Buying a holster can become confusing because of the many different options available. I occasionally get a question about one of those options; the sweat guard or sweat shield. Should you have one on your holster, and if so, what size?
What is a Sweat Guard?
A sweat guard or sweat shield is a part of the holster that forms a barrier between the carrier's body and the rear part of the gun nearest the rear sights. Holsters come with or without sweat guards. You may also have the option to choose a low, medium, or high sweat guard. Depending on the type of holster, the sweat guard may be kydex, leather, or some neoprene-type material.
There are a couple of justifications for using a holster with a sweat shield.
- protect the gun from rusting due to constant contact with salty sweat
- protect the skin from rough serrations or rear sight
First, let's address the concern over rust. Unless you wear a second layer of clothing between your body and the gun, sweat will inevitably get on it. Sweat has high salt content, and surface rust may form on any exposed, untreated metal. However, I find that the factory finish on most guns protects the slides pretty well. Sweat doesn't have much, if any, impact on them. With different guns, and at different times, I have noticed surface rust due to sweat around the rear iron sight or the sight itself.
You can knock off this surface rust in about 30-seconds with a brush and oil for the most part. Additionally, leaving a super-thin coat of oil on these surfaces helps protect against rust. Not enough oil to make it slippery or wet, but a wipe with a slightly oily rag is usually sufficient.
With general maintenance, you can mitigate the rust issue. So, I don't feel this should be the driving reason you choose a holster with a sweat guard.
Second, let's address comfort. Protection from the rough edges of the gun or sights is a reason to include a sweat guard of some height on your firearm. This reason is a bit more subjective, and there are several variables.
First, whether you carry outside the waistband (OWB) or inside the waistband (IWB) plays a role. Generally speaking, OWB holsters don't really need a sweat guard. The gun usually rides far enough away from the skin not to cause comfort issues.
It is more likely that when carrying IWB, parts of the gun will be pressed into the skin and cause discomfort. So, if you are carrying IWB, a sweat guard makes sense.
But what height sweat shield is best?
A low sweat guard will extend up from the mouth of the holster and cover a small portion of the slide. This low sweat shield gives a point of reference when reholstering and keeps the muzzle from passing over the mouth of the holster.
I am absolutely not saying that you should search for this index point with the muzzle when holstering. In fact, I will have a comment about this dangerous habit a little lower down in the post.
A medium sweat guard will cover more of the slide but not cover the sights. A high or extended sweat shield typically will provide material between the body and the entire length of the slide.
Sweatguards and Carry Positions:
I prefer a medium sweat guard when carrying in the appendix position. Typically an appendix holster's design causes the top of the holster to press into the body. When the holster is empty, the sweat guard drives into the body. The gun is not there to spread the pressure over a larger area. Thus, the taller the sweat guard, the more uncomfortable it is.
However, I have used plenty of holsters designed for appendix carry with high sweat guards without much issue.
A medium sweat shield can also work with traditional IWB (3-4 o'clock) carry. You may even be able to comfortably pull off a high sweat guard in the 3-4 o'clock carry position.
I believe carrying in the small of back (6 o'clock) position should be avoided in almost every situation. However, if you carry this way and your holster has a high sweat shield, it shouldn't cause any issue and may actually be more comfortable in this position.
I want to qualify something about sweat shields in general and their relation to using a sweat shield as an index point.
When I say the sweat guard is an index point, I am meaning it simply provides a consistent location for the gun to touch as it is holstered. We should be looking at the gun and holster when holstering the gun. There isn't a reason to holster quickly under duress or while there is still an active threat.
I am generally against hybrid holsters and leather holsters with any sweat shield. The reason for this is because the sweat shield in soft-sided holsters eventually breaks down and covers the mouth of the holster. Inevitably, the person uses the muzzle to push the sweat guard out of the way to holster the gun. In this process, the person points the muzzle of the gun at themselves.
I find a quality, all-leather holster fares better in this respect than neoprene or the thin piece of leather found on most hybrid holsters, even if it is “reinforced.” However, every soft-sided holster material will lose its form.
Sweat guards are just one of many considerations to keep in mind when choosing a holster. Hopefully, this post can help you narrow down at least one decision in the process.
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