4 Deal Breaking Criteria for Holsters, And Why the Majority of Holsters Fail
There are so many holster reviews articles on the internet it's impossible to count. Many manufacturers claim their holster is the best, and many people have their favorite brands they like to recommend. All of it can make nailing down which holster to buy quite difficult. Instead of listing which holster manufacturers I like, I figure I would give you 4 criteria you should look for when purchasing a holster. There are additional features that I look for in a holster, but these are non-negotiables.
When I look at the 40 or so different holsters I've tested, just under 20% meet these must-have criteria. That means concealed carriers waste far too much time and money on holsters that are unsafe, or could cause a serious issue in a defensive situation. I want to save you the aggravation and some money.
Does Your Holster Pass?
In the post, I'll provide examples and explanations of the rules and how you can test your holster to see if it passes. Now, if you're looking online to purchase a new holster, you might not be able to test it until after you've bought it and have it in your hands. So it's wise to consider purchasing a holster from a company that offers a full refund after a test period.
Not all companies offer refunds, but I know several that do. Don't convince yourself that your poorly designed gear is good, just because you invested money in purchasing it.
Holster Selection, Where to Begin—
It's important to remember the purposes of a holster, so we put these rules in this order for a purpose. First, a holster allows you to carry the gun safely. Rules one and two deal with this safety component. Second, a holster should provide adequate access to the gun so you can use the gun according to your needs. Rule three and four failures could certainly lead to a serious problem in a defensive sense, but relate more to how well the holster works.
For each rule, I'll provide an example of how you can test your current holster. The testing involves using your actual firearm. I strongly recommend using a BarelBlok in your gun when testing. An empty gun is great, but the BarrelBlok obstructs the chamber and provides a visible sign that your gun is inert.
Our company owns KSG Armory and performs a lot of testing using our holsters and real guns, and we always BarrelBlok the guns.
The 4 Rules for Holsters—
Rule #1: The holster must cover the trigger guard fully, so it's impossible to depress the trigger while the gun is in the holster.
This rule seems obvious, and it is. But I think some explanation could help a bit.
- Rule 1 Failure: Soft Material
Your holster should be of a material hard enough to satisfy the rule. A holster that covers the trigger guard with material that you can press through and engage the trigger doesn't fit the rule. This is one reason clothing with holsters sewn in—which are really nothing more than a cloth pocket—don't pass. Unless there is some hard material to reinforce the area encompassing the trigger guard, it's too easy to manipulate the trigger right through the fabric.
Holsters made of Kydex are my preference, but solid leather is a good option too. I would suggest staying away from neoprene or other materials. I also don't recommend hybrid holsters that have a soft backing. While technically holsters made of soft materials may initially pass the test, the materials break down, get soft, and cause safety concerns, as I explain more in this post.
- To test: Use an object like a pen, knife, or screwdriver and try to engage the trigger.
As you can see, I don't even need a tool to test this bellyband. I can push through the material and completely press the trigger just using my finger. This is a fail in my book and I'm not willing to risk it.
This next holster is similar because it uses fabric and isn't made of leather or Kydex. However, the holster uses reinforced material around the trigger guard. As you can see, this holster passes, as I'm unable to press the trigger, even using a thin screwdriver.
We can see another potential issue with holsters of soft material. This leather holster covers the trigger guard completely and I can't push through. However, it's soft enough that if an object were to slip into the trigger guard, the holster flexes, allowing the object to press the trigger. If the holster was hard sided, this likely couldn't happen.
- Rule 1 Failure: Exposed Trigger Guard
Poorly made leave portions of the trigger guard exposed. The question is, how much is too much?
- To test: My guidance is that if the holster leaves any part of the trigger guard exposed, there is a possibility that an object could slip in and engage the trigger. Why split hairs? Just look for a different holster.
Light Bearing Holsters: It is normal for light bearing holsters to have a wider mouth to accommodate the weapon mounted light. There is no way around this and you will have to decide if it's a deal breaker or not. When I worked patrol, I used a duty handgun with a light. I could accept the holster with the wider gap, because a weapon mounted light was important to me.
However, even with this type of holster, the trigger guard should still be covered and protected fully. To learn more about this issue, check out this post called: My Holster Has a Gap Around the Trigger Guard, is it Safe?
Rule #2: The holster must adequately retain the firearm.
When I say retention, I'm not talking about active retention like what we find in duty holsters. The gun needs to stay in the holster as you go about everyday life, and what you could face in a defensive encounter.
- Rule 2 Failure: Adequate Retention
Think of the famous back flipping FBI agent who had his gun fall from his holster while he danced at a nightclub. To make things worse, he shot someone in the leg when he picked it up.
- To Test: Wear your holster with your inert gun and do some things you may do on a typical day or during a self-defense incident. The gun should stay in the holster as you run, jump squat, etc. If your gun comes out even partially, the holster fails.
- Alternate Test: Some people use the shake test. In this test, the inert gun is in the holster and turned upside down. Then you shake the holster to see if the gun comes out. This isn't wrong and provides some data. I know many who trust it, but I don't personally use this test for two reasons. –First, the results are too subjective, based on how hard or vigorously you shake the gun.
–Second, it isn't testing the holster under the conditions you use it. When you wear the holster, it's squeezed between your body and the belt. So a holster may pass the wear test, but not the shake test.
Here is an example where a holster—or what the guy was using for a holster—failed to retain the gun. The man in this video was trying to break up the fight, but unfortunately he was shot and killed by responding police who saw him holding the gun after it fell from his holster.
