The Handgun Holster Explained

A Comprehensive Guide For Understanding Holsters

Over the years, I’ve realized that a great holster is underrated. It’s not just a convenient accessory; it’s a crucial part of handgun ownership. The right holster can significantly improve safety, training, accessibility, and comfort. In this guide, I’ll take you through everything you need about holsters, from the basics to the details. So, whether you’re a seasoned gun owner or a beginner, sit tight, and let’s dive into the world of holsters.

Holsters: A Vital Accessory for Every Gun Owner

A handgun holster is indispensable in enhancing proficiency, safety, and accessibility for firearm owners.

5 o'oclock holster position

A handgun holster is essential to responsible firearm ownership, enhancing proficiency, safety, and accessibility in equal measure. A holster plays a pivotal role in this regard, and in this guide, I’ll cover:


Proficiency is greatly improved as a good holster enables consistent and secure positioning of the firearm, allowing for a quick and efficient draw when needed. It ensures that the gun is always in a predictable location, making it easier for the user to develop muscle memory and practice safe handling techniques.


Safety is a top priority when it comes to firearms, and holsters play a pivotal role in preventing accidental discharges by covering the trigger and trigger guard, reducing the risk of negligent discharge. Additionally, holsters keep the firearm securely holstered, preventing unauthorized access and ensuring that it remains in the hands of the intended user.


owb right handed holster

A holster that you can easily access ensures that you can securely store your firearm and retrieve it swiftly when necessary, reducing the likelihood of accidents and enabling a rapid response in critical situations. Whether for law enforcement officers, military personnel, or responsible civilian gun owners, easy access to a holster can make the difference between life and death.

Holster Types

Consideration should be given to the type of holster you plan on using.. First and foremost, the holster should be specifically designed for the firearm model you intend to carry, ensuring a secure fit and proper retention. Beyond compatibility, factors like concealment, comfort, and accessibility come into play. Concealed carry holsters prioritize hiding the firearm, often with inside-the-waistband (IWB) or outside-the-waistband (OWB) options. Duty holsters for law enforcement prioritize retention and accessibility, with features like thumb breaks or retention straps. Competitive shooters might opt for holsters that offer quick draws and reholstering capabilities. Ultimately, the choice of holster type should align with your intended use and personal preferences while always prioritizing safety and responsible firearm handling.

Ankle Holsters

Ankle holsters are a unique and specialized type designed for discreet and concealed firearm carry. These holsters are typically worn around the ankle, providing a less conspicuous option for individuals who need to carry a backup gun or require deep concealment. Law enforcement officers commonly favor ankle holsters as a secondary carry option or individuals who find it challenging to conceal a firearm on their waistline due to clothing constraints or body shape. While ankle holsters offer excellent concealment, they can be less accessible than holsters worn at the waist, making them best suited for situations where a rapid draw is not the primary concern. Proper training and practice are essential when using ankle holsters to ensure safe and effective firearm deployment.

Inside the Waistband (IWB) Holsters

IWB Inside waistband holster

Inside-the-waistband (IWB) holsters are popular for concealed carry enthusiasts and professionals alike. Designers craft these holsters for wearing inside the pants, situating them between the wearer’s body and their waistband. This positioning provides superb concealment while keeping the firearm close and readily accessible. IWB holsters are available in various styles, including those equipped with clips or loops for securing them to the belt or pants. Moreover, they can be placed at different points around the waist, such as in the front (appendix carry), on the strong-side hip, or

at the small of the back. The key advantage of IWB holsters lies in their ability to effectively hide a firearm under clothing, making it less visible to others. Nonetheless, comfort and accessibility may fluctuate based on holster design, clothing preferences, and the wearer’s body type. Thus, it is essential to find the appropriate IWB holster that strikes a balance between concealment and comfort for responsible concealed carry.

