Most gun/knife people have what's fondly known as the "holster box": a shoebox (or sometimes a larger container) full of the old, unused, often unusable holsters and sheaths we collected when we were first starting our journey, before we learned what we really need and want in a good holster or sheath. While the holster box is to some extent a rite of passage, it isn't exactly a badge of honor, and the process of collecting it tends to be expensive and frustrating. So, my friends who are yourselves just now starting out in the world of firearms and knife carry, here are some things to keep in mind in purchasing a holster/sheath, that might hopefully help you save some money and keep your own holster box as small as possible:
1) "Universal" holsters aren't. Any holster that's designed to accommodate multiple types of firearms just sucks at accommodating any type of firearm. Sure, they're appealing to the new shooter, because they're cheap and mislead you into believing you'll save so much money by having just one holster for all your guns. Trust me, you'll still have to buy holsters for each gun separately, PLUS you'll be out the money for that sweet universal rig.
2) Friends don't let friends use nylon. Apart from MAYBE some flexible pocket holsters for subcompacts and snubnose revolvers, just say no to nylon. It meets literally none of the criteria you want in a good holster, and can fold over and get into the trigger guard during reholstering, making it a potential source of unintentional discharges. Stop it.
3) What you're looking for: retention, comfort, accessibility, reliability/durability, safety, and concealability.
Retention: I mean you want a holster/sheath designed for your chosen carry firearm/knife that will keep it retained when you're running or fighting, either through passive or active retention systems.
Comfort: you want it to be relatively comfortable, because if it digs into your body or chafes, you won't actually wear it.
Accessibility: you want a holster/sheath that stays in one place and keeps your handgun/knife accessible for a smooth draw within 1-2 seconds: things like ankle holsters are for backup guns, not primary carry; things like inside the thigh are acceptable only if a) you're wearing a dress/skirt that allows you to access it, b) you know how to do so effectively, and c) you don't mind showing your underwear off in the process. For most people, most of the time, beltline carry is the best bet. Additionally, you want to ensure the holster/sheath retains its shape without the gun/knife in it, so you can safely and reliably reholster after drawing, without having to fight the lip of the holster to open it back up, creating a potential safety hazard. And it needs to be designed in such a way that allows you to establish a full firing grip on the firearm, or a full fighting grip on the knife, before removing it from the holster/sheath at all.
Reliability/Durability: you want a holster/sheath that will last, preferably with a good warranty, because if you start taking training seriously, your holster/sheath will probably get a lot of use in training and dry fire--you want to minimize breakage, and be able to replace anything that DOES break during heavy use. Especially if you're gonna be training things like extreme close quarters, which often puts a lot of stress on gun holsters as you fight to retain your firearm while someone else is trying to steal it.
Safety: your holster should fully cover the trigger and trigger guard. Anything that exposes the trigger or allows anything to potentially work its way into the trigger guard is just asking to accidentally shoot yourself.
Concealability: a good holster/sheath will help you conceal your firearm/knife effectively. Whether inside or outside the waistband, it should hold your weapon close to the contours of your body, minimizing printing under your clothing.
4) Brands to avoid:
Serpa/BLACKHAWK!: Cheap plastic with a bad retention system. Same goes for knockoffs: avoid any plastic holster with a retention system that releases your firearm through a button designed to be pressed by the trigger finger. Too many safety problems with using your trigger finger during the draw stroke, plus they tend to break very easily under any kind of stress.
AlienGear and CrossBreed: Basically any hybrid holster is problematic for a couple reasons. Sure, they're comfortable, but they often lose retention over regular use as the backing leather wears out, the kydex pieces sometimes separate from the backing leather, and the leather often eventually folds over the top of the holster opening, presenting an obstacle to drawing and reholstering that can also become a safety hazard if it gets in the trigger well.
VersaCarry: DO NOT pay money for any holster system that requires putting an object up the muzzle of your firearm. Just...don't. VersaCarry DOES have some models that don't include the muzzle plug + wraparound design, but they should be punished for selling stupid designs in general, so please don't give them your money even for their okay holsters.
ClipDraw: Not even a holster, just a clip that attaches permanently to the outside of your firearm and lets you clip it to the inside of your waistband. Trigger is fully exposed, nor does the gun reliably stay in one place at the same angle for a consistent draw. Don't be dumb.
Anything made of lace or elastic (e.g., Lethal Lace, belly band designs, etc): They fail on basically every count described in 3) above except MAYBE concealability. The only thing I'd consider elastic for is an ankle holster for a j-frame revolver, and even for that there are better options.
5) There are many, many decent holster makers out there. Leather or kydex, the choice is yours. I will say, if you're getting a leather holster, make sure the lip is reinforced so it stays open after drawing the firearm, and make sure to replace it if you use it long enough for the material to stretch enough so it starts to lose retention or fold in on itself. Kydex has fewer problems like that, but sometimes breaks, so there are tradeoffs to both. I use leather for my Browning Hi-Power and my j-frame revolver, and kydex for my modern striker-fired pistols. I also use kydex for my fixed blade knives. Nothing wrong with either choice.
If you ARE leaning toward kydex, I will say this: there are only a handful of manufacturers that are routinely recommended by virtually every top-tier instructor and gunfighting professional in the business. PHLster, Raven Concealment, Keeper's Concealment, and Dark Star Gear are the name of the game for serious concealed carry practitioners. I personally carry my SIG P320 in a PHLster or a Raven Concealment holster, and I have a Dark Star Gear sheath for my Shivworks China Pick. I don't have anything from Keepers, but I know many highly respected professionals who swear by them, and I've never heard anything negative. Additionally, Safariland is the go-to choice for duty carry, and is also quite popular for outside-the-waistband competition holsters, but somewhat less popular for regular concealed carry. They're the best in the business if you want an active retention system, though.
The fact that list is so small and so consistent should be considered a clue. If you want to avoid a large and expensive holster box, those makers would be an excellent place to start your search.
Great write up by A.C Haskins! Be sure to check out all his articles via the link below
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