Adjustable Retention: Some holster designs provide a way to adjust the retention, and it's a good idea to get a holster that has this feature. It's not complicated, typically just tightening or loosening a single screw. Adjust the retention, wear the holster and confirm. Once you dial in the desired retention, use a thread locker on the screw so it doesn't loosen up. Remember to wear-test before using the thread locker, because, as mentioned above, wearing the holster adds some retention, even if only slightly.
While you're at it, add thread locker to all your screws once you adjust for cant and ride-height and the screws on any wedge and or claw/wing device.
Holster Doesn't Collapse/Allows One-Handed Holstering: One reason I prefer hard-sided holsters is because they don't collapse closed when you remove the gun. This allows you to do two important things.
If the holster remains open, you can holster with one hand. It's a safety issue and matters because when the holster collapses, a person usually does one of two things to holster. One, they dig for the holster opening and force the gun into the holster, muzzleing themselves along the way. Or two, they use their other hand to hold the holster open, and risk passing the muzzle over the hand as they do it. The alternative is to take the holster off, safely holster and then put the holster back on.
In a civilian defensive context, removing the holster, holstering and then returning the holster isn't as big of an issue as it would be for law enforcement. I say this because the scene is more likely to be secure when the civilian is holstering. Also, a civilian isn't as likely to switch to a lesser force option once the gun comes out. Not that it can't happen, it's just exceedingly rare.
Where this becomes a big problem for the civilian is at a live-fire training course. An instructor typically won't allow these types of holsters in their classes, and won't allow a student to slow down the course because they have to remove the holster after each draw repeatedly.
Rule #3: The holster must stay attached to the body when drawing the gun.
Unfortunately, this is one thing that I see often not only on the range, but in some defensive gun use videos.
- Rule 3 Failure: The holster absolutely must not come out with the gun when you draw. Need a visual? Check out the guy wearing the blue shirt in the image below.
- To Test: This is simple. Set up your holster and practice draws from various positions. If your holster comes off when you draw, there are a couple of things to consider.
Reason One: Unless you're using a pocket holster, the issues is most likely due to the type holster clip. Here is an excellent resource for learning about the different clips and mounting options manufacturers use most. I like two clips instead of one, but you'll have to figure out what works best for you. If you have a holster that passes all the tests but has crummy clips, you may be able to swap it out with a better clip.
Reason 2: Sometimes the failure is because of a belt that isn't made for carrying a firearm. Sometimes when you combine a marginal clip with a marginal belt, you draw the gun and the belt twists and rolls, allowing the clip to slip off.
Off Body Carry: If you carry in a bag (off-body -carry), ensure you fasten your holster inside the bag, so when you draw, it stays put. Velcro holsters are typical in carry bags, but you can also use a traditional holster fitted with something like what you see below. The clips in the photo are from UltiClip.
Rule #4: The holster should allow a full grip of the gun while in the holster.
A big part of a quick, repeatable draw stroke involves a solid grip on the gun from the start.
- Rule 4 Failure: If you can't properly grip the gun at the beginning of the draw, you will need to adjust your grip as you present the gun. You can avoid all kinds of issues, not the least of which is an inconsistent draw, if you make sure your holster doesn't obstruct your grip.
- To Test: Look at the holster material around the trigger guard. I should cover the trigger guard, but not extend above it, because this is where it can cause issues with your grip. You may also see that your holster doesn't allow enough adjustment of the clips, and as a result, the wing or clips come too high and obstruct your grip.You'll have difficulty establishing a grip on the gun from the start with the Crossbreed Rogue holster on the left. Or, if you practice your draw like you should, you'll quickly have bloody knuckles from them repeatedly smashing into the clip. The design of the KSG Lexington holster on the right ensures there is enough adjustability to allow a sufficient gap to allow a full grip.
Good Holster For One Gun, Not The Other—
I've learned that sometimes, a holster model may work better with one firearm model than another. Of course, this is true with one-size-fits most type holsters, where a holster model may fit 30 different models. Inevitably, some models in that wide group will fit better than others. But even custom-molded holster models may work better with a specific gun model than another, and I suspect it's often because of the gun's size.
For example, I have issues with the clip placement on the Crossbreed Rogue holster for my Sig P365 pictured above. A Rogue holster for a longer gun, such as a Sig P320, doesn't have this issue. First, the holster is longer so you can adjust the clips further down. Second, with a longer holster, there is more material that extends below the belt line. When more gun and weight is above the belt line, than below, the gun tilts out away from the body, which makes it uncomfortable, harder to conceal, and potentially unsafe.
I explain this situation more in this post called Consider a Larger Gun for Concealed Carry.
There you have it, the 4 simple rules for selecting a holster. I'm presenting these 4 rules as general guidance, with some links throughout to more specific topics dealing with holster selection.
If this post brought up some questions, you never thought of before, great. It's better to work them out before investing tons of money on a holster. If you're still wondering what method of carry is best for you, you can try this article here. And if reading isn't your thing, and you'd rather watch an informative video, check out the course Holsters and Concealment and Carry Positions seen below.
The holster must remain open to allow the gun to be reholstered with one hand and without needing to use the gun to open the holster.
Loose holsters, usually nylon etc can require two hands to reholster and invite sweeping of the support hand in the process or encourage using the gun to open the holster which can cause pointing the gun inwards towards the body. Both are bad practices and if you do need to reholster with only one hand you are creating unnneeded difficulty.