Outside the Waistband (OWB) Holsters

Outside-the-waistband (OWB) holsters are popular for those who prioritize comfort, accessibility, and open carry. These holsters are designed to be worn outside the pants, typically attached to a belt or gun-specific paddle, offering ease of access and a secure hold for the firearm. OWB holsters are often favored by law enforcement officers, competitive shooters,

OWB Outside waistband holster

and those who don’t need to conceal their firearms. They provide a clear and unobstructed draw, making them suitable for rapid firearm deployment in high-stress situations. However, the trade-off for this accessibility is reduced concealment compared to IWB holsters, making OWB holsters less ideal for concealed carry in most cases. Choosing the right OWB holster depends on factors like firearm size, intended use, and personal preferences, with many models offering retention mechanisms and customizable features to suit individual needs.

Shoulder Holsters

shoulder holster

Shoulder holsters present a distinctive and stylish concealed carry method, suspending the firearm under the arm, typically on the opposite side of the wearer’s dominant hand. These holsters, popularized by detectives in movies and television shows, are frequently selected for their comfort and their capacity to conceal larger firearms.

They distribute the weight of the firearm across the shoulders and upper body, making them a comfortable option for extended periods of carry. Shoulder holsters are particularly popular among individuals who wear suits or jackets regularly, as they can be easily hidden beneath these types of clothing. However, they require specialized clothing for proper concealment, and drawing from a shoulder holster can be less intuitive than from a waist-mounted holster.

Holster Materials

The choice of material for your holster can significantly affect its durability, comfort, and retention. Here are some common materials used in holster construction:

Kydex Holsters

Kydex holsters, made from a durable thermoplastic material, offer several advantages and disadvantages for firearm carry. On the positive side, Kydex holsters are renowned for their excellent retention, allowing users to adjust them to their preference and providing a secure hold on the firearm. They are also highly resistant to moisture, making them ideal for humid or wet conditions, and they maintain their shape, ensuring consistent and smooth draws. Kydex holsters are relatively lightweight and low maintenance, as they are easy to clean and do not require much

care. However, some users find them less comfortable than holsters with softer materials like leather, as Kydex can be rigid and may cause discomfort during extended wear. Additionally, Kydex holsters can be noisier when reholstering the firearm, which could be a potential drawback in a tactical or concealed carry scenario where stealth is crucial.

Leather Holsters

leather holster

Leather holsters have their own set of advantages and disadvantages for firearm carry. Positively, leather holsters are famous for their comfort, as the material naturally conforms to the wearer’s body over time, alleviating discomfort during extended carrying. They often have a classic and aesthetically pleasing appearance, making them a popular choice for concealed carry enthusiasts.

Leather holsters also tend to be quieter during reholstering compared to rigid materials like Kydex. However, leather holsters may require more maintenance to prevent wear and maintain their shape. Moisture can also affect them, potentially leading to warping or damage if not correctly cared for. Retention levels in leather holsters can vary depending on design and break-in period, potentially making it necessary to tighten retention screws periodically.

Nylon Holsters

Nylon holsters offer a mix of advantages and disadvantages for firearm carry. On the positive side, they are typically affordable and lightweight, making them accessible to many users. Nylon holsters often have adjustable straps and retention systems, allowing users to customize the fit to their firearm and preferences. They are also moisture-resistant and can dry quickly when wet, making them suitable for outdoor or humid environments. However, nylon holsters may lack the rigidity and

durability of materials like Kydex or leather, affecting their long-term performance. They may not provide the same level of retention and security for the firearm as other materials, and their flexibility can sometimes hinder a smooth and consistent draw. Nylon holsters are a budget-friendly option, but users should be aware of their limitations and choose them based on their intended use and the level of firearm retention required.

