest behind one’s trouser belt and attach to the holster at the other end. The strut transfers the weight of the firearm to the belt and retains the weapon in place for secure removal. A flexible band is also attached to the holster and worn above the waist to keep the weapon snug against the body. Concealment is achieved by wearing the unit inside of a shirt which may be tucked in or worn outside.
Pancake holsters are typically made of two pieces of the material with the handgun sandwiched between them, containing at least two belt slots. They should be carried slightly off the hip to the rear part of the back. The pancake style of carry allows pulling the gun tight against the body for a better concealment
Cross-draw belt holsters are designed to be worn outside the waistline on the weak side of the body (opposite to the dominant hand). Although the cross-draw carry is often considered to be slower due to the necessary movement across the body; drawing the gun from a seated position can be more comfortable and even quicker carry method compared to the others. Cross-draw belt holsters may be an ideal option for wearing a backup gun on the waistline and also appropriate choice for women due to the comfort of carry and its natural adaptability to the female body.
Function and Design
Handgun holsters are generally designed to offer protection to the gun, secure its retention, and provide ready access to it. The need for ready access is often at odds with the need for security and protection, so the user must consider the individual needs. Choosing the right balance can be very important, especially in the case of a defensive weapon holster, where failure to access the weapon quickly could result in serious injury or death to the user.
Holsters are usually designed to be used with one hand, allowing the handgun to be removed and/or replaced with the same hand. To be able to return the handgun to its holster one-handed, the holster must be made from a stiff material that holds its shape. This way the holster doesn’t collapse when the gun is no longer inside to give it support.
Most holsters are attached to a person’s belt or waistband or clipped to another article of clothing. Some holsters, such as ankle holsters, have additional support. Other holsters may fit inside a pocket, to add stability and protection to the handgun. This keeps it more reliably secure and accessible than if it were in the pocket alone. Any holster used should also guard the trigger so it can’t be depressed unintentionally.
Common locations are: at the waist (outside (OWB) or inside (IWB) the waistband), behind the back (small of back (SOB)), at the ankle, at the chest (in an elastic belly band or shoulder holster), or on the upper thigh. Holsters are sometimes contained in an external bag, such as a purse or fanny pack.
Since holsters are typically made from fairly stiff yet tough materials, there are a limited number of common choices. The traditional material,particularly for handgun holsters, is leather. It has an attractive appearance and can be dyed in many colors and/or embossed with elaborate designs for cosmetic reasons.
Ballistic nylon is another common fabric for holsters, as it is stiff, wear resistant, and thick enough to provide protection.
Molded plastics, such as Kydex, are also popular, due to their low cost and robustness.
The safest way for carrying a handgun is carrying it in a holster that keeps the gun stable in its place and yet gives comfort and easy access when needed. As there are many different types of holsters and ways for concealed carrying, one is able to choose the one that suits one’s expectations and needs. For all these preferences such as – concealed carrying, safety, stability and easy accessibility, the most popular among customers are belt holsters. However, even in this group one can choose the different type of attaching the holster. Some of the most common belt holster attachment options are:
- Belt loops –The holster has belt loops attached to the back. They are made of either plastic or metal(for the Kydex holsters and hybrids), or leather (usually only for the leather holsters). They can have a single loop, used mainly for IWB holsters, or either two or three loops, depending on the design and degree of stability one is looking for.
- Belt tunnel – one wider loop that the belt is easily threaded through . One disadvantage is worse stability.
- Belt snaps – much easier to put on and take off the belt and yet keep the holstered gun stable. These are made of either leather or ballistic nylon, depending on the holster design.
- Belt clip – the holster is securely clipped on the waistband without taking the belt off which helps to attach the holster quickly and easily. The belt clip can be either made of steel or polymer.
- Paddle – a comfortable way to wear a gun holstered, very easily attached to the belt of trousers – even without wearing a belt. A disadvantage is looser fixation and safety risks that come with it. The “paddle” fits down inside the pants or belt with a hook to push against the bottom of the belt from the inside. It also has (usually) two hooks in front of the paddle to hook to the bottom of the belt on the outside. This makes them somewhat difficult to remove.
- Adjustable belt loops – the best type for professionals for its easy and fast accessibility. Enables one to adjust the height and angle of the holstered handgun by changing the location of the loops. These holsters are made with multiple holes for the loop attachments (usually what is called “Chicago Screws”).
Factors to consider when choosing a holster
When choosing a holster for a firearm, factors of interest include:
- Safety – a well-designed holster will provide protection to the handgun while being carried that will prevent three things: trigger movement, disengagement of the safety mechanism, and forward or rearward movement of the hammer (if it has one). The most important function of the holster is to prevent the trigger from being pressed while in the holster and prevent the gun from being removed by someone other than the carrier.
- Retention – a holster designed with retention in mind will help prevent a gun from being removed from the holster by anyone other than the person wearing it. Modern duty holsters have multiple hidden retention devices to this end.
- Concealment – it is often desirable not to let other people know you are armed. A carefully designed and worn holster can make a gun virtually invisible. Almost all concealment holsters are designed to be worn with a covering garment that is part of the everyday attire.
- Comfort – ability to wear a gun for an extended period of time.
- Finish – a well-designed holster should not snag a pistol or cause excessive wear to its finish.
- Draw ease – practical holsters allow a gun to be presented quickly, but this is often compromised in concealed carry
- Durability – ability to withstand abuse and long-term usage without mechanical failure or impaired performance
- Ease of reholstering – a rigid holster will allow a gun to be returned to it with one hand, while a flexible one may collapse after the gun is drawn, requiring the use of both hands to reholster. However, if you are in a situation of using your gun to defend yourself, you may not be in a hurry to reholster, if the “gunfight” may not be quite resolved yet.
- Adjustability – a holster that provides for the adjustment of gun cant and position can aid in both comfort and concealment.
- Price – modern holsters for a typical standard handgun can cost $20 to $200. Some users will desire multiple holster types per gun, while others prefer a generic holster for carrying multiple gun types. Most commonly, a handgun owner will have a drawer or box full of holsters for different guns and styles of carry. Most holsters are made for a specific gun as well as a specific use.
If you are going to carry a concealed, or not, handgun, you must be aware of one very critical fact; The holster your gun is in is as important as the gun you are carrying. If you can’t carry safely, you shouldn’t carry at all. This article gives you a lot to think about when considering the style and function of your holster. I hope you now have enough knowledge to choose wisely.
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