Polymer Holsters

polymer holster- bravo concealment

Polymer holsters, typically made from high-strength plastics, have advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, these holsters are incredibly lightweight and durable, with excellent resistance to moisture and environmental factors. They often feature adjustable retention mechanisms, allowing users to customize the level of firearm security. Polymer holsters maintain their shape over time and are less prone to wear and tear than leather. Their smooth interior surfaces promote easy and consistent draws, making them popular for concealed carry and tactical use. However, some users may find that polymer.

holsters lack the aesthetics of leather or the customization options of Kydex. While they offer robust retention, they can be noisier when reholstering, which may not be suitable for situations requiring stealth. Overall, polymer holsters are a reliable and practical choice, particularly for those who prioritize durability, ease of maintenance, and firearm security.

Belt Attachments

Various types of holster belt attachments offer distinct advantages for firearm carry. Belt loops, for example, are a secure and stable option that keeps the holster firmly in place on the belt, reducing shifting during movement. Clips, on the other hand, provide ease of attachment and removal, allowing for quick changes or adjustments to carry positions.

Paddle attachments offer convenience, as they can be easily slipped on or off the belt without undoing it. Pancake-style belt attachments distribute the weight of the holster and firearm evenly, enhancing comfort during extended carry. Ultimately, the choice of attachment type depends on individual preferences, the holster design, and the intended use. Still, each offers unique benefits that contribute to firearm carry’s overall effectiveness and comfort.

Holster Retention

Holsters come in various levels or retention systems designed to secure firearms. Law enforcement agencies and the military often use these levels to describe the level of security and retention a holster provides. The specific levels may vary between manufacturers, but generally, they are as follows:

  • Level 1 Holsters (Passive Retention): Level 1 holsters provide basic retention and rely on friction or tension to hold the firearm in place. They are typically open-top holsters and are the easiest to draw from. These are commonly used for concealed carry and are suitable for situations where quick access to the firearm is a priority.
  • Level 2 Holsters (Active Retention): Level 2 holsters incorporate an additional retention device, such as a thumb break strap or a hood, that must be deactivated or released before the firearm can be drawn. This provides a higher level of security against unauthorized access or accidental firearm loss.
  • Level 3 Holsters (Additional Active Retention): Level 3 holsters feature multiple active retention mechanisms, such as a thumb break strap, rotating hood, or a combination of buttons and levers. These holsters offer high security and are commonly used by law enforcement officers who require maximum retention.
  • Level 4 Holsters (High Security): Level 4 holsters are the most secure and often used by tactical units and special forces. They have multiple active retention devices, including a thumb break strap, rotating hood, and additional locking mechanisms like a push-button release. These holsters are designed to prevent unauthorized access or attempts to disarm the user.
  • Level 5 Holsters (Specialized): Some holster manufacturers may use a Level 5 designation for specialized holsters beyond the standard retention levels. These holsters may have unique features or additional security measures tailored to specific needs.

Carrying Locations

When choosing a holster for carrying a firearm, both holster type and position considerations are pivotal for safety, comfort, and practicality. The holster type should match the specific firearm and intended use. For example, a concealed carry holster, a duty holster for law enforcement, or a sport-specific holster for competitive shooting. Each type offers different levels of retention, concealment, and accessibility.

Equally important is the holster position, which dictates how the firearm is carried on the body. Factors such as body shape, clothing, and the wearer’s dominant hand significantly determine the ideal position. Whether it’s appendix carry, strong-side hip, small of the back, or other options. Position can impact comfort, ease of draw, and the ability to conceal the firearm effectively.

Appendix Carry


Appendix carry, or a handgun in front of the body, offers several advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, it allows for rapid access to the firearm, as it’s situated close to the centerline of the body. This makes it an excellent choice for self-defense situations where speed is crucial. Appendix carry also provides excellent concealment, as clothing typically covers the firearm and reduces the likelihood of printing or visibility.

However, there are potential drawbacks. Safety is a significant concern, as a negligent discharge can cause severe injury when carrying in this position. Therefore, proper holster selection and trigger discipline are crucial. Some individuals may find appendix carry uncomfortable, particularly when sitting or bending forward, as the firearm can dig into the abdomen. Clothing choices may also be limited, as tight-fitting shirts are necessary for proper concealment.

Strong-Side Carry

Strong-side carry, in which a handgun is carried on or just behind the hip, presents several advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, this carry position is comfortable for many individuals. It allows for natural movement and comfort when sitting or standing. It also provides quick and efficient access to the firearm in self-defense situations, and it’s an ideal choice for those who prefer a consistent and easily accessible draw stroke. Strong-side carry also allows for a wide range of clothing options, as the firearm can be effectively


concealed with various types of clothing. However, it may be less concealable than other methods. The butt of the gun can sometimes print through clothing or become visible when bending or reaching. Additionally, strong-side carry can be less comfortable for those who spend extended periods sitting, particularly in vehicles, as the firearm may press into the hip or lower back.

Small of Back Carry

Small of the back carry, where a handgun is positioned in the center of the lower back. On the positive side, it offers excellent concealment, as the firearm is typically well-hidden under clothing. It is also less likely to print or become visible. This carry position is comfortable when standing or walking, allowing for a consistent and easily

accessible draw stroke with the dominant hand. However, there are significant drawbacks to small of the back carry. Safety is a major concern, as falling backward onto the firearm can cause serious injury. Accessing the firearm can be awkward, particularly when sitting or driving, as it may require twisting the body to reach the gun. Additionally, drawing from the small of the back can be slower compared to other positions, potentially compromising response time in a self-defense situation. Overall, some individuals may find small of the back carry a viable option, but they should approach it with caution, taking into account safety and accessibility concerns.

Holster Cant Angle

Cant angle carry of a handgun refers to the orientation at which the holster is positioned on the belt, allowing the firearm to tilt forward or backward. This carry method offers several advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, adjusting the cant angle can enhance concealment and ease of draw. A forward cant, where the firearm’s grip tilts forward, can aid in concealing the handgun by reducing printing and making it less noticeable under clothing. Conversely, a rearward cant can give some users a more natural and comfortable draw stroke. However, finding the right cant angle requires experimentation and may vary depending on body type and preferences. Additionally, extreme cant angles can sometimes hinder the accessibility of the firearm, potentially slowing down the draw.

Holster Maintenance

Proper maintenance of your holster is important to ensure it functions reliably over time. Here’s a checklist of maintenance tips:

Regular Cleaning

Keep your holster clean by wiping it down with a damp cloth regularly. This prevents dust and debris from affecting retention.


If your holster has moving parts, apply a small amount of firearm-specific lubricant to ensure smooth operation

Check for Wear

Inspect your holster for signs of wear, such as loose screws or fraying materials. Replace any worn parts promptly.

The Handgun Holster Explained Conclusion

holsters explained

In the world of firearms, holsters are often overlooked but undeniably essential. A well-chosen holster can mean the difference between a safe, comfortable carrying experience and a potential safety hazard. From the types of holsters to materials, retention, carrying positions, and maintenance, this guide has covered everything you need to know to make an informed choice.

With this comprehensive guide, you’re well-equipped to make an informed decision when choosing the right holster for your needs. Safety always comes first in the world of firearms; a good holster is a crucial part of that equation. Stay safe, and happy carrying!

FAQs: Your Holster Questions Answered

Are Kydex holsters better than leather holsters?

Kydex holsters are preferred by many for their durability and retention, but leather holsters offer a classic look and comfort. The choice depends on your personal preferences and needs.

Can I use an IWB holster for open carry?

Yes, you can use an IWB holster for open carry, but OWB holsters typically offer better suitability for open carry because they are more accessible.

What’s the best way to break in a leather holster?

To break in a leather holster, wear it regularly to allow it to conform to the shape of your firearm. You can also use a leather conditioner to soften and protect the material.


  • Michael Hodgdon

    A firearm, shooting, outdoor, and hunting enthusiast for over 35 years. Thank you all for the suggestions on topics you would like to see; we'll keep posting as you keep sending them in. Please comment; we will try to answer all comments quickly.

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